If you’ve been reading my posts you’ll notice that most of them have been tutorial oriented. This one doesn’t really teach you how to do anything. It’s just me thinking out loud because I worked the overnight shift at A-kon the last couple of days and my internal clock decided I wasn’t going to sleep tonight.
This post has been stewing for a few weeks now. To say that the last month or so of my life was difficult would be a serious understatement. I feel like someone died, someone that I liked. Maybe not someone that I loved, necessarily, but it’s not the kind of feeling where it was just someone you vaguely knew. The changes that took place as a result of recent happenings have mostly been good, but there’s still that mental processing through things that catches you off guard after the dust starts to settle and you find yourself typing blogs at 5am.
I don’t want to talk about what happened. Quite frankly, I’m sick of the subject and ready to move on. The resulting chain of happenings, however, has me thinking quite a bit. This morning it has me thinking that maybe there are others out there that have had the same feelings or similar experiences that I have have had and perhaps it would improve their lives to know that there’s someone out there that understands and knows that eventually everything is going to be ok.
I was 30 years old before I realized that people take me seriously. (Yes, I really am that old.) I was in a meeting with an organization that I volunteer for and offering advice as a consultant. The leader of said meeting took an opportunity during a brief pause to make sure that others were paying attention and stated that everything I was saying was “really good stuff” and that they should listen to me because I was really good at what I do.
Even now, at least a week later, I paused after typing those words. They stun me every time like a well-aimed packet with a daze effect. I hope I was able to gracefully acknowledge the statement. In reality, I probably ignored it. The culture I grew up in was rather adamant about “parry and deflect” when it came to compliments with an occasional “self depreciation” thrown in. Perhaps he’ll read this blog and perhaps he won’t, but I do hope that somehow he’ll know within himself exactly how much that meant to me. That simple statement made me a better person. And let me be clear: it didn’t make me a better person in the “I must now strive to do better because people are looking up to me” realization, but in an “Oh my god, someone thinks that I’m good at something” realization. I have a lot of respect for this man, so his statement carried just enough weight to break through to me.
I’m good at something.
If you knew me growing up your mind probably just divided by zero. In case you’re not a math buff, dividing by zero is impossible and tends to cause all sorts of errors in electronic calculators. Feel free to take a moment to reboot. For those of you who didn’t grow up with me, I’ll fill you in on a hindsight view of my childhood made possible by other people trying to provide me with a little perspective after I grew up.
I was a gifted child.
That’s pretty much a duh statement to everyone but me. I just found that out about a year ago. I knew I was “slightly above average”. I knew I was inquisitive. I knew I read more than most children my age. I knew that I had a knack for music and crafting with my hands. To me, this was only a slight separation from completely normal. “If everyone else grew up the way that I did, then they would be just as “smart” and “talented” and “capable” as I am.” That was my thought. Sometimes it’s still my thought. That’s what happens when you throw a bunch of “gifted” children together. Giftedness is a continuum. When you grow up with an actual genius in the house and you’re competing with one for valedictorian it’s fairly easy to gloss over your own abilities. You’re always second best.
I had my first panic attack when I was in the 8th grade. The catalyst? I was terrified I was going to fail a history exam. There was a lot of emotional stuff buried under that catalyst that I, as a 14 year old child, had no control over in my environment, but I still feel as though something must have been “not quite right” that I would feel that much pressure over a test in school. I had never failed a test in my life. I was already competing for top grades in my class (something that began when I was in the 5th grade, I might add) and a 92% was considered a low grade for me. Where did I get this idea that if I didn’t have a perfect score (or something close to it) that the only alternative was that I would fail? It was as if being average was a failure. I knew how hard I worked to get the grades that I did as well as maintain the extracurricular activities that I felt were expected of me on top of the extracurricular activities that I did because I wanted to do them. To me, I was about as far as you could get to the dumb end of smart, and that was unacceptable.
This mental attitude still plagues me to this day. It is the root of my fear of rejection, the cause of my terror when confronted with trying something new and the demon that whispers in my ear that even getting out of bed in the morning isn’t worth it because no matter how hard I try I will come out a failure anyway. After all, the one in second place is really the first loser. Most people I know either live with this themselves or they categorize it as a horrible overreaction. Sure, it very well may be an overreaction, but it’s one that I’ve had to strangle nearly every day to be a functioning human being. Thankfully, a change in my environment and an extremely understanding husband have lessened those occurrences from every morning to a few times a month, but it is still something that I deal with.
