Sunday, October 26, 2008

Brag Letter

For this week's Sunday Scribblings I am asked to write about how wonderful I am. Here is my best effort.

Composition Notebook

Last week, a patient told me that I am smart. We were, necessarily, talking about her and it came out as a comparison. I am smarter than she is. I wasn’t doing much to justify the compliment or the comparison. It just came out. Even though I know I am smart the compliment, as always, made me uncomfortable.
I think the discomfort with compliments is commonplace. It doesn’t always reflect low self esteem. In my case it reflects some of the awkwardness I learned as a child who was identified by her peers as being smart or brainy. Yes, being smart means you get the admiration and envy of your peers. But it also means that people minimize your efforts. No A seems earned because a “brain” like you shouldn’t have to work much. Anything less than an A is deemed shameful.
I watched this process happening to my son in elementary school. He learned to feign modesty lest he be judged boastful. He minimized his accomplishments to maintain friendships. Of course, he is also naturally modest and was surprised when I told him recently that he could at least aspire to any college in the country.
I don’t like being asked about my strengths and talents. I hope that they are evident in my words and actions. I don’t tell people I am a good doctor but I hope they think so. Not because I show off knowledge but because I provide care that makes them feel better.
I especially hate it when a prospective employer asks my strengths and weaknesses. It is difficult to walk the fine line between boasting and false modesty. Say too much and you are vain and egotistical. Say too little and you are incompetent. Likewise with the weaknesses. Are you really going to say something that would make you unemployable? I have a temper, I lose things, I forget to return phone calls, or I have problems with authority figures? I don’t think so.
As my older son applies to colleges, the process resonates with my memories of being evaluated in the past. There is the “college love letter” which tells the college why you would love to go there (watch the hyperbole). There is the the challenge of trying to prove how wonderful a candidate you are without saying it in so many words.

Cobb Hall

Here is one of the Common Application Personal Essays for this year:
Option #5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.
Try turning this into an interesting, personal, fun, modest yet revealing essay! I hated these essays so much when I was his age that I shut down over one scholarship essay and my mom half wrote it for me. It turned out rather lame and I did not get that particular scholarship. I think my son is doing better.
It occurred to me to answer one of the essay questions out of curiosity and solidarity with my son. Unfortunately for solidarity, I decided I couldn’t post a sample essay. Given the number of highly anxious high school students right now, someone might be tempted to steal my words. I might rise to the challenge after the college application deadlines are long past. Or I might not.


B. Roan said...

I also hate that question a prospective employer almost always asks. "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" That's a trick question if ever I heard one! Nice post. BJ

Linda Jacobs said...

I'm in the process of reading and correcting my students' college essays and you are so right about what you wrote!

Personally, I want my doctor to be smarter than me! Brag away!

Autrice DelDrago said...

"I especially hate it when a prospective employer asks my strengths and weaknesses."

I detest that psychological bs. I turn it around on them with, "my greatest strength is also my greatest weakness - I am _________."

sarala said...

My son has a question regarding his weaknesses. He decided to go with naivete. It's true he is naive. I can still make him blush by teasing him about girls.

Annie said...

i agree...most people would want their doctor to be smarter. i mean, that's why you've come to them-because you need their advice or ideas.

i have watched my youngest daughter
minimize her intelligence for the last few years. she isn't comfy with it.

and~i would definitely love to get an 'obama eats here' shirt. you can email me via my blog as time allows.thank you!

Debo Blue said...

I never had to send a letter or acceptance letter. My local state university offered me a five year scholarship so I stayed here.

Besides, I was the first of my father's children to even graduate (I'm kid #5) so I understand about living with the "you're so smart" comments.

Wow, I feel a therapy session beginning:0

linda may said...

G'Day, at a recent interview I was asked what the pinnacle of my career was, I was applying for a cleaning job and found it hard to keep a straight face. Who makes up these questions? He he. i had a read back through your posts on this page. I enjoyed your stories and pics. Fancy living near the Obamas. how interesting! And that tiny bit of prairie. Happy and sad.

Rob Kistner said...

I enjoyed reading your post, and I for one hope to heavens my doctors are brilliant in their chosen field(s) of expertise -- and I most certainly hope they wholly believe they are... and that their brilliance includes the profound knowledge to know when to seek critical advice when they require such.

As an aside, when I've encountered that greatest weakness/strength question, I give the same answer to both: "being human".

b said...

Isn't is sad when we feel the need to hide our matter how old we are. Doctors are and should be very smart but still human. I love the discussions my doctor and I have about politics, travel and books. I always learn so much. Like Rob said, our greatest strength and weakness will always be our humanity.

So be it.

I don't know if your mother is still living but if I were her I would brag without reservation!


b said...

By the way, thank you for the comment on my blog. It is appreciated.


A Free Man said...

Nice one. I can only take a compliment by tempering it with something bad about myself. It's a tough one!

Larry said...

Interesting post.-I was always told how smart I was up until the age of about 12.-After that age I never applied myself to school again. I missed an average of 40 days of sschool per year and ended up barely graduating High School.