I’ve had a lovely weekend. I spent Saturday night at a garden party with pretty bunting and fairylights and an awful lot of exotic cocktails. The exotic cocktails were being made by a teeny tiny ten-year-old girl called Keira. She was amazing. More on this in a second.
It was a party for one of my oldest and wackiest friend’s Mum – her fiftieth birthday – and therefore I knew all of about four people there. Ashlee (that’s the wacky friend – she’s amazing) had already sampled every cocktail on the menu before I arrived (Keira makes a mean cocktail), and therefore somewhat over-enthusiastically introduced me to her entire family and network of friends in this way: “THISH IS MY FRIEND LAURA. We did SHOWS together and she jusht got a FIRSHT from KINGSHCOLLEGELONDON. A FIRSHT, eh?!”
Yeah. I got my Uni results back this week. I got a First. I didn’t blog about it because:
a. I spent most of my week working or out and about getting up to all sorts of nonsense, as usual.
b. I don’t want to shout about it much. Of course part of me feels all hugely accomplished and is mentally stumbling out of the ‘The-World-Is-My-Oyster’ Club, drunk on the fumes of my own genius. But the rest of me (about 99% of me, in fact) knows deep down that it is not genius. It isn’t even being clever. It is utter luck: I fucking scraped a First in a luckier-than-Paul-the-psychic-octopus’s-predictions kind of way. I had a couple of lenient markers and an excellent Dissertation Tutor. Fortune favoured me – it just so happens that this momentary favour may have lifelong repercussions.
So each time I was introduced in this way – and indeed each time one of my colleagues/friends/family has come up to me to say how thrilled they are (and that’s at least twenty trillion times) – I’ve been teased because I blush (apparently) and don’t know where to put myself. And each time they’ve said “Why are you being like this? I’d be shouting it from the rooftops!”
Yes, but isn’t that arrogant? Why should I tell anyone like it somehow makes me entitled to praise? What about all my friends who got a 2.1 or a 2.2 – why should I parade my grade around like I’m superior? We all worked ourselves so hard our eyeballs nearly melted – I’m ecstatic telling anyone I have a bloody degree – I don’t need anyone to know what mark out of 100 I got.
Back to the party: sooner or later, we ran out of cocktails (not surprising at the rate we were getting through them, and probably for the best actually: Ashlee had started telling her family members they resembled somewhat unattractive celebrities. To their faces. God I love that woman.) So Keira was left without a job, and decided to come and chat to Ashlee and me. She heard we used to do shows together, and almost immediately said “Are you gonna SING?! NOWWW?!” Cue more blushing, and more not knowing what to do with myself. “Oh I couldn’t possibly.” This is not Sex and the City 2. I am not Liza fucking Minnelli. I do not burst into song at parties.
Now, I know my First was just luck, therefore I do not see the need to shout about it as an achievement, especially not to people I don’t know. But I also know I can sing. In tune, and everything. Throughout my school years I performed at dozens of events. I got lead roles. I even found myself in recording studios doing vocals for bands and songwriters. I sang at my sister’s wedding. So when someone asks me to sing , why do I react like I’ve been asked to do something horribly up-myself to make other people feel bad, like I’ve been asked to roll around in all my worldly riches in front of a load of tramps, or rub my bosoms in flat-chested women’s faces?
So if I know I can sing, and someone really wants me to sing, why don’t I just do it? Because, in my head, that seems arrogant. Or is it? Isn’t it just confident?
In America they have such a can-do attitude. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. There’s nothing you can’t achieve. “It’s the American Dreeeeeam”, and all that jazz. In this country, we are expected to be a lot more self-deprecating. Saying you’re good at something is frowned upon. Especially if you’re good at it. The underdog always wins, and modesty is quite frankly better than sex. This is the norm.
I’m not sure I like this norm. I’m a bit sick of it. And this is why – despite everything I’ve just said – my friends and family all say I am arrogant. This isn’t a ‘poor me’ moment – these are the people that know me best in the world, so they’re probably right. I just don’t know why it comes as such a surprise to me.
I suppose, when I look at my everyday life, I don’t have that much of a problem saying I’m good at things to people I know. But when I have such an amazing group of family and friends telling me every day that whatever it is I’m doing, I’m great, and they’re so proud of me… it gets a bit hard to believe that I’m not good at some things. Still, after years of telling you that you’re amazing, the second you actually agree with them, you become arrogant. Puzzling.
My problem is I don’t understand what we achieve by spending our lives denying we could possibly be competent in any form. Surely arrogance is the rubbing-your-boobs-in-flat-chested-people’s-faces thing – i.e. using what you’re good at to prove to others that you are somehow ‘superior’ – not just admitting you have talents, and showing them if required?
So why don’t we all just take a deep breath, open the window and shout out our confessions: confessions like we are good at stuff, we do look good and we can be successful – why not? Am I missing some hidden achievement here?
As it is, I refused to sing to Keira. I squirmed and cringed, and she eventually said (rather pointedly): “You should just do it. Have no regrets. You are what you are, and you can only be what you are.” Wow. Wise beyond her years, this one. I told her this, and she just giggled and said “Oh, I just heard it off the telly.”
And there we have it: my point is made. God forbid she should just accept she is wise – she had to put herself down, right? So instead of talking about how clever she was, and how she’d made me feel better, (and this is a very good talent indeed), we ended up talking about the source of the tellybox’s wisdom, (particularly The X-Factor in Keira’s case, apparently).
And I didn’t sing.
And she didn’t feel wise.
I think we’re missing something here.
(Image from Victoria Peckham.)