The reason why I suck at writing, hate reading and have never been able to pick up languages – and how I proved myself wrong.
I’m sitting in my dimly-lit, third-grade classroom. My mom and I are sitting in hard, vibrantly-colored, plastic chairs. My English teacher, who is sitting across from us, is your typical sweet southern grandma, until she opens her mouth.
“I know I’m not supposed to say it,” she says anyway, from her wrinkled, fuzz-covered lips, “but, if I were you, I’d go home and give him a good spanking.”
I don’t know if my mom nodded, ignored it, or what came after, other than the feeling of betrayal from my teacher, mom, and the educational system. I wasn’t a bad kid or bully. This discussion wasn’t the result of my lobbing spitballs. This was Mrs. Manard’s solution to my “C” level performance.
Looking back, I tried to do the things required to excel in school but, try as I might, I couldn’t do them the way I was supposed to. I disliked the slow pace of English class and reading large books that seemed irrelevant to my life. I already knew how to read, write, and speak. Knowing the rules as to why one should never end a sentence with a preposition felt unimportant.
Without knowing it, Mrs. Manard redirected my educational trajectory, and, by 10 years old, I decided, “I suck at English.”
My foreign language class wasn’t much different. Aside from having a much nicer teacher, I didn’t do well memorizing all the rules. There was no satisfaction in the months of repetition required to eventually say, “Your cow is fat.”
I had another epiphany at 12 years old. I was never going to be able to pick up new languages.
Some stories, like mine above, become obsolete in adulthood, but never get a makeover.
Being a “bad speller,” “bad at math,” or “not being witty” are a few examples of stories you may have calcified during childhood. They are either told to us, beat into us, or remnants of unwanted consequences we had to endure.
These stories are as relevant to us now as a favorite toy or blanky. They are anchors that swaddle us in chains, leaving us comfortably limited. We see these features as foregone conclusions, but, somehow, we are unable to remember when these features formed or when we last questioned them.
Maybe it’s time to update our stories.
The story above is part of my history. It made me who I am today. But, it’s based on old experiences and, therefore, outdated.
If a 10-year-old kid walked up to me now and told me how to live my life, I would think it was a joke. Yet, somehow, my 10-year-old self is still telling me how to respond to my environment.
I can’t continue to rationalize this logic. It is time to update my stories and make them more relevant to my current environment, social circles, and interests. It’s not about changing who I am, but ensuring I am not limited to who I thought I once was.
Like the rest of the world, the isolation of COVID provided me with an opportunity to pause, reflect, and assess. An opportunity to dissolve the negative assessments of my capabilities. This simple reframing immediately altered my perspective. I went from reasserting my shortcomings out of habit to searching for ways to reexamine them.
Take languages, for example. Soon after I took this new approach, I caught myself responding to the question, “Do you speak any other languages?” with a canned, “I am good with learning software languages, but have never been able to grasp foreign ones.”
The first time I used that response was in high school. High school?! It has been a reflex, hidden, very literally, under my nose for decades.
I decided to test the theory. I began looking for language apps. If one didn’t suit me, I tried another. I found groups at work that were studying languages (turns out a lot). I Googled hacks to learn languages quickly. I found platforms that connect users to native speakers around the world, so they could learn for pennies on the dollar. I kept what I liked and threw out what didn’t work for me.
A year later, I’m speaking French and Spanish at an Intermediate level. I now see the world in a new light. Like a veil being lifted around me, I now recognize the lyrics of foreign songs, follow dialogue in foreign flicks, and eavesdrop on tourists at my local coffee shop. I didn’t just learn languages. By challenging my old thinking, and with little effort, I illuminated a new world.
Enthused by the results of this formula, I applied it to my “sucking at English” and so many other false truths weighing me down over the years.
Through this experience, I had an epiphany: Maybe, I have always loved English and languages. Maybe, I just hated a few child classes that unfortunately bound me to a false narrative.
Let’s close the book on these old narratives and make room for a new, liberating reality.
Redefining your reality
Introspection is paramount in discovering and redefining outdated stories.I had to catch myself repeating old facts to others, and then determine whether it is outdated.
That’s your clue.
Then, reset and re-create that truth from scratch.
- Catch yourself. When you hear yourself assertively self-deprecating what you’re capable of, replace it with, “I haven’t taken time to be good at it.”
- Step back and see if you can pinpoint when you formed that opinion. Who were you then? Is it possible you’ve evolved in other ways since then? Are the issues that blocked you still present now?
- Cut out what’s no longer serving you. Do you spend hours on the phone or TV? Maybe cooking everyday is a burden and ordering out once a week removes it. Can you trade a day, hour, or activity to investigate this question? Maybe block your work calendar for 30 mins, one day a week, or add an activity to your wake-up or sleep ritual. Maybe you mow the lawn one fewer time a month, and it grows just a bit longer. These are a few trade-offs you can make to open yourself up to new possibilities. Personally, I deleted all my social apps and replaced them with Duolingo.
- Chose one thing from #1 and start researching ways to engage it for a few minutes gained in #2.
- Give it 6 months and see if your story changes.