“If you’re English, how come you don’t have a cool accent?”
“Are you British? Don’t ever lose your accent; I love it!”
“I thought you were Australian.”
“So, Lynny, how do you feel – British, American, or Asian?”
These are just some of the comments I’ve heard over the past few weeks at Southern. Whether I laughed or groaned over them, they kick-started a whole train of thought about my identity.
It seems that every time I enter new circumstances – whenever everything that I’m comfortable and familiar with is taken away – I begin to think more deeply about who I am, and what exactly gives me self-worth.
Growing up, I was always a high-scoring student, quiet and polite and good, a major people-pleaser. This is how I've come to define myself. This is what gives me self-worth.
The first couple of weeks here were tough not only because of all the new things to get used to, but because I was pushing myself to perform exceptionally. The intensity of the class was exhausting; I was afraid I wasn’t doing well enough. I thought that if I got anything less than top marks my worth was suddenly cut in half (in my own eyes, and, I was sure, everyone else’s). I was hired as an English reader, grading papers etc, based on my previous experience (I hadn’t done the ACT or College Comp 101 yet), and I was anxious in case I wasn’t working to the standard I thought my boss would expect of me – indeed, that I expected of myself. If I wasn’t performing well, I wasn’t anything.
Subconsciously I guess I wanted to know, “Will you still love me if I don’t always get A’s? Will you still love me if I sound American?! Am I valuable to you even if I don’t always attain perfection?”
I wasn’t actually doing as badly as I thought. I shared with my parents the results of my first tests, and how my job was going, and they congratulated me. (I told them what people had been saying about my accent too, and they laughed!) Then my mum told me, “Don’t worry if you don’t always get these sorts of results. Always aim high but don’t risk your health or sanity to expect those results in every subject.” Hearing that was so incredibly freeing!! It was the reassurance I needed that I would be valued and that I was someone even if I didn’t always score A’s or if I missed the occasional grammar mistake in an essay I was marking.
I'm still figuring out my identity, but I am learning that I'm more than what I do, more than what I score, more than my job description.
What is it that makes you who you are? What gives you self-worth?