Sitting on my bed thinking about what had happened to me in the past few months, I couldn’t point out the problem; I couldn’t tell my parents, nor could I say to my friends the truth. I had to lie to them because how would I explain that my CGPA dropped from 5.0 to 2.1? I wasn’t surprised because I knew my tests and exams didn’t go well. I didn’t know what was happening to me; I would become blank and lose focus once the question was shared. I couldn’t talk to anyone because no one would believe me, right? I consistently ranked first, so everyone assumed I was good and had my life together. My friends kept calling me after they saw the result pasted; I had gone early in the morning to check because I already knew the outcome would be bad, and I was too embarrassed to face the shame. Even people who weren’t my friends’ text-ed me asking what happened, and I lied to everyone. At this point, I didn’t know who I was anymore since the title of “smart girl” was slipping away; that’s the only thing I have ever identified as. That was the turning point.


I’ve always identified as a smart kid; everyone told me I was naturally gifted. I enjoyed the attention that came with being called smart; I saw it as a compliment. When anyone mentions my name, the first thing that comes to mind is the smart girl. I had no struggles with academics, as I was a smart kid. Deep down, I had this unspoken pressure always to be the best and rank first because if I’m not the best, will I matter? This unhealthy thought filled my head. Seeking academic validation and being insensitive to the struggles of others became my default coping mechanism. I wonder why they struggled with reading since everyone knows I would still be ranked first. I’m the best or nothing; this was my watchword. The pressure was unnecessary; pressure from myself, from everyone except my family because they always encouraged me and told me I was beautiful, I was confident and ambitious, not just smart. 


I was left to face the smart kid dilemma alone. The tag ‘smart kid’ has become a curse rather than a compliment. Am I good enough? Who am I? I started questioning my identity, my ability, and my entire existence. What do I want for myself? What do I want to become? I chose to study medicine because everyone tagged it as one of the most challenging courses in the university, and why not? Since I’m smart, I thought I could pull through. I smiled my way through classes and met up with friends, but this situation was eating me up deep down. I couldn’t bear; I couldn’t bear being less than the best. Who am I? what do I have to offer apart from my intelligence? I couldn’t answer these questions. I instantly started to minimize my success and go inward, drowning in my insecurity of losing my smart girl tag. Self-sabotage became a cankerworm that began to eat deep into the fabric of my identity. 


I decided to Google my symptoms; I discovered I was suffering from anxiety and an identity crisis. I read about how an identity crisis is vital to an individual’s growth because it allows for chaos and reveals one’s authentic nature. I agree with this because if this dilemma didn’t manifest, I wouldn’t think of myself as more than a smart kid, which is detrimental to my growth. I haven’t answered who I am yet, but there’s a certain level of clarity now. I read about Erik Erickson’s theory (he was a psychologist) which said, “social interactions and relationships impact an individual’s development and growth throughout their lives”; I could understand and relate to this. Now I know better; I understand that presuming your physical appearance, wealth status, or performance as measures of your identity is detrimental to your identity. If these aspects were removed from your life, you would experience an identity crisis simply because you have created a persona around them. These things do not shape your identity but are a vehicle for exploring your life. To the “smart kids” out there, understand that you do not have to be the best to be valuable; you are valuable regardless. And if working out who you are is driving you nuts, you probably have an identity crisis. So, break that persona you’ve built, develop therapeutic measures, have some alone or self-reflection time, and allow your life to unfold.


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Pencilmarks and Scribbles Magazine was founded in 2017 by Clara Jack to be a home for African writers, asking them to come as they are and giving them room for growth. The publication aims to give back to the Nigerian Literary scene for the things it has given us.