Have you ever felt like an outsider or not good enough because of some detail like race, sexual orientation, religion or all of these things? As a young kid, I felt we (my siblings and me) were looked upon as less than the white kids, as having innate flaws and it was these unspeakable flaws that I wanted to keep hidden by not taking part in the annual sport’s day at my school.
I must have been 10 or 11 that day, taking part in my middle school’s sports day. I didn’t want anything to do with the sport’s day because I knew none of the kids would cheer for me and that made me feel very self-conscious about myself. I was one of 2 Indians (the other was my older sister) at an all white school, in an all white village in the 80s in the UK.
I don’t remember the start of the race but I remember feeling that things were going well. I was neither at the front or the back of the pack of runners. I felt my confidence grow as my long skinny legs carried me forward with ease. I let go of my inhibitions and before I knew it I was in third place. But then the girl who was in first place tripped and fell and right after her the girl in second place also fell.
In those few seconds, I had to make a choice. Stop or run past the two fallen runners and take first place. Before I could think things through I was over the finishing line. I had won. However, there was not a single cheer for me. My victory was a failure. Disdainful and upset looks met my eyes from most of the parents and kids.
I felt so ashamed. I concluded it would have been better not to win. By winning, I brought their negative attention on me. It felt like I had proven them right. That I was a lesser being than them. Would it have been more sportsmanlike to wait for both runners to get up and cross the line before me? I wondered. Or let the kids behind me finish first? On some subconscious level, I felt I had upset the order of things.
I felt so conflicted, exposed and embarrassed by that episode that I vowed I would never take part in such an event ever again (I didn’t). The victory that day, along with feeling so visible in front of parents, kids and teachers made me shut down. I concluded that the win was bad and that there was something within me that didn’t deserve to win.
The following year, I managed to skive out of sports day by presenting the PE teacher with a note saying that I had bruised my foot whilst moving the settee (a small sofa). The note was written by my sister (older by 11 months) and the bruise I presented to the teacher was created using felt tip pens. I limped around for full effect.
That memory is still so vivid and alive in my mind and body. I can connect to the shame and anger I felt as those parents looked at me. Why was it so awful for me to win? How could winning be so obvoiusly a failure for me? What I couldn’t articulate at that age but definitely felt was that somehow, I was the wrong color to win. If I had been white it would have been totally acceptable to win as I had.
Those flickers of judgment that I felt from parents, kids, and teachers were internalized to such a degree that I never felt comfortable coming in first place again. Without being aware of this inner vow, I happily took 2nd or 3rd place in different spheres of my life.
The very act of being visible, successful, winning at things, which I had a natural aptitude for, became painful to pursue while at the same time, feelings of anxiety and failure took root.
We all have memories or experiences in which we have judged ourselves and in turn created behaviours that narrow our self-expression and success in life.
Are there choices available to us in those moments or even years after, to alter the negative course we take as a result of conclusions we’ve made? Is there a way to interpret other’s negative judgement of us differently, so we can manifest positive outcomes? Or does seeing ourselves as something less, as failures fascinate us to such a degree that we commit to playing that role for the rest of our lives?
Find out the answers to these questions and how to break the spell of repeat failure next week, right here at Tenderlogic. In the meantime, tell me have you ever concluded that you didn’t deserve to win or come first? Share with us in the comments below.