When I was little I internalized a lot. I’m sure we all do. It’s human nature to take things people say to heart or to even read between the lines and perceive what they may really think or feel about you.
When I was about 9 or 10 I remember running in gym class. We must have been playing some sort of game or sprinting or something. One of the teachers began to laugh at me. It was an innocent laugh, followed by a "Roni, you just aren’t a natural runner, now are you?"
I don’t remember being particularly hurt by the comment. I didn’t cry or even care that I wasn’t "a runner." I just absorbed the statement and assumed it to be true. All through middle and high school I’d shy away from activities that involved running. In little league I’d arrive late to practice because I knew the first 10 minutes were laps around the field. I must have uttered the phrase "I can’t run." hundreds of times. It was my canned response right up until a friend challenged me to run a 5k event a little over a year and half ago.
Now, of course, I’m training for a marathon and I enjoy the time and challenge of running. I wonder if I would have realized that a lot sooner instead of waiting until my 30s if I had a different teacher.
Fast forward a few years. I had a similar experience with my writing. My Dad is a musician and routinely wrote his own songs. I loved and admired that about him. Always wanting to somehow be involved. One day I wrote him a song. Not music but lyrics. I was so proud and so excited to share it with him. When I handed over the piece of paper I could hardly contain my excitement. Instead of evaluating the song meaning or even it’s promise he immediately critiqued my grammar and spelling. I was crushed. Like the teacher who laughed at my running, I don’t think Dad was trying to be insensitive. He thought he was helping and teaching me. But at the time, I wanted to crawl into a hole.
From that moment on I declared myself a horrible writer. I would never let anyone but teachers read my words again (until now of course). The red marks and criticism paired with my inability to self-edit and spot small details reaffirmed my fear, I was a horrible writer. I still declare that I am not "a writer" and look what am I doing right at this very moment! Go figure.
The next trip down memory lane isn’t really a specific moment more like a sprinkling of one particular statement I heard throughout my teens and 20s. It is one remark that makes my blood boil. Not that this phrase was uttered to me but that this phrase even exists in our collective consciousness.
It’s the dreaded "You’d be so pretty if…" statement. You know the one, right? Tack on any "if" at the end but it mostly involves losing weight or being at a particular size. I heard it in many forms growing up from a whole host of different people. Peers, adults, bosses. The one that sticks in my mind the most happened in the office of a college summer job I had. I was 18. Working as a telemarketer and it was the first time I had an office position where I dressed up.
I remember wearing a cheap K-mart business suit. I recently lost a few pounds (it was the summertime, always a consistent dip in the scale as per my yo-yo dieting cycle) I felt like a million bucks! I did my hair, put on makeup and strutted into the office confidently.
Hanging out with "the boys" in the office (I was starkly out numbered and easily the junior of the bunch.) Somehow the conversation shifted to models and women appearances in general. It was then that I was told I’d be "really hot" if I only lost but a few pounds.
I, of course, laughed it off. Wondering if I should even be thankful to be considered "hot" at all. Now I could give a shit, but that’s much easier to say and mean at 33 then it was at 18.
Let’s do one more memory for humor’s sake. At least I find it humorous. Freshman year of college was an exciting time for me. I moved away from home. I was finally smelling the air of independence I longed after for so long. I had no idea what I was doing but I knew I was in the right place.
The year was 1994. Computers were starting to become abundant but college was my first experience using one. We didn’t have the means growing up for our own and my small catholic school was proud to have the 10-12 word processors for it’s AP english classes. Which, of course, I wasn’t in. I’m not a writer. ;)
Regardless, one of the first classes I took in college was English 101. I was stoked as my teacher was super cool. She embodied everything I thought a college professor should be. She was young, hip, and independent. I really looked up to her. One day, in her office, I brought my little 3.5 inch floppy disk with my latest paper saved on it for a critique (terrified, I should add). I go to put the disk in and it wouldn’t fit. It’s upside down! Now remember, this really is one of my first interactions with a computer. She laughs out loud and says, "wow, you really are computer illiterate, aren’t you?" I immediately agree and declare myself and techno idiot. Telling her I have no idea how to use a computer. I agree, I must be "technologically challenged" as she put it.
I believed that for a few months until I took an Intro to Computer class, aced it, and went on to earn my degree in Management Information Systems. Afterwards excelling in my Instructional TECHNOLOGY Masters program. Now I proudly declare myself a geek.
I don’t think my professor’s intention was to define me as a technology idiot but I wonder; If that was told to me when I was just a little younger and more impressionable would I have shied away from technology to the point of me avoiding it completely. And where would I be now if so? I have fun pondering that considering I have built a highly technical career over the last 10 years that I am very proud of.
My goal with this post isn’t to sling blame at people in my past for things I did or did not do in my life. It’s more about self discovery, confidence and spreading a message of self-esteem. Have you ever thought about how you define yourselves and possibly how you came to those conclusions. Do we live to others expectations of ourselves no matter if they are negative or positive. How much do other’s innocent words affect our choices and confidence. Just something I’ve been pondering lately. Please excuse the extra long wordy post. I felt like writing. :)