Last night, as I was winding down an intense class-prep session (yes, I do live the high life! But with little kids, evening is really my only work time) when I checked my school email and found a message waiting for me that I'd been anticipating for some time.
See, I promised myself this summer that I'd finally send off parts of my dissertation to see if I could get them published. I didn't quite make it this summer; instead, the first weekend of the semester, I spent an evening cutting down one of my chapters, changing the introduction, and blithely sending it off. I suppose I should have seen the writing on the wall then: arrogance (in my experience) almost always begs for a set-down.
Anyway, I opened the email. Instead of the expected congratulatory line, I found a flat-out rejection. There were reasons given (in retrospect, pretty good reasons), but all I really read was: "you're not good enough for this kind of research. What made you think you could be a scholar?"
I was pretty upset about it. (Okay, I admit it: I cried. I'd like to think that had as much to do with it being late at the end of a long week with not enough sleep--on top of piles of paper, my two-year-old spent a restless night on Thursday with the croup--but it could have been largely hurt vanity).
When I tried to talk it out with my husband later, I came to the realization that part of the reason it hurt is that I still have so much of my identity--and self-value--tied up in the idea of my being a scholar. You know, that little bit of pride that lets me say, I'm not just a mom and a house-wife--I do research too! In high school, as an anxious and not very self-confident teenager, I found a lot of self-respect in being known as the smart one. I thought--wrongly, it appears--that I'd largely outgrown the need for outside validation.
My husband said, "You know, they say that the people who depend on things for their importance probably weren't very important to begin with." I know he meant to cheer me up, but this bit of wisdom actually depressed me more than it helped. Not because it meant that I wasn't important (I'm trying to come to grips with my mediocrity), but because it signaled so clearly how far I haven't come.
In our religious doctrine, we promote the idea that all individuals have inherent worth as children of God. While I know this--and teach my children and my teenage Sunday school students this--apparently I haven't internalized it. While I know my sense of self worth shouldn't depend on anyone's opinion but God's, apparently I don't really believe that. Apparently, there's a part of my teenage self that still exists inside of me, desperate for affirmation that yes, I am smart; that yes, I'm worthwhile because I'm smart. Or scholarly. (Or whatever the coveted virtue of the day is. Mostly it's being smart, because, see, I was raised in a family that privileged intelligence.)
A little bit of reflection put the rejection letter in perspective: the criticisms were valid--I'd cut down my chapter without thinking about the effects of taking a particular case study out of the context of the dissertation as a whole. And I can't be completely worthless at this scholarship thing: I did just get another paper accepted (granted, in a conference proceedings, so not nearly as competitive), and I even won an award for my dissertation. And just like that, I'm off, basing my validity as a person on external markers.
My question is, how can you take knowledge of a principle (like the idea that we are children of God) and turn that knowledge into actual heart-felt belief? Also, is it possible to ever entirely outgrown the need for outside affirmation? If any of my 3 readers has outgrown this need (or knows someone who has), do you want to tell me your secret?