The rest of that saying goes “plus c’est la même chose,” which means essentially that “the more things change, the more things stay the same.” Every language seems to have some version of this expression, a resignation of sorts to the fact that people and situations can seem virtually immovable in many cases.
I have thought of this expression a lot lately, about how little I seem to have changed since I was a young girl. And how many of us also see familiar glimpses of ourselves as children as we go about our adult lives? The other night I was leaving an Italian class with a classmate, a successful lawyer and mother of grown children. She told me that she probably would not be returning because she found it too frustrating and intimidating to be among people she perceived as much more advanced. “I haven’t changed a bit since I was a kid,” she said. “I’m still so hard on myself.”
Like my classmate, my self-judgment doesn’t seem to have budged since I was a girl. I have a clear memory of sitting at our backyard picnic table the summer following 2nd grade. My father, a math teacher, was teaching me 3rd grade math that summer to prepare me to skip a grade in September. Each morning we sat at that picnic table and he taught me one lesson after another. And through clenched teeth and a protruding bottom lip, I pouted and struggled and fought my way through, not because I didn’t like what I was learning, but because I thought I should be “getting it” quicker. My dad told me, “It’s only easy if you already know how to do it,” the implication being that one must tolerate a certain amount of discomfort to make the mistakes necessary to learn.
Flash forward 30 years and it might seem that not much has changed. As I go about starting a business, I am facing a lot of new things, things that will allow me to conduct my business effectively. Things about which I would much rather remain ignorant. Things that elicit extreme emotions and mental choruses of “You’re stupid,” “You’ll never get it,” “This is beyond you,” “Everyone else got this on the first try.” Financial software, manipulating social media to be more efficient, iOS7. Hell, setting up our new printer had me stomping my feet such that the felines went a-scattering. We call these my “technology tantrums” and can usually laugh about them, but each one brings me back to that picnic table, to my vicious self-judgment and relentless self-criticism.
One thing that has changed, however, is the ability to notice myself taking a technology tantrum, to step back long enough to say “Hey, that thing is happening again where I feel uncomfortable because I don’t understand something yet. I should be gentle with myself and allow myself the space to learn something new.” In a way, flashing back to my 7-year-old self allows me to soften a little, to bring her some comfort, and to remind her to go easy on herself.