THE BLOG

(Not) Sorry to Have Caused the Offense

03/23/2015 03:42 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

I've been in some extremely frustrating job situations, but this may have been the worst. A disability rights organization I admired, a dream position for which I felt qualified, but due to another offer, I needed to know if I was still in the running. After dodging my question by forwarding it to human resources, I got the form response that I had been rejected. I was not completely surprised, but I wanted to find out exactly why they thought I wasn't a good fit for their organization. The response explained that I was better on paper than I was in person, and that I came across as "laid back." It was implied that I wasn't able to handle the workload, that I was too easygoing to handle a high-pressure situation. Normally I would let feedback go at that, but the idea that I wasn't a hard worker was unbearable. Respectfully, I had to respond.

Underestimating my work ethic is the worst offense a person could cause. Here's why:

At the age of six, I started playing violin. I loved the instrument from the age of two, and by 10, I was studying with a high-ranking member of a top symphony and playing professionally. Unfortunately, this was my foray into exposing myself to serious verbal and emotional abuse for the next eight years, a situation that profoundly affected my self-worth. With this first teacher, I was constantly compared to two naturally talented students who could seemingly adapt to any new technique or change immediately. As a mere mortal needing time to practice and adjust, I angered this teacher with not being able to pick up changes on the first try, to the point that he yelled at me in each and every lesson. I became ill before lessons, and cried after, but refused to give in to the desire to cry during my lessons because I didn't want to give my teacher the satisfaction (when I was 12 years old, he asked why I did not cry like his college students.) In my final lesson, my teacher held his head in his hands for the entire time and didn't look at me.

My next influential teacher, a professor at a top college, seemed so compassionate, which was a welcome relief, as I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease only a few months after beginning with him. Only three weeks after my diagnosis, I was attending a music festival, spending my days locked in my room for practice and sleeping because I was so ill. My teacher seemed to care so much about me and lauded me for enduring with my medical condition, and it almost made the yelling and the accusations of inadequacy bearable, because he would apologize after. I wrote off my panic attacks as overreaction. I did not realize that this was a more sophisticated form of emotional manipulation. The day I was told I went out of remission and was trying to hold back tears, I was told that he would not "go easy" on me because I wouldn't want that. Numbly, I agreed.

The emotional manipulation with this professor was significant, but the worst moment came when I asked him how I should prepare for conservatory auditions. His response was that I was too sick to pursue music as a career, and he told me that I was too ambitious and too much of a dreamer. Refusing to let him have the satisfaction of breaking me, I powered through that lesson with the knowledge that I was never coming back, disguising my red eyes as allergies. Once I was out the door, I crumbled. Although I went to another teacher (who still yelled and called names), I had made up my mind that music wasn't for me, for many reasons.

Although I removed myself from the harmful influence of these teachers, their accusations of inadequacy stuck with me for years. Despite working a part-time job while keeping high grades and working to graduate early, I was convinced that every high score in my college classes was a mistake of calculation. How could I be smart? I was told that my paper was best in one of my classes, but I was convinced that it was a mistake. I received high performance reviews at my job, but I was convinced that I needed to work even harder. Any time a teacher thought I made a good point, I thought they were crazy. It only dawned on me in senior year that my accomplishments were my own doing, not the mistakes of others. I had achieved these successes, and I achieved them while dealing with significant medical situations that profoundly impacted my life. I wrote papers in the hospital, showed up to class on painkillers, and never missed a deadline. I graduated a four-year college in three years with a 3.9 GPA. I wasn't a failure.

This is the reason why I take such offense at the insinuation that my work ethic is subpar. I have been working from the age of ten to be the best I can be, and I have done so through extreme challenges. For the majority of that time, I could never recognize the value of my own work because I always believed that I was the worst at what I was doing. Now that I have found confidence, I can appreciate how far I have come while still trying to recognize where improvements can be made. I can find balance, but the belief that I am not a hard worker or that I'm not determined is too much for me to handle. That's why I couldn't let the feedback that I am too laid back go without a response. As respectfully as possible, I explained that I appreciated that I may not work with their company culture, and that I appear reserved in interviews to project a professional image, but that I hoped that my accomplishments could attest to the fact that I do, in fact, have a strong work ethic. I asked for suggestions as to how I could improve my image in future situations.

The response? "To be candid, we have made a decision. Please respect it and move on."

I wrote back that I did not mean to cause any offense and apologized for coming on too strongly. But I didn't mean it. In a situation where the bridge was clearly burned, it was more important to defend myself with the energy and determination they think I seem to lack. It means the world to me.