The Presentation That Never Ends (& How We Grade It)

“Picture a situation where you had to make a decision and what lead you to make it; then think of a value you were representing when you made that decision,” was what Kate told us (well not those exact words, I paraphrased from memory) to do in our first Advanced Seminar of Media and Communications class. After that, the class left in pairs to relay our own stories to each other. When we got back, there was a little spreadsheet online, where there was a box next to our name ready to be filled in with the value we thought we represented in our story.

What intrigued me as those little boxes started filling up with different values – why those values? Each individual person knew what this activity was aiming to do. We knew what to look out for in our story. We knew what questions were going to be asked. With that in mind, why then did we chose that specific story?

Obviously, I can’t speak for everyone when I answer this. However, I think there’s something to be said about the way we choose to represent ourselves in different settings. Wether consciously or unconsciously, a lot of our decisions is done based on wanting to present ourselves a certain way: especially when it comes to our own narratives.

During this activity, the story I chose portrayed me as someone reliable or dependable. Upon reflection, the reason that happened is because to me that’s one of the things I like about myself. It’s one of those things I believe is an accurate characterisation of me. More importantly, it’s how I want people to think of me.

Everything we do in the public sphere comes with the undertones of self presentation. What we wear, what we tweet, the way we interact in conversations, the kind of food we eat. Self-presentation also shifts based on many different factors and can change many times. Maybe it’s just me, but I constantly feel the need to prove myself as a person, especially when some aspect of myself has changed. This could be things like choosing to speak up on a particular discussion in class, wearing a new hat to show change of style or retweeting several articles on twitter when I’ve had a shift in political views.

In this era we are given countless platforms to curate the way we present ourselves in society. The one thing we can’t do however, is have complete control over all narratives of ourself. I was very surprised at how my classmates were unwilling to write a blogpost on the stories of other peers because it could lead to misrepresentation. It was a lovely insight into how thoughtful and considerate people can be.

I don’t think completely avoiding narratives by others is possible though. Just in this blogpost, you get my narrative of what Kate said in class and of the attitude of my classmates. This is my lens of how they presented themselves.

As someone who is studying media & journalism, I want to be able to tell the stories of others. However, I’m hoping to be able to create narratives that respect their self presentation.

The question then is how comfortable are we letting others write out narratives for our carefully curated self-presentation? And how do we make others comfortable that their narratives are safe in our hands? Because I can already think of a number of situations where I know my personal biases might factor into how I present narratives.

I’m not sure I have all the answers for that yet, perhaps in another post once I’ve sat through a few more of Kate’s classes.

The thing I’m leaving with you with at the end of this blogpost: what was I trying to present about myself with this blogpost & why? Could you curate a narrative about me that you feel is fair? (I don’t actually want to know the answers, just a thing to ponder).

 

Surviving: University, Anxiety & Trusting in My Capabilities

There was a point this semester, just a few weeks back actually, I was sat in a chair in my lecturer’s office and I couldn’t stop sobbing. The ugly, snot inducing kind of sobbing. The kind of sobbing that made it hard to get words out. I still cringe internally every time I think of this moment.

The reason I was so distraught and trying to fight off an anxiety attack – my grades.

Really, it’s amazing the amount of times I’ve gotten so distressed over grades since starting university. Before that moment – the one I just described in my lecturer’s office – I assumed that the reason I get so caught up in numbers and alphabets that describe the quality of my work was because I had a scholarship to maintain. However, while that might be part of the reason, it definitely was not the main cause.

After this breakdown and a very teary explanation of my stress from having to maintain a distinction average each semester, my lecturer (who is one of the loveliest person I’ve met in my time at Wollongong) told me that they will work on changing the scholarship policy to avoid being heavily dependent on grades and that other factors will also be considered; this policy has now been enacted and for the most part, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be losing my scholarship over the remainder of my course.

With this, things should be fine right? It’s all good, I can be calm and happy and focus on learning new things. Wrong – if anything my brain’s capacity to deal with grades got a whole lot worse.

This really forced me to think about my relationship with grades. I grew up in an education system where most of what matters are your grades: how well you scored in an exam, what was your overall position in class, what was your overall position in the standard. There was this rhetoric that you are only ever ‘smart’ if you were at the top. You had to be getting those straight A’s and top ten positions.

