How I deal with unfair scrutiny: The problem of standing out

Adham El Banhawy
5 min readOct 7, 2019

Ahhh finally I’m writing a blog post again. This one is more of a rant. An attempt to get something off my chest that has bothered my ever since I was a child. Ever since I started expressing my creativity.

“Who did this for you?”

For lack of better words. This sentence, or variations of it, have given me so much anxiety in the past whenever I presented my work to others. I have the cursed gift of being more creative than I seem to be. It is a problem I have had to face my whole life and one that I still struggle to deal with.

“How can a child do this on his own?”

I was always a quiet child. My parents claim I that I rarely cried or spoke until I was 3 or 4, and they had to get a doctor to see if I was a mute or autistic. The reason I mention that is that I blame my silence as a child for arousing suspicions in adults. I would always rather observe my surroundings and listen to people than speak up, so grown ups around me probably thought I was slow.

This became an annoyance to me (never a problem as I did not get into trouble) throughout my childhood. I was a very talented artist as a kid. I loved drawing, painting, and clay making. My earliest memories of scrutiny came from art teachers. I remember my elementary school would have an annual student art gallery and that it was a huge goal of mine to get my work displayed there.

I remember working on a portrait so hard for almost a year to get into a competition that students have to go through to win a spot in art gallery. When I was not accepted I was crushed. I complained to my art teacher who said she couldn’t submit my work to the department because it looked too good to be mine. Better than my usual (teacher-instructed) drawings we learned in class. According to her she didn’t teach me what I drew so I could not have drawn it myself.

I don’t remember being bitter or blaming her, I just remember being overwhelmingly sad I didn’t make it into the gallery.

There was a national competition the following year for children under the age of 12 to submit their art. I tried my luck and mailed in my piece. I never heard back.

Well, at least I had fun quietly drawing hilarious anatomically accurate drawing of my school teachers growing up.

There was another instance where I tried my luck with poetry. This time I was 16 (maximum teenage power) and doing extracurricular activities with the (Egyptian) ministry of youth. One of these activities involved writing a poem in English. By then I have read so many books that my English & literature sense were excellent for a teenage boy living in Cairo. So I wrote a very deep English poem, filled with metaphors and similes about a boy facing death to save his sick mother in a war-torn Iraq. I remember the head of activity crumbling my paper and saying out loud “Please make sure that your work is your own” and she gave me an accusing look.

I guess this explains why I never really liked poems.

“Did you write this paper yourself”

I was accused of plagiarism (without proof of plagiarism) by some of my favorite professors in college. In the few instances of professors suspecting I plagiarized a paper or a speech (about 4 or 5 times) they would voice their suspicion to me to explain the average grade I got and advising me to “do my own work”.

What hurt is that I did share mutual respect and friendly relationships with some of these professors and it is possible that they did not check plagiarism tools and decided that they’d just punish me with a lesser grade lest they take serious action against their favorite student (I was a really good student in my favorite classes!). I could see the look of disappointment and suspicion in their eyes at the end of the term and it sucked.

Well, who needs an A+ in Musical Theory, Philosophy, or English literature anyways, am I right? An A- or B would do just fine.

Wait a minute…should I tone it down?

As mentioned above, some creative outlets like art and poetry I have abandoned early on and stopped improving upon. But the one that I can’t stop doing is creative writing. And it sometimes proves to be a disadvantage to me. The last time I was subtly accused of plagiarism (that I can remember) was when I was applying to a graduate school in Minnesota, US. The application included some questions and an essay I had to write. I do not remember the content nor the topic, but I do remember getting an email back urging me to submit work that was my own.

What? I didn’t even think too hard on that application essay. Do other candidates have terrible writing? Is it because I am not from an English-speaking country and it seems weird that I wrote eloquent answers?

I did send an eloquently-worded and upset reply and managed to get an apology and an acceptance letter.

How I deal with it

I believe I will always run into this issue of people underestimating my talents or my honesty. But what should be my strategy to avoid baseless accusations?

It depends. For example, I work remotely for a British company as a software engineer. The first thing I did was make it very clear that I am very well spoken in both my spoken and written English. I would speak in a clear, neutral accent on calls and craft my messages/emails carefully to flaunt my communication skills a little.

This method of being openly vocal about communication ability has proved handy when coworkers and managers compliment by ability to communicate well. I now receive requests to submit quotes for external blogs and even write a few articles for our company blogs. And I do that now without the fear of being accused of plagiarism.

There is still the problem of convincing institutions that don’t know me personally to verify my skills. For example I am planning on applying for an MBA in 2 years and I most definitely will have to produce an essay or two during the application process. For that I can rest easy because I have my blog posts. I have written on Medium, Linkedin, and my personal website and can use my posts as easily googled reference.

And hey, if all else fails, who really needs an MBA anyways? :)



Adham El Banhawy

Software Developer, blogger, and tech enthusiast. Previously @ IBM. Currently Cloud consulting.