Hearing those words stung. It hurt, like needle sharp pains stabbing at your soul. It made me want to cry. My ex-boyfriend had yelled at me because I had forgotten to check the expiration date for the milk. I was in a rush to get home before traffic so I’d have time to make him dinner so I didn’t get a chance to check the expiration date.

The second time he said it was when I forgot how to properly address his grandparents in Chinese; it was my first time meeting them so I was very nervous and I tried my best to leave a good first impression. But instead I said the wrong thing and he ended up mocking me in the presence of the very people I was trying to impress.

What I had hoped to be rare occurrences quickly became a habit. He started calling me stupid more often, whenever I made a mistake, wore clothes he didn’t like, asked him for help with my Chinese, or when he was just upset in general. He lashed out at me, berated me, calling me “笨蛋” (aka idiot in Chinese), in front of his friends, in front of his family.

I remember telling him once how I felt, how much it hurt when he called me “stupid”, but he only looked at me and proclaimed that it was his way of teaching me not to make mistakes instead. He said I was over-sensitive and that I was “stupid” for even feeling bad about it. He said it was a joke and that it was my fault for making the mistakes that I did.

Eventually as the years passed and I lost the pain associated with him saying it, I became numb to it. He had said it so often that I just accepted it for what it was. And I thought I was over it, until years later, after breaking up and being left to fend for myself in China, I realized that without knowing, the word “stupid” had already been implanted into my brain; I began believing that I really was stupid.

After the breakup, I was devastated and heartbroken. I started looking for jobs, any kind of job because I needed something to occupy my mind with. I applied to all the jobs that were related to Psychology, the major I’d chosen in college, but because I had left for China right after college, I had no experience and was rejected. I did this for a few months, and embarrassed that I wasn’t able to find employment even after searching for such a long time, I applied as a waitress at a local Japanese restaurant near my house.

I worked there and was quickly promoted, but still felt unsatisfied with where my life was going. I still felt empty. The self-esteem I had was virtually non-existent. I was afraid, afraid of trying new things, meeting new people, afraid of making mistakes. Whenever something happened, even when it wasn’t my mistake (i.e. a customer asking to see the manager because I had refused to go to the supermarket next door to buy gum for them), I felt disappointed with myself. I felt useless. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get out of the situation I had been in. I felt stupid for not having control over my life, for letting my emotions get the best of me.

It wasn’t until a year or later when things started picking up after a few friends had invited me to work on a startup alongside of them.

The experience I’d gained from working in a startup, with friends, gave me back the confidence and self-esteem I needed.

I remember the very first week when I started, I made a critical mistake. Instead of emailing the client his invoice, I had emailed him our team’s spreadsheet with what we were going to charge him. The difference between the invoice and the spreadsheet I had sent him was that the spreadsheet showed exactly how much we marked up our services by, and how much profits we made off of him. If the client decided not to work with us again, it was a mistake worth thousands of dollars.

I brought it to my team’s attention, promising to pay out of my own pocket for the potential losses, and apologized for being stupid.

I had expected the worst, but then they looked at me and said:

Stupid? Why would you think that? Mistakes happen by situation, not by intention. Any one of us could’ve sent the wrong email; it just happened to be you. Instead of bringing yourself down over a situation that’s already happened, pick yourself up and figure out what to do next. And next time, don’t call yourself stupid because you’re not. There’s a reason why you’re in this startup.

It’s ironic because I had once wanted to cry when my ex-boyfriend called me “stupid” for the very first time, and now I had wanted to cry again because someone told me I wasn’t. It was the first time, in a very long time, that someone accepted me and acknowledged my mistakes as being more situational than intentional, allowing me to understand that what was more important was to learn from our mistakes than to dwell on them. That I wasn’t stupid in the first place for making mistakes. It’s a moment I’ll forever look back on.

Fast forward a year or two later, I ended up going to Taiwan with the rest of the team. It was there when I fell in love with traveling and decided to go back alone the year after.

Having traveled all around Southeast Asia for the greater part of a year has broadened my mind. And along with writing, working out, and discovering who I am and what I’m capable of, I’ve come to a realization: that in this world, there isn’t anyone who’s stupid. There are only people who are less-fortunate or less experienced, but neither of whom are stupid.

People often interpret the lack of experience for stupidity, but in truth, it’s a reflection of their limited point of view because they lack the experience to see things from your perspective.They justify your actions with their experiences because they can’t see beyond what they know. Think about this: If you go to a different country and have trouble adapting because of the language differences, does that make you stupid? No. If you go to a different country and don’t realize their traditions, does that make you stupid? No.

And even if we do make mistakes, for whatever reason, it’s our mistakes. Not anyone else’s. They don’t get to judge.

We all make mistakes, even the best of us, and it’s actually a good thing. Mistakes are the reason why we grow — stupidity, for the lack of a better word has nothing to do with making mistakes. It’s frustrating, and often painful to make these mistakes, but eventually you’ll come to realize that there’s more good from it than harm. Because with every mistake you make and learn from, you’ll carry with you a new bit of knowledge that will be key to making you smarter, stronger, and well-prepared for an unexpected future.

  1. Elmer Erana
    Mar 05, 2018

    I like the growth here, and the props for the startup members for supporting their teammates.

    Reply
  2. Samuel Neatherlin
    Mar 12, 2018

    As a youth, I was made to feel odd and stupid. Not only by my fellow classmates but by members of my own family. To them I was beneath them and would end up just as my father, their brother, did. This was exacerbated by everything, no matter how hard I tried, I fell short. Even if I tried harder than 75% of the others. To this day, my self confidence, is virtually non-existent. So I fail in that too, and have to listen to others say “You need confidence” which just like overcoming depression or suicidal thoughts, is easier said than done. I’ve even told my boss, “I didn’t mess up intentionally so I can be berated by you.” I did my best again, and it fell short. So yes I understand how it can stick with you if a way to overcome is not found.

    Reply
  3. zappiti
    Mar 19, 2018

    Thank you for this. I love it!!!

    Reply
  4. BOB
    Sep 09, 2018

    Your ex-boyfriend is a cunt and should have been slapped silly.

    Reply