The 2008 Challenge Question: I am a high school senior, a reasonably good student and well respected at my school. I help out a lot with student government, plays and other events and I try to be a good role model. The problem is, since I'm not usually in a position of immediate power, my efforts either go unappreciated or unnoticed. I have good ideas and I bend over backwards to help my school and other students when needed. Unfortunately, nobody including the teachers seem to care. My extra work gets credited to other people, and people seem more interested in criticizing than supporting my efforts. I can't just stand aside and watch things go poorly because I wasn't there to help. How can I get the appreciation I deserve without boasting my work or completely stepping aside?
Wes: The selection of this year's Double Take co-author has been a happy nightmare. It was thrilling to see the broadest selection of candidates ever, and the general quality of the essays exceptional. The nightmare came from trying to decide which of six excellent submissions would best fit the column. Frankly, I'd like to have them all and each would make a terrific contribution. But that's not how this works, and in the end Marissa Ballard and I came up with a winner and runner-up based on the essays, interviews, questionnaire and letters of reference.
Pamina Buechner of Free State High School was this year's runner-up.
Incoming Free State senior Kelly Kelin is this year's winner. Here is her essay:
Kelly: Wouldn't it be great if we somehow got a huge parade every time we did something right? Reality is its not going to happen. You seem to be well-rounded individual involved in numerous activities. You care about your community and school, which is a good thing. However, the purpose of excelling isn't to get gratitude, it is to reinforce self-esteem. Let's think about WHY you do the work. Do you do it to help your community? Do you do it for fun? Or do you do it to get a pat on the back?
For years I have lived by a motto - if you want something done, do it yourself. Don't expect anything and you won't be disappointed. Remember, independence is a good thing. I can understand wanting a little appreciation now and then. After all, it does feel good when your efforts are recognized by your peers. However, there are plenty of hard-working people who don't get recognized for their efforts. Being appreciated by others is overrated. You have already acknowledged that you work hard within your community. And I think that's good enough. If you're satisfied with your work, that is great. Your biggest critic should be yourself and not others.
Of course, you will be criticized by others, but ultimately that will help you excel. Constructive criticism is a good thing. If it is your work, then yes, credit should be given to you. If you don't speak up about it, you're setting yourself up to be a doormat. Think about your future. What if your co-worker takes credit for an assignment and then your boss gives him/her a raise? Would you just stand by? Or speak up? Talk to your peers. You have a voice use it.
Also you state that you just can't stand aside and watch things go poorly because you weren't there to help. There is a big difference in controlling the situation and assisting it. If you have the mentality that nothing will be perfect without your work, then perhaps that is why your work is not being appreciated. Don't attempt to dominate the situation. Perhaps others feel as though you are being overbearing.
But more importantly, do not be discouraged in participating within your school and activities. Remember, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, just as long as you have tolerance for others criticism.
Wes: In an especially readable essay, Kelly successfully balanced two compatible approaches to the problem - assertive action to get recognition due, AND making a choice not to worry as much what other people think, seeing service as its own reward. This fits well with past columns suggesting teens develop self-respect and self-efficacy rather than being dependent on the admiration of others. She also encouraged perspective-taking and even suggested that such criticism can be seen as a character-building gift. She fully addressed the question and was on-topic throughout, wasting few words. In her interviews, Kelly had some great ideas for how to improve Double Take's youth readership and participation - key goals in the coming year. We welcome Kelly Kelin to Double Take in August and believe she will help take the column to the next level.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to email@example.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.
Pamina Buechner of Free State High School was the runner-up for this year's Double Take essay contest. Here's her response to the challenge question:
This is actually an issue that I have personally experienced. It can be very frustrating to feel as if your work is underappreciated. However, this can also be a difficult problem to solve, because talking about it excessively can make a person appear self-centered rather than self sacrificing.
It is quite possible that the situation is not nearly as bad as it seems. Often teachers notice extra effort from students without taking the time to let the student know that they noticed. You mentioned that people offer criticism instead of support, and it is also possible that this has caused a misunderstanding. The main difference between constructive criticism and being rude is the manner of delivery. Some of the people insulting your effort could be attempting to help and not realize that they are actually hurting instead. If this is the case, all that really needs to be done is to step back from the situation and look at it. Forget for a little bit that you feel unappreciated and truly look back at the specific incidents. Sometimes another look is all that is necessary to see people's true intentions.
However, it is also quite possible for a student to be overlooked. Teachers interact with hundreds of students a day, and providing each one with the attention they require and deserve can be very difficult. Continually being passed over can feel very degrading. One possible approach would be to talk to a specific teacher that you feel to be especially guilty of overlooking you. However, this could lead to you being singled out which is different than receiving recognition. Talking out an issue like this is probably better suited for peers rather than teachers.
Another tactic could be to make sure your work is clearly distinguished from the work of others. For example, if you are working on a project with a few other students, when you turn in the final product also include a paper of the plan leading up to the product. Part of this plan should be a list of who did what on the project. A third way to distinguish yourself without boasting would be to help in more obvious ways. Things like being the first person to turn in an extra credit assignment, or handing in a paper a day early. Neither of these are hard or take much extra effort, but they are guaranteed to be noticed by a teacher. To receive the praise you deserve, look for opportunities to show off your work without simply boasting about yourself.