Friday, March 14, 2008


I am applying for a history scholarship that would pay this year's fees if I won it. I don't have high hopes but I guess it's not a completely ridiculous idea either. Anyway, I have to collect two references from past lecturers to attach to my application. One reference - no problem. My current supervisor, who has been my lecturer for almost every class I've been in for the last couple of years, is very happy to write one. For the second, though: I had another lecturer over summer school, but that lasted only six weeks, I doubt she'd remember me, and I'm not even sure she works at my uni anymore. My current NZ history lecturer has just had a minor heart attack - so no way am I going to ask him to do anything for me.

So - I move on to my past English lecturers and eventually ask the one I think will be most likely to remember me. He does, luckily, and he's written a fantastic reference for me and sent it to me today. My supervisor will be able to write me quite a detailed one so the application is all sorted now. Great. But it got me thinking:

I really hate how we have to do this, to exist in society, to succeed, to get a job. This particular situation is hardly a big deal, but I still find it incredibly embarrassing to ask people to write down all the good things about me, and even more so to actually read them myself. What would have been worse - having to write my own letter explaining why I deserve to win. I just can't handle that! Same as job interviews. It just seems wholly wrong to explain why I'm fantastic and how I have so much to offer when actually to be honest there are probably way more people more capable than me. Which is part of the reason I've been put off applying for Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade graduate positions at the end of the month - strenuous selection process and about four to five hundred applicants for about 25 jobs.

Is this wrong? Am I not ambitious or competitive enough? Actually, I know I'm competitive; it's just that the competition had better be based on my actual abilities and not just what I say about them. I am constitutionally unable to exaggerate my own qualities or even to do them justice. I feel vulgar, a fraud, if I even try, and I go all red and start stuttering. If someone even pays me a compliment, I accept it in a very offhand way as if it doesn't matter that much, even though it'll keep a secret smile on my face for the next six months, and I say something bad about myself to balance it out - because it's embarrassing to agree that there's anything good about me.

So, who has some advice for me? Or some sympathy because it's exactly the same for you?

Otherwise, uni is going great. I am still feeling thoroughly overwhelmed but now it's in an excited way. I have finally sorted out my research topic and this is it: Visitors to Stalin's Russia, and why they came away disillusioned or with illusions intact. I'm not sure if that announcement will create worldwide excitement but I am so motivated now! Classes are fun, and I'm getting on so well with all the other honours students. Postgrad is so much better than undergrad.

Also - EXCITING NEWS!!! - the Singalong Sound of Music is coming back to Christchurch!!! I am so thrilled. This time I have to dress up as something really fun and organise a big group of us.


JenKneeBee said...

I get what you're saying about feeling like you're flaunting yourself by telling others of your good deeds. In most circumstances it is really not cool to blab about yourself, but you have to keep it in perspective when applying for a job. They are asking you to do it. They expect you to toot your own horn.

Interviews are hard and embarrassing sometimes, but the more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel. Maybe you could get someone you know to sit down with you and have a mock interview.

Good luck with the scholarship! We're all rooting for you!

~Virginia~ said...

here's what i've come to realize...general, everyday bragging: not cool. talking yourself up for school/business purposes: totally fine. especially, like jenkneebee said, when they ask you to do it.

don't sell yourself short! it's what the hiring process is all about. generally, supervisors and such, want someone who's confident enough in their abilities to "advertise" them. it's a matter of trust, i think.

speaking from personal experience, when you come off as self-assured and self-sufficient, it really cuts down on the micro-managing that goes on. and that's always a good thing.

i LOVE the sound of music!! enjoy the singalong! :) very exciting!

Sarakastic said...

I feel the same way about it. I especially hate when they ask "What is your worst trait?" Well, I just care too much. Do they really expect anyone to say "sometimes I steal" I feel your pain.

Barrie said...

Applications, job interviews, etc.--it is tough because you have to sell yourself. I suspect you are the right person for the job more than you realize though. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey ellesapelle,

This is not about this post, but I came across your blog and was wondering if you've done a post regarding Jane Austen "spin-offs" (e.g. Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange) - what you think of them & if you think there are any good ones... Thanks!

LEstes65 said...

Oh I have sympathy for you alright. It's just stupid. In my job, I have to write up an annual performance review of myself. So basically, I have to sit there and say how awesome I am. Which I'm not good at doing unless as a joke. And you have to word it correctly - using the right catch phrases and/or buzz words. It's basically a sales pitch saying, "I rcok and here's why I rock more than all of the other people on the same level as me." I hate it. I usually find someone who likes me and is creative in the business self-selling sense and ask them to help me write mine. Then, once it's written, I just cut and paste it year after year and just tweak it as needed. I still hate it, though. Honestly, just look at the work I do. Shouldn't that tell you whether I rock or not? Silly human race.

E. said...

Stop. The Singalong Sound of Music?! Completely made of win---and I would be right there with you, cutting costumes out of curtains. Love it!

Right, real comment: sympathy? Empathy. Story of my life. I have serious troubles playing the Brag Bag game, which my friends and family constantly call me on. My essays for study abroad were quite literally painful to write---I'd rather they meet me in the interview and be able to discern the person that I am and want those qualities for their program.

Sadly, it never works out that way. I've learned to write ridiculously arrogant rough drafts (super hyperboles, here), laugh at them, and then cut them down to size. That way, you feel a little bit more humble about it.

Good luck!