In the beginning of my virtual schooling, I had a moment of panic every time I saw the alert that a test or assignment had been marked. For a while, I had moved as slowly as possible when I saw the alert, trying to convince myself not to care. But I always cared.
Because achieving good grades has become a symbol of my work ethic and intelligence, my idea of myself was — and often remains — too restricted to allow myself to “fail” without my self-esteem going down a notch.
Self-esteem can feel like a value — maybe even a percentage — in which success is a point, and failure a deduction. Often, success and failure are defined relative to other people. The people we’re around become our standard, and we either exceed, meet, or fall short of that standard.
Do you ever feel talented in something, like an art, and then feel disappointed in yourself when you find other people who are also good at it?
Particularly in person, when someone outdoes me, there’s this kind of stiff feeling. I smile, and offer some nice canned responses, but can’t quite pretend that it doesn’t bother me.
I also find myself applying these standards to other people.
When I get particularly stressed about trying to excel in everything, I find myself more judgemental of others.
On the other hand, if I feel like I am keeping perspective, it can breed a special kind of arrogance where I look down upon the world’s foolishness.
In both situations, I put myself on a pedestal, considering myself above others because I meet a certain criteria. And when I raise myself above others, that means there is a height to fall from; if I don’t meet that criteria anymore, then I have “fallen” to the same level as others. Realising that I’ve been judging others for something I do all the time isn’t a great feeling, and it’s one that I’m becoming all too familiar with.
Perhaps we need to leave space for a more complex and compassionate understanding of ourselves and others, as co-learners. Everyone has something to offer, and the world is too complicated to be forced into simple definitions of ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’. We need to separate the idea of our basic worth from the other parts of who we are and what we do.
To start, we need to inch out of the cycle of judgement. Sometimes we have to start by loosening our unhealthy grip on the idea of what we should be, and not getting angry with ourselves when we make a mistake. Other times, it can feel self-serving to forgive ourselves first when we continue to judge others, and we need to offer that compassion to our peers first.
As for failures, maybe we should put them into perspective. It can be easy to feel like a “failure” or think that a day was a “failure”, but people and things fail relative to a criteria, not inherently or in their entirety. And failures are just part of a series of natural causes
and effects — in other words, they’re bigger than us.
At the end of the day, I have some degree of faith that no matter how terrible a moment feels, it’s going to be okay. Because the universe will keep going, and I will be able to move on with it. Just like how each step when walking requires a small “fall”, I fail as a part of living.
Be willing to fail, persevere, and be patient with yourself. That’s all you can do.