Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Fear of Mediocrity

You know those self-deprecating thoughts of "I won't ever be as good at this as so and so" or "I can succeed, but I just can't ever excel in this" or "Why is everyone else so much better than me"? If you don't, then I congratulate you and cannot relate.  I was talking to my sister today about feeling discouraged because she felt that no matter how hard she worked she would never be able to be "the best" at her specific field.  As I empathized with her I also unintentionally reflected on my own experience here at BYU and in life in general.

It all started when I was little. (Doesn't it always?) I was ahead of the kids in my classes with my shapes, reading, math problems, etc. from about preschool to third grade.  We just liked to read at my house a lot I think.  And the whole 3 kids older than me led to some self-induced learning competition as well.  This led to the idea that if I wasn't the best at something, it was not pertinent to my life.  No adult imposed this on me, by the way.  This was completely all my own faulty logic.

Then we moved to Southern California with its incredibly competitive schools.  All of a sudden I wasn't the best anymore.  Almost everyone in my classes was smarter, funnier, more clever, and more successful than me.  This paradigm shift in my life led to some (who am I kidding?  LOTS of) meltdowns and discovering through trial and error that it was okay if I wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed.  I could still be worth something even if I was just mediocre compared to my 5th or 8th grade class.

In high school, I always took the honors and AP classes, so I guess that's not considered mediocre, but I sure felt that way.  So much so that I hesitated to make comments in class because my essays never received A's, my comments never led to my teachers telling me they appreciated my input, I always felt that whatever I had to contribute everyone else had already thought about and dug a few levels deeper to come up with some brilliant comment.

When I got to BYU, I actually felt pretty successful at first.  My freshman year of English classes I felt like I could hold my own.  But as I progressed into the 300 and 400 level courses, my self-esteem began to plummet again.  It was like I was reliving my AP English class again.  Everyone had noteworthy comments except me.  Everyone could come to some earth-shattering meaning from the readings lightyears before me.  And everyone received A's with seemingly no effort.

The difference between my university experience and my high school experience is that I stuck with it.  I received so much satisfaction from my Literature classes that I wouldn't dream of dropping the major, but I really felt that I would never be able to measure up to my professors' or fellow students' brilliance.

Fortunately, I started to really get to work and met one on one with my professors to work on my writing and reading skills.  I developed some amazing relationships with these professors and my writing has skyrocketed.  I feel confident in my papers for once (rather than writing a shamefaced apology on a post-it note when I turn it in).  I receive A's or at least high B's on my papers.  And I feel like I can keep up with my professors and classmates when I actually read the novels before class (which is a struggle in and of itself).  I've never felt this way before and I just want to encourage my sister to keep with it.  3 years of not feeling "excellent" but pushing myself to become so has led to the greatest satisfaction I have ever felt from any English classes I've ever taken.  The way I read and think has completely changed and I have learned to value my own opinion as much as anyone else's.

Admittedly, sometimes I wonder why in the world I would want to put myself through a completely different discipline that I have NO experience with next year when I am finally feeling like I truly fit in with MY discipline and can compete.  But I'm just trusting that my new-found skills are transferrable to the social sciences...

1 comment:

  1. Can I just say I want to sit on the dock in your blog heading?? Like today, right now???
    Anyways, loved your post Erin. I think we all feel like this much of the time. Makes me sad to think I didn't help you feel more confident. You are bright, funny, smart, (ok maybe you could be a little more hardworking sometimes,:)), and totally capable of doing ANYTHING you put your mind to. Even Primary Singing time, haha. Proud of you for working hard and loving learning--perhaps the most important thing we can learn--EVER.