“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Roosevelt

A few days ago, I volunteered to help out at a math competition event.  It was so much fun to watch the middle school students compete.  During the “showdown,” I watched as the questions go up for less than two seconds and one of the contestant answered it so swiftly.  It was amazing to see how fast these kids can do their calculations!!  For me, I got a chance to work behind the scenes by grading and scoring their math problems.  Since I was a newbie, they asked me to partner up with the older man, who apparently, worked as a camera man as well.  He guided me through how to do the grading and so on.

Since I have great interests in cameras and photography, I figured it would be best to ask someone like him.  I was not sure if I was being too sensitive to what he’s saying but I’d let you decide on that.  I asked him about his camera, he explained some stuff, then I went into more questions about aperture, exposure, sepia, and film developments.  He got to the point where he explained that exposure is when one left the film out and allowed the photons to hit the film for certain amount of time.  When I got a bit confused in my attempt to picture what he’s talking about, he asked,

“So what did you studied in college?”

I shyly replied, “Computer Engineering.”

Right then, he’s said, “An engineer like yourself, don’t you remember about photons and what they do and such?”  Or, “didn’t you study about black bodies and lights in physics?”  At that moment, I felt so inferior to him.  I didn’t understand why though.  I felt so ashamed of who I am for the fact that I’m an engineer.  He’s right, shouldn’t I know??  I turned into a rock, and I began to sink farther and farther into the quicksand.

Then, I questioned myself, why was I feeling this way?  I studied way too hard to graduate as a computer engineer.  In college, I studied along with my other classmates, 80% of which are men.  I graduated with “Magna Cum Laude.”  Why should I be ashamed of who I am?  Even if I didn’t remember about physics, it didn’t mean I’m incapable of learning it, or understanding about photography.  I learned a long time ago that it’s useless to get angry and lose myself in the middle of it.  So, to get out of this hole, I reversed my situation and accepted him comment.  I let him pass a few more of his sly comments, and I continued to politely ask him more questions about photography.  Eventually, his comments stopped hinting about me being an engineer and he became engrossed in his own topic.

Just to clarify, being an engineer does not make me any better than any other person.  My skills and what I learned are specific to certain application, one cannot blindly clump them together and expect that I am an expert on physics or other matters.  I can program you a really awesome webpage, or write you some kick-ass Android apps if I wanted.  Everyone’s good at something, not at EVERYTHING.

But seriously, what happened next, I amazed myself.  I just took control of the situation, and made it beneficial to me.  Regardless of what he said after that, I refused to let him make me feel inferior to his “photography” knowledge, instead, I turned myself into his student.  I continued to ask more and more questions because I wanted to know more about photography.  I didn’t care if he thought lowly of me, I was a stranger to him and vice versa.  As a result of that day, I walked away feeling good because I had volunteered, and as a bonus, I gained a lot of knowledge about cameras, and film development.

I learn that it’s smarter to act “dumb,” and gain knowledge from others, than act smart and learn nothing.  Also, you should never feel inferior to another person just because he/she knows more specific information about a certain topic.  There are other things you are good at, that he/she isn’t.  So why let her/him make you feel bad?

Be proud of who you are.  I’m often afraid to admit to people I’m a computer engineer because they would either make sly remarks to make me feel bad or compliment that I worked hard to become an engineer.  It’s one or the other.  I’m still struggling to not let others’ comments affect me negatively.  My trick is to turn the situation around and just become a curious person.  Ask lots of questions!!  If he/she makes you feel inferior because he/she feels greater than you, then, tell him/her to go ahead, take the stage and answer all your questions.  Say,

“I want to learn.  Give me all that you know.”

In the end, tell me, who benefits from this?  You or him?

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