Beyond My World of Petty Failure

This, my intrepid fear-facers, has been a week of terror. See, sometime last spring semester I suffered a momentary lapse of sanity and agreed to take the position of International Orientation Staff Coordinator.

That’s a fancy way of saying that during International Orientation (a week of phenomenal mayhem and madness during which all my university’s international and third culture freshmen flood campus), I’m paid to be the one hanged if the staff don’t know their jobs. This is fair punishment, because I also teach them their jobs in the first place.

As part of my job, I was required to be creative. This is the resulting logo.

As part of my job, I was also required to be creative. Which was terrifying. This is the resulting logo, born of desperation.

Let’s get a few things straight: I love International Orientation. As a third-culture kid myself, I know the benefits of a week spent with other international people who understand the culture shock of moving to an American university. My own orientation was hugely influential, and I love the opportunity to pay it forward a little by helping create a similar experience for other students.

Here's a simple explanation of TCK-ness. I'm in the middle. Preferably in a room by myself with a blanket and a good book.

Here’s a simple explanation of TCK-ness. I’m in the middle. Preferably in a room by myself with a blanket and a good book.

That said, I’m an introvert.

I’m terrified of new people, small talk, and other people’s disapproval.

Guess what happens when you’re Staff Coordinator of International Orientation? You have to make small talk with new people and hope they don’t disapprove of you. Also, you have to tell a lot of people what to do and hope that A: it’s the right thing to do and B: they’ll listen and do it and not hate you forever for making them do it.

So far I’ve forgotten to call about the ice machine, forgotten to print lists for my staff, forgotten to tell my staff about a meeting… I’ve also managed to be late every single morning (I keep trying to tell them I grew up in Latin America, but that apparently isn’t a good excuse). So far I feel like a disaster.

This morning, one of the other coordinators came to our meeting with some parent feedback.

According to her, they find us friendly, welcoming, reassuring. They’re comforted by the support system we provide. They’re enjoying themselves.

Comforting. Also convicting. All I see is a list of my personal failures. All they see is a great staff.  Someone’s perspective is off, and I’m inclined to think it’s mine. Those parents don’t care if I forgot to print a paper or call for ice. They care that someone took the time to welcome their children. Someone is explaining cultural differences, learning their names, and promising that when they’re overwhelmed with the changes and the homesickness, there will be people here who know their perspectives and their unique challenges, people who know the heartache and the fear and survived the culture shock.

It’s not about me.

I like to think that as a TCK, I have a bigger perspective. My view extends beyond my own backyard, because I’ve seen backyards across the world. I like to think I’m good at seeing beyond my own world. This week I’m learning that in some areas, I still see only myself.

But it’s not about me.

I have to look beyond my little world of petty failures.

It’s not about me. It’s about them.

Somehow, it’s harder to be scared when I stop counting the mistakes I made and start counting the people I served. Better yet, I can stop counting at all.

I’m still an introvert. I’m still cringing right now at the thought of the hundred people I’ll face at the orientation banquet in half an hour. But there’s less to fear when it’s not about me. I’m starting to think that’s a trick fear likes to play to stay in control.

Fear is like Batman with a stapler. Remember that moment when Commissioner Gordon thought the stapler was a gun?

Speaking of tricks to stay in control…fear is like Batman with a stapler. Remember that moment when Commissioner Gordon thought the stapler was a gun? And it wasn’t? Fear says “Look! This is a big deal!” But if I stop worrying and look, it’s actually not.

Fear tells me that I’m the centre of attention. When you’re the centre of attention, everyone knows all your failures. But the truth is, fear lies. I’m not the centre of attention. And I’m the only one who sees most of those failures.

Really, I think, sometimes fear is just overgrown egotism. And it’s time to move past that.


About Elizabeth Syson

While consuming tea and coffee at an alarming rate, I read and write everything I can and pursue my unnatural love of copyediting. My hobbies include learning new instruments and languages, riding horseback, sketching very badly indeed, and periodically recommitting to doing yoga regularly. View all posts by Elizabeth Syson

2 responses to “Beyond My World of Petty Failure

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