I’ve always hated people who can carry on with what they do even when the world is crashing, like there’s nothing wrong at all. Well, hated would be a very strong term, I agree, but really? Is it just so hard to stop for a minute and act like humans: To panic, to think that you’ll not be able to make it to the end?
No matter how much I prepare myself, no matter how inspiring or how determined a pep talk I give myself—or others give me—I always crack under pressure. I understand how that might be hypocritical, since I always tell people to calm down and think but never do so myself. But one does not think of their words when one is faced with a crossroads in life, when one is standing in a place one hates to be in.
I, for one, like to be consistent. I am content with whatever is going on in my life as long as it is going on smoothly. I suppose the fault lies within me. Now, I don’t mean to be boastful—in fact, this is one thing that I really grateful about in my life—but, by God’s grace, I have been blessed with a sound mind. I was always—still am—a meritorious student, and have also excelled—people say so—in extra curricular activities as well. What’s wrong with that, you ask? I should just lie down and bask in the glory of the blessings God has bestowed upon me, right?
It is a human tendency to start expecting certain things of certain people, which is exactly what happened to me. A major drawback of being a good student (again, not boasting, honestly) is that people notice you. Notice leads to attention, which eventually leads to contact and then participation. I would have been satisfied with it if that’s where the cycle ended. But as the attention puts me in an even more glaring spotlight, I somehow seem to have become the only ideal student, the beacon of light and glory in my class to my teachers. Everybody expects me to get the highest grades, to have the best piece, to be the best monitor, recording artist, and reporter, designer. They expect me to be a leader, a gold medalist and whatnot. I would have been proud of it, happy even . . . if only they kept that to themselves. One whisper leads to another and soon I have hordes of students and teachers alike who are supposedly grooming me for the coronation ceremony at the end.
In such a case, I did the only thing I could: I cracked.
Let me tell you something about what happens when I come unhinged from the door of life. Imagine a little baby bird: happy, safe, soft and warm in his nest, just being the little baby bird that he is. He grows up fast and strong, and if there is an IQ test for birds, he falls somewhere higher on the ladder than do his siblings and classmates.
Therefore, one day, his parents decide that since he is so much of an aerial Einstein, they would push him off of the nest and see if he can fly earlier than he was meant to. Cruel as it may be, they do it: they push the little fledgling off, and wait for him to find his feet, or in this case, wings.
Except the little fledgling cannot fly. He knows he should use his wings, flap them up and down and up and down and keep his body really light. But the expectations of his parents, teachers, his little bird-y peers weigh down on his shoulders, and he falls to the depths of the tree.
I have no patience for people who expect much more than what I think I can do. Instead of heeding their advice—against better judgment, I admit—of expanding my potential, I crash and burn. I completely neglect my studies, spend my time on the internet and sign up on zillions of websites only to forget my passwords and usernames later. Everything about expectations scares me. It makes me leave my body; live in a pseudo astral zone where I can only hope to escape the rising pressure of hopes. My mind is constantly buzzing and wheezing as if it were sick and it becomes hard for me to concentrate on anything in general.
Yesterday, I was in one such dilemma. I came to know that one of my teachers had “praised me to the skies” to another students’ parents (the words in quotes are said parents’ way of describing it). And I realized just how many expectations my teachers have from me, just how perfect everybody thinks I am. I was plagued by doubt, something I am a foreigner to as long as I am happy.
What if I failed? Imagine what a disappointment that would be to my teachers. Would they still praise me as they do now? Would their notions about me shatter like glass? Who would they blame: me, my friends, and the company I lived in? You can only begin to comprehend what a disturbing chain of thoughts it must have been that was rooting itself in my mind then.
I did the only thing I could think of. I called up my senior, and I say that mildly.
The senior I am talking about is the last year of his studies in our department, and he and I, in a very, very short amount of time, have established a rapport and relationship that is often hard to comprehend for most. He and I are mirrors of each other, and I always turn to him when in doubt.
“I am going to crash and burn. I just know it. I am so tensed.” I told him once I finished speaking and detailing the reason why I had called him at midnight.
I was half hoping for him to convince me that I was the best, that I had nothing to be worried about, that I would surely exceed all the expectations that people had ever had of me. I was half hoping it would be these hackneyed sentences that he would use to calm me down.
But, oh! our twisted minds.
“I know you are. I’m just waiting for the day.” He said, and I felt like I had been plunged into ice water on a cold December morning.
“Who in the hell told you that you’re perfect?” he continued, “If you think so, then snap out of it, my dear. You’re not perfect. You just have a few things you can do better than everyone. That doesn’t make you perfect: that makes you better. There’s a difference.”
And then he said the words that had always been a taboo for my ears.
“You’re just an average girl.”
Having tasted success all my life and praised for my efforts, it was a shock for the psyche to be classified as “just an average girl.” I had always strived to be the best, to stand out from the crowd. I had always thought that I was meant to be out of the line, different. Everybody else who was not me was boring, talent less (makes you think why I doubted myself in the first place, right?) and here he was: making me out to be that one kind of person I had always hated to be. I could have chewed his head off on the phone for saying so.
Instead, I said to him that I was grateful he said so.
Because as I pondered upon his words later, I realized what he was trying to do. He had taken one of my biggest fears and turned it into a catalyst for me. Archaic notion, I know, but we never pay attention to anything important until somebody points it out, don’t we? He knows calling me ‘average’ would elicit a reaction from me; one that he knew would only make me work towards the beneficial edge. I might have thanked him then, but after I hung up and thought about what he had said, I was boiling. I was enraged at being put into a class that I had detested, no offence to anyone, as I was eager to prove him wrong. I wanted to show him that I am what everyone said I was: perfect. I wanted to prove that I could follow through with whatever promises I made, could excel whatever I took up.
What I learnt yesterday was that advises need not always be positive. They certainly wouldn’t be negative, but that’s how we learn to twist words. Something that he said became the catalyst for me to work harder, to prove myself, thus resulting in a positive effect. People’s flaws and fears are their greatest strengths, as was the case with me. You might only set out to overcome your fear of heights, or try to play guitar, or just prove yourself different from the crowd, but it does have a consequence in your life in the long run.
An advice highlighting your flaws hits a mark somewhere deep inside you. It’s like scratching the surface of the vault that you always want to hide from people. When disturbed, you, like an angry animal, scramble to protect yourself, and make it impenetrable, or remove it from the place altogether.