The People Who Push You

Er, I should clarify that I mean push in a good way; kind of like Tina Fey’s Ms. Norbury in Mean Girls. I think we all have people in our lives who push us toward being our best. I think sometimes it’s important to recognize who those people are, and to appreciate the impact they’ve had on our lives.

One of my defining moments in college was when my soon-to-be-mentor (then just mild-mannered writing professor) talked me into sticking with my writing major. I’d been considering downgrading to a minor in order to focus on a psychology major, but he wouldn’t hear of it. I just remember him telling me that we could make it work. I had to stick with writing. I was convinced, of course, and I walked out of his office with a new resolve to push myself a little harder.

In hindsight, that moment, which was empowering, but not earth-shattering, was quite significant. I wasn’t considering giving up on writing because I hated it, or because I was bad at it; I was considering it because doubling it up with a psychology major was too much work. I wanted to do well in school, but I also wanted to keep watching Family Guy DVDs and ordering Domino’s at midnight, and sleeping so late that I missed both breakfast and dinner.

That conversation with my professor was a snap back to reality: I was a writer, and I couldn’t turn my back on it just because it was too hard. (Insert obligatory Tom Hanks “the hard is what makes it great” speech from A League of Their Own.) It also illuminated the fact that no one in the psychology department was begging me to stay a psych major.

Academia is tailor-made for pushers, and it gets a little harder to find these people once you’re out in the real world. One reason is that there’s a natural inclination to, well, push pushers away. I think it can actually be a big source of conflict in marriages. Mr. McDoogal is my biggest cheerleader, but he’s also the most annoying person in my life because he knows me better than anyone else. So he expects more from me than anyone else. When you’re cuddled in a little ball of comfortable self-pity or inertia, there’s nothing more irritating than having your spouse pull out the pom-poms.

Ditto for the parent-child relationship, though it’s even more extreme because the time, emotion, money, and energy that one or both of your parents have spent on rearing you leaves them seeing you as an investment. And they want their return, dangit.

And finally, getting pushed at work doesn’t really feel the same as it does in more nurturing environments. Unless you’re very lucky, your boss or supervisor push you, not because they are devoted to your professional development, but because times are tough and they need to squeeze as much out of their employees as possible. Getting pushed at work can feel like being pressured or simply getting pushed around.

Still, I can think of a few people who strike just the right balance of expecting more from me, but not expecting the world. Maybe they don’t give you a push so much as a nudge. Friends, siblings, whoever. These loving but annoying people help us to be better people. Thanks, pushers!

2 thoughts on “The People Who Push You”

  1. I am so lucky to have found a “pusher” in my supervisor. She has really been a motivator and is always “on my side” as it were. I am applying for a permanent position there this week (I am currently an intern) and she has been grooming me for it. My adviser/GA supervisor and another faculty member are the same way, trying to get me published so I can do a phd if I so choose. It has really added to my experience in school.

  2. My dad gave me a great “find a job” nudge last night. I have to admit I was a little resentful at the time, because, y’know, I’m trying. But it made me realize that honestly, I’m not really trying hard enough. Been hitting the cover letters much harder today.

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