Cynicism and judgment, pt. 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post. In this one, I hope to reflect on some of my past missteps. Read or skim the previous post for context if you choose.

A sense of superiority can manifest itself in many ways:

I’m too good for that job. I’m too good for that position. I’m too good for that program. I’m too good for that school.

I’m too good for that wage. I’m too proud to accept your help. I think too highly of myself to accept or entertain your advice.

I’m above your criticism of me. I can’t and won’t accept constructive criticism from a person who I consider to be beneath me.

I’m smarter than my parents. I’m smarter than my teachers. They can’t teach me anything. I don’t respect them, and I can’t learn from someone I don’t respect.

I want to address and refute these feelings, or variations of them, as they began to develop within the environment of school. If you’re currently a young person enrolled in school, please read this so you can avoid making some of the mistakes I made.

I love my teachers. I remember every single one I’ve ever had, for better or for worse. I am still being taught by them to this day. Even the “bad” ones–but believe me, they weren’t that bad.

The further I advanced in school, the more baggage I carried with me; the more judgments I inflicted on my teachers and professors. As soon as I began to struggle in a class, I always blamed the instructor, rather than myself. I look back and I am embarrassed and ashamed of myself.

I leveled unwarranted criticism at classmates, especially in group critiques. I didn’t care how it made them feel. My own work was certainly not good enough to warrant such confidence. I was too full of myself. It was easier to criticize others than it was to work on and improve upon my own weaknesses.

My instructors fared no better. Of course, I always had teachers I loved so much and who could do no wrong in my eyes. Then there were others. I can’t even easily categorize them–the ones I didn’t like and therefore did not give my respect to. They were all very different, but my response in each situation was usually to act out by doing everything I wasn’t supposed to do while in their class. I would read or draw openly in front of them, basically daring them to make me stop. I put very little effort into my coursework for those classes. This behavior typifies my high school experience. If I liked my teacher, I excelled in their subject. If I disliked them, I didn’t try at all.

Did I think I was punishing them? Probably. It’s not easy trying to teach a smart-ass kid who has written you off completely. They may have felt hurt, insulted, disrespected–you name it. They were grown adults though, and most did an excellent job tempering their responses to difficult situations.

College began in a similar way, but it got better, or at least my attitude improved slightly. This time, I used my dislike for certain professors as fuel for doing well in their classes. I think some of the best marks I received were in classes taught by people I personally detested. All I had learned at this point was how not to torpedo my grades out of spite. I did very well in the classes taught by professors I liked, so there was really no difference in my performance anymore, and I graduated with a fairly high GPA.

If I hadn’t at least made a partial turnaround between high school and college, I wouldn’t have fared very well in the workforce. Just like anyone else, I struggle to work with people who have difficult personalities. I have coworkers who I care for deeply even though they might drive me crazy from time to time. I have other coworkers who I do my best to avoid. I don’t like to initiate conflicts at work–it makes it even more difficult to keep going back day after day. And I need to have a job.

Jobs can be disappointing. I think of school as an opportunity to learn how to function in a workplace. If you don’t learn healthy coping skills, you might end up job-hopping more than you want to. I don’t know of any job that is free of bad bosses or [insert negative adjective of your choice] coworkers. If you hear of one, hit me up!

But I don’t want to stay on the “jobs” subject…that can be saved for yet another post.

I want to talk about school, and how if that’s where you are in life, please remember how lucky you are. Please remember that you’ve made a choice that you didn’t have to make, and you’re paying to be there–with your time and possibly your money. This is not where I’m going to tell you that you are therefore entitled to your criticisms of that school and its teachers; rather, if you’re currently in school and behaving as I did, remember that you’re wasting your time and money until you decide to commit yourself totally in pursuit of your education. You also might be making your professors’ lives hell. Is it worth it? They’ll get over your crappy attitude–there’s always going to be a new kid with an even crappier attitude to deal with. They aren’t going to get hung up on you.

But you will be hung up on them. And your crappy attitude, if left unfixed, will infect everything you do. You might graduate, you might not. You’ll take that crappy attitude into the workplace, like I did, and it’s only going to get worse from there. You’ll be saying to yourself, “I’m too good for this place, I need to get out of here. This isn’t my passion. I deserve something better.”

And maybe you’ll find something better, or at least something different from your last crappy job. But the cycle will keep repeating. Even if you find your dream job, I guarantee there’s going to be aspects of it that will make you look back on all those low-paying part-time jobs you juggled for years and desperately wanted to get out of–and you’ll be longing for those days of less stress and fewer responsibilities and a job you didn’t have to take home with you.

Make a decision now to live in this moment and appreciate it for what it has the potential to teach you. This is a reminder to myself.

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