To understand yourself, you really need to consult a mirror. Windows just won’t suffice. I know, what a beautiful metaphor, right? But think about it: if everyone’s laughing at you, is it going to do you more good to look out the window and watch them walk by and snicker? Or would it help more to look in the mirror and see the shit on your face?
Food for thought.
The points in my life when I held myself in the lowest esteem have all been induced by the frustration of misunderstanding– either being misunderstood, or not comprehending what’s going on around me. Incompetence hurts. In its wake, I have always been angry that others perceived me as intellectually inferior. Sometimes I don’t know the answer. Sometimes my answer is questioned. Sometimes I make the answer up and my lie gets discovered; or, worse, my lie gets believed and I live with the guilt of telling it.
I’m sure you’ve felt it, too, and you might not know it yet, but the feeling is all wrong. Well, misguided. You, I, we, anyone at all, no one actually cares what other people think of us. What bothers us is the idea that they might be right, we might actually be as awful as they think we are.
Things will come along and slap their big nasties on our cheeks, reinforcing our feeling of insignificance, inconsequentiality, stupidity… whatever petty, emo little inkling we may have.
Like the goddamned Graduate Record Examination.
So, if you want to go to a grad school in America, you have to take the GRE. I want to go to grad school in America, so I took it. Like every standardized test, when your score is reported, it’s phrased within a percentile. “Here’s how many people you did better than, here’s how many did better than you.”
On the GRE, an alright score– like, a C, which means you’re average– is somewhere above fiftieth percentile. A good score is above the seventieth percentile. The first time I took it, I was in the sixty-sixth for my verbal reasoning, and the fifty-second for the quantitative. My essay was in the twenty-ninth.
So I took it again.
Sixty-second, forty-fourth, forty-eighth. I did worse. And I have a bachelor’s degree in English, which I earned cum laude, so I’m not illiterate. Right? But numbers don’t lie, right? I can’t really attest to the latter point, since I never made it past algebra II, and that was community college, and the only reason my professor passed me– with a consolation C– was because she was my adviser, knew I needed the class to graduate, and made me promise to never, never pursue a career that required math. But I an an astute reader, a savvy speaker and a damn good writer. Arrogant? Well, you wouldn’t still be reading if you didn’t like the words I was throwing down here. That’s just logic. Or you’re a masochist.
But those numbers are attached to my name, and they’re a reflection of the person who’s face is behind that name. Hannah Tool is worse at verbal reasoning than almost forty percent of people, would be out-mathed by over fifty percent, and can’t write an essay any better than thirty out of a hundred people. Hannah Tool is an idiot.
This customer tonight would agree with those numbers. For those new to the Hannah Tool rant rags, I work in retail. Customer service management, more or less. And tonight, a customer couldn’t manage the service he was getting. I said no, he persisted, I said no, he whined, I didn’t have any more no’s to say so I just stared into his beady black eyes and watched his brow furrow so low I thought his face was going to turn upside down. Then he grumbled, snatched his shit, and stormed out of the store.
I didn’t care that he was mad. I make people– coworkers and customers– angry on a daily basis. Hourly, on a successful day. My job is to be the scapegoat, if I’m doing it right then people are unhappy. And I did it right today, and that squat son-of-a-bitch was miserable, and he thought I was an idiot.
That customer, and the GRE, those are just two very small, inconsequential, passing measurements of who I am. Not even. Who I was, for a moment. And what breaks my heart is that I believe that these little smudges on the mirror I see myself in will tarnish the reflection for good. You’re scared of that, too, even if you didn’t realize it.
Remember that poster of kittens on your guidance counselor’s wall? They were all orange, and one had a black spot on it’s forehead, and the caption said, “nobody’s perfect”? It was right. And the one with a kitten, one paw clinging to a branch, looking– terrified– at the ground below? That one was right, too, with it’s “hang in there” caption.
To be a worthwhile person, you have to have the courage of your convictions. These convictions need to be inward and outward. More so inward. If someone thinks I’m stupid, if I fuck up, it doesn’t define me and you can’t let it define you. Because you’re going to do it a lot. And I bet I’ll do it more.
To be a customer service representative, or a student, or a twenty-three-year-old girl with a palindrome for a name, or just anyone at all, that is to err. The kittens get it. Dig your claws into that branch and embrace that little black spot, then wipe the smudges off the mirror and smile at yourself.