26 Comments

This post is making me laugh, because my husband was friends with your SAT tutor many years ago! He lived in Moscow in the mid-80s and was friends with Eynstein (whom he called Eynyick). He always wondered about the effects of placing so much pressure on a child by naming him after Einstein and wondered what would happen to him. I guess we know now!

Expand full comment

I had a dream I was no longer a BAT subscriber wtf NIGHTMARE

Expand full comment

The SAT questions were the cherry on top of a great piece! Super relatable. It’s weird to look back and realize how much achievement meant to me (and still does probably). I feel like you really captured that here. Especially when you’re an outsider and being smart means something to people. The P in PSAT made me laugh a little too much. Very funny!

Expand full comment

I can't even make fun of you for still having the certificate because I still have mine.

Expand full comment

I used Google Translate to translate the piece into Latin. Tamagotchis are still Tamagotchis!

Expand full comment

This read like a very intense college essay. Loved it.

Expand full comment

And SAT's are no longer. Great news for your kids. Too much pressure on my kids-- and they went to The Russian School of Math in Newton when they were young teens! Hehe. It's a thing. They learned A-Lot!

1. I'm usually in the good enough mode.

3. You do you. It's always best.

Expand full comment

This was interesting thank you for sharing.

We went through the same process in a different manner. My family scores like this at 9yo without any prep classes. We went to Duke's G&T enrichment program and left after a few months because everyone was just like you, hyper competitive.

My kids found it boring and contrived. They worked on projects that served the program. Free labor basically.

The programming you have under gone was to make you see everything as a contest. This is your issue.

Nothing is a contest. It is a journey. The pay off is figuring out what you want do and doing it.

I get such a rush from my research. It is one level under holding my babies.

We are not supposed to slot into the system. We are supposed to create one that is our own. This is where peace is found. This is where life begins.

Expand full comment

Love this. Hits the current mood I think...

Expand full comment

My most recurrent nightmare is to be back in high school and not having studied history. I scored 99/100 at my high school finals and graduated summa cum laude from uni. I should have normal nightmares like teeth falling out or killers chasing me, but no.

Expand full comment

Fab post. Amanda Palmer is a Gem. I've never known anyone else who knows what JHUCTY is. Thanks, this gives me hope.

Expand full comment

Your sense of humor and writing style puts so many real and painful things in a warmer and more compassionate light. The part about the aching loneliness and feeling like everyone else already had plans without you hit home. I struggle with perfectionism too, and I liked the parallel you drew between Will following Skyler to California and you showing up to the doctor's appointment. Thanks for sharing.

Expand full comment

Reading this reminded me of the time Zack Morris got a perfect score on the SAT and Jessie didn't and was mad because she worked really hard and he was well...Zack Morris...and now I can't remember if this SAT episode is before or after the one where she takes the pills. That Jessie Spano - 90s embodiment of Be The Best mode. Hoping you know about this little show, Alex, but worried you might have missed out because of Russian Math school.

1. I never got any grade less than an A- in high school (and only like two of those) and three Bs in college - operations management (barf), labor economics (never understood those charts with the elasticity and inelasticity, double barf), business accounting (FIFO, LIFO, triple barf). So yes the BTB mode is strong. Kind of diminished since becoming a mom and having to work on "going with the flow"

2. I was lucky to be an excellent test taker so bring on the scantrons. I do realize it is not always a measure about how much you know necessarily - and see the above fable about Zack and Jessie. I also loved the analogies on the SAT.

3. Keep it all coming. And it's nearing the end so excited for Season 2.

4.

5. Good and

6.

7. A little raw since the baby of the family has been in a scream-bloody-murder phase unless she is clinging to me like a koala. Also just learned she has vocal cord nodules which is caused by screaming so feel like we are in a doom-loop now that I know that.

8. Bring it. It's important to be earnest. :)

Expand full comment

If a perfect or near perfect score on your SATs in your goal you need a bigger tub to play in.

Expand full comment

Thanks for making this post free and giving me the chance to read it in its entirety. I think the line that's gonna stick with me the most is "Three armpit hairs later". Man, your post took me back to my own high school years. My mother was raised in Mongolia during its Communist Russia years in the 80s and her perspective on excellence, particularly in math, defined her so much to the point I rebelled against it as an American in high school. I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum here. You were given the classes, the access to Russian school, the years of training by two parents. I was the daughter of a single mother who could not offer those extracurriculars but who drilled it in my head that I needed to do well on this so-called SAT test that neither of us really understood. Also, I was expected to go to Harvard, or another prestigious school. The pressure to be the best actually defeated me, made me angry. I was always a bright kid, very studious, but if you looked up "self-sabotage" in the dictionary back then you would have seen my face on it. What became of me? Well, I'd love to have a little bit of what you have- that drive and thirst for excellence, to be able to look at something like it's a test. I'm now 32 years old and I still loathe being put to test, but I could do better in terms of salary, business, etc. I live in Mexico as a glorified hippie who enjoys the simple life, but I do wonder sometimes if I could have done more. Who's the loser? Me or you, you know? But zooming back out a ton, I think neither is true (see what I did there?). Maybe the key is balance between striving for excellence and learning to be content with a little mediocrity. So I guess this kind of answers your first question about always being on Be The Best mode or not. I try but I'm usually not because I remember that I don't care (but maybe I should care a bit more?)

To answer your second question, your SAT like questions gave me anxiety!

How am I? Well, I rescued a dog who turned out to be pregnant and I'm now running a puppy daycare. I said "Oh how selfish is the world to always think about themselves and their profit" and as I was thinking this, God sent me a dog and I was delighted to have her, still am, but I'd be lying if I didn't want my life back a bit. Do you ever feel like that with your kids? I know pets and children are totally different, but maybe there's some similarity in having to get up and take care of them no matter how you're feeling. How am I? I'm mostly tired these days.

I think I might totally subscribe now that I've interacted with your content so much, but I have commitment issues and I'm new-ish to Substack so I wanna be sure that I'm really interacting with your content if I subscribe, you know? I don't wanna subscribe and then kind-of-maybe-sometimes read it. I'm an all or nothing girl when it comes to these things.

Expand full comment

Alex, I’ve been reading your Substack for a while (like maybe since October 2022), and I always enjoy your stories and sense of humor, but this one - this one is the dooziest. It brought tears to my eyes because God I so relate and f*ck, I only scored a 1390. At the time I thought that was pretty great, but I’ve continued to struggle with my self worth all the way through my 30th birthday 5 months ago, and even with other people smothering me with heavy praise that I can never really internalize and accept. Please, don’t stop writing (and holy smokes I really laughed at the line about your English score and becoming a writer 😂😂). Glad you went with Lauren to see. Thank you for sharing this piece ☺️

-Joy

Expand full comment