Tag Archives: confidence

I Shall Never Delete Again

8 Mar

Don't do it! You have so much to live for!

During my last semester at college, I took a Narrative Journalism class taught by a Real Journalist.  I heard that school officials considered it a real coup to get him to teach–and it was. He was a Pulitzer prize winner whose byline had appeared in the kind of publications that people read proudly in Starbucks, spread out on their coffee tables when company comes over, and cite in arguments they want to win. He was knowledgeable, intent on really teaching his students, and a damn good writer.

He scared the bejeezus out of me.

He looked like an older Mr. Clean or a younger Mr. Magoo, but he oozed toughness and had a zero-tolerance, no-nonsense attitude…when he was happy. On the first day of class, there were at least thirty students eagerly awaiting the prof’s arrival. When he did finally appear,  he froze in the doorway and raised his eyebrows. “There’s a lot of you this semester!” We all looked around and sort of chuckled, because that’s what you do when a teacher makes an unfunny comment. He put his briefcase on the podium and his hands on his hips. “Well, no matter. I expect at least half of you will be gone by next class. Nothing personal, you just won’t make it because either you or your writing won’t hold up.” Interestingly enough, he was right. By the second class, our numbers had significantly dwindled.

He was really into calling on people out of the blue. I thought of it like guerilla teaching because he would psych the class out, pretend he was focused on the board or a book or another topic, then suddenly bark “You! Michael! Your lede! Now!” Some students, I think, got a big kick out of the criticism. “Snore! Boring! You have to make sure the reader gets beyond the first sentence! Your third sentence is decent–why did you hide it? You’ve got to use your brain a little more–think about it!”

I had a merciless love-hate relationship with this course. I recognized the value of the learning experience, but when it was time for class I would cling to the ceiling like a terrified cat and my roommate would have to approach cautiously and coax me down in a gentle voice. “It’ll be okay…You can do this…Pretty girl…Good girl…” It was a three-hour class (7-10 p.m.) and sometimes during our mid-class break I would see other students grabbing a late-evening snack or hanging around the quad and I’d dream about making a break for it. I had a big soul-searching experience though, and decided that my fight or flight instincts were heavily skewed and mightily screwed up. (Fight or flight? Which way is the door?) So, even though the class and the teacher made me cower and sweat (on the inside and outside, respectively), I stayed. I stuck it out.

My final assignment of the semester was a profile on the author Michelle Huneven–whose work is fabulously haunting, by the way. When I got one of my many drafts back the professor’s comments were inserted directly into the piece and written in all caps. It gave the impression that he was interrupting my paper to yell his thoughts. 

Huneven is the author of three novels which GO ON A “WHICH” HUNT! KILL THE WHICH! IT DRAGS YOUR WRITING DOWN DOWN DOWN! have individually and collectively earned critical praise and success.

He definitely had some problems with my profile, but in between the critique, if you looked carefully, were little nuggets of praise. It’s not like he gushed or anything, but that was the point. He wasn’t a gusher; you earned his compliments or you didn’t. That’s why those nuggets–extra crispy, the way approval should be–meant the world to me. 

Recently, I deleted  these comments. It was an accident–a horrible, tragic accident. To make a long story short (and this has gotten to be a long story) I had a whole bunch of windows open on my computer screen and didn’t realize which one I was working in. Stupidly, I deleted his comments and when Word asked if I wanted to save all changes, I clicked yes.

At first I thought I could ask some techy person (gods, in my opinion) and they could magically find what I had foolishly lost. But what’s saved is saved. When I truly realized what I had done, I unraveled. I’ll admit, I even cried. I’d been storing those comments like nuts for the winter. I’d been treasuring them like a mystical golden ring. (“My precious!”) My mom happened to call during this little crisis and, after decoding the situation from my frustrated ranting, asked if I still had the article itself. Well, yes. I still had the profile I had written on Huneven, just not the critique by my professor. “But you have the article!” My mom said. As far as she was concerned, that was what was important.

I’ve tried to find comfort in the fact that my words weren’t lost. Shouldn’t I care more about my work than this response to it? Who cares if I can’t quote exactly what those comments said, as long as I remember how I felt reading them. That’s the theory, anyway. The reality is that I’m still mourning the loss of those comments. I think we all keep little reminders of success and struggle. It’s an ego thing. It’s a confidence thing. It’s a human thing.

Before you ask, my computer now automatically makes backups and saves originals, so hopefully that will counteract my technological foolishness. You know one of the most frustrating things about this experience? When I told people what happened, they would say things like “You didn’t back it up?” or “That’s why you should always have a copy elsewhere.” Let me tell you, as legitimate and natural as those reactions may be, they’re just not particularly helpful or comforting. I might have to teach an etiquette course so people know how to properly deal with computer document bereavement. For me, there was a lot of chocolate involved, which (WHICH!) I should probably devote a whole class to….

H-A-P-P-Why?

