Am I a winner… or a loser?

A recurring theme in my life has been that I feel like a loser. Then again, sometimes I feel like a winner. In order to get a grasp on this, and come clean about feeling like a loser, I am determined to sit down and write it out.

In some of my early childhood memories, I remember being cursed with a sort of social awkwardness that made me feel like a loser, or perhaps more correctly, I did things that people responded to by saying things that I interpreted as, “what a loser!”

There is no Mrs. Coffee

There was the first day of kindergarten, when I thought one of our teachers had identified herself as Mrs. Coffee. I don’t know remember what I wanted to ask her, but I remember raising my hand and saying, “Mrs. Coffee!” over and over again and getting no response, until finally a girl sitting near me glared at me with her precocious little five-year-old venom and said, “There is no ‘Mrs. Coffee.'” I felt like an idiot not only for mishearing the teacher’s name, but for sticking my neck out by raising my hand and calling it repeatedly.

You lost the game for us!

There was that time… actually I think it happened more than once, when I was begrudgingly picked for a baseball team. You know, one of the last to be picked. In first grade. And I was an outfielder. And all the other little winners on my team were doing just great. Until the ball came my way and I just stood there paralyzed by fear, bewildered by the physics of trajectory, and let the ball whiz right past me. In the changing room after the game, the other boys said, “You lost the game for us! Loser.” I learned that being on a team meant that you were expected to be competent for everyone’s sake, and that if you were a loser, people hated you for making them losers in turn.

The Cootie Man

Unfortunately, these were not isolated experiences. There were many times when the fog that I walked around in made me oblivious to the way in which I perceived the world and the way in which the world perceived me. Like that fateful day in the winter of 1972, when my mom had left my dad and shortly thereafter had taken up with a young man ten years her junior (19 to her 29). She was outside with Ian while he tried to help some neighbors with their car. As he tinkered under the hood with Risa’s father, my mom asked me to take Risa up to our apartment so she could use the bathroom. So, I led her up to our apartment, and as we walked down the hall directly from the front door to the bathroom at the other end of the apartment, we passed by my room. And our dog, Scruffy, had taken a dump on the floor of my room while we were out. Well, Risa got a look at that and said, “Ew, poo-poo! Who did that?” I thought it was a dumb question, so I glared at her with all my precocious little five-year-old venom and said, “I did.”

Little did I know why, when standing at the bus stop on the first day back from winter break, my first day of first grade at the Cumberland School in Great Neck, NY, in the very spot where my mom’s boyfriend had helped Risa’s dad fix his car, there were whispers and laughs around me, and after we got on the bus, I was being looked at with disgust and derision. Little did I know why I was called The Cootie Man all through first and second grade at the Cumberland School. In fact, I didn’t out what had caused my first two years of school to make me feel like a loser — other than the fact that I walked around in a fog, dressed funny in the morning because my mother was already off to work and I had to dress myself, maybe smelled funny because my mother didn’t make sure I bathed every day, probably walked around with snot on my clothing sometimes because I had such bad allergies and didn’t carry tissues with me, daydreamed in class and didn’t even hear when the teacher called my name half the time, and probably spent a lot of my time looking like a depressed, dejected loser — I didn’t find out that it all started with Risa taking me seriously when I told her “I did it” until my grandmother asked the neighborhood kids on my behalf why they called me The Cootie Man, and Risa finally told her about the misunderstanding. From that experience, I learned to either make it obvious when I was being sarcastic or to refrain from humor altogether when I thought my reputation was on the line. But I’m still sarcastic and I still sometimes say things that people mistake, and it still sometimes affects people’s perception of me. And maybe if you’re a loser, it doesn’t matter how you try to spin it, because people will know you’re a loser and treat you accordingly. But I’m not really such a loser. At least not all the time.

Overachieving

For what it’s worth, I would like the world to know that, although I only scored 1140 on my high school SATs and was dismissed from UCLA for lack of academic progress (due to two incompletes that I let lapse into Fs and a couple of well-earned Ds), I did finally get my academic act together when I returned to junior college at the age of 21. I remained on the dean’s list for four years in a row (yes, it took me four years to get my “two year degree” in ASL interpreting– two years of ASL classes, two years of interpreting classes, and another two year’s worth of general education spread over four years. And I earned my associate degree with high honors. Even better, I outdid my previous achievement when I returned to college at the age of 34 and I earned my bachelor’s degree in English with concentration in Communications / Media Study summa cum laude. Yes, folks, that means, “with highest honors.” So I’m not always a loser. Sometimes I’m an overachiever.

