Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I second that emotion

Well, as I noted in an earlier post, I have had a great start to the semester. I found out that I won a university teaching award, and I have also been offered some great opportunities for consulting and even service work. Further, I have been complimented repeatedly and publicly in the past few weeks by colleagues, administrators, and even people outside the university for my efforts. I feel like the closest to an academic administrative "It Girl" as there might be, other than not being a big research star. But the big teaching award and the recognition related to it, and the other opportunities, has been somewhat disconcerting. (It Girl comic image from

Now, normally, I am not one to complain about getting attention. Truth be told, I enjoy the spotlight. I love awards and recognition, and I like being complimented on my work. I even like it when my picture is taken (and published), as long as it is somewhat flattering! And I know that others who are not getting the recognition they richly deserve would tell me not to complain to them. So, to clarify, I am not complaining--instead, I am simply reflecting and noting my feelings, which are honestly fairly surprising to me.

It is awkward to get repeated kudos from people all over the place, some of whom I barely know. It reminded me of a time when I hurt myself. I had to tell the story of how I hurt myself, what the diagnosis and prognosis was, and how I felt now to each and every person I saw. This award felt the same way--when people congratulated me at first, I responded spontaneously. After the first few people, my answers started to get a little more rote. As the days went by, I felt like a candidate on the stump, "Yes, the award is a great honor. What a wonderful way to start the semester! I am very excited about it." Blah, blah, blah--blathering on. I mean it, I do, but it is hard to continue to feel the same thing for weeks on end, which is how long it takes for word of the award to spread.

I spent one meeting getting compliments from so many sides that I found myself getting angry at the last person complimenting me. I mean, one compliment is excellent, and two is even better... but at some point, you become the kid in the classroom that everyone hates. I wanted to disappear from embarassment. And the other problem is that I know that someone else is not getting recognized who should be recognized, so I started to feel guilty. I just felt like saying, "Okay, thanks, that's enough." And I also suspected that there were others present who were thinking the same thing, which leads me back to embarassment.

It is funny, because I generally thrive on positive feedback. I keep the nice notes from former students, colleagues, and supervisors, complimenting or thanking me. I take out those notes on bad days, so I can look at them and remember that I am not really the worst teacher in the world. (I have a friend who vies with me for that moniker--I will call her and tell her my worst teacher behaviors/experiences, and she will call me and try to top it.) But perhaps it is like our Depression-Era family members say, "Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing." Or maybe it isn't a bad thing, but just an awkward thing.

That said, I will try to remember these compliments when I am having a bad day. Or when I am writing a letter to apply for a new job. And I will try to live into what these compliments seem to be saying about me.

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