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Give Yourself Grace

Back-to-school: the ultimate Sunday Scaries.

Maybe the school year has already started where you are. Some of you may be the lucky ones who have a few more days free from class assignments and projects. Regardless of where you are in the school year, new beginnings can be exciting but also scary.

We’ve all heard the cliché advice for the back-to-school season: eat well, sleep well, and avoid landing in the wrong crowd. But too often, this advice is far easier said than done. There are only so many hours in a day, and last-minute cram sessions happen.

Now, don’t get me wrong: a consistent sleep schedule can do wonders. But too often, the pressure for the “perfect” start of the school year can set us up for destruction. The second life gets in the way, motivation can slip just like that. The inner self-critic sees a “failure” that it can use to weasel its way back into your head.

Too often, we assign morality to things that aren’t… moral. “Good” foods versus “bad” foods. “Good” grades versus “bad” grades. You get the idea.

There’s some basis of truth in those statements: getting an A in a class is so much more rewarding than getting a D. I’m not saying that you should give up on getting high grades in classes and tank your GPA. But what I am saying is to challenge the notion that accomplishments are “good” and failures are “bad.” Do “good” grades make us “good”? Conversely, do “bad” grades make us “bad”?

It’s too easy for us to get caught up with quantifiable measures of success. Judging a student’s accomplishments based on grades is far easier than judging them based on effort. There’s a correlation between the two, but only one is truly within a student’s control. Sometimes, students will struggle in classes no matter the hours that they put in, and their grades won’t reflect their effort. But success isn’t just what’s shown on the surface: success can be accomplishments that go unnoticed.

Funnily enough, I think that some of the courses in which I had the lowest letter grade were the classes I learned the most. As challenging as they were, they taught me invaluable skills like seeking help when needed and finding tools to cope with my mental health throughout the process. I might not have aced them with flying colors like some of my other classes, but I didn’t have nearly as much room to grow in them, either. Sometimes, growth looks like getting an A+ on an assignment you busted your tail off for. But sometimes, growth looks like struggling your way to get to a C after countless one-on-one sessions with the teacher. Even if one is more celebrated than the other, both are valid successes worth celebrating.

Are there habits that students should try to implement, like a well-balanced diet and a regular sleep schedule? Of course. But adding a moral label doesn’t exactly help us achieve these goals, either. Sometimes, breakfast will look like oatmeal loaded with fresh berries. But sometimes, breakfast will look more like a couple of Pop-TartsⓇ as you dash out the door. It’s easy to see one day as “being good” and the other as “being bad,” but it’s just food at the end of the day. If the “bad” breakfast makes you feel more sluggish and groggy, take that as your body’s way of informing you that Pop-TartsⓇ might not make you feel your best, not as a “failure” in your attempts to eat a well-balanced diet. Similarly, getting an A in a class might feel better than getting a C. But instead of seeing one as a “success” and one as a “failure,” consider the room for growth in both scenarios. You’re human, after all; give yourself that grace.


Madeline Kim is a talented writer and will be contributing more and more to our blogs. We first met when I spoke at her school, and she wrote a piece about my visit that you can read here: