Testimonials are hard documents for me to read. On the one hand it’s great to be venerated as an all-rounder, especially when your referee is writing in support for an award or application. On the other the hyperbole can overwhelm, when you are described with so much promise. “Am I really that impressive”, you wonder as you scan through the superlatives blended with features from your curriculum vitae. Writing testimonials is probably even harder, because your words could determine whether the individual is successful.
And so one squeezes in as many positives as possible.
They make us feel good about ourselves – as they did in the past for me – yet to some extent testimonials strengthen the fallacy that we are defined by our disparate achievements, a conflation of “who we are” and “what we do”. Of course one might argue that the testimonial is a necessary evil, that it is supposed to be a narrative about one’s merits (and not to massage one’s ego) , but if that’s the case then what is its purpose in the first place? How do employers and evaluators distinguish between so many applicants marching to the same beat?
Perhaps my generalisations are unfounded. Maybe it’s just me who cringes at my testimonials, who even shies away from expressions of gratitude (even though I am learning to, and have little trouble dispensing them). It’s wretched of me because my professors and mentors take time off their busy schedules to pen these documents for my benefits. I’m always chasing an unreachable ideal, acutely aware of my shortcomings, and therefore feel undeserving or inadequate when confronted with these compliments.
A large part of this is compensation for the hubris I’ve been engulfed in, which I suppose is well-deserved. The realisation kicked in last year, though actually banishing these insecurities is going to take a much longer time.