Friday, March 3, 2017

Notes From My Daughter - Exceptionalism and Excellence Are Very Different

Occasional notes from my second daughter. I never know what to expect when she writes but I am always blown away. Did this child come from me? Read on!


A few years ago I went to a rap concert and the artist on stage took the opportunity between songs to get very vulnerable with the audience about his life journey. I was astonished by the conviction which guided his lifestyle to the point where I even shed a few tears. He challenged the audience to pursue EVERYTHING with the mindset of excellence. And my honest response was, "Everything? How?"

As we all know by now, I was labeled smart because I accelerated through school at an unusual pace. By 6 years old I was in 3rd grade, 9 years old I was in 6th grade, by age 12 I started high school and by 16 I graduated and went on to take a gap year filled with more studying. I've always been younger than peers and therefore never really fit in with anyone in particular. My personal feelings about being "different" were neutral because I knew it was something I couldn't control. It was by nature a part of my identity. Trying to change my age or my perceived intelligence would not have made me or anyone else happy, so to some degree, I was secure with who I was and there wasn't much that could threaten that security.

Fortunately for me, I went through puberty relatively early (around the 9 years old 6th-grade point in this timeline) but no one noticed because by that time everyone else's bodies were changing as well since 11/12 is the average age of puberty for most girls. Physically, I had an ability to blend in even though I should've stood out. I balanced being visible and invisible in a way that was acceptable socially too. I would never say I was popular at any stage of my schooling, but I was known by enough popular kids and enough outcast (and I was loved by most* of my teachers) to the point where I just blended in. I didn't straddle the fence on purpose but naturally fell into place wherever I landed and had no intention of forcing anyone to accept me.
The problem when I was singled out. It felt something like this

Anxiety x Imposter Syndrome^2 = wanting to hide and be normal again

It's one thing to be in an honor's class; your still included in a base group, you have friends, and everyone tends to think you're great. It's a different thing to be the one amongst your honors class to lead the charge in filing formal complaints about your honors class teacher(s) because she/he has proved to be unfit for the job time after time.  To be fair, I was self-motivated for the mission at hand, but I was also wanted people to voluntarily choose to do better without me having to make my voice heard. It's burdensome when you feel like "I have to make something happen out of thin air due to this expectation." It's the difference between everything falling into place and everything falling apart.

 It's one thing to not be teased for not having an ideal body type (a ridiculous reason for judgment) by the time your 12 (a ridiculous age for such judgment) and it is another thing to be sexualized and constantly harassed for having the ideal body type. Again I wanted to hide. I wanted to just be exceptional. Slightly above average, but definitely not a trailblazer.

Some would call this feeling a "fear of success." From studying myself I can honestly say this assumption is inaccurate in my case.  For the most part, anything I've tried my hand at I've been good at it if not by talent then by persistence.

My problem was always with the crowd excellence attracted, their constant surveillance, and constant labeling of who I was and what I did. I was afraid of peaking within certain environments and getting stuck there like a hometown hero who never leaves their hometown because ever since they’ve been discovered everyone keeps calling on them.  I was afraid that nothing was ever enough, that my security could always be threatened.  My feelings were complex but God hit me with a simple truth later on:

"Your definition of excellence is not mine." Tweet this.

Excellence didn’t seem like something that could be constantly pursued on this earth. Jesus' ministry was only 3 years long before he was killed by his people. Excellence didn’t come with peace and it just seemed miserable unless you, like God, were already living in paradise. To me, exceptionalism seemed more obtainable.
But the more I unlearned my own definition of excellence the more I realized It's better to be set apart by God than set it your own ways. If you always live within your own limits you will never fully know God's abundance.  God honors not because of our efforts but because of his heart for us. Knowing that we are finite and imperfect he allows us to get empty so that he can always pour more of himself into who we are. He is not threatened by our desire to hide but calls us to be courageous. He knows the crowd will come but no threat can overtake the power of his love. Therefore the truth is excellence is obtainable as long as God has constantly made himself available (which he has). 

My unlearning process started at that rap concert and continues almost every day (yup, I get afraid every single day). I encourage you that when God brings awareness between what you thought was right and His truth even though the initial sever may hurt, let Him continue to grow the gap until you do not see the fear in the horizon any longer. Trust that He is truthful.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.  John 10:10

p.s: I would like to do research on early achievers; if anyone knows someone who could help me in that endeavor please let me know


  1. Appreciate your honesty and insight here!

  2. You are as clever as your mother !! As I read this post about exceptionalism and excellence, I was thinking of my daughter, who (like you) seems to be great at everything either by talent or perseverance (practice). I love the way your relationship with the Lord, has given you wisdom and peace on this issue..... My daughter has not necessarily been an early achiever, (never skipped a grade) but she will likely graduate #1 of her small class, and I expect (by God's grace and blessing, and according to His will) she will achieve all that she aspires. Hmm, for your research, maybe the top % of classes would be good focus. It is not common in my state to forward children to another grade, but to let them excel with age level peers, and develop some personal interests, hobbies, and expertise(s) hopefully.
    I always enjoy visiting this blog !!


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