It’s strange the way small victories for things you didn’t expect to win can make you feel so much happier than larger victories in things where you knew you had a fighting chance or better. When I do well on a homework assignment or something related to my discipline, I generally am happy but that’s not a huge deal because I always do somewhat well on such things.
Conversely, in the past few months I’ve gotten completely unexpected compliments from three different friends that left me feeling happy and good about myself for days later. The first was from another guy in my graduate program. He’s a really nice guy who’s never short of friends, and we were at a restaurant one night eating and chatting. He mentioned that while talking to one of the faculty members he used a line I’d come up with off the cuff a few weeks earlier, saying that I was pretty good with such one liners. It made me feel happy, if for no other reason than it was some validation for communication skills, which have always been an issue for me. (Of course, it’s also validation for my family’s rigorous training program in irony, sarcasm, one-liners, disdain, and cynicism. Otherwise known as the Miller Memorial program, in honor of Dennis Miller who was mysteriously abducted and replaced by an alien around 9/11.)
The second case was while I was talking to a friend who had recently broken up with her boyfriend. The circumstances were strange. She really liked her boyfriend and had started to fall very much in love with him. He liked her a lot, but wanted to be able to date other people on the side. (Both my friend and I have liberal enough backgrounds that neither polyamory nor polygamy are frowned upon, or even very novel. The issue was less that she thought that was wrong than that she thought it wasn’t something she could handle in a relationship.) So she was fairly upset. I ended up talking to her a fair amount about her breakup. Near the end of the initial phase, she ended up saying that I was surprisingly good at understanding both her and the issues involved with breaking up. Again, anything indicating understanding of people I’ll take as a compliment. (Of course, the alternative interpretation was I’ve broken up with so many people in so many different circumstances I couldn’t help but learn something about it. I’ll choose to ignore that interpretation.)
And the last small victory was the least expected. I was talking to a friend of mine for the first time in over a year. After graduating we went to different graduate programs, mine in a science field and his in a social science. When we parted ways, I had started to suspect that he wouldn’t really like listening to my views on the world, my ranting about science, or what I was reading in social science stuff. I thought this mostly because I figured he was going to graduate school in social science, with many intelligent and educated people whose views would be more informed and more interesting than mine. Turns out I was wrong. When we talked a few months ago, for the first time in over a year, he admitted that he liked my views more than some of his fellow graduate students and professors. Even more surprising was he said outright that he respected my views more than some of the other graduate students and professors as well. Since I spend a good portion of my free time reading about social science stuff, that was certainly welcome to hear. And unexpected.
Anyways, interesting small victories. And interesting how much more they meant to me than small victories in my graduate program.