I wish I had known I was lovable.
Imagine a highly creative little red haired girl with a slightly dramatic flair and a highly inquisitive nature. She might be annoying sometimes, but she’s certainly entertaining. That was me. I once looked back through pictures of myself growing up and read my little diaries and I pretended that I was someone else looking at my childhood for the first time. There I sat, in my late 20s, realizing for the first time that I was a rather adorable child.
I grew up in a culture that hounded us with everything that could possibly be wrong with us. God might condescend to love us because He was perfect and He just couldn’t help it, but if He was like any human we knew, He certainly wouldn’t have any such inclination. We were terrible, horrible people and we were reminded of it at least twice a week. Compliments were to be met with deflection and self depreciation or by pointing out how someone else could surely have done a better job. It was completely common to reveal mistakes or shortcomings in order to be sure no one thought we were proud of our accomplishments. Even simply saying, “thank you,” was bordering on sinful. You at least had to throw in a reciprocating compliment about the person that had just complimented you.
I remember being told early and often that I was a haughty child and that I needed to be more humble. It is common for a gifted child to think they’re better than their peers. The funny thing about that is that the reason they think they’re “better” is because they ARE in many circumstances, particularly those that are tested in schools. If they weren’t better, they wouldn’t be “gifted”. The result is a huge miscommunication between adults and gifted children. What adults seem to be trying to communicate is that they want the child to understand that everyone is good at something and that children should celebrate each other for their individual abilities, or something of that nature. What comes across is that gifted children are supposed to continue to seek perfection and excellence as gifted people while pretending their entire lives that they’re not, in fact, gifted. This attitude is insulting to everyone involved. It makes normal people feel as though gifted people think everyone should be held to the standards and abilities of gifted people, which is an incredibly unfair standard for the average human being. On the other hand it makes gifted people feel as though there’s something shameful about being gifted. It becomes the elephant in every room they enter for the rest of their lives. I learned the lesson so well that I believed for most of my life that the only reason that others were not as “smart” as me was because they were lazy and rebellious. However, I was supposed to just forebear with their sinfulness and pray that God would reach into their hearts to root out their perverse attitudes of rebellion so that they might someday become the hyper-productive members of society that we were all meant to be.
Yup, you read that right. In an effort to be sure that I would continue to strive for a ridiculously high standard of excellence, I was informed regularly by adults that the only reason that I was not achieving perfection was because I was lazy and being rebellious. Well if that was the case for me, then why should it be different for anyone else? Add to that the constant reminder of the story of the “Talents” from the Bible and you’ve built yourself one emotional disaster of a child. There was so much of an emphasis on this story in my culture that I grew up believing that if I showed any kind of an inkling of talent for anything at all, that I would be sinning by not pursuing it until I had achieved a quality that could only be deemed as professional level in said area. You want to know how I got so good at music, art, writing, crafting, teaching, reducing complex tasks to simple step processes, understanding people and relationships on a psychological level, insertwhateverelseyoumayhaveeverthoughtIwasgoodathere? I wasn’t ALLOWED to be average. Being average was a sin. And any time that I fell short of the goal of perfection, it was just a confirmation that I was on that stupid end of gifted, which was unacceptable.
I also remember being told that I was a willful child. I was stubborn and obstinate and rebellious. What they neglected to tell me what that those qualities are necessary in anyone who has ever innovated anything. As an artist/writer/musician, those qualities are what separate those who succeed from those to give up.
What I don’t remember ever being told was that I was a willing child. There was all this cultural pressure and all these expectations being thrown at me and I did my level headed best to meet every single one of them. This culminated in a tempestuous break down during my last week as a high school senior. Finals week. Hell week. The deciding factor between salutatorian and valedictorian in my mind. (Little did I know that my competition had me so beat at that point that finals didn’t actually matter, and I graduated with a 3.8 average if I remember correctly so you can just imagine the kind of grades SHE was getting.) I remember sobbing in the dining room while sitting on my piano bench as my mother sat beside me in a chair trying to discern the reason for this outburst. Through heaving sobs I was finally able to communicate that I was afraid that if I wasn’t valedictorian like my brother had been that I was afraid that my parents wouldn’t love me anymore. (I’m tearing up again just writing about it.)