Actually, in some ways I am insanely competent. Or maybe just insane, with competence. I am often the only one in a crowd who can type well, write well, read directions and follow them, figure out a piece of technology, understand what the teacher in a classroom or an author of a book is really saying, etc. In my life, I have volunteered countless hours of my time to public service as a webmaster (yes, I taught myself HTML and CSS and availed myself of many online tutorials, books, and discussion groups to master these human-readable computer languages), publications director, membership chair (I’m good with databases), bylaws chair, secretary, newsletter editor, et al. I was one of the first handful of people in the world to publish web pages using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), although I don’t think most of the tech world knows or cares, because I wasn’t a fully credentialed geek. I was just an enthusiastic writer who embraced the newest technology and wasn’t afraid to use it publicly because I wasn’t going to drive away business if my pages didn’t render properly in some people’s browsers.

Anyway, the point is, I’m competent. And I’ve helped a lot of “teams” to “win” since those early awkward days in the outfield. (Incidentally, I got better at throwing and catching balls since those early days, too.) I’m even, often, popular! It’s a weird thing, because I think as often as I’m popular, I’m unpopular. Maybe I’m just one of those personalities you either love or hate. Or love to hate. Or love despite his flaws, and sometimes I disappoint you because you love me so much. I don’t know. But I did appear in the “Standouts” section of my high school year book in high school. I won “Best Appearance,” “Best Personality,” and “Outstanding All Around.” At work right now, I’m the “Interpreter in the Spotlight (photo on Flickr).” My coworkers said some very nice things about me, such as, “We enjoy hearing his talents,” “Can sing Happy Birthday opera style” (though I got in trouble for that), “Keeps us entertained with his singing. Love it!”, “Picture perfect, like a real live Ken doll with salt & pepper hair,” “Articulate & cheerful,” “Open & kind,” “Warm & friendly, always seems chipper,” and even “Daniel is a great team player!”

Losing out in the corporate world

Yet, I’ve been passed over for each promotion I’ve attempted. So, am I a winner, or a loser? Sometimes, I seem to lose the game with people but win the game with teachers, computers, rules, the establishment. Other times, people say they like me, that I’m attractive, kind, talented… yet I fail to impress those who are actually in a position to hand me a win, such as talent agents, casting directors, managers, regional directors, and vice presidents.

Just as I get feedback that I’m “always happy” or “always smiling,” I also get feedback that there is something wrong with me. Or, more specifically, with my approach. I’m too… pushy? Boastful? Negative? Critical? Something like that. Plus, in some ways, I am an underachiever. I don’t have the best track record for being on time. Yes, I know how to show up early for work, and I often do, but sometimes I am plagued with procrastination, and I put off leaving home for work until the last minute, when it is too late to get to work early and I show up a minute or two late. And I think, if I could show up only a minute or two late, couldn’t I just as easily show up a minute or two early? But it’s something that goes in cycles with me, and I can’t say I’ve ever been on time for everything for more than a few weeks at a time. Besides that, I don’t always have the best numbers as a VRS interpreter. I tend to take too many breaks, or I take too long on my breaks, and as result my login minutes are not those of an overachiever; in fact, sometimes they are a bit like those of an underachiever. Yet, just yesterday a fellow interpreter I’d never seen before watched me for a few minutes before we switched and said, “You are a beautiful interpreter.” And a few months ago, a well-respected leader in the field pulled me aside and said to me, “I just have to tell you, you are an excellent interpreter!”

So, why am I not more of a winner in the corporate world? Why do I get passed up for promotions? And why do people tell me how talented I am, yet I have failed to win over talent agents, or when they do give me a chance, I fail to win over casting directors? These are questions I cannot answer in this blog post. Maybe a “Part Two” is in order. In the meantime, I will continue to struggle with this question: Am I a winner… or a loser?

When it all comes down to it…

I have to say, corporate climbing and commercial success aside, I am happy with my life. I have a mother and father who love me, a husband who loves me, two dogs who love me, and friends who love me. I have my health, I have a house, I have a car, I have money in the bank and food in the pantry. I love to sing, act, sign, interpret, write, play with technology, talk with friends, take and share photographs, and enjoy the many wonders of life. So, while I continue to question my lack of success in certain areas of life, I am deeply grateful… and really happy… with most of it.

Author: Daniel Greene

I facilitate communication between Deaf and hearing people, and I teach people American Sign Language (ASL) and interpreting. Apart from doing the work I love, my greatest joys are family & friends, entertainment, food, photography, and travel.

5 thoughts on “Am I a winner… or a loser?”

  1. Thanks Daniel. Let me tell you what I have come to know: even the greatest winners have a lot of failures in their lives. Its all about keep moving on and learning and growing from the big ones. The world of art and literature is strewn with the bodies of those who were the biggest losers and then became immortal…

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