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Smarty pants February 7, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, societal commentary.
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When I met one of my long-time dear friends, it was at a college visit weekend.  We ended up staying in the same dorm and, because of convenience, ended up spending most of the visit together.

Thing is, I didn’t like him when I first met him.  I thought he was rather conceited.

In particular, I remember touring one of the university facilities, and my friend, between stops, started chatting up one of the profs on the tour.  He was making out like he actually knew a lot about this stuff when it was obvious he had only a beginner’s interest.

I thought, “What a snob.”

We ended up going to the same school university, and simply because we didn’t know too many people, we spent a lot of time together.  I discovered that this friend was one of the most giving people I’d ever met, was actually way smarter than my initial impression, and most definitely not a snob.

So why did I have that impression to begin with?

I realized later that a lot of that perception came from my own insecurities along with the way I was raised: I worried a lot about looking stupid to people, primarily because I’d had to continually prove myself in high school, so I didn’t understand the difference between showing off and being confident.  I also was raised in a place where any form of self-promotion really is considered showing off.

Walking the line between self-confidence and showing off is extremely difficult.  In academia, I’ve come to accept that promoting yourself and showing people your strengths and abilities is crucial for your success.  You have to toot your own horn because you certainly can’t count on anyone else to do it for you.  Likewise, this happens a lot in business.  In the rest of the world, people don’t want to hear about it: being confident and promoting yourself are equated with snobbery.

I’m trying to learn that you can’t win them all.  You can be very careful about what you say (or more importantly, what you don’t say), but sometimes people’s insecurities can override every interaction, interjecting things that really aren’t there.

I was reminded of this when my husband told me about one of the farmers near his hometown.  I’d met him a few times and thought he was very nice.  He was from a generation that simply didn’t go to college.  He did, however, and then returned home to farm.  This was really irksome to other people in the area who hadn’t chosen or couldn’t afford to go college, and the hostility was so apparent that it spread to their kids.  Fortunately, the grandkids seem to be over it, but it seems hard to believe that some people would get that upset about a college degree.  On the other hand, given that many of the people from my parent’s generation grew up in communities like this, it made me realize that this isn’t an isolated attitude.  In some places, it doesn’t matter that you’re wearing overalls if you’re a smarty pants…whether or not it’s true.

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