Common Struggles

Why am I doing this? Should I be here? I’m not good enough. I’m not qualified. I am causing more harm than good. Students think I am doing a bad job, clients aren’t happy with my work. I thought I could do it but I am just naïve.  

These thoughts are always with me. Sometimes they are louder than others. When I am feeling most sensitive they practically control me.

It’s not just the job; I’m a sensitive person. But It’s true too that our insecurities are amplified when we are doing something that is important and new to us.

I’m skeptical of people who say that they “just do it” when they are in a bind and feeling down. I don’t know how everyone doesn’t feel some measure of insecurity and self-doubt when they are doing something important, scary, and new.

But self-doubt is good. Self-doubt allows us to connect with others, it makes empathy possible, and it deepens the meaning of a relationship.

There’s a client, Norma, who I can tell when she is feeling vulnerable. When she is feeling upset, Norma has a tendency to say insulting things.

“I don’t want to go to your stupid classes. Why would I want to do that? They are a waste of time.” Norma yelled this at me after I asked her if she wanted to come to our financial literacy classes. I walked away and we didn’t see each other until a week later.

I understood Norma’s outburst had nothing to do with the classes or me. I know that Norma gets judged a lot by her neighbors. Part of Norma’s charm is her quirky, absent-minded sense of humor. She is self-deprecating and often plays dumb to get a good laugh. Sometimes people will take her humor to mean that she must be unintelligent. When the joke is over, people don’t take Norma seriously. I’ve heard neighbors and clients smile when Norma’s name comes up or dismiss her as another old crank with nothing to contribute.

When I was in school I had a tendency to play the class clown. I would play dumb or do outrageous things to get attention. I felt the frustration of not being taken seriously. I had classmates be surprised when I made intelligent observations and comments. Classmates didn’t come to me for help on schoolwork or ask for my opinion on interesting topics like politics or literature.

My frustration expressed itself quietly and critically. I had a hard time understanding why I wasn’t being taken more seriously and I would beat myself up. I would sulk and shrink away from friends. I would shut down my efforts at changing my situation and I would sabotage my academics or be unusually quiet in class.

I cant pretend to understand totally Norma’s situation, and its not fair to look at her troubles as if they were the same as mine, they’re not. But we can create paths of understanding by tapping into those vulnerabilities and finding common themes in our struggles.

I don’t have answers for Norma, or a way of making her feel better. I thought it best to treat her the same way that I would want to be treated, with respect and seriousness. Because next week I could be the one who is feeling insecure and frustrated with the world around me.

In the end we are all still searching for salvation, and while no one else can save us, we can walk down the path together. A wise woman said, “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

The next week Norma showed up to the first day of class. She was walking through the big metal gate when I saw her. “Over here Norma!” I yelled for her to come over to the library where we were having class. She slowly walked towards me. I walked out to meet her. As she approached I extended my hand to shake hers. We shook hands silently and smiled. Norma went to class and I went back to work.

Santiago Sueiro (@SueiroSantiago)

Program Director
La Ceiba MFI

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