I grew up in a family where excellence is implicitly expected from each one. My parents never said so, but everyone else around us thought it was a given that we would do better than others academically and professionally. After all, both parents studied at the esteemed Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (my parents were in the same yearbook and little did my mom know that the funny-looking stick-thin guy she and her friends were laughing at would become the man she’d marry someday, haha).
Our eldest sister raised the bar high. She graduated on top of their class in elementary and got into U.P High School. In college, aside from being the Student Council Representative, she also was quite the athlete, graduated magna cum laude from U.P. and was in the Top 6 of the CPA board exam.
My next sister did well herself. She got into the same high school, graduated from U.P. and proceeded to become a medical doctor.
As the third daughter and the middle child, I had high expectations from myself. I wanted no less than to outperform my older sisters. I wanted my own identity to not be lost in the shadow of my siblings’ outstanding performances.
I aimed to be on top of all my classes, from elementary to college. I wanted to go into the same schools so all the teachers would remember me as they remembered my sisters.
To make the long story short, I got what I wanted, but I didn’t realize that I carried with me all the pride that came with a performance mindset.
During the course of my college years, I came to know the truth that God loves me no matter who I am or what I do or how accomplished I was. I don’t need to impress him so I could go to heaven. I need not perform before him.
Still, I didn’t realize that I was a slave to performance. I thought I just wanted to be excellent.
I had a list of how a Christian should act and I expected others to abide by the list as I have done. I expected myself to conform, to perform, and I was disappointed when I or others did not meet my expectations. I carried that mindset subconsciously even up to the time I taught in UP.
I expected my students to excel…rationalizing that since I was able to survive even the worst terror teacher, then they could meet the level of excellence I’ve set before them. The thing was, I wasn’t even willing to help them excel. They were on their own. If they needed help to catch up, it wasn’t my job to help them. They need to survive and excel in the course. On their own. Alone. I was thinking in my puffed up pride, “…like I did“.
Then after my second year of teaching, I encountered a rut called burn out.
I was trying to excel at work, in the ministry, in my master’s education, in pursuing God. Everything was dependent on me.
To my horror, I failed.
My students found me unapproachable. The women I mentored felt too much pressure from me to adhere to the “standards.” I was having a hard time loving my master’s courses. My times with God were dry. I felt incapable of love and I felt unloved.
That was when I realized that God didn’t expect me to do all that on my own. Because of my pride, I thought everything I excelled in in the past were due to my own efforts. But I realized that it was only because of God’s love and grace that I was able to excel. That without him, I wouldn’t even have survived, much less excel.
I was so overwhelmed with the realization and I couldn’t stop crying for days. I was sorry for those times I was too hard on myself and consequently, on others.
I thought about all my students who were failing in my class. Although they never heard detrimental words from me, they never felt hope from me either, nor did they receive any assistance to understand the course better.
I thought about the women who came to me brokenhearted and needing comfort, but instead were met with an unsympathetic ear and a barrage of unencouraging tips to be better equipped next time. They came away uncomforted and worse, feeling weak and pressured to have higher expectations from themselves.
I can only say “Sorry” to these people and pray and hope that God can redeem my actions–for not giving them the love they need– for not giving the grace and mercy that were given to me when I myself make mistakes.
And I thank God for making me realize just how far I was from meeting His expectations on my own and despite that He continues loves me like no one can.
Now, I can love much because, likewise, I realized that I am loved and forgiven much.