keskiviikko 19. helmikuuta 2014

Day 388: Feeling like a loser – a “good student” dilemma


I had worked really hard for an essay I wrote for a university course, and when we got the grades yesterday and my grade for the essay was much worse than I had expected, I ended up really disappointed. I read through the feedback my teacher had given me and thought that she had judged me unfairly, giving me a “poor grade” on shaky terms even though she recognized my essay was well-written. I ended up being really furious, frustrated and angry, and I even thought of sending the teacher an email to “explain myself”, but I realized I would only compromise my future grades on the course by acting out of aggression and also justify my reaction to myself by acting upon it. I released some fumes, let some time pass and talked about it with some people.

I realized I was blaming my disappointment in myself on my teacher, which is absurd as my self-judgement has nothing to do with her or anyone else in particular. What I am facing here is a major self-definition that I learned during my basic schooling.

In school I was a “good student”. I learned things pretty fast, I was slightly above average in most subjects and excelled in some. At first I didn't think much of this. Later on I started noticing how this gave me a “special position” in the eyes of teachers – how they would look at me, talk to me and treat me with appreciation, admiration and acceptance – and especially when I started to get bullied and questioned my self-worth, my skills in schoolwork (and other things I was skilled at) became what I gave myself worth through. In other words, I wanted to do good in school because then I would find acceptance in my surroundings – if not from my peers, then from my authorities.

Where I went wrong with this assignment was when I felt good after finishing the essay. I had gone through an extensive research and writing period and managed to put together a comprehensive essay with a point of view I found interesting. When I finally got it done, I felt good because I had learned a lot about writing scientific essays and the topic I was writing about. However, I misinterpreted this feelgood. This feeling of “yes, I got it done” has usually to me been an indicator of a good grade: when I have felt satisfied with the result, so have others. In this case the situation was different: even though what I had done was good, it wasn't what the teacher had requested (in which case I still think the assignment was then instructed unclearly – it can't have all been just me being careless or “not getting it”). This is where I collide with the workings of university, which are not always fair and rewarding when one has worked hard, because there are other requirements to meet as well, depending on whoever happens to be the evaluating authority. It all functions around arbitrary rules given by whomever is in charge, and to be able to “play the game” of university – to get the credentials available – one needs to learn an authority's preferences and expectations.

This is of course not how I would have it. I would rather have disposed of the entire grading system on all levels of education. But this is the system I am within at the moment, and I need to learn how to work my way through it.

This is why I need to walk through my self-definition as a “good student”, because it contains the idea that I am only worth something when I rub others the right way. It causes me to be merciless towards myself and others, to justify my place at the top of the hierarchy, to distort the meaning of learning, and to distract me from why I am in university at all. In short, I lose my grip of the big picture.

Having this process running for a day now has lead to side-effects of powerlessness, loss of motivation (for schoolwork) and waves of self-judgement (when doing recreational activities). It is interesting to see how a single point of origin – the moment when I read the teacher's feedback – can affect my entire state of being for endless spans of time unless I stop and unravel it myself.

I will continue from here with self-forgiveness tomorrow.

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