I remember, in annoyingly vivid detail, the first time I was told I wasn’t good enough.
I attended an all-girls State school that sits outside of Liverpool, on a little peninsula called The Wirral.
My first three years at this school were filled with fun, laughter and amazing memories. Those were the days of exam-free learning and spending days with friends. Nobody cared about grades and nobody cared about exams. Retaining every lesson was the least of my worries.
Of course, as the saying goes, all things must come to an end.
In my final two years of school, as suspected, my lessons began to centre around tests, exams, grades, coursework and regurgitation became prioritised over actual learning.
This was the very moment my school years began to turn sour.
My main problem as a teenager was that I lacked a voice.
I was an extremely quiet girl and the thought of putting my hand up to answer a question in front of everybody made my heart beat out of my chest. In English lessons where everybody would read out a section of Of Mice and Men, I would calculate which section of the book I would be reading aloud and practice it in my head.
This unfortunately meant that I became eclipsed by my friends; who consisted of not only the head girl of the school, but also the head of school council, the head (and deputy head) of my school house, and the head of the eco-society.
Yes–my friends (who are still my close friends today) are incredible women.
However, as a young teenager, I lived in their shadows. Teachers could never remember my name, I was often forgotten about, and at the time, I liked it that way.
This was until I had to start proving myself to my superiors.
At the time, I had dreams of pursuing science. I had visions of wearing nice dresses and owning my own veterinary practice, residing in the countryside and living a life that resembled a cheesy musical.
To do so, realistically, I knew I needed to aim for high grades and begin taking my school life more seriously.
I took it upon myself to attend extra revision sessions at the weekend, find a tutor, and work through every revision textbook I could find; even taking extra work on holiday with me and sitting by the pool working out fractions.
I worked as hard as I could, but it came apparent to me that I needed the help and advice of my teachers.
But I was an extremely shy teenager.
I had to muster up all the courage I could find to stay behind after class one day, and speak to my biology teacher.
I told her that I wanted to pursue biology further, and explained that I wanted a higher grade than she had predicted for me. And I told her about my extra revision sessions and hard work to show that I was deadly serious. I told her all about my dreams and my plans.
She stared blankly at me for a while, and finally conjured up the following response:
“You need to re-think your dreams in life. You aren’t smart enough.”
Who says that to a fifteen year old girl asking for help?!
Unfortunately, I don’t have more to add to this story because it really did end that abruptly.
I didn’t know I could disagree with teachers. I didn’t know I could have my own thoughts and opinions about my own abilities.
So, sheepishly I agreed with her and left.
Everything I had been working for and everything I had dreamed of had been shattered in 0.5 seconds.
When you’re fifteen, you listen to those in positions of authority. You listen to your teachers and take on board every word—and you let it break you.
I remember coming home from school that evening, crying to my mum and crying to one of my best friends over the phone; who had to try and console me in the middle of a supermarket with her mum—sorry Lauren.
But this was not the end of the malevolent teacher saga!
After the many pep talks from my amazing family and friends, I decided to try once again and speak to another teacher at my school, in hopes that she would think differently; and maybe (just maybe) even be supportive.
This time, my friends came with me for moral support. We all sat around one of the chemistry lab tables during lunchtime, and I explained to this teacher what had happened, and that I was looking for help and advice on pursuing the world of science.
We all sat quietly while she perused my file on the school system. She scoffed.
This teacher, unlike the first, was irritatingly pitiful and mocking. She wore those stereotypical glasses at the end of her nose and looked down at me. I hated that.
She confirmed all of the first teacher’s suspicions. I was simply not good enough. I wasn’t smart and my efforts to study hard and apply myself better had all been in vain.
To cut a long story short—I never did get any help or advice from my teachers (or from my school in general).
But what these two delightful teachers do not know, was from that very moment, they lit a fire in my belly.
This, I believe, caused a domino effect of moments that has led me to where I am today.
I ended up studying the most I ever had. Late nights fuelled with energy drinks, coffee and anxious tears are what I remember most about this time.
I ended up getting full marks in those teacher’s exams. But I never did go on to pursue science, and I never did get my veterinary practice.
Instead, with the help and encouragement of my wonderfully supportive peers and new teachers at my Sixth Form College, I went on to successfully complete a Law degree and a Masters in Law from two of the top universities in the UK.
I’m now writing full-time and am happier than I have ever been. And in doing so, I have found my voice.
I no longer reside in the shadows of other people and I know my own worth. If anyone were to ever challenge me now I would bite back.
My point is—stop letting other people define your abilities and self-worth.
I got to where I am today purely off my own back. I will never credit those teachers and those who put me down. It was all me.
There was a time I truly believed that I was destined for failure and that I wasn’t good enough. I allowed myself to be validated by people who didn’t even know me. I took their opinion like it was fact.
May you never be the reason someone gave up on a part of themselves because you were demotivating, non-appreciative, hypercritical, or even worse—sarcastic about it.
—Sharouk Mustafa Ibrahim
But my story is just one of the many examples to prove that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
Stop letting other people into your head, whether they are a teacher, co-worker, an individual in a position of authority or even a family member or friend.
I truly wish I had someone to tell me this when I was battling other people’s doubt about me as a teenager.
Only you know what you are capable of.
Go get ‘em.