When I grew up, my dad didn’t believe in me… He considered that I was a failure and that I should give up going to school altogether. I clearly remember his words: “T'es un bon à rien. Je vais t'apprendre à travailler moi. Tu vas aller à l'usine et tu verras ce que c'est la vie”. Roughly translated: “You are worthless. I will teach you how to work. You will go to the factory and you will see what life really is”.
I was very often absent at school and I was really struggling. In his defense he wasn’t the only one to give up on me… Many of my teachers let me down as well. They didn’t even try to help or give me hope. I was left behind.
Only two teachers cared enough. I fondly remember my biology teacher. One day, as I was eating alone in the stairway, she came to sit next to me and comforted me. She told me that everything would be okay. Not right away, not easily, but that I was just at the very beginning of my journey. She told me that I just needed to keep going, hang on, do my best each day, and that I would ultimately find my way and be happy. She knew I was being mocked all the time. She saved me that day. Plain and simple.
If it wasn’t for her and the hope she gave me, maybe I would have drowned. All the other signals that came my way were convincing me that there was nothing for me. That I really was a failure. Those destroyed my self-confidence and led me on a path of self-doubt and suffering. It took me almost two decades to get over it and regain some confidence in myself.
Those memories are painful for me. But they just reflect how words can hurt much more than some people care to realize. I ended up alright, but my life journey has been deeply influenced by those wounds. Without the lack of self confidence and if my dad had been more supportive, maybe I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I did, trying to prove them all wrong. Maybe I would have become a completely different person. For better or for worse. I don’t have regrets, but I can’t help but wonder.
The thing is that there are countless stories like mine. And not only around the education system. When people get diagnosed some illness or “deficiency”, it also changes their path. Maybe they are told they only have X years or even months to live. Maybe they are told that they will never walk again. Maybe they are told that they cannot do X or Y because Z. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. The problem in some (many?!) cases is that those labels that we get attributed are misleading or flat out wrong. Still, many times, those potential truths are expressed with a lot of confidence. Confidence that convinces and doesn’t always leave room for doubt or hope.
But what if those labels were more harmful than helpful?