Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Saying no

I found this letter in a box of things I can't seem to get rid of, and I am so grateful I kept it. This is a letter given to me when I was twelve by my seventh grade English teacher, Mr. Cowan. He was a remarkable teacher who was kind enough to see how much I was struggling with trying to be perfect. I was having a hard year socially (understatement of the century) and I was throwing myself into my academics and anything else that I could do well, such as ballet. It seems that I have always been exceedingly hard on myself and worried about what other people might think. There are many reasons for this, but at this particular time I was dealing with some very harsh judgment from my circle of friends (that resulted in losing those friends, for the most part). I was always a kid who had high expectations of herself, and dealing with rejection at the social level intensified my need to be perfect in other areas of my life. I was flailing under this pressure and this very kind teacher reached out to me:
It is terribly worrying to have a whole lot of people expecting you to do well in everything you do, all the time. At some point it becomes necessary to consider every activity, every class, every assignment, every friendship, and ask if it is worth it to you to continue, or to try to meet someone else's expectations...We need to talk about time and how to spend it. Only time has value. Nothing else does. 
I have received so many encouraging replies since my post on authenticity. Thank you for these words, too, and thank you for sharing some of your own authentic "reveals." I think the kind of authenticity I want to practice in my life is found right here in Mr. Cowan's letter. Being authentic means sometimes letting go of expectations, sometimes coming from others, other times coming from yourself. Expectations themselves are not bad, in fact, I think they are quite valuable (and I think Gretchen Rubin is spot on with her take on this). But when these expectations stand in the way of living the life you want to, when you feel paralyzed by what other people will think, it's time to reassess (I'm looking straight at myself, by the way).

Thank you, Mr. Cowan, for your many kindnesses. Also, thank you for introducing me to E.A. Poe, Shakespeare, and writing for the sake of writing.


  1. I had a teacher like this in Grade eight...I still remember the influence Mr. Rubie. I love that this teacher's words have echoed through the years to continue to inspire. Have you ever contacted him to let him know how he helped you?

  2. I haven't contacted him, though I've looked for him. I think I might call the school and see if they have a forwarding address. When I hear some people getting down on teachers (and it drives me crazy), I always remind them how good teachers can change your life.