Hello I'm a rat, in the proverbial race. And so are you.
I wasn't always like this though, I used to be on the sidelines, stretched out on a lawn chair, watching the other rats pass me by, sipping on my juice box. I remember seventh grade. I came 14th in a class of 30. Bah, the rat race is too mainstream! And so I'd chill in that lawn chair, non-committal, not particularly interested in the lifecycle of the tape worm we were studying, or the equations in my Physics book - I did enjoy the chemical experiments in the laboratory though, ah I remember the stench of Ammonia staining someone's uniform like it was just yesterday! - wandering the school grounds with my friends, drinking Milo, sitting on the rooftop, etcetera. I didn't think I was being cool or anything by it, getting Average marks wasn't cool in my school. I just failed to give a shit.
Mother was not pleased. Shameela was the girl who always came first in class, since the beginning of time. She was a friendly skinny girl with glasses, very studious, whose parents trained her well in regular revision, and who cried when she got 8 out of 10 instead of 9 - while I was just relieved I got a 5.5 out of 10 which meant I didn't fail. So my mother would use that line that Sri Lankan children dread to hear but hear too often: If Shameela can do it, why can't you?
Needless to say, I was not a fan of the educational rat race. Why is everyone clamouring to get higher marks for the Bio test? How does it matter? Who cares? How does your knowledge of all the functions of the dung beetle matter in any way? This ennui only got more severe when I was introduced to Literature in eleventh grade and I met the emo existential/suicidal/homicidal prince Hamlet. Sometimes I think I got my 50 and 60 percents - just to spite the race, as a refusal to conform to its expectations of me, just to be like, I forfeit! Fuck you very much! Mostly though, I was just lazy and apathetic.
But then everything suddenly turned upside down in university. Suddenly, I wanted to be the best in my course and took it personally if it was ever suggested I wasn't, as though my sense of worth depended on my exam results. I have become Shameela. I wonder if it's because writing and literature are more a part of who I am than the lifecycle of the tape worm ever was?
I'm a rat in the front row now, cautious and crafty. Sure I help everyone out with their work and even give my roommates personal tuition time before exams. But then I remember when a student I considered a 'threat' to my top rank position said 'oh I think I screwed up this question at the exam' and I told her 'don't worry, I'm sure you didn't do too badly' - but on the inside I was like 'YAY! She screwed up her paper!' like a crazyass competitive little bitch. I get nervous when I see other people studying-up, and I'm like 'oh shit, I better run faster'. Then there's all the pumping my fist in the air and dancing around when I do pass the finish line first.
Have I turned into a horrible person? A bit, I think. The chilling-on-the-lawnchair part of me still believes competition is just petty and is ashamed of my newly acquired ratliness. Because deep down I still believe the examiner's red numbers marked on your paper mean nothing. And that people need to do what they do well - but doing it better than someone else doesn't do much besides stroke the ego and give your parents a faux-high. Also it could turn you into a self serving asshole. I'm not there yet, don't worry, I still have a conscience. But hey, rats aren't supposed to.