When I was in college, I was in the debate team, and I wanted to become at least a national champion. Early on the upperclassmen debaters spotted my talent and encourage me to gun for higher ranks in the team, but they said this with a caveat, “You can do that if you fix your manner”.
Every debater is evaluated for two things: manner or how you speak and matter or the information that you know and can deliver in your speech. I was good with matter because I allotted 30 minutes per day to read up on different things. When it came to manner, sometimes I was confident but sometimes I’d stutter through my speech.
I wanted to fix my manner as much as my debate mentors wanted me to, and throughout my career, I was frustrated by my futile struggle against it. In the end, I had some successes, the highest of which was being fourth best speaker in Asia, but I did not meet my goal of becoming a national champion or higher than that.
Recently though, I was rereading my college diaries. I realized that there was no way I could have solved my manner problems during that time because it was rooted in deep-seated insecurities. I failed because I didn’t address the underlying issues that caused my problem. So no matter how hard I tried, the issues were too complex for me solve.
After reading those passages, I decided to forgive myself. I had long felt guilty for how people believed in me and how I wasn’t able to step up. I had long felt ashamed that I wasted their belief in me. Now I see that there was nothing that I could do during that time. I was just not ready.
These days I feel that I have grown, and I am proud of the person that I’ve worked hard to become, but I also want to forgive my past self. I want to look back at her with kindness, and I want to send her a message of hope: someday, it will get better.
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