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  • Writer's pictureAalia Phiri

“My barn burned down, I can now see the moon.” – Mizuta Masahide

Updated: Mar 31, 2022

Once upon a time

Back in the 11th grade, 16-year-old Aalia had to take her IGCSE’s that year. Things had been tough through high school and her grades had dropped drastically but she was a bright and intelligent student, so she wasn’t too worried. However, there was one subject that seemed to be her Achilles’ heel, maths. Throughout all the tests and exams she had done, maths was the one subject she always kept doing poorly at. Her brain could never understand or comprehend anything that was being taught. If she understood something, she would then forget it by the next day or have trouble answering questions that were a little different to those specific problems she had previously worked out. So, on the open day after her 2nd

term exams, before the finals, her mum came in to see the teacher. Long story short, the maths teacher told her mum that her daughter was completely "useless at maths" and that she should change her exam and do the foundation level otherwise she would fail. Obviously, her mother didn’t take kindly to that and told the teacher off for putting down a student instead of encouraging them. It’s known that discouraging a child who is already self-critical will have a negative effect and make things worse. What should be done instead is encourage them to try harder and persevere (Taibbi, 2018).


Back home after the meeting between my mum and the teacher, I felt disappointed and angry at myself. Hearing the teacher say that I might have to do an exam that’s a lower level than my classmates and knowing my mum had to hear that made me feel ashamed. I could tell what the teacher said to her upset her, but she kept encouraging and supporting me. I didn’t understand why I was so horrible at the subject. Why did my friends understand it but I couldn’t? Was my brain wired differently? I’m not stupid…right? Should I just give up and do the foundation level? What if I fail the foundation level as well? I had so many thoughts racing through my mind, but my mum said something to me in that moment that made me decide I was going to do the normal exam and try my hardest to pass. No way was I going to do a lesser exam than the rest of my grade. I decided to finally ask for help and study harder on my own as well.

Asking for help

Studying maths was an incredibly tiring task for me, mainly because I didn’t understand it and that’s probably why I rarely asked for help. My fear of looking dumb and anxiety over being judged for not understanding something “so easy” made me feel afraid to ask for help. Nevertheless, at this point it didn’t matter. I didn’t care if someone thought I was being a burden because I needed one problem explained to me 3 or more times. I had to pass my IGCSE’s. I had to make not only myself proud but also the person who believed in me the most, my mum. So, I put my fear aside and asked my friends and family members for help. Surprisingly, they didn’t mind if they had to explain something to me multiple times and even gave me mini tests to work out by myself. One friend even invited me over to her place so that we could study together. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of time since the exam was in a few months and there was a lot to cover so I focused on the things I kind of understood but still wasn’t good at instead of things I completely didn’t understand.

Exam results

I did my exam and honestly, it did not go as well as I hoped but it also wasn’t as bad as I expected. I got my results a couple of months later and I passed!! I got a D, the lowest grade on my report card, but it didn’t matter because I passed, and I did the normal exam instead of foundation level! My mum and I were elated. However, I still couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed in myself, maybe if I had had the courage to ask for help earlier I might have done better and gotten a higher grade. Why didn’t I ask for help? Was there a good reason behind it? Well, according to social psychologist Heidi Grant, we as people, often think people are going to reject us. We underestimate people wanting to help us and so we feel afraid to ask for help. Most people who are afraid to ask for help often assume asking for help means they are failures. They assume that people are too busy with their own lives and the people they ask will consider them a burden. Yet, researched has shown that most people will agree to help if asked and that’s because humans are wired to believe that helping someone means they are a good person, and who doesn’t want to be seen as a good person (Chen, 2018).

However, since I passed, I also felt proud of myself for overcoming the obstacle and not giving up on myself. I felt happy because I showed resilience in my schoolwork and I did that by being action oriented and getting support from others, this in turn helped me be optimistic, have faith in myself and not be easily discouraged by my failure. Moreover, I didn’t allow the failure to knock me down, instead I wallowed in sadness for a bit and then picked myself back up. All of which, according to the Conner-Davidson Resilience scale, are a few characteristics that resilient individuals possess (Riopel, 2021).


Looking back at the situation after learning about resilience in university, allowed me to see that even though I dealt with the situation well, there are skills I could have incorporated to do better. Instead of blaming myself and reinforcing my cognitive distortions that I was a failure and I would be a burden if I asked for help, I should have asked for help before it was too late (Riopel, 2021). Furthermore, I should have had more confidence in my intellectual abilities instead of doubting myself.

Putting in the work

Now in the future and in this post-Covid world, if I’m ever faced with a similar situation or any difficult situation, I will ask for assistance immediately instead of hesitating and assuming I’m being a burden by doing so. That is one skill I would like to develop because I’m the type of person who still feels like I would be bothering someone if I asked them to help me even if that’s not the case. I aim to be able to ask for help effortlessly in the couple of years. Another skill I wish I had had back then, which I am incorporating now is taking care of my body and mind. The guest speaker we had, Dr. Louise Lambert, really helped me understand that taking of our bodies and refreshing our mind during an adversity can help us be more resilient and overcome it. Hence, I will do that by working out more. I already incorporate a workout at least once or twice a week, but from now on I’ll increase it to at least 3 times a week. I’ll be following some YouTube fitness videos, such as Emi Wong, as well taking a walk outside for 1-2 hours. I will also begin incorporating some meditation and yoga in the morning for 15 minutes 3 times a week. This will aid my mental health as well and hopefully; in a year I will notice a positive change.


Chen, A., 2018. A social psychologist explains why we should ask for help more often. [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Riopel, L., 2021. Resilience Skills, Factors and Strategies of the Resilient Person. [Online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 March 2021].

Taibbi, R., 2018. The Discouraged Child. [Online] Psychology Today. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 March 2021].

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