When I was 5, I spent a very brief time in kindergarten before I was moved up to first grade. (I missed playing with shaving cream sculptures on wax paper — I remember that!)
All through grade school (elementary, middle, & high school), I was the youngest in my class, and I was at the top of the class. I graduated from high school, having just turned 17, as valedictorian with not only a 4.0 GPA but also a 100.8% average. (Someone did some extra credit along the way. 100% wasn’t enough.)
At university, I was still the youngest in my department (not sure about the whole university — probably not), but it was now a bit of a bigger pond. I was still near the top, but I graduated magna cum laude, not summa cum laude.
In graduate school, there was actually one person in my class who was younger than me! And grades weren’t really a thing. They were there, sort of. (It was an MFA in acting, so it was more about the faculty verbal & written evaluations than the letter grades.) But I did get some feedback during my evaluations from one of the faculty members, someone who had taught many of the super elite alums, that again gave me a stamp of approval of being at the top.
As I write this, I am in my early 40s. I am proud of the life I have and the person I am. But I have not risen to the top of my first chosen profession. I am no longer the youngest, or the smartest, or the best. And, in my moments of reflection, I ponder if that was ever really the case in my younger years, or if it was just a bit of a false perception.
I spent so many years being defined by the combo of youngest & smartest. It has been (and still is) a very interesting, sometimes easy, sometimes difficult path to letting go of that definition and listening for what defines me now. Which is also changeable. At the moment, I feel a great kinship to the labels of listener & seeker. We’ll see where that stands in another 40 years.
How do you define yourself? Has that changed since you were younger? Liz has had some thoughts on this as well.