“I don’t want to be perfect. I want to have room for growth.”
If there was ever a queen of balanced-student-lifestyle advice to seek out on YouTube, Jade Bowler undeniably wears that crown. Somehow, she always knows just what to say and exactly how to say it.
In this video, Jade sensitively characterises a huge dilemma most students within the education system will face: an intrinsic connection between the grades we achieve and our sense of self-worth. Once again, she inspires us through her own difficulties to do some self-reflection and reconsider the way our exam scores affect our confidence.
Jade introduces the idea of detaching the letter on paper from the narrative we tend to form in our head about what we are capable of academically, saying, ”It doesn’t mean we don’t want to achieve amazing things. It doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge the fact that grades are important to get to university and to have opportunities in life. Instead, it’s acknowledging that there’s a really fine line between wanting to do well and caring about grades, and letting yourself be defined by them. I learnt that the hard way.”
Undoubtedly, this hits home for many students whose exams have been cancelled this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And they seem to come from a place of determination and strength – Jade herself being rejected by Oxford University in 2018.
Jade continues by delving into the reasons behind why students are often caught in this trap of self-doubt. In her eyes, they are rooted in the structure of the UK education system, which she describes as “linear” and “meritocratic”. In other words, the better students perform, the higher teachers are praised. Often, at least is the case in the UK, there are financial incentives to reward academic achievement – in the form of bonuses and salary raises – based both on the performance of students and the length of time for which teachers remain in their jobs.
Jade describes the immense “pressure” this puts on both students and teachers alike, how this contributes to a culture of fear and self-doubt, and how ultimately the line between what we are achieving and what we can achieve is blurred.
It took Jade excelling to the highest level of education in the UK to truly understand this, so no pressure if it doesn’t feel real yet! But what can we learn from her journey and apply to our own?
Jade goes on to express how the switch between Sixth Form and University education reunited her with this lost love of “learning for the sake of learning”, as opposed to the short-term “memorisation” that most of us endure during exam season. “I still want you to care and achieve high”, Jade says. “It’s about reminding yourself what that grade is. It’s not telling you you’re stupid.” She encourages us to seek help from teachers, and to find motivation and inspiration from “being genuinely curious” about our subjects.
Jade’s compassion and belief in a “growth-mindset” shine through in her advice on how to react if exams don’t go to plan. “Caring about how you do I think is still so important… And maybe you tried really hard… Let yourself mourn the expectations you set up for yourself with that grade, without changing how you feel about yourself as a person,” she encourages.
She concludes the video with a thoughtful and uplifting message on how to move forward:
”Try to find the fun in learning. Try to do well – set your hopes high. Try with all your might to achieve whatever grade you want as a stepping stone to whatever you want to do… But do not allow worse grades change the way you view yourself. And also never let it rule your mental health.”