Last Thursday, I went to Professor Feros’ office hours to catch up on what I missed in class the Thursday prior. He told me not to worry about it because it was an insignificant lecture, and that he thinks I’m doing very well. In fact, he urged that I stop worrying so much. I pushed back, “how do you know I’m doing well?” He insists that I am, that he just knows, while also citing my good grade on his last exam. I told him I actually thought I did really badly on it as I walked out of the exam that day and that I was very surprised and confused (albeit very grateful and relieved) when I saw my grade. He assured me he wasn’t doing me any favours. I was a little taken aback when he said that, and was going to say “I didn’t say you were” but at that point I realised I was asking him that, even if that wasn’t what I said out loud.
After I got my grade, I did think about how Professor Feros and I have a good student-professor relationship. Sometimes in the morning we’d bump into each other on our way to his class and we’d talk about things like my visit to Spain in 2014 and Alfonso de Albuquerque’s arrival in Melaka. It struck me how lowly I think about myself—to the extent that I’d think a professor I respect so much would do something quite unspeakable.
I’m thinking now about last spring, when Professor Pollack handed me my paper on the politics of rhetoric about trade in the current election cycle. It was a tough paper to write. I struggled with it a lot. He pulled my paper out of the pile, leaned in slightly, looked at me with a smile and said in hushed tones, “this was the best paper in the whole class.” I immediately laughed and said “you’ve got to be lying.” Another professor I respect, another baseless accusation with the aim of protecting my self-deprecating view of myself.
I don’t really want to live like this, looking down on myself all the time, but I also don’t know how not to. Rather, I’ve been doing it for so long—pushing myself with so much aggression (for better and for worse)—that I don’t know anything else. My professors keep telling me not to worry, but I worry that my worry is what has gotten me by. I worry that I’ve been riding on luck for so long, and I’ve been using some combination of anxiety to propel myself such that the minute I loosen up even a little, I will lose it all.
(I know I’ve written about this before but the situation presents itself again and again. A testament to how self-improvement can be such a piecemeal process.)