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"smart kid" struggles

Community Member

Hi everyone,

I'm in year 12, doing ATAR. Ever since I was young at primary school, I've been known as the smart kid. I'm always doing really well, because I work hard for my grades, and in year 10 and 11 I was dux of the year level. I'm known as the smart girl by my peers. That's how it's always been. My predicted ATAR is even 99.4, based on my grades last year.

But at the end of last year, I burnt myself out. Really badly. In fact, I still think I'm not quite over my burnout from the end of last year, but it's what I had to do to get those grades. My self worth is largely tied to my grades. So far this year, I've found small amounts of schoolwork overwhelming and difficult, which is very unlike me. And over the summer holidays, I was able to spend loads of time doing what I've discovered I enjoy- reading, art, writing and watching shows. I don't have time for all those things now that school's gone back, and I've realised that I've always worked myself far too hard. But if I decide to put myself first and do more of those things which I enjoy, I know that my grades probably won't be as good and I'll slip down from the top- and in my last year it would be a waste for me not to be the top of the year after all of the work that I've put in.

I'm known as the smart kid, and I know that the school expects me to do great this year. I'm torn between my grades and spending more time to relax and going less harsh on myself. If I don't do as well as last year I'll consider myself a failure, but I don't want to waste my last year working myself to death.

In conclusion, I hate the pressure. And I've realised that I wish I wasn't the smart kid, with the perfect grades. Maybe then I would have been so much happier.

2 Replies 2

Community Champion
Community Champion

Hello Lyssaa

Welcome to this forum. Thanks for sharing your dilemma.

It is hard when you have a label even a positive one as it comes with lots of pressure.

The ideal is to do enough study so you have options of what to do after school and enough that you don’t get burn out but are calm and enjoy your last year.
I think there is a balance there and when you find it hopefully you will be happier and calmer.

I was known as the clever one in my family and at school but at 16 I had wild mood swings and was diagnosed as bipolar. My whole identity was founded on being clever and due to my erratic behaviour I started struggling. I know that is different to you, but I learnt that not being the top of class was not the end and being healthy and stable was important .

Is there a school counsellor or your parents thst you can tsk to.

Feel free to post as you are not alone and there is support here.


Community Member

Hi Lyssaa

I have a son similar age as you who is going through the exact same thing. He's always been more advanced than his peers academically. He gets a sense of both identity and satisfaction from being top of the class. The burden on you "smart kids" can be huge and it is very important that you learn to manage the pressure. Life is a long journey and it's just the beginning for you. It's like running a marathon and you're trying to be in first-place all the way from start to finish.

I can imagine most of the pressure is coming from yourself, right?

If you look at the bigger picture, this is a never-ending race. Once you've achieved the score for your first-preference uni course, your next challenge is to continue being the smartest student who wins the faculty-medal. After graduation, will you get the top graduate job? Once you've settled into your dream job, you think about how to get noticed and be promoted quickly on the corporate-ladder. Then comes the high school reunion, have you achieved enough in life to show-off to the others? Or will the others think you had already reached your peak in high school?

Maybe you can try to adjust your thinking. Instead of focusing on the 99+ ATAR, are you able to focus on just trying your very best? If you've already made your best attempt, there's nothing more you could have done.

Here are some of the things that I tell my son. I hope you can find something useful from the list:

If you look at the many years of your life still to come, you would realise Year 12 & the uni years form just a very small part of your journey.

Study your hardest and prepare for every exam as best as you can BUT do not sacrifice your sleep.

You need a healthy balance in life. "All work and no play" is counter-productive. Set aside leisure time every weekend and stay away from your books/computer. For example, watch a movie every Saturday evening after dinner.

Medicine and law are NOT the only career choices for the elite. For your generation, there will be a wide range of new professions/career opportunities. (eg. robotics)

Grades only reflect how well you do in the short-term during your schooling-years. People-skills are far more important in the long-term for your career (and every other aspect in life).

I hope this can help you!