As I walked to my 4Boston placement for the first time this year, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and confidence. Fresh off a year of participating in the PULSE program, I had never felt more certain in my ability to help others—especially young students. I entered the fourth grade classroom that I would be spending every Wednesday morning in for the rest of the semester with a smile on my face and an eagerness to help. However, this self-assurance was short-lived. I soon discovered that the students I would be helping were English Language Learners, their native languages being Spanish, Arabic, or Russian. As I struggled to connect with and teach the students, my feelings of confidence turned into those of incompetence. After four hours of failing to communicate with the fourth-graders, I had never felt more useless as a volunteer in my life.
Though this was an embarrassing and discouraging moment, it was also an extremely humbling one. It was a chance for me to admit to my flaws and recognize that I do not in fact know it all. Above all, this reality check forced me to reconcile with a notion that I don’t think many Boston College students feel comfortable addressing: personal limitations.
In my opinion, lack of contentedness stems from the constant need to maintain control over our lives. I enjoy managing certain aspects of my life—extracurricular activities, classes, work—and my guess is most BC students would agree. Thus, when forces beyond our jurisdiction (like, say, language barriers) threaten control, feelings of discomfort and inadequacy are created.
Another factor at play is the hyperactive, hyper-perfectionist environment that surrounds BC students. You and I are constantly told to do more and be more despite the heavy responsibilities we are likely already undertaking. While involvement and success are positive in principle, relentlessly emphasizing the need to push our boundaries can be damaging. By valuing hyperactivity and perfection, humility and weakness are simultaneously devalued.
The need for control over our lives coupled with the need to have innumerable strengths makes for an environment characterized by a hesitancy to recognize, accept, and love inferiorities and shortcomings. Though we are allowed to fail at BC, it is by no means "normal" to do so. This mindset is clearly seen through my initial discouragement and hopelessness during my first day at my 4Boston placement.
Though I mentioned that my 4Boston experience was a humbling one, it was difficult to reach this point of humility. Initially, I didn’t want to accept the fact that I had failed. I wanted to mask my vulnerabilities with confidence and reassurance. However, it was admitting to my failure that allowed me to reflect upon the situation and devise a strategy to improve the next time I volunteered. Being humble, I found, was more productive than being self-assured.
New York Times writer Tony Schwartz defines genuine humility as “a respectful appreciation of the strengths of others, a lack of personal pretension, and a more relaxed sense of confidence that doesn’t require external recognition.” It is by adhering to these principles that BC students may become strong leaders, open conversationalists, and self-loving individuals.
It is important for BC students to recognize the power of humility, especially because BC culture and standards do not always encourage it. By accepting responsibility of the inability to know every answer or exceed expectations in every situation, personal growth becomes possible.
Ultimately, every BC student will encounter failure. However, by displaying humility in the face of failure, students may learn from their limitations instead of feeling intimidated by them. Embracing ourselves for better and for worse combats the stigma of failure that is all too familiar on campus.