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Attempting to rediscover a love for learning

Trying to face the difficulties of navigating college after years of prioritizing grades over learning

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Over the past few months, conversations in my new classes, clubs and social activities have often led me to the receiving end of the looming question, “What are your interests?” At first, I’d simply take a pause and respond with an ambiguous answer. It was easy to claim that as a first year in my first semester, the world was an open canvas and I was simply exploring. Even the reaction to this response would be positive — everyone excitedly claimed that being undecided signified tremendous opportunities. 

However, as time went on and I progressed into my second semester of first year, that reaction has changed. I’ve begun hearing more and more renditions of “That’s okay, you still have time to figure it out.” While I know those words are meant to be a form of reassurance, I still sense an urgency that I didn’t feel during the first semester. Ambiguity is transforming from a world of possibilities into a burst of confusion and anxiety about the future. But at the end of the day, it’s not the countdown to my major declaration that scares me — it’s my past education. 

Having grown up in an intense academic environment during my K-12 education, I learned that outperforming your classmates equated to rewards. In first grade, moving up a reading level meant access to a far more exciting assortment of picture books. Even in 12th grade, this trend of producing results for a reward persisted — earning better grades meant a stronger college application. 

Ultimately,this rigid academic setting led me to start stressing about scores way earlier than I should have. While I now laugh at my overdramatic fifth grade self, an 11-year-old worrying about their test grades so early on is no joke. As a result of early grading systems and an emphasis on competition, school became less about learning and more about trying to prove my worth through percentages and grades. 

This continued on through high school, where I stopped caring about the material I was learning and instead preoccupied myself with the grades I was receiving. There was a time when I used to love getting lost in the fictional worlds of short stories. I used to love manipulating numbers to find answers. But when that work stopped being a choice and became a requirement for good grades, my love changed into indifference. I became detached from my passions and forgot that school was also about me — not just my resume. Putting it into words makes it sound foolishly obvious, but it felt like a foreign concept at the time. 

By focusing on the performance over the journey, I did decently in all of my classes, but I never excelled in any single one. Classes were simply tasks I had to complete in order to graduate. I didn’t think of them as subjects I could possibly fall in love with and pursue in my higher education. 

In the end, I thought getting into the University would signify the finish line of this never-ending race of working only for grades. I thought that eventually, I’d be able to learn to find my passion. 

However, my hopes were futile. Those 12 years of prioritizing grades over content have continued to flow into my experience at the University. Along with being a student with no particular major in mind, I’ve realized that I don’t really have any specific interests that I’d want to explore through CIOs or other organizations on Grounds. Classes still feel like a race to a certain GPA, and while I certainly don’t dislike the ones I’ve taken, I also don’t particularly love them. Even now, I’m stressed for all the wrong reasons. When I worry about not grasping a concept, it’s not because I want to learn it but rather because I’m afraid I won’t be able to demonstrate my understanding of it on future tests. 

Now — almost halfway into my second semester —  I’m afraid I’ll never discover something I enjoy solely because I’m passionate about it. Even as I’m deciding on potential majors, most of the process is simply eliminating the topics I think I don’t like. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad method, it makes it seem like I’m getting closer to the lesser of all evils rather than something I love above all else. 

Moreover, I’m paranoid that one of the topics that I’ve eliminated as a future path is one that I might’ve actually enjoyed. Maybe, if school had taught me to prioritize substance over style — and content over grades — I wouldn’t feel so lost right now. And maybe, if I didn’t feel subjected to the constant academic pressure, I could focus on myself for once instead of my grades. 

But, I’m not here to sulk over my general apathy towards classes and content. Nor am I here to advocate for educational institutions to change their ways — that’s for another day. I’m simply writing this to tell my side of the story and to empathize with all the individuals who’ve undergone experiences similar to mine. 

Sooner or later, I have to learn to overcome my non-stop worrying over grades and move forward. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do over the past few weeks. I continuously remind myself that I must study to understand the content instead of working purely to do well on the exams. In the end, it’s worth it to sacrifice a few percentage points if it means I have the time to actually enjoy what I’m learning. 

Undoubtedly, this is a lot easier said than done. It’s extremely difficult to change a mindset that’s been ingrained in me all throughout my K-12 years. However, if I can simply convince myself to make the adjustment, I’m already halfway there to improving my academic experiences at the University 

Even now, I’m beyond uncertain about my future. I can’t change the way my past education has shaped me and the way I learn. However, I can continue to choose my present over my future by focusing on what I’m learning now rather than how it’ll numerically contribute to my success later. And, I hope that in rediscovering my love for learning, my true passions will naturally fall in place. 

Niharika Singhvi is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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