Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success

Today in the carrels I sat down with Paige and Aimee and I asked them if they wanted to hear a secret. Naturally they did. Now usually when I tell people that I'm going to tell them a secret, the secret is that I'm wearing gray socks with brown pants and shoes, or that I haven't showered today, or that I just realized that my zipper was down and that it had probably been down since I left the house. Not real secrets, but interesting tidbits about my life all the same. The secret that I wanted to share with Paige and Aimee was not this kind of secret.

The secret that I shared with Paige and Aimee was one that I've been thinking a lot about the past couple of days. I've decided that I'm now going to share that secret with any and all who stumble upon my blog. So here it is: I feel like a phony. (As I play the word "phony" over and over again in my head I keep thinking of the word "phoneme" and how glad I am that I don't study linguistics.) But really, sometimes I just feel like a phony - like I don't belong here. Here being in graduate school and in front of a classroom. I sit in my classes and listen to my peers make brilliant comments and engage in intelligent conversation and I feel like I'm way out of my depth. I hear other teachers talking about their classes and what they're doing and how they feel like failures when they don't get their students' papers back to them within a week and I'm self-conscious of how long I've had my students papers. (Two weeks tomorrow) I occasionally hear older, wiser students talking about all the conferences they've been to and how they don't understand why some students don't go to conferences, and as I think about how I've never been to a conference I sink lower in my seat hoping they won't look over at me and ask me how many conferences I've been to. These seem to be the road markers of success, and if they are I seem to be on the highway of mediocrity.

Last night this feeling was really harshing my mellow so I went to Smiths with Jordan and bought grapefruit juice and ginger ale. When we got home I mixed them up and drank myself to sleep. This morning I felt much better until I went to class and heard my peers talk about the papers they're planning to write. Again I felt the wind go out of my sails.

Right after class I went to devotional thinking it would cheer me up. And I'm sure it would have done just that if I hadn't fallen asleep during the opening musical number and stayed that way until everyone around me said "amen" at the end of the closing prayer. That was when I went back to the carrels and shared my "secret" with Paige and Aimee.

Naturally, being good friends, they told me that everyone felt that way and that I shouldn't worry about it too much. I believed them of course and we went on to watch Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" music video, but there lingered a dissatisfaction with where I was and what was going on. This has continued to cast a cloud over an otherwise lovely day. Round about 10:30 as I was sitting at my desk preparing my lesson for tomorrow morning I decided that I needed to go drive down to the basketball court by the tracks and shoot around until I felt better. I was there shooting, running around chasing my misses and generally wearing myself out for a solid 45 minutes when I sat down and leaned my sweaty back against the cool cinder block wall of the building next to the court.

As I sat there I continued to muse on my faults and failings and the myriad ways I should be trying to improve my life and I came to several conclusions. 1) It's true, there are a lot of things I need to work on improving. 2) I need to stop comparing myself to other people and basing what for me is success off of what they do and who they are. 3) I need to do more to put myself into situations I'm not entirely comfortable with, and I need to do so with greater frequency. This one applies to several aspects of my life both in school and outside of it. I'm very uncomfortable with vulnerability, and that fact leads me to be much more tentative, introverted, and apprehensive than is altogether requisite or healthy. 4) I really need to practice free throws more often because while I can hit a turn around jump shot from 10-15 feet with moderate regularity, I'm worse than Shaq when it comes to free throws. But mostly 1, 2 and 3. (that's right, no oxford comma. bam.)

Coming to these conclusions, and feeling a chill start to settle in my bones, I got up and went home. When I got back to my room and before I got back to planning my lesson I decided to watch a TED talk to pump myself up. I just so happened to watch this one by Alain de Botton that was just exactly what I wanted and needed to hear. So here 'tis. Even though it's 17 min long, I recommend you watch it in its entirety. It's phenomenal.

Through the basketball, the reflection and the TED talk I feel marginally better but not entirely so. I think I like it that way. Dissatisfaction can be a powerful motivator for change. Here's hoping that's the direction I'ma headed.


  1. Totally know what you mean. I often feel I am not rising to my full potential. Have you read Elder Oaks (Who I happen to know is your fave)tak, "The Challenge to Become"? So good. Read it while drinking your concoction.

  2. No oxford comma. That drives me batty!!!

  3. Would you like to know why I don't go to a lot of conferences?

    Because they are SO BORING. And I hate paying good money to go sit through a bunch of boring, pompous readings when I could spend it on other, more interesting things.

    By the way, I asked one of our lovely BYU professors how many conferences the average professor attends each year. Do you know what s/he said? "One or two."

    Don't stress.

  4. That was a great clip, and I totally get it. All throughout my master's program, and especially my first year, I would sit in class and hear these astute comments and wonder how people would make the connections they were making.

    Many times, I felt like I had fooled someone too—I felt like they expected something that I wasn't. In many ways, that was my motivator—I felt like I had to prove that they weren't wrong about me, and I kept studying. Eventually, I realized that it came down to what experience and knowledge I brought; what connections I made. At the end of the day (or semester), it came down to what I wrote in my paper or what my thesis turned out to be.
    Even when we all were studying for comprehensive exams, people were talking about things I didn't know much about, but there were things I knew well and others didn't. It really came down to what I decided to focus on and study; it had nothing to do with what others were studying.

    It all came full circle a couple of weeks ago when I ran into my graduate adviser. He called me "one of the shining stars of the program." I don't say that to brag because I was shocked. I say that to show that it didn't matter that there was a guy in the corner who was mostly quiet, but when he spoke, he was brilliant. I wasn't that person, but somehow I was a shining star? It just found my niche and filled it.

    Anyway, that was long way of saying you're not alone, and it's not a bad thing to feel the way you do.