1 Oct

Happy people confuse me. That sounds bad, but I hope you’ll take my words for it that I’m neither a bitter old woman nor theposter-child for depression. I wouldn’t describe myself as an unhappy person. I like musicals and babies and puppies. I smile regularly enough. I sing to myself for no reason. Let’s be clear–I do not wish unhappiness on anyone.

Still, in the interest of being clear, I feel obligated to repeat: happy people confuse me. 

At work, there is one other intern besides me–let’s call her Joy. When I was hired, I didn’t know that they had accepted any other interns, so it was a surprise (and a bit of a relief) when I met my one and only peer.  Joy is a very sweet person. We haven’t gotten a lot of chances to chat and bond since we’re each given different projects and we spend our lunch time working but I’ve interacted with her enough to know that she redefines happy. When we were each assigned our own cubicle, she looked at me and squealed “eeeeee!” while shaking her fists like maracas. When we got to sit in on an editorial staff meeting she skipped to down the hall to the room. On our first day, she asked our bosses if it would be okay if she brought cookies or baked goods to work. (The only thing she likes more than baking is sharing goodies with others!) We had to take a proof-reading test on our second day. It took me 3 1/2 hours to finish and I still missed a lot of mistakes. Afterwards, I was sitting there feeling slightly miserable when Joy plopped down next to me with her lunch (which consisted, suspiciously, of all the major food groups). “Wasn’t that fun?” she asked. Big smile. Contented sigh. I started to feel like I was playing Captain Von Trapp to her Maria. And how do you solve a problem like that?

I’ve discovered that I don’t know how to act around super perky, perpetually cheerful, prone-to-squealing people. Have you ever watched someone who’s unfamiliar and uncomfortable with children when he/she is around a kid? There could be amused bafflement, mindless panic, painful formality. Well, it’s like that when I’m around a super perky, hyper-happy person. My personality doesn’t know what to do with itself. My close friends will tell you that my sense of humor tends to include a lot of sarcasm and facial expressions–neither of which seem appropriate when faced with a Mary Sunshine type.   

It would be fairly easy (and maybe a little satisfying in a petty sort of way) to hate her. It just dawned on me today who she really reminds me of–okay, I’ve likened her to everyone from Pollyanna to Julie Andrews but to really get where I’m coming from there’s only one pop culture icon you should bring to mind… 

Progressive lost me as a potential customer the second they signed on the spokeswoman from the planet Perky

There’s a catch though. I think Joy is actually nice, genuinely happy. (Unlike Progressive’s Flo, who couldn’t possibly be that inspired by car insurance. She’s probably got a flask hidden in that hair.) If Joy was faking the perkiness, if the constant good cheer was some sort of sinister plot to come out on top in the workplace, it would almost be my duty to hate her. But you can’t hate genuine happiness. Or you shouldn’t. You may complain about it to your family and friends. You might make jokes to those same confidants about how sometimes downers are downright necessary. But ultimately, if it is a sincere emotion or personality, you should recognize the value of that. Somewhat ironically, ehow.com has instructions on how to love and appreciate positive people. Number one, for those of you who are interested, is take a good look at yourself.

 Think about why you find perky people so annoying. Often it’s because you’re not perky yourself. Maybe it seems like things are never going your way, no matter how much you try. Or maybe you think people with such positive attitudes are not being honest with themselves and you resent the phoniness.

Fascinating. More than a little true. I hate syrupy, phony sweetness–probably because I’m not very good at it. Meanwhile, over at The Happiness Project, Gretchin Rubin seeks to undermine the myth that “happy people are annoying and stupid.” Studies show, she says, that “Happy people are viewed as friendlier, smarter, warmer, less selfish, more self-confident, and more socially skilled – even more physically attractive.”
 

 

Well that’s great. No wonder I don’t know how to act around such super-human creatures. It’s a little like the chicken-and-the-egg question, no? Which came first–the happiness or the confidence? The social skills or the fact that people find you physically attractive? The kicker is that it’s hard to maintain a cheerful, happy outlook when you’re not feeling very confident. And that is probably the key. I think I’ve been associating that kind of perky happiness with confidence–and why should Joy be that confident? I was so unsure of myself when I started that my lack of confidence prevented me from doing small, insignificant things like parking in the parking lot or drinking the there-for-everybody coffee in the lounge. Dumb, right? I have a parking pass, but somehow it felt wrong. Did I not deserve to park in the parking lot? I stuck to the street. There’s a never-ending supply of coffee and my boss made sure to let us know that it was up for grabs….and yet I couldn’t bring myself to grab a cup. I alternated between feeling overwhelmed and frustrated–how could I be perky and happy when I couldn’t park my car with confidence?

 

I’m just small enough that I would feel immensely better if Joy showed just the slightest chink in her happy armour. Just a sigh and a casual “that was hard” and I’d be set. Then she’d be human, and I wouldn’t be confused by happiness. But make no mistake–I have a certain admiration for her. Oh, I’ll never skip to a conference room or beam after a test or even have all the food groups in my lunch.  But today I parked in the parking lot, in an actual parking space. And that made the start of my day just a little bit happier. 

 

I can only hope I’ll confuse someone someday soon.