Do You Apologize for Your Accomplishments?
At a young age, I learned to hide my gifts. I learned to be ashamed of my straight-A’s. Well, that’s a little lie. I didn’t get straight-A’s. I got straight C’s in handwriting, and once–in Fifth Grade–I got a B in Religion, a grade which sent me into my first suicidal ideation episode. Right there, in the McDonald’s parking lot, sitting in the station wagon, I wanted to die because of that unjust B.
Or maybe it wasn’t just the B. Possibly it had something to do with my father having been killed just a few months before and how difficult it was to go to school with all those kids with their living fathers to help them with their science fair projects.
I never got another B after that one. I was pretty good at that school gig, and though busting the curve didn’t win me any friends, it did give me something to count on. Quietly. Always quietly. I didn’t raise my hand in class. I didn’t offer the answer, even when nobody else knew it, unless I felt cornered when a teacher turned her beseeching eyes to me to see if I would offer up some accuracy.
Instead, I absorbed the teasing about my hair, my glasses, my know-it-all-ness and let it shape who I thought I was. Ugly. Annoying. Undeserving. Unlikeable.
And considering that’s how I felt, my adult-self is pretty amazed that my child-self had the strength to keep doing the things that felt good, felt right: reading, studying, doing all my homework, thinking, thinking, thinking. My popularity was a lost cause, so I kept doing what I could do to stay sane: get straight A’s.
It was an internal source of self-esteem that I could rely upon when my environment didn’t provide any positive reinforcement, except in the form of the letter A and the number 100 written on my papers. The thing that hurt me was also the thing that saved me. I didn’t have any boyfriends, but I did get a number of amazing college scholarships.
And in college I learned to trust my voice again. I learned to start speaking in class, to engage, to reveal my inner life. It helped to be surrounded by people who’d had similar experiences. People who were filled with the drive to learn and converse and wonder and experiment.
Yet even now, I’m reluctant to share my successes with the world. Partly, I think it’s part of what we learn as girls growing into women: to keep things level, to not rock the boat, to not make others feel bad. As if the success of one person takes away from the zero-sum total of gold stars to go around. I know, logically, that my gains do not equal somebody else’s losses. But I also know I would have gained a lot more in my 41 years if I hadn’t sabotaged myself so much, hidden myself so much, been so ashamed of my gifts.
So, when I share a small success that I’m proud of–like having a post featured on BlogHer today–know that I’m not bragging. Please understand that it takes a conscious effort to be happy publicly about a small accomplishment. Know that I’m happy, so happy, when I see that my friends succeed, and that I wouldn’t ever want you to feel small and ashamed like I often do. Please don’t resent me. Please know that my life hasn’t been a stairway of successes. It’s mostly felt like wading too deep into the ocean while the tide’s coming in and I can’t swim.