My mother was and is a loving, supportive and wonderful person. I share this story as proof that one voice has great difficulty combatting the voice of an entire culture because she had always been a loving influence in my life. But just because a thing is difficult does not mean it should not be attempted. That night, like the simple statement that started the emotional ride that inspired this post, one voice broke through. My mother had no idea that I had worked my ass off in school and extracurriculars because I thought that they were the key to my parents’ love. She seized on that moment. She took my face gently in her hands and made me look at her. (I have a horrible habit of avoiding people’s faces when I’m feeling insecure or ashamed of myself.) She told me that it didn’t matter what happened with my grades that week. She told me that I could fail every single final I had and that she would still love me. She would still believe that I was a wonderful, talented daughter and that she would still be proud to be my mother. (Now I’ve gone and made myself full on cry.) The relief of that realization sent me into choking sobs that almost ended in hyperventilation. How could I have been 18 years old and have no idea that love was not contingent on my grades? But when I looked at her face and in her eyes and felt the gentleness of her hand as she brushed the hair off my face that was sticking in my tears, I knew that she was deeply sincere. She loved me no matter what. Her own tears mingled with mine as she grieved for me in that moment. How was it that I hadn’t known all along?
Reboot your thinking.
I cannot even begin to stress the importance of questioning the things you believe, particularly those things you’ve believed since childhood. The journey that began that night has been a long and difficult one. I still struggle. I still fear. I still hurt and feel insecure. But now I have the courage to smack the whispering demon in the face and get out of bed. Now I have the audacity to try something new. Now I have the strength to face down my fears.
I’m 30 years old and, aside from the advice provided by the inspirational bear above, today I want you to leave this post knowing:
1. Just because someone else is better at something than you are doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it because YOU love it. Really, just because someone else is in the process of attempting to be good at it shouldn’t deter you either. I’m in the process of trying to finish my first novel that almost didn’t get written at all because I have a beloved aunt that is also in the process of trying to become a published author. She’s also an insightful blogger. I love writing. Me. There is absolutely no reason that I should not write for fear that she might see me as trying to compete with her (which I’m not) or a fear of failure or criticism or anything else you might be able to put in the blank. It’s ok to pursue hobbies that make you happy.
2. Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that you need to develop it. How I wish I had known this growing up. How I wish I could remember this every day. Instead of frustrating myself pursuing things I felt expected to do, I could have pursued things that I was actually passionate about. I could have pursued things that made me feel happy and fulfilled.
3. Just because an adult said it doesn’t mean that it’s true. Question the things that you were taught as a child. I especially invite you to question the teachings that caused you to feel shame, prejudice or hatred. There is absolutely nothing acceptable about a culture that decimates your self esteem and then indicates to you that having a low self esteem is bad and that you need to fix it or you’re not a good person. You do not have to accept their criticism or allow them to undermine your quality of life. Maybe in 10 or 15 years you’ll be able to look back and determine beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were the ones that were wrong.
4. It’s ok to acknowledge that you’re good at something and that there’s a value to your work. As an artist, an innovator, a musician, really anything that falls into the luxury/creative fields of employment you need to be able to see a value (monetary in many cases) in what you spend your time doing. There is nothing sinfully prideful about this. There’s only you, passionate about your work, loving what you do and wanting to be supported in that. If there’s nothing wrong with paying a doctor, an accountant or the guy that makes your food for what THEY’RE good at, then there’s nothing wrong with people paying YOU for what YOU’RE good at. It’s also totally ok to have that stupid grin on your face when someone compliments you or gives you a standing ovation. Be excited. Be passionate. It’s inspiring.
5. You don’t have to convince anyone that you’re awesome. Just being you and pursuing the things that you’re passionate about will show people how awesome you are. Showing is usually preferable to telling. You also don’t have to try your absolute hardest to meet their approval. YOU are an incredibly lovable person. Heck, I love you and I don’t even know you that well. I just know for a fact that everyone is worth loving. I see people all the time that are just trying so hard to convince everyone around them that *inserthurtfulstatementoreventfromtheirpast* isn’t true. I just want to hug them and tell them they don’t need the bravado, the machismo, the ultra-feminism, the power career that has completely overtaken their lives, the ridiculous amount of debt incurred from trying to make sure they have the nicest house and the best car/clothes/computer/videogames/MTG cards… whatever. Just be you. I want to love on that person. Most of us didn’t hear that hurtful statement that was made or see that event that happened. We only see the you that we’ve been exposed to and we’re quite ready to love that person.
I’m going to try and get some sleep now. I’ve got an interview later this morning and I fully intend to charm their socks off. I hope you know that someone out there cares about you this week. I hope that inspires you to
invent your own wings and fly…