That's what she asked me, my American history college professor. We had begun to discuss my term paper, which she graded a C-. The question struck with such a blunt blow and searing sting that it took me a few moments to come to.
Maybe it's your teaching that left me so uninspired.
OH SNAP! I didn't tell her that of course (at least I knew back then that my defensive retort would just make matters worse), but I remember thinking it as she went on explaining the red marks that littered my paper.
Though I still believe--17 years later--that she could have worded her question more tactfully, the truth is it was a crappy paper and probably deserved worse than the C- it was given. I had procrastinated until the night before its due date to throw together disjointed paragraphs with too few quotes to back my point.
I hadn’t learned yet to care deeply about the quality of my work. Residue from my apathetic high school days seeped into my first assignments as a college freshman. Her urging me then to fix it was both a gift and a curse.
It led me to seek help from the soft spoken English students who sat waiting for clueless newcomers like me to discover the hole in the wall called the Writing Center on campus. They taught me the importance of the first draft and the need to revise, revise, revise. They helped me in my journey to realize that writing isn’t a skill you either have or you don’t. As with most things to improve upon, the more you write the better the writing.
What my 18 year old self couldn’t see at the time was that I allowed that Professor’s words to do more damage than good. Every time I thought about starting a book after college her stoic expression reappeared in my mind and she asked the rhetorical question again and again, “Do you have a writing problem?”
I guess I do. I guess I have no business writing. I guess I’ll never be able to create great work like my favorite authors have.
How many of us have made huge assumptions about what we’re capable or not capable of doing based on the input of others?
I’ll go out on a limb and bet 99.99% of us have.
Perhaps you’ve been told that you’ll never be promoted to upper management because you’re not assertive, skilled, or educated enough. Or maybe someone commented when you were a kid that you were too heavy, short, or weak to become an athlete or even a spouse to another person.
The harsh claims from others abound and have wreaked havoc on our confidence to accomplish our true dreams (not the safe, fake ones we tell in public). The challenge is not to believe every word as gospel or, on the other end of the spectrum, not to ignore the feedback completely, but to examine it as objectively as possible.
Is it really true that you don’t have what is takes to succeed in business? Probably not.
Are there ways to improve that could lead you closer to achieving your goals? Absolutely and it’s our responsibility to pursue them.
I get it. We are all such sensitive people, both males and females. Some men may be better at hiding it, but their sensitive souls ache just as much upon hearing criticism.
We hate to learn that our work and behavior lack in some way, but the sooner we come to terms with it the better. There may be some element of truth to what others say about us that could help in realizing our dreams if we only took the time to be honest with ourselves.
Just remember, the key is to not let it fester for 17 years and keep you from doing what you were meant to do.
At least I finally listened…