This was reflected in everything around you. After every standardized government exam, your family, friends, family friends who you haven’t seen in years, teachers in the following year at school will all ask how many A’s you got. The way you get into a good school, the way you get scholarships, the way your school celebrates you all depends on the letter ‘A’.

I was pretty lucky because my parents didn’t put too much pressure on me. They never pushed me too hard, they never put me down if I didn’t get those high grades. Obviously, they still wanted me to do well – they got me the help I needed, the extra classes and courses that can increase the chances of me getting that A. And I wanted that extra help. I wanted to get those A’s. I lived in a system that made me think my knowledge and my capacity to learn was only worthwhile if I produced good enough results to show for it.

This anxiety from always having to get good grades followed me into college and now into university.

I’m going to be honest and say that university is so difficult. It really, really is. I’m learning many new things and attempting to do things I haven’t done before. A lot of the time, I’m lost, confused and overwhelmed from all these new things. A lot of the time, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.

There can be a lot of different factors on why I didn’t get a distinction on an assignment. I could’ve misunderstood the point of the assignment, I didn’t understand or fully analyse the sources I was using, it was my first attempt writing a news article and I didn’t know how to structure the information. All these things don’t mean that I’ve failed and turned in the worst thing ever, it just means I have more to learn. But nine times out of ten I never see it that way.

All I know is that some people managed to get a distinction in that assignment – and I was not one of them. I hate that I am not exceptional all the time.

There is just the constant loop of you are not good enough playing in my head. Before, it was easy to push the reason towards the scholarship. I had to be good enough to maintain that, I don’t want my parents having to pay more money for my education.

Now though I realise it wasn’t just the scholarship. I constantly seemed to equate my value as a learner and the extent of my capabilities to the grades that I get. This kind of thinking just feeds into the idea of not being good enough. I spend nights worrying that maybe I don’t deserve to be studying here, I don’t deserve the opportunities I am given, I don’t deserve to be learning. All because I’m not getting high grades.

It took a few long nights of not sleeping and some counselling for me to see how very unfair and toxic I was being to myself. Maybe I’ve always realised this, but I just never did anything about till now. I know that if anyone else told me any of the things I was thinking, I would have a million different reasons for why they were wrong.

It’s high time I stop doing that. I get so caught up trying to get high grades, I forget to actually learn. I keep thinking that if I do something, it has to be the best possible version the very first time I attempt it, which just leads to not attempting anything.

The ironic thing is, a lot of the times I am so proud of what I do. I am so delighted that I managed to write that report, that I managed to film and edit that interview, that I manage to learn how to play one of my favourite songs on the guitar. Even if the work is mediocre at best, I get so happy with myself – yas girl! Look at you go, you did a thing!

But that happiness is so short lived. If I don’t get high enough marks or people don’t care about the things I produce, I let that consume me and the weight of it crushes all that happiness I previously had.

I think as much as I want to say, I don’t care what other people think: I do, I care so much. Validation for my work is like a hard drug to me. It gives me a high, makes me delirious, makes my nails clench into my skin when I don’t get it; I don’t know how to stop myself from craving it all the damn time.

But with any addiction, I guess the first step is admitting you have one.

This semester, I learnt that I crave too much validation from other people for my work, my effort, my abilities to the point where it severely effects my mental health.

But really, your value, your worth is not determined by how other people view your work. You are doing good things, you are putting in effort to things you consider worthwhile, you are pushing yourself to be a capable person, you are trying.

That’s such a hard thing to remember, especially when we live in a society that judges us by abilities and outcomes.

Hopefully, I’ll remember it more often. I don’t know how exactly, but baby steps I guess. If you’re reading this, then at least I’ve started.

Next semester, I’m going to learn to take more chances. Create the things I’m proud of and actually post them without having people have to tell me multiple times that they think it’s great and they like it. Be ok with whatever grade I get and look at it as an opportunity to learn and push myself to do better.

Just thinking about it is making me feel anxious because I don’t know how to do this. But I’m definitely going to try.

Because I am so tired of feeling sad all the time, I’m tired of not being happy with myself and my efforts. I’m tired of dealing with anxiety/panic attacks that stem from not achieving the grades I want. I want to make good things and help people whenever I can. And it sucks because I’m blessed and privileged enough with the means to do them – but I stop myself because I’m so scared of failure before even attempting.

