Consciously, in my head, I know that I am good. I am working hard, and I am doing well. I know that I deserve to be doing well. I know it.
My gut reactions are much different. I stop in the middle of prepping because I don’t understand how we are where we are. I find constant ways to attribute our success to other factors- we won coin flips and chose our sides, we went to easy tournaments, or maybe we just got lucky. The ways that I consciously and subconsciously think about debate couldn’t be more different.
Subconsciously, in my head, I think I’m okay- but certainly not good enough to be doing well. The best way to describe it is that I’m okay, but. There’s always a caveat. Whatever criticism I have of myself that day is amplified into why this entire season is undeserved, and I’m not really that good. I’m working hard, but someone’s probably working harder. I’m doing well, but it’s undeserved. I know it.
Balancing these competing narratives is absolutely exhausting, and I don’t really try to anymore. Some days I am a great debater. These are usually the days when I am somehow externally validated. Or maybe it’s a day when I’m feeling particularly happy with myself. Some days, I am not. These are the drives home from tournaments, where even if we’re walking away with a trophy I find one thousand ways to explain to myself just why I have it. Our side of the bracket was easy. We’re just good at this topic. My partner won the bid round in whatever speech.
I spent most of the last two years wanting nothing more than to earn the respect of those around me. To prove ourselves! Earn our spot! Yet it took me until this month to realize that even though everybody was beginning to take notice that we were genuinely good, I still thought of us the same exact way I did freshman year. But not exactly, because I knew that my partner was good. Consciously and subconsciously, I think she’s an amazing debater, and I know she deserves everything we’ve done this year. It was me I had the problem with. I was locked into the way I saw myself.
My struggles with debate are rarely ever in round. I can name like two rounds max that actually made me consider quitting the activity. This is ironic, given that most people (despite their best efforts) use round success as a metric for everything in PF. My metric that ends up deciding between the conscious thought and subconscious thought on most days, though, is more toxic. It’s how I think other people see me. And I’m so used to knowing that I was respected less than I deserved to be that even as I’ve evolved as a debater, my metric to separate the good days from the bad is stuck in last year, when I felt even smaller, and even less belonging. There really is no other way to put it. I got so used to being seen that way that I internalized it, and struggle with it now every time I think about debate.
I wish I had a positive note or thought to end this on, but I don’t really. Imposter syndrome is real, and I wish I could evaluate my success from an unbiased standpoint. I don’t really know how to do that and so I sometimes rely on other people telling me. That’s not good, but I’m working on it. Even just by sitting down to write this, and acknowledge that I do this I am working on it. And I know a lot of people do the exact same thing as I do, and it makes me sad to think that so many people who are honestly so great at debate spend their time finding alternate reasons why they won round five. I just wish I could apply that same outlook on myself.