By Sarah Stubbs
Professors are all too familiar with them and so are our bosses, parents, and any other authoritative figures in our lives: disclaimers.
Holding various leadership positions essentially throughout my entire life, I’m used to delegating tasks and relying on others to do their part in a team effort. I’ve had experience (and continue to have experience) in this waiting game of completion of certain essential tasks. Sometimes they are small (making sure student council members are on time to sell homecoming tickets) and sometimes they are larger or more pressing (writers turning in Pulse articles on time).
I’ve noticed recently, especially in my classes, that my peers (and I — I’m guilty as well) seem to be lacing everything that we do with disclaimers.
This happens most often in group work, presentations, large projects, and especially in rough draft workshops in my English classes.
On a rough draft day, I don’t think I’ve ever had a partner who just simply handed me their paper to read with no explanation of where they fell short. And I don’t think I’ve ever done this either, quite frankly, until this semester. We often hand our work over with a self-deprecating comment such as “Oh, this is still in its early stages” or “I know this is awful. Please go easy on me.
Why do we do this? Because we aren’t confident in our work and abilities? Or because we are simply aware that it is not our best work? I’d argue that it’s a little bit of both, but I think that it’s mostly because we all feel as if we are under constant scrutiny and judgment.
I know that when I am racing the clock to get a big assignment done on time, I become anxiety-ridden and disappointed in myself for not starting the assignment sooner. I know it’s not my best work because I probably did at some odd hour of the night after a long day of dedicating my energies to other school work or responsibilities that took precedence.
I used to be that girl who annoyingly proclaimed, “This isn’t my best! Be nice!” and I know that sometimes I still am; but I am finding with my schoolwork, my best effort in the time I have to dedicate to that task, is always enough. I don’t need to explain myself to my professor or classmate because it’s always the same story: “Ah, this isn’t my best because I’m drowning this week. I was up until 2 a.m. and…” etc. etc. etc. You can fill in the blank because that student is you, too.
We have to stop sweating the small stuff and placing an unrealistic expectation of perfection on our work. Our best is enough, and we don’t need to downplay it before anyone else gets the chance to judge it for themselves.
Not only does lacing your every move (not just schoolwork your schoolwork moves, maybe you forgot to take the trash out when you told your roommates two days ago that you would) with an excuse or disclaimer show that you aren’t confident and probably didn’t do your best, it also can potentially become disrespectful.
In one of my classes this semester we were presenting a project that we all had about a week to complete. Everyone was at different stages in the project and during their presentations felt like they needed to explain why they fell short where they did, rather than positively sharing what was great about their work with the class.
Not only is this obviously a coping mechanism to make us feel better about not prioritizing our responsibilities, it’s also just flat-out makes us look bad. It shows our professors, advisers, or leaders that we didn’t really respect what the responsibility was enough to give it our best selves.
Being in the routine of school and work, it’s easy for me to think about disclaimers, self-deprecation, and apologies in this way, but I think that it’s present in other aspects of life, too, like social media. One of my friends was mentioning to me the to me the other day that he always see people (usually women) tagging their online posts as: “I’m not one to make posts like these, but…” when they want to show a transformation picture of their weight loss or share a social or political view that might not be popular opinion.
We should be a lot more confident than that. It’s not necessary to tag every move you make with what ends up looking like a sorry excuse of an apology because we didn’t do our best or we are afraid of being judged.
I want to challenge any of you reading this column to try to pay attention to when you’re using disclaimers. Are you making this statement because you know you didn’t do your best? Or are you saying this because you’re insecure about your work or the subject at hand?
Wherever you fall on that spectrum, know that your best will always be enough and killer confidence can usually mask what you might think are your flaws or weaknesses. When worst comes to worst, fake it ‘til ya make it.