self perception

“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” ~ Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”

I wrote a lot of exams over the course of my law degree. Like most students, I would walk out of each exam room with a sense of whether I had done an average job, a good job or a distinction was a possibility. I would remember the things I wish I had written or be pleased by the elements of a particular crime I had remembered.

I recall walking out of one particular exam feeling really good. I had studied hard and I had written well. I had written out every element succinctly and clearly. I even particularly recalled clearly explaining what an emergency vehicle had to do in order to be allowed to break certain rules of the road like going through a red light. I had nailed it… or so I thought.

Imagine my surprise when the results came back and I had only scored 61%. Huh? No way, man. This couldn’t be right. Results came out while I was on vacation and I thought about it throughout the remainder of my vacation. What had gone wrong? I was really certain I had done and deserved much better than this. When school reopened I stewed about it for a few weeks. I was becoming more and more convinced that I had been cheated out of some sort of deserved award.

Finally, I worked up the courage and I went to see the lecturer. I explained that I was really struggling with the outcome of my exam even though I had passed. Since she was taking me for another course in that semester, I explained, I would really appreciate going through my exam paper with her and understanding the grading so I could improve. She was very pleased with my unusual request. I was happy that I would finally be vindicated. I was so ready for my “gold star moment.”

When my exam scripts had been pulled for her, she called me to her office and gave me my script to read. As she explained her feedback, I was quickly reading through my answers. To say I was shocked by what I read would be an understatement. Her voice literally faded out for me as the reality of what I had actually written versus what I thought I had written hit me. Where was the brilliance I remembered? FYI, there was none. Instead, there were lots of grammatical errors. Sometimes the submissions were a bit disjointed. The greater substance of the answers was there but the reader had to wade through a mass of bad writing to dig it out. It read like it was written by a student who doesn’t do well under pressure. And you know what truly hit me hard? The 61% she had given me had been generous…. humble pie anyone?

I guess the moral of the story is this, don’t believe your own hype. If you are going to continuously grow and improve, it’s important to realistically self-evaluate and to put little checks and balances in place like regular, honest self-assessment or peer-assessment or mentor review to help you keep your feet on the ground about the true state of your abilities and your value. The lesson applies to various facets of life but in the workplace, in particular, the sort of reality check I received in that Lecturer’s office often happens in dealing with requests for salary increases or promotions. Awkward… I still occasionally fall into the trap so I can tell you from experience that that fall to reality can be a pretty hard bump.

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