Why I regretted getting high marks at college?
Since I was 13, I always wanted to prove that I was smart because someone had told me they thought I was of ‘average intelligence’. Although they didn’t mean this as an insult, I took it to be such and it drove a lot of my desire to succeed early in life.
Needless to say, this was a bad basis on which to make life decisions and led to me spending time I should have spent with family and friends, on study and other high-end pursuits.
In my rush to the top, I forgot about family and friends. Ruthless in my endeavour to succeed and get into a high-powered course that could give me more power in life, I forgot that life was now, and I was making a mess of it.
When we make our plan for life, we often focus on the end product. That is, we say, ‘I want to be a millionaire by the time I retire and own a yatch and a condo.
However, we forget that in order to do this, we must spend long hours (often for decades) training or in the office. Too frequently, this is at the expense of ones we love.
I grew up in a great Christian homeschooling family and had a wonderful homeschooling experience.
After I stopped my secondary studies, I studied nursing then went to college to study Medical Science, a three-year Bachelor of Science. I spent an average of 10 hours a day studying – sometimes more.
My marks were great, and I got on well with my university lecturers who offered me jobs with the college (this is a typical college story for many graduate homeschoolers). Then, some lecturers suggested I do a PhD. However, all the smartest people were trying their hand at the GAMSAT, the medical entrance examination.
I decided I wanted to be counted amongst the smartest ones – that way people would have to admit I was smart. I did the GAMSAT and scored reasonably well.
I also had to do many extracurricular activities to put on my portfolio for the medical school. Not only did you have to be smart, but you had to be talented and accomplished and prove it. (I found out after, many people who succeeded in entering medicine with me had been high level athletes or had other amazing accolades to their name).
My housemates all but gave up on inviting me to housemate dinners because they knew I always said no because I was too busy trying to conquer the world. Likewise, my college group gave up on asking me to do things for them because, I reasoned, ‘I can’t put that anywhere on my portfolio!’
I suspect that I would never have stopped trying to climb the ladder to success, had I not glimpsed into the futility of it all. A wise man once said, ‘Vanity, vanity – everything is vanity.’ And perhaps this is what he meant. Why are we doing all this?
After working hard to get into studying medicine, I had to defer my studies in the first year of medical school as I came down with a debilitating back injury.
I planned on deferring my studies for 6 months while I recovered. However, during my period of convalescence, I began to question why I was taking the pathway that I was. I had many hours to think about this and I realized I hadn’t had time to stop and think about this for at least 6 years. My convalescence forced me to do this and I questioned my life.
At this point, I realized I was crazy for chasing other people’s approval due to my pride and I should instead live a good life which aimed to benefit other people.
What happened next
The result was that I felt free and happy. Instead of seeking happiness from the accolades that people gave me because I was studying the most prestigious course around, I sought to make others happy.
Some of the ways I did this was by:
- inviting lonely people or people who seemed like social outcasts around for dinner
- spending more time with my family and making more time for my friends
- trying to understand my husband’s interests more and engage with them and
- sitting with lonely people at different events and functions I attended.
If you aim straight for happiness, you’ll rarely get it. This has been a long-recognized principle. In a wonderful old book called Happiness is a Habit, the author Gordon Powell said:
If you only give in order to be happy, you will be more miserable than ever. If you only give in order to receive, you must face the disillusionment and final despair of all who live selfish lives. On the other hand, if your giving is the expression of the genuine love that is within you then others benefit, and you can’t help benefitting…You can’t give without receiving.
It seems the world would be a happier place if we focused less on marks and more on other people. And this is what I wish I’d done from the start. If I went back and had my time again, I would have aimed to score well, but not brilliantly – because that would be at the expense of the things I value in life.
At university, I wish I had less of an emphasis on good marks and more of an emphasis on helping other people reach their potential. I wish I’d spent less time in my books and more time loving people who needed it. I wish I’d cared for those in need instead of taking care of my own needs. But, we can always turn our lives around, and I’m so much happier for having done this!
Rebbecca Devitt is the author of Why on Earth Homeschool: The Case for Christian Homeschooling. She’s the wife of a husband who is her best friend and makes her laugh and a son who is too cute for words. She’s dabbled in Nursing, Medical Science, Medicine and Law before settling down to her dream job—being a full-time mother! The family live in Wollongong and actively participate in their wonderful church, Wollongong Baptist Church. Rebbecca has written for various blogs including The Gospel Coalition, Why on Earth Homeschool and her own Christian homeschooling website, How Do I Homeschool. As you can guess, her passion lies in helping people to homeschool well.