"People are uncomfortable about disability, and so interactions can become unintentionally uncomfortable." Stella Young

College messed me up. It's been almost three years since I moved my tassel from right to left, and yet I feel the lingering effects of that experience for me. I'm specifically speaking of those debilitating memories of absolutely failing exams in my science courses. Surprise, I was pre-med throughout the majority of my college career - switched from biology to religion as my major, and took some GPA hits. I had constructed the entirety of my identity in becoming a medical doctor that even when I was performing abysmally, dreaded going to class, and struggled to grasp the concepts presented to me I continue to persist instead of realizing I had other talents, gifts, abilities, and goals. I eventually figured out my real passions with journalism and educational advocacy, but not before I had crashed, burned, and failed many an exam, quiz, homework assignment in classes I had no business in being in. Those memories of checking exam scores, the anxiousness, the defeat, and the self-esteem blows that came with them still remain. Even after I had moved over to the social sciences where my assignments consisted of critical thinking, argumentation, and application on concepts, aka my strong suit of writing, I still expected to flounder. I didn't, but I still felt like I would. It was like flinching, only for no blows to come your way. 

Now I have a masters degree, and even with traumatic flashbacks of taking higher education and disability law exams only to do ridiculously well, I still am fearful of exams. I've been preparing to take the LSAT (law school admissions test), and find myself getting in my own way. I took a practice test and breezed through the reading comprehension based portions, but the logic games section seemed like this insurmountable force to be reckoned with. Having the privilege and ability (read disposable income) to take a prep class has been useful, but most strikingly was my instructor pointing out that my doubt in my abilities would be the only thing that could potentially derail me. I think because of all those years being labelled as gifted/talented, taking the honors/AP track courses, and being the child of high-functioning immigrant parents in a society stacked against you led me to impossible expectations of perfection. I used to be so fixated on being perfect in all facets of my life that I would wear myself out with unnecessary efforts and worries. I was smart. That was who I was. The entirety of who I was was entrenched in that single identifier. It's taken years, and I believe it will always be an ongoing process to unlearn those perfection seeking habits, but even more so to embrace the holistic qualities of myself. I'm more than just smart.

There is danger in encapsulating your wholeness in one aspect of your identity. If you lose that identity, it changes, or is undermined - then you plummet along with it. Grades, GPAs, evaluations, salaries, titles, etc. are not measures of our inherent worth as people. It is damaging to have our lives be dictated by tests, assessments, and the opinions of others, especially when those measurement tools are constructed for certain people to perform well. We take appraisals as infallible, and yet by nature of being created by an author bias is introduced. Being smart is an ability to adapt and apply learned skills, ideologies, etc. while intelligence is about learning ability. Both of those things are implicitly oppressive/dismissive towards people with learning disabilities, those from different cultures, those who speak other languages, among others.  Hell, our society is designed both in concept and in practice to be ableist specifically for those who are able-bodied, neurotypical, etc. Our tests measure how well we fit within the social confines of what those who make said tests have deemed desirable, acceptable, and useful. We all have different abilities, things where we excel, and things that come naturally to us. How different would the world be, and our mindsets about ourselves, if all of our various aptitudes were recognized, appreciated, and celebrated? How much variance would we see if our world was built to be inclusive of the abilities of all, didn't stigmatize disability as a fate worse than death, and removed barriers to make our world accessible - in all aspects of the word. 

We have to build ourselves around all that we are - that is our abilities, experiences, thoughts, and identities. We have to be all those things at once. We have to ground ourselves in that, lest we be privy to the fleeting evaluations of others. If we believe we will fail, then we will fail. We become self-fulfilling prophecies - spiraling cycles of despair. We have to find confidence in ourselves and change our mindset. Instead of focusing on what we're not so good at, let alone totally terrible with, we can rely on our strengths. Being appreciative of our talents and playing to our strengths will almost always serve us well. When we find what where we thrive, feel most passionate, and experience fulfillment - that is when we do our best. Take an aptitude test, ask those you trust/love what they think you're good at, write down things you like doing - use those to inform what you should do next.  Even when challenged, having the perspective of excitement as opposed to dread makes a world of difference. Embracing difficulty for what it is - an opportunity to potentially learn and grow - changes angst to anticipation. I'm still figuring out how to do all that, but striving to do so, even when I fail, has already been better than settling for fear, unattainable perfection, and writing myself as a single characteristic. X


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