I sat outside of Mr. Johns office with my coat on my lap, backpack between my knees, my withdrawal form curled into a cylinder, clasped in both my hands. He came down the hallway in a bright pink shirt and complimentary tie, smiling like he always does. We made our way into his office and I sat down in the seat facing his, unfurling my form and looking up at him. Glancing down at the form, then up at me, and back down at the form again his face went into complete shock. “What? Oh no. Please tell me you’re just trying to get into something for next term.”
“Nope. I’m actually trying to get out of something this term.”
“Oh no. Did I scare you off? Are you okay? What’s going on?”
“No, no. Not at all. I think you’re great and I enjoy your class a lot, but, you know, I started taking classes because I wanted something to keep me busy. And as it turns out, this isn’t what I want to be busy with.”
He didn’t try to convince me to stay. He didn’t tell me I was making a horrible mistake, just asked what I was going to do next. He just told me that I was a pleasure to have in class and that he’d hoped to have me for at least one more term. Told me that I have a tremendous talent for mathematics. Told me that I’ll be greatly successful in whatever I decide to do. Said he wished I’d stay, but that I had to do whatever makes me happy. That if I did that he had no concerns whatsoever. Smiling, he signed my form and sent me on my way.
For the first time in a long time, I decided to just believe the things he said. I didn’t try to dig into all the different things that might be hiding between the lines. I didn’t assume that those are just the kinds of things that people like him say to everyone. I just took it at face value. I just trusted in it. And that let me leave with a great amount of confidence in what happens next.
So often I find myself adding things between the lines of what people are saying to me. Hidden ultimatums that I create. I assume they’re not saying what they really think. I imagine that there’s no way they have any confidence in me. I tell myself that all the good things I hear are being used as velvet gloves, handling me softly because I am too fragile to be told what they’d really like to say. A constant worry about my worthiness. About the things I’m doing being pursuits that are “good enough”. A regular disbelief in my ability to truly matter in any way to anyone. I treat these thoughts like truths and they slowly erode away at me. But I think I can learn to listen to what people are actually saying instead of listening to their words through my filter of what I assume they must be.