Actually, at the time, receiving this acknowledgement traumatized me. Fortunately, now it makes me chuckle.
In 7th grade, I was an insecure bundle of nerves, very uncomfortable in my own skin and pathetically shy. So when my teacher gave out the last of the typical junior high class awards she said:
“This award goes to a girl,
(My thoughts were: ok, half the class remains),
who came to my class after the start of school,
(furtive glances around to see if any of the other students began a month into school),
and she crawled up from THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL,
(praying it wasn’t me, but pretty sure it was),
and the Most Improved award goes to……. And then she called my name.
I was horrified, but tried desperately not to show it. It was a long, painful walk up to the front of the room, while I tried to focus on the certificate and not on the kids giving me the thumbs up sign, probably all relieved that their names weren’t called.
So self-possessed was I, I couldn’t appreciate that she was trying to do a nice thing, recognize me for NOT BEING AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL any longer. It felt something like, “well, you’re still a loser, just not as much as a loser as you were 8 months ago.” That’s how I received the message then, but I’m pretty sure now that’s not what she intended.
If only I could go back in time and change my thinking. Or, perhaps, coach her on her choice of words, “THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL”. That low huh?
Fortunately, I matured. No permanent damage done with something so trivial. However, it does make me keenly aware of how powerful words are. Choosing precisely what to say when it matters requires getting very clear on what really needs to be communicated. Likely, what she meant was, even though I came in with apparently very low skills that year, I grew as a student. I worked hard and stretched myself. I kept at it. And she noticed.
There are many times on a daily basis, with friends, children, students, mates, colleagues that what we say matters. And how we say it matters even more. In The Four Agreements, don Miguel Ruiz says, “Be impeccable with your word”. This is requires, getting clear on what needs to be communicated, knowing your audience, and taking responsibility for how we communicate. The impeccability of our own self-talk matters as well.
Perhaps Mrs. Goldstein really did say what she meant. It doesn’t really matter though, because I have learned to embrace the 2nd Agreement. Don’t take things Personally.