Taking it Personally

It should come as no surprise to you, dear imaginary readers, that I, Senora H-B, am a control freak. I like to think that I give off the impression of being put-together and in control. Yes, I generally show up when I say I will (on time, even!), having completed what I said I would, but underlying the thin outer shell is a seething pit of self-doubt and powerlessness. In my book, a corollary of self-doubt and powerlessness is the tendency to take things personally.

These particular weaknesses have become even more apparent as I've progressed in my academic pursuits. If you have never doubted yourself or your choices or felt powerless, may I recommend pursuing a PhD? There is nothing quite like your future being held in the hands of four or five human beings, fraught with their own set of weaknesses. Nor is there anything quite like being told that parts of your PhD exams were 'weak' and 'disappointing’ to make you take it personally.

When I left the exam feeling gutted by the process and the strong critique, I wasn't even sure I wanted to continue in my program. I won't deny that I cried a lot. It took weeks for me to stop feeling sick to my stomach every time I thought about it. But somehow, miraculously, I picked myself up and got back to it. After days on end of obsessing about how my professors must hate me (and a much-needed talk with my advisor), I realized that the criticisms weren't of my personality or character. Yes, they were criticisms of my work product, but my work product is something that's easily changed.

Today I completed part of my preliminary dissertation research. My area of interest requires that I do classroom research, which involves a number of unpredictable factors. One of these factors is the amount of complaining that the participants will do when taking part in a given study. Suffice it to say that classes made up largely of seniors taking the last class necessary for graduation, during a summer session, in a week that has not had a single sunny day, complain. A lot.

I came home feeling downtrodden and on the verge of tears because I felt so terrible knowing that they didn’t like what I had spent months preparing. But then I stopped myself and thought a) these are students who are going to complain no matter what they do; b) they are not personally attacking me; c) it's dissertation research! No one is going to live or die because of what I do.

This post about the ebb and flow of life by FoxyJ brought to the front of my mind several things I've been thinking about for a while. First, I really need to get to the ocean. No, seriously, it’s been 4 years and I miss it. Second, I need to learn to accept that I’m going to make mistakes in my personal and professional life. Instead of getting my panties in a bunch about not keeping up my pulled-together appearance, I need to do what I can to rectify the mistake and move on. I have spent too much of my life wallowing in self-pity when I’m criticized or things don’t go my way. Finally, as long as I consistently focus on what’s most important to me (ie, my relationship with God and my family), it won’t matter in the long run whether my analysis of classroom research was weak or that my study participants said the activity was lame.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I also have a hard time not personalizing criticism. I'm convinced it's a lifelong lesson for me to learn. Thanks for writing this.