The gym was muggy and stagnant, steaming like freshly broken Pillsbury biscuits, as I sat in a circle with the rest of the elementary school running club. Each of us, munching on avocado popcorn or fiddling with the foam of our sneakers, had a neon piece of cardstock and a pen in front of our feet. We were asked to fill it with something seemingly simple: what made us feel confident in ourselves and characteristics that we were proud of. I grasped for things to say.

Even in the fourth grade, I didn’t want to come off as conceited or arrogant; I was scared of being judged. So, with greasy fingers, I timidly scribbled, “I’m pretty good at writing” and “I’m usually focused.” After I read what I wrote out loud, my club counselor came over, took my pen and scribbled out certain words in each sentence until they said, “I’m good at writing” and “I’m focused.” The confidence and assertion that each edited sentence carried was something novel to me. It made me realize, however, that maybe embracing my strengths was the right thing to do. Maybe it’s not cocky to be self-assured.

Now, six years later as a high school sophomore, it seems as though every day when I walk into school, the self-deprecation of our generation is palpable. After struggling with an algebra equation, “I’m stupid” usually follows. While washing hands in the bathroom and looking in the mirror, “I’m ugly” spews in response. Even phrases that are thrown around as a joke or to make a situation lighter, such as saying “I hate myself” in an attempt to avoid embarrassment after making a mistake, shine a light into our collective subconscious and, therefore, what we truly think.

Maia Hillock-Katz is a sophomore at New Mexico School for the Arts. Contact her at

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