I’m Ashamed of So Much, and It’s Great

One of the first assignments I had my students do this Summer was an activity on self-motivation. I wanted to know what fueled their little motors, in part because I wanted to help them drive themselves forward, and also because I have a Machiavellian desire to control every facet of how my class behaves. I am the NSA of freshman English.

Ignore the cameras and proceed as if your every action was not being documented and reviwed by a team of specialists

My little tykes wrote about why they do what they do, and their answers were mostly pleasant. They hit the standard motivators: family, professional goals, wanting to break free of oppressive capitalist regimes. Standard stuff. Any time an activity like this comes up in class, I secretly hope someone would answer the same way I would. They usually don’t, but I can chalk that up to my students generally being well-rounded individuals and not self-destructive borderline sociopaths.

Amid all the positivity and potential for growth, not one student said they were driven by shame. I’m proud that they don’t hate themselves but a little concerned for their self-awareness. I feel like anyone who is adequately aware of themselves should spend at least some time on self-loathing. I understand wanting to improve to show family and friends how bright your star can shine or how high you can fly or how long your cliche can last, but haven’t these kids ever looked at their Google search history? Yeah, I want people to be proud of me, but I also want to not be the kind of person to google “wizard pug” more than once a week. My Masters degree could be written in crayon by the build-a-bear company and my family would still be proud of me, but it takes real growth to change what you look for on the internet.

Pugs in sweaters is progress for me

I think every writer should be caught in a paradoxical vortex of pride and shame: pride so they won’t be discouraged to continue, and shame so they will never feel content that they are good enough. I’ve had students ask to turn in their essays early because they think they’re done after the first draft. I laughed at one of these kids because I thought she was joking. Apparently “ha! Nah, there’s no way you’re done,” is something of a rude response to someone who is very confident in their writing prowess. A curvy, full-bodied B was also not the response she expected. This student was so sure of herself that she couldn’t entertain the idea that there was anything she could have done better. That’s like if someone stopped lifting weights because they can already pick up the dumbbells. When all the energy others reserve for confidence gets redirected to dissatisfaction, you never stop wanting to improve.

Every best friend who has ever had to be comforting has used the line “don’t beat yourself up,” but that’s not always the best advice. Sometimes it’s useful to be awful to yourself, to look at what you thought might be your best work and say “yeah, but I could probably do better.” Being pessimistic can be encouraging, and that’s the kind of oxymoron that will drive me into my grave knowing there was plenty I could have done better. I hope to die one day with a bitter frown on my face because I know my performance in life was generally lackluster.

23 Replies to “I’m Ashamed of So Much, and It’s Great”

  1. I never think my writing is good enough. I force myself to hit the publish button, because otherwise I would be stuck in limbo….my daughter is a bit of a nutcase about writing. She got a 99 on her final English essay (sophomore English) and she said….I think ms. Teacher would have a vow if I ask her what I did wrong…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lol, reading the comments, I smiled. I think it is all about your mindset. A child or an adult writer should not be content with what they once wrote, because it could be better. Sometimes I find that when I have written a paper or a editorial in my country (Belize) the day after, I re-read that same document and I go… Hmmm, I could have do this better.
    Great writing noneuclideansofa


    Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL, I already do and that’s why I asked if it’s limited to certain things or not. I would be glad to know there’s a whole community out there. May be we can all start some Anonymous support group and later become a cult and conquer rest of the world. Whoa a hate-crime !


  3. Is shame the right feeling to have if you aren’t content with “good enough”? To me, shame is what you feel if you’ve done something terribly wrong or have selfishly hurt another. I’m not sure what the right word is to describe the feeling you get when you know you could be better than you are, but I don’t think it’s shame. But then again, I could be wrong. And if so, well, shame on me.


  4. They write these things because that’s what they think you expect of course. You’re not a shrink. They’re young and slightly ignorant, but jaded enough to know what’s safe to leave in writing. It’s all lies.


      1. LOL. I’m sure some of them are being truthful. And then again, maybe some of them are wishing they were motivated by what they are saying in their papers. “I wish Justin Bieber didn’t motivate me! OMG but he’s sooooo cute” has no doubt crossed one of their young minds and then they write about what wish motivates them, like, I don’t know, going to college.


      2. No way! You should totally make your goal to motivate them! If you can get them excited about learning instead of just worrying about their grades you are working some teacher magic.


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