Sign Up

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

People Believe What You Tell Them to Believe

Don't use the word "aspiring" when you're describing yourself on Twitter or anywhere else.

Author Dakota Skye ( posted this on Twitter this morning: Be careful who you share your weakness with. Some people can’t wait for the opportunity to use it against you.

This reminded me of something that I learned in my 30s. People believe what you tell them to believe about you. I'm usually a pretty humble person. I am the first one to see (and point out!) my flaws. This tendency has plagued me throughout my life, going back as far as I remember.

My stomach churns as I write this, but I'll give you the most blatant example. Twenty-plus years later, I'm still ashamed that these words left my mouth. *deep breath* 

When I was a senior in college, I filled out the paperwork to student teach at a local high school. I double-majored in French and Spanish, which I believed was an excellent choice because it doubled the job opportunities for me. I didn't anticipate the effect it would have on how much of each language I would learn in school. The student teaching application asked that dreaded question.  

What is your greatest weakness?

I answered honestly. Anybody with any life experience would have coached me to say something different, but I didn't even think to ask. Stupid, naive, twenty-year-old me wrote, "My greatest weakness is knowing less of each language than I could because I split my studies between the two." (Keep in mind, I learned from coursework. I didn't have the money to travel, and honestly, I didn't have the confidence. That's a whole nother blog post though.)

The result of this foolish statement was rejection from the school I was assigned to, two days before winter break, leaving me to scramble to find another placement. (The upside is that not only did I find another placement, I filled in for a teacher that needed immediate leave, and I got paid a first year teacher's salary for student teaching. Everything happens for a reason, right?) Had I said nothing, and named my weakness as something less damning, no one would have suspected that I was insecure, and I wouldn't have faced that rejection.

I didn't learn from this experience right away though. The year my first child was born, a new principal came to our school. His regime was brutal, with "letters in teachers' files" coming without warning. We called him Hitler, for many reasons, but mostly for the fear he instilled in experienced professionals. 

After my baby was born, I suffered brutal postpartum depression which exacerbated the undiagnosed anxiety disorder I'd lived with all my life. When Hitler got in my face, he reduced me to nothing. Since I was out for two months on maternity leave and had a schedule change when I got back (to remedy a staffing situation with another member of my department), I was not doing the best work of my career. I said things like, "I don't think I'm cut out to be a teacher. I just don't know what else to do. I don't know how to fix this." It wasn't true, but Hitler believed me.

His regime was short-lived. He's a gypsy. He doesn't stay in one place for long. He can't, and here's why. Hitler can rock a job interview. He can sell a school board promises of academic success that he cannot deliver. He gets hired because he tells people what he wants them to believe, and they believe it.

I finally sought treatment for anxiety and depression under his regime. For that, I am grateful to him. He pushed me off the deep end, and I came out okay on the other side. He taught me something important though. He taught to keep my mouth shut most of the time, and when I speak, to say only what will make people believe about me what I want them to believe. 

Do I lie? Nope. I tell the truth, but I don't advertise my flaws. 

We've had a couple different principals since Hitler left. They don't know that I ever struggled with my confidence. Our current principal thinks I've got all my shit together (I do, by the way). He asks if I'll meet a deadline, I smile and say, "Of course." The old me would have made the deadline, but would have expressed the doubt that always nags at me. He asks if I need help, I say, "I got this," and then work with my colleagues to make it happen.

I hear this man talking about other teachers. His opinion about some very good teachers is not high. I know that it's because they tell him to believe that they are not good through their words and actions. He asks, "How are you?" They say, "I was up all night grading papers, and I spilled coffee on my shirt." I say, "Fine, thanks. How are you?" I was up all night grading papers too. My coffee stain is hiding under my sweater. I couldn't find my keys, and I had to turn around halfway to school because I forgot my glasses, but he doesn't know that. He thinks I'm fine because that's what I told him to think.

My Tagxedo illustration at the top is taken from the "About" page on my website. The humble, not-so-self-assured woman inside me is screaming about the size of the word "awards." It kills me to put that out there, front and center. I can't stand bragging. I usually hide my accomplishments, reveling only on the inside. 

But I want people to read my books. What good is writing if no one reads? Therefore, I have to make people believe that I have won awards (I have. It's not a lie.) in order to convince them that they should choose MY BOOKS when they're searching for something to read.

If your Twitter description says "aspiring author," or anything like it, change it. If you want people to read your books, tell them that you are an author. Don't go overboard. If you've never finished writing anything, don't add "award-winning," but you're selling yourself short by telling people that you're "aspiring" to be a writer. If you write, you're a writer. Tell people that, and they'll believe it.

Pretty soon, you'll believe it too. 

 P.S. The bat shape is there to inspire me to finish my story for our Halloween anthology. I swear. I'm going to WRITE today!