I cringe when I hear the word “potential.” I hate it. (I don’t use “hate” very frequently.) For as long as people have been judging me, I’ve been told I have a lot of “potential.” I have the potential to excel at basketball and volleyball; I have potential as a writer. Well, guess what? I don’t find one iota of encouragement in the sentence, “Camille, you have potential.” All “potential” means is that I suck right now, but someday I might not suck quite so badly.
Why can’t people simply tell me I have promise? Promise is so much more…hopeful. To be “a promising young writer”—now that’s really saying something. But to have potential? Everything has potential; it’s nothing special. Our hand-me-down bedroom furniture has potential. To tell me I have potential is just like saying all I need is a can of black spray paint and I’ll be as good as new.
For a few weeks at the beginning of this semester, I was actually beginning to deceive myself into believing I might want to become an English professor someday. It seemed like a swank job: Lecture students, make them fall in love with me by cracking witty jokes, take the summers off, hold office hours…
…Until I had a reality check and remembered how much I despise all my professors [save one or two]—and have despised them since the beginning of my university experience five years ago. I am certain I could not handle the stress of being so loathed by so many people. I say I have thick skin, but for heaven’s sake, I’m not a rawhide! I wouldn’t be able to deal with it.
By the same thought process, I have come to the conclusion that once I am a prominent, professional writer, I will never thank any of my teachers for anything (though I would be an ingrate to pretend my parents and elementary school teachers never taught me anything [I give credit where credit is due]). But university-speaking, every post-secondary English professor I’ve had has done more damage than good.
So to the professor who takes the time to “encourage” my writing potential, despite the consistently lousy marks she’s given me these past two months, I say this:
Don’t. Just…don’t. My opinion of myself has not lowered because of the bad grades you’ve given me. Yes, I’m upset about the grades, but not because I believe they reflect my mental capacity—rather, I’m bitter because I deserved better. The fact that you see “potential” in my writing does not uplift my self-esteem any more than your 74% mark wounds it. Believe it or not, I am able to distance my good character from the grades I receive in this pitiful excuse for a class. I realise that a 74% on an essay you graded is nothing more than your opinion and, quite frankly, your opinion is becoming less important to me with every passing day. I’ve always known my strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve known my “potential” long before you ever deigned to inform me of it. I feel encouraged when I score marks that I actually deserve—if you want to be a boon to my writing career, grade me justly. Otherwise, give me my 74 lousy percentage points, and leave me be—don’t pull me aside to generously declare how certain you are that I might not suck someday. It is hypocritical of you, and it’s unbecoming.