I was a graduate student, eager to take a creative writing class. An optional prerequisite was to share our fiction work with the professor. Oh boy—did I have something I wanted to share: the rough draft of a fiction manuscript I’d worked on that summer. My heart was soaring with hope, eagerly anticipating the moment I stepped into Professor Edmund’s office to hear the long-awaited feedback regarding my work.
Unfortunately, the feedback was nothing short of heart breaking:
“You can’t take the class. Your writing is terrible.”
Despite the taste of bile in my throat aching with unshed tears, I dared ask “What do I need to work on? Please tell me and I’ll do it.”
He shook his head, studying the manuscript the way one might a moldy slice of cheese. “I wouldn’t know where to begin. You need a high school freshman English class.”
While the room was silent, psychically something screamed and broke inside of me.
It would be years before I picked up a pen to create a story.
Years later, here’s what I know:
- Regardless of whether or not I possessed “the gift” of creative writing, Professor Edmund’s cruelty was uncalled for and reflects his failure as an educator.
- While Professor Edmund’s lacerating words stung, the decision to not pick up a pen for several years was all mine.
Anyone who is dwelling on planet Earth knows how powerful words can be—especially when they’re spoken by someone in a place of authority or someone we love and respect. If we aren’t careful, if we don’t remain present, it’s easy to allow words of criticism to form our perception of ourselves—and by extension—our reality. If we aren’t paying attention, we can allow another’s opinion of us to alter the course of our own future. If we aren’t mindful, we can change the trajectory of our very lives by digesting another’s belief as our own.
We are all familiar with the term Back Seat Driver—the habit some people have of telling the driver when to stop, where to look, when to speed up—essentially, how to drive a car. The Back Seat Driver typically induces annoyance in the driver. We grow resentful that the BSD is telling us how to drive a vehicle that we are in possession of steering—not them!
Yet when it comes to our personal lives and the choices we make (i.e. marriage, career, etc.), the potential for a Back Seat Driver still exists. We give away our power to an aunt or a colleague, a sister or husband, a boss or a doctor, dismissing our own intuition.
Professor Edmund was a man in his late 60’s when I was a grad student in my 20’s. Perhaps he wasn’t happy with his own life and needed to share this unhappiness with a naïve twenty-something college grad student. Perhaps he was threatened by the potential of my prose. Regardless of the reason behind his vicious tongue, he most likely moved on and never gave that girl a second thought. I allowed his words to determine my career, to determine my confidence, to determine my worth as a writer. I had, willingly, turned my steering wheel over to an angry man who didn’t even know me or where I was heading.
Consider the people in your life who offer heavy-handed opinions of you and your choices. There’s a fine line between receiving advice and altering your life to meet others’ expectations and perceptions. Ultimately, YOU are the one in the driver seat of your life. YOU determine your own course.