Without trying, really, I tend to surround myself with people who I deem more interesting and more intelligent than I am, on the theory that they'll inspire me to be the best version of myself. This works sometimes. Other times, not so much.
Late last week, I was invited to judge a 24 hour student film festival (that is, a festival of student films made in 24 hours). I know next to nothing about how to decide if a film is any good, or about making a movie, or about chugging Red Bull, but I was honored to be asked (even though I knew I wasn't their first choice because they'd forgotten to remove some key sentences in the email invitation they sent, a fact that was later confirmed by my boss, who had been nearer the top of their list), and since the event started at 9 on a Saturday night, I could leave the kids just before bed and head down to campus. It felt like more than just a token responsibility; the prizes included $500 cash: $100 each to best acting and best
screenplay, $200 for best production, and $100 for audience favorite.After checking with my husband, I ignored the little voice saying "why me?" and replied that I'd be delighted to join them.
I drove to campus, parked in my normal lot and, finding myself earlier than I'd expected (traffic was lighter than I'd thought on a Saturday night) took the long way to the classroom, treating myself to a double pumpkin spice latte on the way. (I don't think I'd ever had a pumpkin spice latte before. Does that make me unAmerican, uncultured, or just un-brainwashed?)
When I arrived at the classroom, I was greeted by some familiar faces; they were still setting up, so I took my reserved seat in the judges' row. I was soon joined by a philosophy professor on the Committee for Film Studies, a master of another residential college and his daughter (a film critic), a video producer/editor at the university Broadcast Center, and the Dean of Admissions (who doesn't make movies, but at least goes to see them once in a while). I started feeling more than a little unqualified for the task at hand.
The films were great: creative, funny, touching, thoughtful, little windows into our students' brains. I marveled at the accomplishment, thinking that I never could have made a five-minute film in 24 hours as an undergraduate. I thoroughly enjoyed the next hour and a half, though I second-guessed my way through my ratings, and starting going back when it was all over. I was the last judge to hand in my ratings; they had resorted to asking members of the audience to tell jokes to bide time. As they tallied the responses, the philosophy professor made pleasant conversation, while I sat there feeling like I had nothing to say: I don't go to the movies, I barely get to read a book a month, I don't do research. I cook, I do laundry, I clean, I commute. I help my children learn to read and navigate Prezi for a class assignment.
And I wonder, why is it that I go there, to that place of feeling like I'm a boring individual who has wasted the last ten years of her life not learning anything or growing in any way, so quickly? Why be so quick to compare myself to people who have lived different lives than I have? Why not walk away from an event like that feeling grateful for the fact that students from across a few college, after only a year in my position, tell me that I'm "esteemed" (and when I tease them about it, defend the use of the adjective by looking it up in the OED)? Why worry about being second, or third, or ninth fiddle? Why wonder why, during my two years at home with N., I didn't earn another degree or become a better musician or write a novel? Why worry about what I'm not doing with the little free time I have?
Perhaps awareness that your thoughts are crazy is the first step, but it's nowhere near half the battle.
Do you surround yourself with people you think are smarter/cooler/more interesting than you are? Do you secretly worry about not being interesting enough (or some variant on the theme)?