By Sadie Lourie Weise

I resent being a pleasure to have in class.

In elementary school, parent-teacher interviews were plagued with this saying. But I always believed it was a sickly sweet, flowery way to say completely unremarkable. For the first ten years of my education, I resided in the blind spots of my teachers. I was too anxiously well-behaved to be reprimanded, yet I did not excel enough to receive their praise. Instead, my good behaviour produced a flare, blinding teachers from my struggles with math and my interest in the arts. This lack of support led my young self to conclude that I was too dumb to deserve validation from authority figures.

Therefore, I looked to my peers to gauge my worth.

I compared every aspect of myself to see how I measured. When I felt my peers were better than me, I pursued validation through other means. I fell into the role of the dumb, funny friend. My peers’ laughter, sometimes at my own expense, was a conciliation for my self-perceived deficiencies. I gradually stopped applying myself as I realized the futility of trying when it would never be sufficient.

With few exceptions, my teachers ranged from unhelpful to harmful. But the teacher that unintentionally damaged my self-confidence the most was my grade 8 teacher. The year commenced with the introduction of a reward-based system called Brain Power. Throughout the year, students who proved their intelligence would receive a point that went towards an end-of-year raffle. Points were tracked on a list hung up on the side of the room. As the year progressed, and I failed to earn any points, the list served as an obnoxious neon sign that constantly reminded me of my incompetence.

However, I had never felt so low as at my grade 8 graduation.

An event meant to celebrate achievement was a brutal reminder of how much better my peers were than me. I vividly remember the shame I felt as I watched my peers proudly walk up the stage to accept their honour roll award. I envied my classmates, who flaunted their pieces of paper, painfully aware of the few people around me who were seated. The aching feeling of my parents seated behind me. How disappointed they should be. How much they deserved a daughter up there with a stupid piece of paper. But instead, I sat. Feeling completely unremarkable.

High school approached, and it was time for students to emerge from their decade-old cocoons and become beautiful butterflies. But when it was my turn, I realized that my wings had been clipped during metamorphosis. So, I was left watching the flutter of my classmates, woefully mesmerized by the beauty of their wings.

While my parents often told me how smart and talented I was, dismissing their claims as just parental love was easy. Especially when none of the other authority figures in my life echoed their praise.

High school gave me whiplash. My teachers offered me long-awaited validation. They complimented my work ethic and skills. They saw the potential that my parents did. For the first time in a long time, I did not feel dumb. Instead, I thought that maybe my wings simply needed to be in the right conditions to grow. Maybe all hope was not lost.

Each teacher was amazing.

They gave specific praise and encouragement, challenged me, and offered support for my difficult subjects. My proudest accomplishment throughout my high school career was my journey with math. I went from struggling through the academic level of math as the tremendous gaps from elementary school compounded. But my teachers encouraged me, and I received help through tutoring and summer programs. When I gained a comprehensive understanding of math, my confidence skyrocketed. I finally knew I was not dumb. At worst, I was average after years of thinking lower of myself. I was content. I achieved honour roll for almost all semesters of my high school experience. My expectations ballooned as I thrived off the validation from my teachers and the understanding that I was smarter than I believed.

I am eternally grateful to my high school teachers. While they may not know it, they had a massive influence on my confidence. I know I would not have the wings I have today without them.

I entered university with an entrance scholarship and significantly lower expectations. I knew I entered a garden populated by the brightest butterflies. Instead, I felt like an impostor, and my achievements paled in comparison to those around me.

I knew it was common for students’ grades to drop in university. So, when I got my first essay back, I didn’t flip it over immediately. Instead, I was stuck in an internal tug-of-war between my hopes and my expectations. When I finally gathered the courage to look, I had not been so ecstatic to see a 78% since elementary school.

But my pride grew as more assignments were returned with increasing grades. Not only did my grades not drop during the university transition, but they improved. However, despite professors and teaching assistants complimenting my writing, doubt persists. Despite maintaining my entrance scholarship throughout the university, I still felt like an impostor. There were students much smarter and more hardworking than me. I would dismiss good grades as getting lucky or having a lenient marker.

I continue to grapple with the thought that I am a good writer. While I want to believe it, the doubt and relentless urge to compare myself to others plague any positive feedback. I have always wanted to do something creative with my life, but the looming cynicism prevents me from believing in my potential for success.

I know I am slowly banishing that doubt as I realize comparisons bring little more than harm. I want nothing more than to tell my younger self how intelligent she was. How much she should feel proud.

However, all I can do now is believe in myself for her.

To not give up on my dreams. To continue to banish doubt. That little girl deserves it.

We are both completely remarkable.

Author’s bio:

I am a fifth-year student in Communications and Media Studies at Carleton University. This topic is important to me because of my continuous journey with self-confidence. I have a passion for the arts and storytelling and aspire to one day write a book.