I was struck by something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head recently. I young woman I know, she’s a young teen, is always very hard on herself. She’s hard on herself about her studies, grades, performances, and really is the first to put herself down. She is extremely hardworking, talented, and intelligent, but always wants to make others think of her as less. Is she afraid to be proud of herself? Is she afraid of a standard she creates that she can’t live up to all the time? She isn’t getting pressure at home, except from herself.
What is the reason for wanting to appear, or worse, believing that you are not up to some standard created by society, friends, parents, or peers? Is it a sense of false modesty, wanting to advertise that you’re not good at something so that others will build you up? Is it simply lowering expectations, one’s own and those of others? I’m struggling to understand this. I wish that people could learn to focus on, and be proud of the things that make them happy, and at which they excel, and admit and own the ability to express the things at which they might not excel.
As a personal example, I can write. I can edit. I can teach. I’m organized. I’m a good cook. I know that I’m good at these things. I also know, authentically, that I’m not good at math. It is very difficult for me to manipulate numbers more than simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, and very simple division. I’m just not wired that way. I’m also not an athlete. I exercise to stay healthy for sure, but I’m the proverbial last kid picked for a team, and I don’t blame anyone for that.
Cooperation and sharing our gifts make us better as a whole. I won’t volunteer to do neighborhood beautification gardening, but I will pick up empty plant containers, and provide snacks and cold drinks for the people who are doing the hard work. I am an excellent tutor, patient, kind, and willing to try different things until something works, but I will refer to another tutor if a child needs help with math.
It has taken me half a century to feel good about what I do well, and not worry about what I don’t do well, but instead to find partners to help. I really believe that we as a society can, starting when children are young, and continuing in the workplace with adults, encourage collaboration and allow each individual to be part of a team that is stronger than its parts. The collaboration will benefit all. Collaboration and allowing each individual to share their strength will yield a greater result than people trying to do every aspect of a job on their own.
I’m not sure how it would work to have a conversation with a young person who is so self deprecating about their abilities, and asking them what they truly believe they do well. If people can learn to be authentic about what they do well and what they don’t do well, would that cause enough of a shift in expectation to create a spirit of collaboration and teaching the skills on how collaboration works to benefit all? I believe it would.
So, the next time I’m with this young woman, and I hear her launch into how she isn’t good enough and isn’t ready, etc. I plan to ask why she believes that. I want to listen to what she has to say, and learn how I can use the information she shares to work with others on identifying strength and working collaboratively to instil confidence and being proud of the individual gifts we each have to contribute.