I remember in grade five, my teacher had told the class not to fidget or move our things around. Taking that into account, I had nervously reached for my glasses case because I needed the cloth inside. Spotting that movement, my teacher started to berate me for not following his orders. Of course, I put the case back where it had been. But then, my teacher changed tone and told me to stop being so serious.
Looking back, I don’t really see how being serious and following orders were the same thing to him. If anything, I was a robot conformist child affected by filial piety and good ol’ Catholic guilt. But serious? I didn’t think so.
Except I was serious. Throughout my school days, I was exactly that robot conformist, doing what I was told and enjoying the positive reinforcement that came with obedience. I hardly ever made jokes or shot the breeze with the other children.
I was also studious. I loved to read, and credited that love to me getting high grades. I even told my fellow classmates that that was the reason I was “so smart,” as they had said. (This was also around the time that I was introduced to Harry Potter and discovered Hermione Granger, who I identified with so much it was empowering.) I did well in pretty much every subject, because, again, I liked getting the praise. And I was also committed to excellence – you can even say that I was Knope-like in my school-age behaviour.
I was also sensitive. I took everything personally – and still do – and it was because I cared a lot about what others thought of me. This sensitivity was especially rough to deal with when I started working. Customers, colleagues, and supervisors would criticize and yell at me – sometimes to the point where I’d have to hold in my tears. (I’d go somewhere afterward to cry.)
I am still all three things, but I’ve learned to “lighten up,” as some would say. I did realize that I didn’t have to obey everything an adult told me, or at the very least not take their word for law. I also realized that academic excellence isn’t everything, that learning is a lifelong journey and that your worth shouldn’t be measured in numbers and letters. And I realized that while it’s in my nature to connect the personal with the professional (and sometimes the political), I can still remind myself that I always do my best and shouldn’t let any criticism get to me.
It’s taken a decade for me to find humour in life, and to share it with others. I bet that 10-year-old me wouldn’t imagine that I would now joke around with others. Perhaps it had to do with confidence. And I’m certain it had a lot to do with growth and discovery. We’re not going to stay exactly the same throughout our lives. Yes, we want to keep that childlike optimism and creative freedom, but we also want to take on adult responsibilities and global awareness. It’s a struggle to keep this balance, but if you’re like me and love balance, then it’s serious business.