The Beauty of the Struggle: An essay on never being the best

In high school I had a friend who was overflowing with acting talent, and after trying out for yet another play and not getting the part, I said off the cuff to my mom, "it must be so frustrating to have that much talent and still not be the best."  That statement has since haunted and defined most of my life.

In seventh grade, my friends and I started thinking about high school and honors classes.  At that time it was fairly clear to me I had little hope for any academic honors except maybe with my writing.  I went to eighth grade full of fire and passion only to find out I had no real grasp over the rules of grammar or spelling and spent the year trying to hang on to a B average.  I entered high school squarely in the middle of the pack, far from the best.

My high school academic career can really be summed up with a scene in the basement of Campbell Hall at the end of Junior year.  I had recently visited UNC, which had the number one photojournalism school in the country. I needed as many AP classes as possible to have any hope of getting accepted. I had an 89 average in math, so I was on the cusp of being recommended for AP statistics.  I worked up all my courage, walked into the classroom, and flat out begged the teacher to recommend me.  Her answer was, "you're not mathematically gifted, you're going to struggle every day in that class, but if this is what you want I'll sign the paper."  I took her signed recommendation and ran down the hall like I'd won the lottery. 

The next year I walked into AP statistics, sat in my seat, and realized she was right.  Every day was a boring struggle through material my brain didn't naturally understand.  I got a 3 on the AP exam, rejected from UNC, and headed straight for the SECOND best photojournalism program in the country.

College was not much better.  I got turned down as photo editor of the school paper, never earned my own weekly comic strip, and eventually left for UGA.  As a history major, I floated through my classes relying heavily on my creative writing skills and completely exhausting any memorization talent I had (very little). Other than a brief semester where I was completely spellbound by the 16th century Chinese economy (now there's a place to hang your hat), my college career was completely unremarkable.  

Even senior year, when I spent six months and 25 pages arguing that early French pornographic literature was the birthplace of modern day feminism (truth), I only got a 99.5 on the thesis.  WHY HOLD OUT ON THAT HALF A POINT?  It would have been so easy to finally let me be the best.  But no, that wasn't written in my stars.

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