“Worry about learning and doing what you love rather than your grades,” said my mentor as I concluded that one bad semester was the end to my dream of going to medical school.

March 29, 1998. I took my first breath amidst the city that never sleeps – Mumbai, India. I was born in a city that hustled toward success, always being on top, without knowing the difference between day and night.

June 1, 2003. As I stepped into grade 1 after 5 years, my life looked much like the landscape of this city – waking up early to go to school, heading to after-school lessons for dance or music or karate and whatnot, coming back to do more homework and to study and sleep. For as long as I remember, I remained obsessed with high academic performance and “being on top”. I was the superstar kid that ranked first in my grade and won all the competitions at school – whether it be dance or writing or art or athletics.

March 30, 2008. Our school handed out academic awards for the top mark in classes at the end of every year. On this day, I found out I lost the highest grade in social studies by half a mark and boy did I throw a fit. The 10-year-old me painted a picture of this being the worst defeat I’ll encounter in my life.

June 25, 2010. The obsession with being on top and the habit of winning did not change when I moved to Toronto in June 2010. Despite the ups and downs of fitting into a new country through middle school and high school, I remained the person that broke down from losing the social studies award. Some things changed, but I remained the girl that was devastated from not getting an A. My mark-oriented attitude got me through high school and landed me an acceptance to the University of Toronto with an entrance scholarship; I guess we can agree that it turned out okay for the most part.

September 12, 2016. Not being able to balance the importance of gaining knowledge with achieving good grades, I entered my first class in University – Introduction to Organic Chemistry 1. I paid attention and vigorously took notes as I felt the pressure of getting a 4.0 building up.

October 3, 2016. I made my way to write my first midterm in university after having studied 2 weeks for it. I studied from the past tests and skipped understanding the concepts. I figured that knowing how to do these types of questions would enable me to replicate the solutions and get a good mark. My biggest fear? Not getting an 80 on the midterm. I knew the midterm wasn’t going to go well after the first question asked me how many hairs a woman had on her head. I spent the exam having a panic attack due to the fear of not getting a 4.0 and worrying that this midterm would be the reason for me not getting into medical school.

November 1, 2016. I learned that I got a 43% on my midterm. This was the first time I had failed an exam. I quit any extracurriculars I had joined to stay in my dorm and study all day.

December 31, 2016. I learned that I’d only gotten a 70 average in all my courses and med-school seemed to be a far-fetched dream.

January 6, 2017. I decided to meet a mentor and reconsider my attitude towards learning. Talking to her was like a breath of fresh air. She was the co-founder of a national medical conference event, a researcher in a computational biology lab and an outstanding student. Her advice? Worry about learning and doing what you love rather than your grades.  And so I did. I set my goal for this semester – to find the best version of myself.

April 30, 2017. I’d held a part-time job at Starbucks and a research position in a computational biology lab and an executive position on a Molecular Genetics Journal for a semester now. I could easily say I was proud of the person I was becoming.

July 2, 2017. I still am proud. But I do understand how the people in Mumbai hustled day and night. I was born with the spirit of chasing towards your dreams engrained in my very being – the dream transformed from high marks to constantly striving to grow myself and broaden my horizons and explore my interests. While the little 5th grade me still throws a fit for getting a bad mark or losing that competition, the 19-year old me explains to the little girl the importance of having gained another unique experience I’ll hold onto forever. As the 19-year-old girl reminds the 5th grader that we don’t take our grades to our graves, I hope the future brings another mature voice that continues to ignite a passion towards hustling for new experiences, knowledge, and personal development.

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