by Anna Wright
YOU are NOT your GPA.
If you asked me in my college years if I believed this statement, I would have said, "yes." But when I think about my values at that age, I realize I would have been lying.
Yeah, I was one of those girls. Straight A's throughout high school and college, full ride scholarship winner, get married, hold a job, and graduate with honors all in 3 years. I didn't just care about my performance, I depended on it to feel a sense of self-worth in my own eyes and the eyes of others. So much so that when my one A- kept me from a perfect 4.0, I was crushed. Literally, pick-up-the-piano-and-peel-me-off-the-floor-CRUSHED. I hadn't given anything less to the course I got my A- in. In fact, it was a one week intensive class outside my field of study, a class I'd taken over spring break to speed up my journey toward getting handed my diploma. I thought I did fairly well in the class and the out-of-state teacher who'd flown in special for the class did too, but our definitions of a good grade were different. I fought it. I fought it all. The A-. The havoc it wreaked on my GPA. The disappointment. The anger. And ultimately the need to forgive my teacher for doing nothing wrong (except scoffing at my horror at receiving an A-). I was furious and I wanted to be furious with him, but in the end, I knew I was just furious with myself for failing.
But I hadn't failed. I may have not met my own standards. But the only failure rested in the fact that I had demanded perfection from myself. I had cared too much about something that mattered so little. And I had defined my own value by something that ultimately was worth far less than all I am.
I don't know what made me put so much stock in my academic performance. I guess I'd always been that way since I can still remember my mom sending me to my room for calling myself "stupid" when I got a 76% on my 5th grade math drill. In fact, pretty much the only time I got punished was for punishing myself. And years later, on the brink of adulthood, I sat crying through the honors ceremony at graduation - punishing myself all over again.
I didn't enjoy my graduation. At least, not the way I should have. I felt embarrassed. Ashamed even. I felt like I couldn't look my parents in the eyes. I felt ridiculous. And frankly, I was. I was silly to think that the people who loved me loved me only for my performance. I was silly in loving myself only for my performance. I felt like a child who needed to grow up all over again and find out why I was really worth loving.
Thinking my family would love me or be proud of me only because I could get a 4.0 was not only dumb, it was insulting. I know my family better than that. I know they love me no matter what. And you may not value your grades like I did or think you have to earn your family's love through performance, but if you've ever felt like God loved you any less because of something you've done - you're as guilty as I am.
At some point in life, I think we all face a performance complex. We think we have to earn love and forget that this nullifies the very definition of the word. Earning love is essentially an oxymoron because real love cannot be earned or bought. It's a gift. That's a lesson we all learned back in Sunday School, but too often we suppress that knowledge and trade it for the lie that we have to be "good enough" for God. Like any good parent, God wants us to do our best and to trust Him to help us in achieving it. One of my favorite worship leaders once said, "it doesn't matter what you draw Him, He's gonna put it on the fridge." Does this mean we shouldn't care? No. But we also shouldn't care too much.
When I think about my graduation day, I remember my bitterness and I wish I had allowed myself sweeter memories. Because the reality is, I barely remember today the grades I got then. In fact, I only remember what my GPA wasn't - I have no idea what it was.
What I do remember clearly are the experiences I had in college. The moment I first saw my husband in the communications building. The late walks and stargazing. My roommate's wedding. 4am call times with our film school friends. Overnight worship sessions and movie marathons. Study dates and frozen yogurt with my life group girls. I couldn't tell you the details of one A+ paper or the comments of my proudest teacher, but I can talk for hours about the moments that really mattered. And I may never frame my diploma or flaunt my honors status at a job interview (I don't advise that, by the way), but I'll carry these pieces of my life forever.
So as you enter exams season...
Aim for good grades... But don't obsess over them. Get that diploma... But don't rest your worth on it. Do your best... But don't let it get the best of you.
And remember that when it's all over, YOU are better than your best work.