In a high school biology class the teacher once asked us to grade our own projects. This happened to be a project that had little to do with science. We were instructed to make an ABC’s of biology book complete with original artwork. I’m not much of an artist, but I remember working on this project for a week straight, staying up late into the night.
When it came time to turn the assignment in, I wasn’t really sure what kind of grade to give myself. I knew I had worked hard. I knew my book had turned out pretty decent, but I didn’t think it was the best ABC biology book out there. So I gave myself a C. Besides, I figured, surely the teacher would look over our work and decide for himself what the grade should really be.
I was a little shocked when he delivered the project back to me with a red C plastered across the front. I stole a glance at some of my classmates’ work — all marked with A’s and B’s. Mine was just as good as theirs, if not better. I marched up to my teacher’s desk at the end of class and asked him why he hadn’t given me a better grade. He looked perplexed as he replied, “You gave yourself a C.”
It was in that moment that I realized I didn’t actually ever think I deserved that C. But I gave it to myself and waited for my teacher to tell me it wasn’t true. I sought outside validation for what I knew was true in my heart, not daring to believe it until somebody else made me.
I wanted to argue with him, but realized it was too late. How was I going to convince him to change my grade when I wasn’t even willing to give myself a better grade? It was over now. There was nothing else I could do. I had sabotaged myself.
That was about 12 years ago (yikes I’m old), and I still think of that moment often. It creeps up every now and then when I feel consumed with comparing myself to others. When I know I’ve worked hard, but I’m not the best out there. When I start to wonder if any of my ideas are actually original. And when I hesitate to call myself a “real writer.”
I spent most of my teen years in the same mindset that brought me a C on that project. I held back. I talked softly. I looked at the floor, and I let other people tell me what I was capable of.
I guess one good thing about approaching 30 is that I’m pretty dang sure of myself these days. I no longer feel guilty for taking what I think I deserve. For forging my own path. For being really kind of weird, but liking it…..and not really caring if you do too.
And in the back of my mind when I start to feel that doubt creeping in, I remind myself that no one is going to give me something I don’t already think I deserve. No one is going to give me an A when I give myself a C. No one is going to come down from the heavens with a “but you are a real writer” plaque. No one is going to assure me that I’m good and that I’m capable and that I can. I have to believe it and then prove it. Over and over again.
And you know what? It’s kind of scary. It’s scary to acknowledge your worth. It’s scary to put yourself out there. It’s much more comfortable to settle into the back row where no one can really see your flaws….but where no one can see your brilliance either.
So while in past years I’ve rattled off lists of goals for the new year….this year I have just one. I resolve to shine a little brighter.
Because I really did deserve an A.