| Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash
Growing up, I heard people around me and some random strangers tell all sorts of low opinions about me. I’ve been told many times, “I won’t be a good student,” “I won’t finish school,” or “I’ll be a failure in life.” All because I was hyperactive and couldn’t stay put. My raggedy looks didn’t help either, and it often elicited bias in people about my real capabilities. I was dark-skinned, skinny, and clumsy. My eyes were dark pools where all sorts of naughty things lurked. As a little boy, I’ve been told I was a piece of work. When one hears many negative things about oneself for too long, one begins to get brainwashed and start believing them.
I was often underestimated and misjudged. No one expected I would eventually do well in school. When I got into graduate school as a recent arrival to the U.S., a Catholic priest asked what I was going to school for. When I told him I was working on my doctoral degree, he told me pointedly I was ambitious. In so many words, he meant to say, “Who do you think you are?” All because I spoke English with an accent, and I didn’t look like “doctoral material.” I took that priest’s comment to heart. Instead of growing doubts in my head, I fed my resolve to excel.
With some people already planting doubts in my head, going to a largely white university in the U.S. Mid-West wasn’t a picnic. Before walking into class on my first day of school, I really had to do some serious self-talk to keep my confidence. I stayed mostly quiet in our small classes until I had a good feel for the class and my professors. To my surprise, I found most of my professors approachable and accepting of me. I learned who made their students work very hard to deserve an A in class. Some were not known to give an A at all. They also taught the more challenging subjects.
“I said earlier about growing up listening to people casting me as a failure or underserving even before I was given a chance to try. What saved me from getting brainwashed and believing people that I won’t amount to anything was a mother who believed in me.”
I set very high expectations of myself and devised a plan to excel in all my classes. It involved mastery of subject matter for each class and having a good understanding of the professor’s standards and expectations of his students. Sometimes the standards were not explicit and must be gleaned from how he handled the class and clues from lectures and assignments. It’s quite similar to courting a woman and using one’s intuition to discern the door to a woman’s heart. It’s about creating a favorable impression through what you do in class. Except, in this case, the goal is not to marry my professor but to score an A.
My plan worked. When I completed my coursework and earned my degree, I had straight A’s. I did not only prove something to myself; I defied the odds.
Being underestimated is the story of my life. In the workplaces I’ve been to in the U.S., the same pattern of being misjudged or getting passed on for better positions would repeat itself. Again, my looks, skin color, or accent created a bias against me and my skills. I plodded through and set high standards of work for myself quietly, regardless of the work ethic of my colleagues. In the end, I always earned the respect of my peers and bosses.
I said earlier about growing up listening to people casting me as a failure or underserving even before I was given a chance to try. What saved me from getting brainwashed and believing people that I won’t amount to anything was a mother who believed in me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.