Socrates’ well known nugget, ‘Man know thyself’, is apt for self-discovery and self-assessment. Tacitly, it says, ‘evaluate yourself sincerely, then act on that knowledge’.
As a naive 12-year old, in his third (and final) year of junior school, I fell short of this timeless advice as I prepared for the qualifying exams into senior school.
I was determined to come out tops, not only in my institution, but also in the entire state. I had convinced myself, it was achievable. So i applied myself to study.
My greatest undoing however, was repeatedly telling myself a lie. Up till that point, mathematics had always been my Achilles heel. I always only managed to pass the subject though i performed excellently in others.
There were a few times I had great scores but they were mere flukes. Truth be told, I never really liked the subject.
As the exams approached, I disregarded the reality I was well aware of and ignored seeking a way out. I prodded myself, ‘All is well’ like Rancho and his friends in Three Idiots. But the exams came and the disaster that had been on standby happened.
The mathematics questions proved to be very difficult nuts to crack. Not finding my way around them, i became unsettled and worried. I knew there and then, that there wasn’t going to be another fluke. This time, it would take a miracle to come out unscathed.
Incidentally, many students all over the state struggled with the paper. It was as though we all were under a spell that day. I went home downcast, moody and sober; praying and hoping that something – some miracle (anything), would happen to thwart the seemingly settled outcome.
Students ran post-mortem on the paper, repeatedly expressing their disappointment. I joined tentatively but the courage to continue was sucked away by the proboscis of conscience.
Months after, results were out. There was a mass failure and the news went abroad.
With six distinctions out of a possible twelve, I ranked second highest in number of distinctions in the school, albeit with a ‘fail’ in mathematics, I was numbered among the mammoth crowd that stumbled.
Hardly could any of the teachers grasp that reality; particularly because this was coming off the heels of a recent sponsored event where I scooped the overall best student award for my class for the preceding term.
But I wasn’t going to be fooled again. I wasn’t as much a victim of mass failure as I was a culprit of self-deception.
In devastation, I found a corner of my class block and cried sore. It was the cry of regret. But it was also the end of shame. People have said that weeping is therapeutic; but then, what does a 12-year old know.
It wasn’t long though, that some classmates and teachers came around to console me. They succeeded in persuading me away from public glare but the hurt was so deep, their words didn’t do much. They all thought I was mourning for being an unfortunate victim of a mass failure. But I knew better.
I became withdrawn for a while trying to appraise the whole episode from the build up to the exams up until the announcement of the results. The senior school certificate exams were barely three years away and I couldn’t afford a repeat embarrassment.
Faulting my self-deception, i rang the blunt truth into my ears, ‘You need to romance mathematics and conquer it’. That would be my strategy as I resolved on a revenge mission. Hapless mathematics was going to be torn apart by a wounded cub.
Three years down the road, I left the school as one of only two students who had an ‘A’ in the subject. I had to tackle mathematics problems day and night. Those nights, I’d study in my dad’s room, paying attention to every detail and example.
The way and manner in which I sailed the hurdle of the re-sit gave me a foreknowledge that greater things were ahead. Before graduating, I represented the school in not less than four mathematics competitions.
Within three years, a bitter experience had turned so sweet and beautiful. An enemy became a friend. But, the delusion from within had to be done away with first. Straight talk had to overcome treacherous whispers.
It was costly no doubt, but the lesson was well learnt.
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