I got a B once and it crushed me.
I was always a straight-A student. I had an unhealthy obsession with grades in high school, stressing myself out to the point of being sick for the sake of the all-important 4.0. I was crushed when a single B in pre-calc dashed my hopes of being valedictorian.
I carried this same concern for grades into college and spent my first year and a half agonizing over each and every paper. Sometime in the middle of my sophomore year, however, I realized something important: I was already good enough. As long as I applied myself, I would get A’s no matter what. And suddenly, I was liberated from a burden I hadn’t fully realized I carried.
No longer worried about grades, I began to follow my interests. My academic work became more interesting. My class participation became more daring. My education became richer and more fulfilling. At long last, I was free to do my best work because I wasn’t trying to do the work I thought my professors wanted. I was doing what I wanted instead.
In the school of life, there are no A-students.
I share my fraught history with grades not to brag, but only as an analogy. Whether or not we were A-students in school, no one is grading us now. Yet too many of us still live as if we’re striving for the A.
We bend over backwards attempting to please other people. We agonize over manufactured benchmarks of success we had no say in creating. We compare ourselves relentlessly to others in a never-ending game of oneupmanship. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the most wonderful things about being an adult is that we aren’t being graded anymore.
There is no higher authority who can define our worthiness based on an arbitrary system of standards and percentages. There is no stern parental figure threatening dire consequences should we fail to meet these standards. Even performance reviews, which might be the one archaic exception, grant us far more agency than we ever had as schoolchildren.
Give yourself permission to give fewer fucks.
When we let go of the need to be A-students, we are free to define success for ourselves. I like to think of this as giving ourselves permission to give fewer fucks about things that don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter what society thinks is successful.
It doesn’t matter what your friends and family think is successful.
It doesn’t matter what your boss or your coworkers think is successful.
It doesn’t matter what the patriarchy thinks is successful.
It doesn’t matter what the industrial-capitalism complex thinks is successful.
It only matters what you think. And you know what?
You are already good enough right now. No one is grading you on how you live your life.
So live it however the fuck you want.