Occasionally, I learn something important about myself from reading my students’ English diaries.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays, I teach English as a second language to adults. As well as reviewing the previous lesson and preparing for the next, they also have the option of writing English diaries. It’s optional to do so and a lot of them don’t, but after some enthusiastic encouragement from my boss at the end of year party, one of my Saturday students has gotten on board with the idea.
The topics he writes about vary considerably, and his work is often quite amusing. This time, though, and as he himself noted as a kind of wry postscript, one of his diary entries was like an actual diary page, the variety you keep not to practice your goddamn English grammar but for personal reasons. In it, he talked about how he had been working overtime a lot lately. When he got home, he didn’t do anything productive; instead, he said, he just wasted his time. He couldn’t blame overtime for it because he had been doing so even before his overtime started. He was angry with himself for doing so, for how was he supposed to “improve (him)self” if he just wasted his time like that?
I felt sorry for him, reading it. The poor guy needed some downtime, and berating himself for not using his time more wisely wasn’t going to fix things. Nobody can devote themselves to endless self-improvement, especially when they’re overworked and tired. Most people don’t. Success isn’t that simple, and expecting to endlessly fix yourself when there are plenty of social systems in place that don’t help at all with doing so isn’t fair. Cutting yourself some slack isn’t really that terrible thing.
I finished correcting his work, feeling oddly melancholy and wondering why, and then the realisation hit me: I have basically written the same diary entry myself, in my personal journal.
In fact, I’ve done so multiple times.
Aside from repeatedly telling myself to sort out my working life a bit better, I am forever ordering myself to make time to study Japanese and write more often, and getting angry with myself for not quite managing it. Sometimes, I expand on the idea and remind myself I need to figure out ways to take better care of the house, cook more nutritious recipes (for K in particular), and get back to being more environmentally friendly. I often manage to tangle it all up with losing weight, exercising more and saving more money.
It seemed so obvious, as an outsider, that some self-forgiveness was in order, that attempting to forever be better was vaguely ridiculous and might even be counterproductive to the goal anyway. There’s only so much work of any variety you can expect to do without needing some sort of rest.
If I can forgive something so readily in other people, then I ought to try forgiving it in myself. It was a good lesson for me, I think, a thing to remember when I’m started to rage against myself. My comments to my student saying such were greatly simplified out of necessity, but I hope he got some sense of it too.