I’m 21 and I have so many things I want to achieve. Even if I can’t achieve them, I think it’s time I at least started trying too.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, I hope maybe this helped you in some way too.

To end here is one of my favourite videos to get me through times when everything smells of failure to me:

Curiosity killed internalised hate and the protection of ignorance

Curiosity is such a loaded word. The very concept of it seeps into our lives in many aspects, through many different avenues from the moment our brain can conceptualise things.

John Ruskin says “Curiosity is a gift, a capacity of pleasure in knowing (1819).” We take pleasure in having the agency to choose what we want to know. That’s why online media is such a powerful thing in this era, because that’s where people turn to when they are curious. From youtube tutorials, to wikipedia pages and discussion forums. It has the capacity to satisfy your curiosity over anything.

For me, one of the ways my curiosity manifested and had such a profound impact on my life was when I started to question the things I always assumed were true. Growing up, I was exposed to things based on how it was in my community. The things I believed were shaped by people around me or the things that were said on TV.

I lived in a very asian community but grew up watching Western media and tv shows. I grew up believing fairer skin was always better and if you didn’t fit specific beauty standards you would just have to loose out in some aspects of life, that speaking english automatically meant you were smarter then those who didn’t, that anything western was assumed to be the better way of doing things. These beliefs were further cemented because everyone around me thought the same things or if they thought different they never mentioned anything to me. I had a very narrow world view.

It wasn’t till I was much older, around 16, when I decided to re-think these beliefs. It wasn’t till I started using more social media and hearing all these different opinions and I started making friends who didn’t think the same way I do. It wasn’t till then that I was actually curious about things like beauty standards, cultural differences and the way life was for people in different social groups.

This curiosity led to late nights watching youtube videos, reading articles online and reading about people’s opinions through tumblr text posts. It was such a revelation to me to learn about the way we can sometimes be thought to hate ourselves or hate other social groups because there is a dominant narrative in society that no one wanted to question.

With this curiosity however came the destruction of the blissful bubble I used to live in. I heard racist, sexist, ignorant comments coming from friends, family, celebrities I admired. The protection ignorance gave me was shattered because now, knowing what I do, I wasn’t going to allow the people I care about to make such statements. The thing is, it’s a lot harder to get people to listen to your thoughts if they didn’t already want to.

It made things harder but it also made things better because I learnt so much. I learnt why people say what they do, how they end up with certain beliefs, how I can help change minds and how I can be an ally to many people who don’t have a platform to voice their thoughts in society (one of the reasons I decided on doing a degree in media).

We don’t get to choose to the environment we grow up in and the things we are thought but I think that’s where curiosity has a huge role in our life. The curiosity you have has the ability to change the way you look at yourself, the way you look at the world and the way you choose to live your life.

 

 

 

The Why’s & How’s of being here

From a very young age, I always knew I wanted to study abroad, I was always ready for a new adventure and new experience. I think it was that longing that eventually led me to making the choices that led me to doing my degree in a completely different country, so many miles away from home. I’m quite glad to say that being in Wollongong has definitely been an experience.

As for my communications and media degree, I think for a long time I never actually saw this as an option. I definitely went through a lot of different career choices growing up. As a kid I always wanted to perform on stage. Then at some point I decided I wanted to be a paediatrician because I liked children  and wanted to help them but I then realised helping them also meant that sometimes I’d have to deal with not being able to save them and that was a big no. In my pre-teen years I started watching the tv show Bones and thought maybe a forensic scientist was my calling. Unfortunately I realised I did not want to memorise the names of all 206 bones in the human body so that dream was crushed quite quickly.

Finally, one day, my mum asked if I had ever considered journalism. And for some reason it just made sense to me. I realised the common denominator with all my previous career choices was that I just wanted to help people and maybe make their lives just a bit more better. Journalism to me, was a great way to do that because I loved to write and seeing as the scope of journalism was so wide, there were many different things I could write about and many groups and issues and demographics I could potentially help by doing this.

Which then led me to here. After 12 years of school, 3 gruelling government exams and countless visits to international education fairs I ended up in the University of Wollongong doing a degree in communications and media with a journalism major.  ✨