For a long time I have encountered criticism as if it were a personal attack. Something as simple as, “You totally misunderstood the meaning of this passage…” could turn into “Oh my God, I am such an idiot! How stupid can I be? If I don’t understand what they mean I am an idiot and she/ he won’t like me.” Suggestions about where I could improve were like ravaging daggers. Failing was like a complete condemnation of who I am. I think it is part of the reason why I could never take pride in what I have accomplished. Achievements were/ are nothing because I was simply trying to prove my worth as a human being. I’ve been trying so hard to prove my worth that things I should take pride in, like my Bachelor’s degree and my upcoming (I hope) Master’s, were just mere attempts at achieving something other people already had, worth as a human being, justification for being loved and valued. When my Aunt gave me her weight watchers materials it was as if she had given me instructions on how to win love and approval.
On Thursday, my professor sat me down and told me where I was failing in internship. She told me what I had to improve upon or else she’d fail me. It was a very personal conversation and I could not help but react very strongly. I was tearful and throughout the conversation I had bit down on the inside of my cheek so hard that I can still taste blood occasionally, three days later. I was literally sick to my stomach all weekend. It had rocked my world.
On Saturday a retirement party was held for this same professor. I was almost sure I wasn’t going to go because I felt so badly wounded. “She must hate me and she won’t like that I even came,” I thought. But I knew in the past my first reaction has always been to isolate myself away from other people, and look where that has gotten me. This time I knew I had to do something different, even if I felt ashamed and sick and devastated. Besides, my Aunt said she’d kick my ass if I didn’t go. So I went.
I went and I was nervous and scared but surrounded by so many people with common interests and a common goal to celebrate a woman who has had an impact on all of our lives. There were so many millions of tiny little interactions that meant everything and nothing all at the same time. I was surrounded by people I knew and valued, and other people I didn’t know and valued just the same, because of the company we were keeping that evening. (No, I wasn’t drinking. I had to drive myself home after all.) I stayed until the end to help clean up and because I didn’t want to leave the people I had become so familiar with over the course of my graduate program. And I realized that they value me for who I am regardless of whether I pass or fail. Whether I screw up or not, they like me, they value me, they enjoy my company. None of them, except the professor and I, knew the details of the struggles I have been having but the sense of camaraderie and belonging lightened the burden I have felt since Thursday.
Every single day is a battle for me to prove my worth. I am very hard on myself because it feels as if every mistake I make, major (like failing a class or overdrawing my bank account) or minor (like not taking out the trash for a few days and the apartment starts to smell), devalues me as a person. Successes, if they can even be called that, only buy me time. “Okay, I passed a class, got an A on a paper, the professor laughed at a joke I made, the boss told me I’m smart.” They only buy me time until the next criticism totally wipes me out.
The party helped me to realize that I am worthy; I am someone to be liked, and whether I pass or fail doesn’t matter because I am a good person. I just hope I can hold onto this feeling and remember it the next time I am faced with a difficult conversation. People will still like and value me. It is all well and good to work hard and diligently on school or work but it isn’t everything. Friends and family and people you genuinely enjoy being around, matter.