“Good Job” is dangerous

One day, when I stalked out of my economics class crying, one of my classmates found me. In a display of empathy that I admire, she reminded me that getting your masters degree is hard. She reminded that the grade in my econ course was not a judgment on me personally.

I had fallen into the trap of thinking that the challenges before me (like life/education/family integration) were problems that were caused by flaws in my own personality. I was in the trap of a “Bright Girl.

A bright girl is someone for whom life always came easily, and they were praised for doing the right thing even if they didn’t know what they were doing. And as a result, they grow up thinking that if they have to try, if they have to make more than one attempt, then they probably are not capable. I have lived this way for many years. Luckily, things had come easily for me.

Until I became a parent. Through therapy, I became aware of the possibility of not taking things personally. I began looking at problems objectively. I was so thankful for my classmate’s reminder.

Baby crying? The baby crying is not a reflection on me. She is communicating, and it is hard to understand her. That doesn’t mean that I should let her cry, but instead of blaming myself, realizing that it isn’t my fault opens me up for persistence and problem solving. Does feeding her help? Picking her up? Etc?

The original example: Grad school is hard. There is a reason why not everyone goes. The fact that it is hard is not a reflection on me, it is objectively hard. I don’t have to change myself to make grad school easier. No matter what I do, it will stay hard. But I might be able to manage it, I may be able to problem solve, I may be able to ask for help.

So, Practitioners, what do you take personally? How can you look at it objectively? And how does that change your strategies for coping?

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Economics

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4 thoughts on ““Good Job” is dangerous

  1. I have worked on myself to not take things personal anymore. As hard as I try, i still upon occasion fall short in this category. For myself, i always try to look at things objectively. I have found when I take a little bit of time and realize I am not perfect, I will never be perfect and honestly, I do not want to be perfect is the moment I have clarity.

    I think, it is when I start believing the world around me is black and white I start to fail. I know that there are many shades of gray. I think there is a lot of truth in the color gray. It is here, in gray, that we can see ourselves clearly.

    Visualization techniques have helped me in the past to overcome taking things personal. I try to picture myself in the worst possible manner and see how others judge me and then realize in the act of judging others i have already judged myself.

    I like to remember that my son is a strong motivation for me not to take things personal. He is the future and what I do today affects him and the way he looks at the world. I want to give him the most positive experiences possible and that often means looking at myself first.

  2. One of the unique aspects of academic culture — in its ideal form — is that criticism of a person’s work is independent of criticism of the person. At a conference, you’ll find people arguing about a paper at the top of their lungs … and then, a couple of hours later, they’ll be sitting together at the bar enjoying a fine beverage together. The philosophy is this: the objective is to make the written work as good as possible. Preserving ego isn’t a concern, because even if my work is getting shredded this week, it’ll be your turn to be shredded next week.

    Of course, this is the ideal form. It’s terribly hard to participate in this process, especially at first. There are other disciplines that have similar processes — some computer scientists, for example, participate in a process known as “code reviews”, where one’s code is examined in front of a committee and critiqued. (Has Tim done this?)

    To your question: how do I cope? Mostly by trying to remember the distinction between me and my work. Partially by remembering that I am more than my work. The worth that my kids place in me as a father is pretty much independent of my worth as a teacher or a scholar. And so on.

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