When did I realize I was an overachiever as a child? It must have been as a weeping thirteen year old curled up in the fetal position at the corner of my bathroom. The morning of the results of my mid terms. When I could not bear the thought of being anything other than at the top of my class. I was pleading to God that if He gave me this once more, I would do absolutely anything. Go to church every Sunday. Not tell lies. Not fantasize any more about kissing boys. Love my stubborn father no matter what. There was always an ultimatum. I could not stomach life being anything but the best. And each term my desperate prayers were answered.
I had the best snacks, the best clothes, the best friends and to top it all off, I was the smartest girl in my year. I even had to be the most well behaved child at home. Yes, I did it; I got accepted into one of the top notch high schools in the country. I did it all for my parents, my teachers, my family, and my friends but not for me. It was all incredibly stressful and exhausting. And as soon as I was done with primary school life, something in me clicked. I would no longer be driven by perfect grades.
The day I got the acceptance letter to that high school, I broke down in disappointed tears. My mother was in tears of joy. And pride. I adamantly refused to go an exclusive all girls’ high school. But my parents would hear none of it. Maybe in the back of my mind, I knew I could not cope once more with trying to be the best. I could not handle the pressure. I just wanted to be average. Normal and forgettable. And the moment I set foot there, came my new obsession with underachieving. I would never have to apply myself ever again. This was my way of rebelling against my parents and their constricting expectations.
Of course this had its downside. I was always being punished for being lazy or late. I just did not care. And could not possibly understand why every other girl in that pretentious school wanted to be the best in everything. In class, during sports, on hygiene checks and of all things, gardening. There were so many times that I came last in the aforementioned activities and got laughed at to boot. It hurt obviously but this was a very new feeling in my life and I secretly cherished not having the pressure of being pushed to flawlessness. Failure was a good look on me.
Eventually I transferred to a ‘better’ environment in my eyes, not really in my parents’. Of course this was after countless tears and oodles of pleading. They believed my new private school was for spoilt lazy brats. And in truth maybe it was, but I never enjoyed my teenage years more. The teachers were inspiring and well paid. The students were more concerned with their social lives rather than academia. Our halls were filled with short skirts and makeup, music in headphones, make out rendezvous. It was heaven for any teenager. And I settled in perfectly.
From here I learned the type of person I was, a nerd yes with her equally freak and geek friends but so happy nevertheless. I learnt it was more than okay not to be perfect. That I would still find kindred spirits and even have my first romances. And that shaped the character I am today. I do get times when I feel that I should want more in life, the best job, a wonderful rich man but I pace myself, knowing that what I am doing now is exactly what I need. That even if I still do not fit into anyone else’s mould of how life should be in your mid twenties, this is more than good enough for me.
Written by Freddy Njeri