This is the second in a four-part series leading up to the New Year where this blog gets a bit reflective.
29/12/14 - My Strengths
30/12/14 - New Year's Resolutions
31/12/14 - Yearly Review
31/12/14 - Yearly Review
Societal norms tell us that talking about our strengths is a bad thing, particularly for women. And I am of course afraid of letting my ego get too big. But for the end of the year, I'm being honest with the good just like I was with the bad yesterday.
And remember: All of these are my opinion of myself. Of course it's biased.
Yeah, I'm not going to deny it. I'm clever. Before anyone starts, I don't think I'm the cleverest person ever or better than you. Since I'm a big fan of evidence, I'll give you some.
My parents always gave me books when I was younger, and we didn't own a TV until I was four. So I've been a voracious reader for a very long time, and though I know you've heard this a million times before it is true: reading from a young age is crucial. It is the one thing I am most grateful to my parents for.
Getting on easily in school is a pretty good indicator. It's simple, really; although I didn't start learning to read until I started school at 4, I caught on very fast. Because of that, I got positive feedback and reinforcement from teachers almost immediately, and was motivated to keep going in school. Basically, I got off to a good start and that just kept on giving.
Of course, it might not all be nurture. I read somewhere that 80% of a child's intelligence comes from their mother, and my mother is smart. She's not into science like me, nor is she particularly mathematical, but she reads, is quite creative and has something I totally lack - practical intelligence, or street smarts.
But I do have to bring it back to nurture, because the most important part is that she values education and learning, and she passed that on to me.
Onto some actual evidence: to get into CTYI, you have to be in the top 5% for mathematical or linguistic intelligence in your age group to qualify for the programme. I took that test and did really well, since I got a merit part-scholarship. I don't brag about that in everyday life but it's a neat little fact to prove this.
Being smart is a huge part of my identity, because I project it outwardly in my nerd image. I'm comfortable being a nerd, and given the propensity of teenagers to settle into a group, I think this one isn't half-bad. It helps that I have CTYI to act as de facto nerd camp.
Again, I don't think being nerdy makes me better than you. I love to read, occasionally to fangirl over books, and I love learning and doing science. They're just things I like doing that happen to have a label.
And being smart has made that path a lot easier, so I'm grateful.
I mentioned the downside to this yesterday, when I talked about my weakness for Compulsion. While it can be hard to maintain, this compulsion translates into a ferociously strong work ethic that means I get things done. I do have to be reminded to slow down and take life easy once in a while, but I'm pretty happy to listen to people telling me to take care of myself if it means I succeed first.
I've been working on my BT Young Scientist 2015 project for almost a year now, and it has taken an incredible amount of work. In January, I obsessively read journal article after journal article, beginning the steepest part of the learning curve. I'm very, very glad I did that now - the project wouldn't have been possible without the extremely hard work at the start - but after the thrill of discovery faded I had to just keep plodding through, and work ethic was so necessary.
Work ethic is also necessary for my writing. It ties into self-motivation -- no one is forcing me to write. I'm doing this because I like it, but I don't like it enough to keep putting so much work in. I'm also motivating myself by looking at the end goal. I believe that self-motivation will be a hugely important skill to have as an adult, and so I'm cultivating it now.
Curiosity is probably the most fun strength you can have (unless your strength is a superpower, like flying, or simultaneous bungee-jumping and solving quadratic equations with decimal roots). Seriously.
Curiosity is what leads me to put my hand up all the goddamn time in class, and has since I was little. Along with reading, that's the reason I have whatever success I have; because I'm interested in class, and instead of trying to just absorb the information given I ask questions to help me link it to other things in my mind, because I would MUCH rather understand something than memorize it.
(And rest assured I don't think I'm unique here, I'm just trying to explain this to people who don't do it.)
At the end of first year in secondary school (age 12), I tried to drop science from my classes. Thankfully, a guidance counsellor wouldn't let me, and throughout second and third year a great science teacher turned my burning curiosity into a passion for science.
Scientists need to be curious.
That may not be the way it always happens in the world; people get into science for the pay (ha!) or whatever, but I believe true science is about curiosity, and trying to find out about the world around you.
This one may surprise some who know me, but being curious wouldn't be much good if I didn't dare speak out and ask questions (even stupid ones) in class, or if I didn't dare investigate something that interested me (even something risky, like this BTYS project).
I’m not confident socially, I must say, because that’s not my arena. I do have trouble making friends and getting alone in social situations. But I believe in myself, and I believe in my projects, and what I stand for. I think that’s important, and it’s good to have the conviction to stand up for what you believe in.
If only I weren’t so confrontational about it.
This is, I suppose, the flipside of the selfishness I mentioned yesterday. A consequence of thinking about myself so much is that I’m comfortable on my own.
I’m an introvert, yes, but it goes further than that. I’m not a team player, and while that seems like a weakness, for my purposes it doesn’t matter. I’ve always felt that it’s very important to be comfortable in your own skin.
Don’t be afraid to form your own opinions (though do make sure you’re supported by evidence, if possible). I don’t tend to think or talk much about things that can’t be proved or disproved by evidence, like religion, because I’ll admit they make me uncomfortable. Oh gosh, this one isn’t turning out very positively at all.
Anyway. You can’t go very far if you’re constantly afraid of the censure of other people. So, be like a molecule; remember that you can exist on your own, but you want to be surrounded by friends most of the time. Bonds form and break transiently, but once they’re there you’ll be okay.
I used to think I was loyal. But I’ve realised that being blindly loyal is not me, nor is it something I want to be. If someone leaves me, I can forget about them soon enough – I just turn off the part that cares about them for a while, somehow. That wasn’t meant to come out so emo.
But I want to be a good friend. I do care about them, and I’m trusting and easy with my affections. I’m also very forgiving. And I'm apparently quick to give out compliments, though that just feeds into being honest because if I see something good about someone I wouldn't hide it.
There's a girl who bullied me for two years when i was 13 and 14, and a few months ago she had nice hair and I told her so. Apparently that was stupid, and she laughed because she's a total sham, but (a) it was true (b) she probably needed to hear it.
This one does not make me very popular, but I believe it's necessary. I am brutally honest almost all of the time, to the point of annoying people. Still, I think it's best to just confront a problem and I don't really let people off the hook.
I get really angry when people lie to me. I'm so honest with them, and lying is one of the few betrayals I care about.
Don't do it.
John Green said that nerds get to be unashamedly enthusiastic about things, and while I’m not one of those people who consider John Green their Messiah, I agree.
I seem silly sometimes, or “embarrassing” according to my sister, when I wear a big jaunty flower headband or whatever. And maybe it’s childish, but if I enjoy it and it isn’t harming me or anymore else, what’s the problem?
I’m not ashamed of the things I like. I like Taylor Swift and Pentatonix, not some “cool” band you’ve never heard of. I’m not really into fashion, but if you are, feel proud of what you wear.
I think the world is lacking in enthusiasm.
Sure, it’s cool as a teenager to be apathetic, to be “above it all”. But oh my god it must be boring. Find your passion and practise it, and fuck anyone who thinks you’re uncool.
At least you’re doing something.
I hope all of the above are true. As I write this and to my knowledge, they are.