The first exams I remember taking were my Year Six SATs. I think we did SATs in Year Two also, but the teachers don’t tell you you’re doing exams in Year Two because they don’t like to scare the kids that young. But, you know, 10-year-olds are perfectly ready for a bit of exam pressure.
But here’s the thing: I was never worried about exams, and I never really have been since. School was my thing, school was easy for me, and even at the age of 10 I was assured in the knowledge that I was clever and would do well. Yes, if you didn’t enjoy academia you may want to punch me in the face right now but, if it helps at all, I was really bad at sports.
Before we took the SATs, my teacher went round and told everyone what she thought they would get. As, to our knowledge, we’d never taken any tests before, I’m sure my teacher thought she was being helpful and giving us an idea of what we were aiming for – but she may have unwittingly done a lot more damage to my psyche than good.
In the SATs you get numbered grades rather than letters, and in Year Six the average kid is probably aiming for level 4 (although my Mother will correct me if I’m wrong). The slightly above average kids are aiming for level 5, and the super nerds are going for level 6. And I was so ready to move into 6-town with all the other braniacs, until my teacher told me “I’m pretty sure you’ll get all 5s. You might get a 6 in English, but I think that’s what you’ll get.” I was heartbroken. I thought I was one of the cleverest kids in the class, and here I was being told that I wasn’t top banana, I was a slightly-above-average apple. I was pretty good, but I wasn’t the best – and I have been carrying that with me ever since.
How often in our lives does someone tell us we’re not quite good enough? How often do we hear “You’re actually really funny, for a girl” or “You look really good now you’ve lost a bit of weight.” Why anyone feels like they have the right to make these blanket comments about who we are is frankly astounding to me, but people do make them and then we internalise them. We believe that we’re OK at things but not great at them. We tell ourselves we’re a 7/10, a B+ instead of an A, a level 5 instead of a 6. Grades really aren’t everything, especially in life after school, but before my teacher told me that I was a level 5, I had no problems believing I was capable of anything. These days, I’m not so sure.
And you know the really funny thing? In the SATs I got all 6s. For a moment, I really enjoyed going up to my teacher and watching the surprise on her face as I showed her my grades. But that moment didn’t last. The damage had been done, and even though I had physical evidence that I was indeed “a 6”, I still felt like a 5. I still felt like I had fluked my way beyond my natural talents and really, deep down, I was still only one of the slightly above-average ones.
Recently, I called my friend Anna to see if she wanted to be featured in Liberti Magazine (*cheeky plug alert* she did, and you can read all about it in our latest issue!) We discussed how the article might work, and I said “We could do a straight interview, or you’re a good writer so you could probably write something up yourself if you wanted.” And she said something that floored me:
“Thank you, I am a good writer.”
Not “Oh, I’m not very good at writing” or “Thanks, I think I’m OK” but a solid and confident “Yes, I am good at this.” Wow.
Because – and I don’t know if anyone has ever told me this – you’re allowed to say you’re good at something. You’re allowed to say you’re great at something. And I don’t believe for a second that there isn’t something that everyone in the world isn’t especially good at. Maybe you haven’t found it yet, or maybe you don’t realise just how talented you are, but you were fearfully and wonderfully made by a creative and powerful God who loves you – he probably threw in a few talents in there.
It took years for me to realise that, like Anna, I’m a good writer. I knew I always liked writing, and that same Year Six teacher told me that’s what I’d end up doing (although she thought I’d be an author and I doubt I have the stamina or time for that!) But it’s only recently that I’ve realised that I’m good at this, that I have developed a very useful skill and what others find hard to do comes very easily to me. And it’s not being big-headed to say that; it’s not arrogant and it’s not ignoring our need to be humble. We need to believe in ourselves and in the gifts we have been given, and not be scared that someone else will say “You think you’re a really good writer, do you?”
It’s not your lack of talent that stops you achieving what you can achieve. It’s your self-doubt, it’s other people’s words washing over you, it’s the fear that you’ll fail and prove everyone right. But you know what? Do it anyway. Believe you’re great at this anyway. Fail anyway – failure just means you’ll learn and be even better next time. Because you may be the kindest person in the world, the smartest, the funniest or the most patient, but unless you realise that, you are going to deprive everyone else of your kindness, your wisdom, your patience or whatever it is that you have inside of you that will make the world a better place.
You, my friend, are a level 6 at something. Now go find it and share it with the world.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti