Paul Sableman CC
I have been very confused about victories for a very long time.
Probably most of my life.
I went to a prestigious college preparatory school from grades two to twelve. My parents made sure to remind us of what they sacrificed so that this could happen. We understood. Our teachers reminded us that most people did not have this opportunity. We did not understand. We lived in a bubble.
Academia was challenging. But we loved it. I struggled academically. I fought to make the grade in a lot of my classes. The only classes I really shined in were English and history, and sometimes not even those. I had to take a tutor so that I could make my grades. I’d cry on the shoulders of my classmates after pulling all-nighters and still not making a good enough score on my tests. I didn’t understand what was going wrong.
When you grow up with the academic cream of the crop, you think that you are not as smart as them.
And then you grow up and see what the rest of the world is like.
I constantly tried to meet this standard that I thought I was supposed to be. Make the grades. That’s what will determine what school you will get into which will mean what type of life you will have. Play every sport that I can. Be in all the clubs that I can. Excel, excel, excel. The pressure. Do it like everyone else does it. Sure, they complain. Sure, they all pull all-nighters too. Sure you’re ADHD and now you’re on adderall and you feel like a robot and you can’t be yourself anymore, but now you are finally making the grades. You’re an overachiever like everyone else because that is why you’re here. We don’t have under-achievers here. You were brought here for this. You were made for this. Achieve, achieve, achieve.
You have a lot of friends and everyone loves you. You really get to be yourself here. Everyone loves everyone here. There aren’t cliques like other schools, so we say. You get to be outside and see the sun every day. You get to study in the quad and hang out and talk to your teachers anytime you want. It’s not like other schools. You know that. Everyone knows that. We talk about it all the time. You have something here other kids don’t get to have. You get to be close with everyone. It’s really special. You know that even before you graduate. You get a chance at first-choice schools. Most people get full-rides. Most people get a chance at a life that others don’t, simply because this is where you go to school. So just stop complaining. The amount of work you’re doing now really sets you up for life. Ok? It’s not that big of a deal. You’re just a kid.
At the end of each year, the school body would gather for the annual award ceremonies in the chapel. In sports, curriculum, and even for kindness. I got an award once in the seventh grade for volleyball. But never anything else. Sophomore year I “almost got” the English award, which sent me soaring. Each year a girl in my grade with the same first and middle name as mine got awards. When they’d call her name, “Meredith Leigh…” I’d peak my head, thinking it could be me. It never was. One time, they called my name, and I thought it was finally my turn. That even though I hadn’t made the best grades or scored the highest on my tests, or outranked my classmates, that maybe somehow I’d done something that would merit some type of award. It was finally my turn, and they called Meredith Leigh Johnson. I rose to the occasion with my head held high and walked to the stage in front of the whole chapel. When I got there for my big moment, the announcer looked at me, and then looked down. “Oh, I’m so sorry Meredith, I misspoke. It’s the other Meredith.” My head dropped and I walked all the way back to my seat with my head now lowered in front of the whole school.
That day I went and talked to Coach Rhoades. I sat in his office and asked him to help me understand. I did my best in everything. In the classroom, on the field. Why didn’t I ever do as well as my classmates? I didn’t have any awards. I thought of my Uncle Jonathon’s room in my Grandmother’s house. He was one of the first graduating classes at this school. She kept all his trophies. They glimmered in perfect lines in his bedroom upstairs, kept perfectly dusted. He was an all-star athlete and student. I thought of my best friends. They were decorated, too.
“What am I doing wrong?” I asked Coach.
“How many friends do you have?” He asked. “How many people love and care about you?” He looked at me.
“A lot,” I said back to him.
“Those are your trophies. Those are the important ways to measure how you are doing.”
The amount of work and expectations did, however, set me up for life. For college. My work ethic was better than I thought, and I was smarter than I thought. When others called me “bright” or “intelligent,” I was always surprised, because I had this idea that I was never as smart as those around me. I was so wrong. So wrong!
My first real victory was getting sober.
After that, being able to look myself in the eye and being comfortable there.
I thought that victories were trophies and awards. But that means nothing to me now.
Those types of victories are just the world saying to you, other people approve of what you’ve done. They like it and think that it is up to their standards. Congratulations. Which now means absolutely nothing to me. Because that is what people think of you. And I will not take actions driven by the influence of others anymore.
My new goal is to do nothing unless my true self is guided by it.
My current victories include approving of and loving myself. Enjoying the work and the play that I do. Pushing past my own boundaries. Exploring the parts of myself that I never thought would come to life. Doing the thing I thought that I could not do. Learning my capabilities. Serving others and showing up for them.
My victory today is showing up for myself. Knowing that I do not need a plaque to know who and what I am in this world. That is achievement. That is the feeling that I look for. There is no wall big enough to mount it.
Meredith Johnson is a writer living and working in Austin, Texas from Lafayette, Louisiana. She's been writing since childhood. She recently completed her first book of poetry, “Becoming,” which catalogs battle, surrender, sex, and what it means to be human. She is currently seeking representation for her memoir. Meredith is the subject of the Artist Feature for five poems on the Hatchlings Publishings website. She has two poems forthcoming with Poets’ Choice. Meredith created and hosts the podcast, "Remarkable Voices," conversations on creativity, culture and big ideas, available on all major platforms.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.