As far as academics went when I was younger, I was cursed with a certain amount of insight mixed with apathy. When I was in high school, I knew that I would never use knowledge like trigonometry or most of what I learned in my 10th grade biology class in which we spent most of the time coloring pictures of cellular structures. As a consequence, I never really had the motivation to push myself to do exceedingly well (I got As and Bs) as some of my friends had. In my family, my sister was the “naturally smart” one – the one who got great grades without even opening a book. It probably helped ingrain this image of her in my head also based alone on the fact that she was constantly teasing me when we were younger and I didn’t have the wit to keep up given our 2 and a half year age difference. Add to the mix that what I heard growing up was, “Your daughter is so beautiful!” “Oh, aren’t you pretty!” the fact that I don’t recall ever being told “You’re so smart!” (but that’s a whole other post). It wasn’t until toward the end of high school that I realized I actually loved learning. Unlike most of my peers, my grades were better my last two years of high school than my first two years.
One of the things that I’ve realized over the past few months that I think I might have mentioned before is that I never got the impression that my parents believed in me. I mean, sure, they thought I was capable, but they never communicated a passionate belief in me and encouraged me to really pursue my dreams and push myself. I think they started to come around as I got older, but by then it felt like too little, too late, especially since the issue of their not having done that sooner never was addressed.
Well, that resurfaces in a significant way here. When I told my mom last semester that my goal was to finish grad school with a 4.0, her response was, “Well that’s a lofty goal.” When I told her of my one professor that I’ve gotten to know pretty well telling me I’m on the doctoral track and affirming that to me without my having said a word to him, she was genuinely excited but her excitement was tinged with surprise. When I told her last night that I’d gotten my first paper back in my theories class and that my professor had made some very positive comments including “wow!” in one place, she again sounded excited and said “Great job!” but there was an inflection of surprise again in her voice. That same professor (the one who graded the paper) had told us before handing back our papers that he had really enjoyed reading them, recommended doctoral work to us, and said that he had even called up colleagues over the weekend and read excerpts of our papers to them over the phone because he’d been so impressed. When I saw the positive comments on my paper and the ‘wow’ next to my definition and explanation of mental health, there was a part of me that uttered a triumphant “Haha!” as I imagined him reading that part of my paper over the phone to some other distinguished professional in the field. I floated on the idea that me – a little first year grad student with no significant background in psychology – could make a professor exclaim ‘wow’ with one of my ideas. Needless to say, I reread his comments about 5 more times yesterday after having gotten my paper back.
At the end of a meeting yesterday with my prof that I’m completing an assistantship with this semester, I was talking about some ideas I had for research, particularly focusing on spiritual development. I mentioned the idea of doing some work with Fowler’s stages of faith and creating a spiritual assessment but then started to doubt the idea and my voice trailed off. My professor looked eagerly to me and said, “Why not?! Do it! That sounds great!” And the disparity between the encouragement and belief in me that I’ve received from my parents and that from him had never been clearer.
And I’ve wondered throughout writing this post if I’m being too hard on my parents, expecting too much. I really think I’m not. I mean, I get not giving your child false hope if you genuinely know they won’t be able to do something, but even then, how frequently do you ever really know that? I’m thinking not very. And while the idea of pursuing doctoral work (which I do intend to do) absolutely terrifies the shit out of me, knowing that I’ve had three professors both directly and indirectly encourage me in that direction bolsters my confidence. I may ride the wave of their confidence for a while until I can build up my own in this arena.