Picard: “How can we be prepared for that which we do not know? But I do know that we are ready to encounter it.”
Picard: “Yes, absolutely, that’s why we’re out here.”
--ST:TNG, “Q Who?”
By this point, most of the people who attended “Twitter Math Camp 2014” (and a number who didn’t) are aware of the “I am a fraud” post by Mr. Kent. There’s been loads of blogs, and a bit of a rallying cry to the effect of everyone feeling inadequate, if not now than in the past, and really we’re all just muddling through this together. Don’t worry about it, chill out, no one’s there yet, no one’s really that special.
Screw that. Some people are special.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re "there". Nor I am saying we shouldn’t be supportive, sharing our own experiences, and offering encouragement to anyone who needs it. But consider that your inadequacy is NOT NECESSARILY someone else’s. You do them a disservice if you believe that it is.
I’m going to pull a couple of quotes from Mr. Kent’s post:
-“I truly feel as I am nothing compared to those I met here. Going from feeling like top dog to nothing is crushing to everything that I held dear to me.”
-“Even as I write this blog it is really hard not to write things to manipulate others into liking me.”
The first resonates with me because I had a very similar experience. The second because I don’t feel it’s like me at all. So as I go through this post, it's very likely that everyone will find something to disagree with. GOOD. We’re all individuals.
I started a mathematical web serial in July of 2011. I wrote a song parody to go along with it in August 2011. The song parodies quickly took on a life of their own. I was the first to parody “Call Me Maybe”, in December 2011, before the United States even knew of a Canadian named Carly Rae Jepsen. As I continued, the more I did the research and accumulated links, the more I realized I had something I could finally give back to the mathematical community. (Because I’m still puzzling over how the darn serial can be of use to anyone.)
I pulled together an entire presentation which I delivered locally in Ottawa in February 2013. This was around the same time as the presentation call for TMC13, so I figured what the hell, people there might be interested too. I submitted a proposal, it was approved, preliminary numbers said I’d have 6 people. I had one person. Some may recall my tweet from that time, which was in last year’s post:
That wasn’t the crushing thing though. A couple people even asked me about the presentation afterwards. No, the real crushing thing was who didn’t talk to me. I discovered there was a group of people out there writing a Song Parody for TMC13. At this point, I had no less than 20 song parodies to my name, I had delivered a SESSION about parody AT the conference... and yet I was not even on the radar of a half dozen like-minded people. Some of whom I’d TALKED with on Twitter.
“Going from feeling like top dog to nothing is crushing to everything that I held dear to me.”
Was this a special group? Perhaps not by their account. But it felt special to me. Very special, actually. So I sent a message about hey, um, I’m here... and I was invited in for a lunch session, and I came up with the rhyme of ‘throne’ for the High Priestess line... and that was pretty much it. Later on there was some talk of me presenting song parody at Global Math but the schedule was full until November and no one got back to me on it. Because I’m no one special. Not that way, not in the TMC group.
[EDIT: I don't even remember exactly who the writers were. Apologies for the example, I'm not trying to paint anyone in a bad light, it was a context thing. For that matter, in the larger context, no one asked me to karaoke with them either. Though I do treasure one particular tweet of @Mythagon.]
|"I'm no good"? Seriously? That's supposed|
to motivate this department?
THAT ACCEPTANCE IS HARD. It’s easier to shrug things off and say “I’m no better than you”, or even “I’m actually so much worse than those other people”. But as individuals, some people CAN and DO stand out in a crowd - for other individuals.
I get it. You don’t want to acknowledge that you could be such a person. After all, it might be as much due to your seniority or your appearance as opposed to your interests or abilities. You may even feel that others have the completely wrong impression of you. But microinvalidation IS a thing. I implore you, look for what others might be seeing, and acknowledge it within yourself. As with anything important, it’s easier said than done.
For me, I can say I’m the best musical math teacher in my school. I will grant that this admission isn’t so hard, given how it’s such a niche market. I suppose I can add that I’m a pretty good GPS beyond that.
At this point, things cut both ways. Having just told you that you are right to see certain people as being special, and that your belief in them is valid (or that their belief in you is valid), I’m going to agree that we don’t need that validation nonsense. Be your own individual within the group.
“Even as I write this blog it is really hard not to write things to manipulate others into liking me.”
Screw them. If they go on about how they’re "nothing special" and "we’ve all been" there, and you don’t agree, fine. They don’t know you - any more than you know them. Only YOU can know you. Embrace that. (Upon rereading, it looks a bit like this paragraph is talking to the blog quote. In actuality, I’m speaking more generically to anyone who feels they don’t "fit in", and who doesn’t feel like all the happy "that’s just like us" feelings are helping them out. Though hey, if the happy feelings ARE helping, ignore me completely. You have that power.)
But look back at yourself. WHY do you want to be accepted by these "special" people in the larger group? Better question: Why do you feel you are NOT ALREADY accepted?
|Sis, I'm not feeling the love here...|
THIS IS ALSO HARD. What I said earlier involves acknowledging that some people are higher than others... while THIS involves acknowledging that (paradoxically) you are not any lower than them. In the group, we are all on an even playing field. Picture being on a team with someone that people regard as the star quarterback... that person would be nothing without the rest of you. Do you need this star player’s permission to participate? Hopefully not. Does his being there mean you cannot also do awesome things? Surely not. (We’ll take it as given that the quarterback isn’t full of himself, because the one thing that DOES tend to create problems in a group is ego. That said, I propose it may be equally annoying if he constantly says he’s no good.)
I’d better address the issue of envy and jealousy too. I bring it up because, hell, I know I’m envious. There’s these "star" people out there who can get many comments on a blog post, or 10 responses to a tweet, or who can rally a crowd around a song parody, or who (most damning of all) get constant RTs. Seemingly without effort. (Actual truth: It takes effort.) I want in on that action! But if the only way for me to get that action is to change who I am or what I do to "fit in"... NO. The cost is too great. After all, I don’t need any comments on this blog post to tell me I’m awesome, when I already know that! (Which, I grant, probably means I violate the "ego" rule. Oh well.)
Consider this: Dan Meyer’s talk at TMC concluded with the thought “Be Selfish”. The context was to get as much as you can out of the community in terms of knowledge and assistance. To use that to change your teaching, and to change your perspective... but being selfish implies you already have an identity. Don’t change that. Don’t change who you are at your core. Or at the least, don’t feel you have to do it in order to move forwards and connect with others.
WHO CAN I BE HONEST WITH?
The answer to that big question is, of course, to be honest with yourself. But at the same time, you MUST consider that the opinions of others play some part in who you are as well. For better or worse. Acknowledge it - and acknowledge that accepting their opinions don’t make you a fraud any more than accepting money makes you fraudulently wealthy. It’s not like you have a printing press in your basement.
Having now potentially annoyed or confused of the majority of the TMC crowd, I’m going back into my corner. With my little pop culture references. I’m starting to think my problem is not so much that I’m an introvert, but that I simply don’t function well in groups.
Angelus: “Now that’s everything, huh? No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?”