Furry just came up from the woods after I whisper-yelled at her to return home and stop barking (Senya is sleeping, so a whisper-yell with a few claps for audible emphasis is the best I could do). She returned–hackles raised–from the valley in the woods where coyotes had just been howling. “Picking fights with coyotes? Let’s not kid ourselves, Furry; you sleep with a stuffed animal at night.”
And then I thought to myself, “Hmmm. Furry and I have a bit in common, tonight.”
I was a bit unreasonable in my defensiveness this evening too.
Last night I carefully crafted an email to a few prospective faculty mentors at various institutions to which I am applying. The email response that I received this evening was less than exciting. It did not make my spirits soar with the sense that, “I am awesome, and someone noticed!” I felt patronized and misunderstood. I felt defensive, and I started swinging metaphorical fists in my mind as follows,
“I’m a pretty good student. I have a darn near-perfect GPA from my Master’s program, and I have won awards, obtained grants to perform research in Kenya, wrote a thesis about it, have co-founded several sustainable development programs, etc. I’m used to people thinking I’m pretty fabulous in the world of academia. In other words, I’m awesome, what the eff is wrong with her?”*
Unfortunately, when people hand me criticism, sometimes I interpret it like they are telling me that I have failed. Often people who strive for excellence in life will hear that they are not good enough. But that is good. That should happen. It means that we are putting ourselves in challenging situations that will continue to help us grow and become better versions of ourselves. When criticism is offered (or even blatant rejection), it doesn’t mean “GAME OVER…YOU LOSE” is scrolling across the screen of life. I guess I take criticism to heart quite often because I try to live with excellence. And I get really unsettled when I feel average or less.
I have this serious internal force moving me to do things, at all times, to a standard that I can respect. And I like that, but sometimes I have to try to be a little less intense about where I set my standards.
And there is this lurking question in my mind, “what makes you exceptional?”, and it can really can get under my skin. I do not want my life to pass without consequence. I’ve been trying so hard for so long to make sure that I matter that sometimes I miss the journey for the destinations.
I just love this life, and sometimes I get so intense about living it. I really can not imagine what it would be like to not live my life at a 9.5 on the intensity scale.
Truth be told, I actually love learning. That is the core of why I love school. I love development work; I love partnering with other people to achieve their goals that improve their overall health and quality of life. I love caring about social justice issues and understanding the complex web of determinants that create behavior and outcomes. I love arguing on behalf of a cause when I am confident I have a good one. I cherish my close relationships with people and God, and I am in awe of nature. I love running and hiking and boot camp. I love challenging myself and overcoming and succeeding because it reminds me that “I AM ALIVE! Wahoooooo!”
It’s really not all about needing positive feedback. It’s just that, positive feedback does tend to feel important when the people giving the feedback are interwoven into your attempt to solve the question, “what am I going to do for a career?”
I do have my values set where they should be; it’s just tricky trying to figure out a career path. I do what I love in life. The tricky part is just figuring out how to make money doing the things that I love and that are meaningful. For now, when I let myself just be on this journey, I am completely content with how I am spending my life. This is something that I am working to balance; I’m still learning how to be at peace and present but not fatalistic.
*and yes, I do use the euphemism “eff” in my mind these days, as Senya repeats everything.