My friend Lindsay and I are teaching a Sunday school class called “Pathway to Purpose for Women.” It’s written by the women’s ministry director of Saddleback church in California, which is headed up by the ‘Purpose Driven Life’ guy himself [Rick Warren].
We started a few weeks ago, and things have been going pretty well. I love teaching adults, so it’s a bit like coming home after a long time being out of commission. There’s something inside me that thrives on being able to facilitate spiritual growth, and I think we’re beginning to accomplish that, so I’m excited.
Last Sunday, we started on chapter two, the title of which is: “Leaving Your Past Behind.” I felt like we needed to take a week and do the exercises that are listed in the book, so I assigned homework [evil me]. That’s all fine and good, except I have to do the homework, too.
So I put it off, and finally tackled the first exercise yesterday. I wrote a couple of pages on the exercise labeled, “Write about your pain.” I actually made some connections with my past and how it still affects my life, and I think I actually accomplished some healing, which is way cool.
I also learned that some of my issues have resulted in me being a selfish, competitive bitch, which is depressing. I thought most of my stuff was about my low self-esteem, being overly sensitive, and being a ‘victim’ of crappy circumstances.
What I realized was that some of that is true, but a good portion of it also comes from the fact that I’m a perfectionist who doesn’t like being second at anything. I figured out what caused it, and feel horrible about it, but here it is in all its glory.
My brother Jeremi has cerebral palsy and is a quadriplegic because of it. Growing up, J got most of the attention, whether from my parents [who had to take care of his every need] or others [who fawned over him and heaped praises upon his head for his every tiny accomplishment].
As an adult, I understand why they did it, but as a child, I only saw the great things everyone said about Jeremi, how smart he was, how mischeivous, blah blah blah. They would take several minutes to hug Jeremi, ask him yes or no questions so he could answer them [he blinked for ‘yes’ and verbalized ‘no’] and would laugh when he made jokes [they would ask him if he was being good or staying out of trouble, and he would always say, loud and clear, “NO!”].
When they were finished with J, some would turn to me and ask how I was doing, some would move on to my mom and dad, and forget me completely. It’s a weird dynamic, living with a sibling who has a disability. I loved Jeremi and prayed for him to be healed, but I think maybe it wasn’t always just for his benefit. I wanted J to be ‘normal,’ too, partly because I wanted to get some attention, too.
I had everything J wanted more than life, and yet I wanted what he had. I never wanted to be disabled, but I wanted to be significant, to be admired, to matter, too.
When I was in junior high, my school finally caved to the ADA and allowed Jeremi to become a student there. They had an assembly, saying that Jeremi would be coming, and that he was in a wheelchair. J wasn’t in any of my classes that year, but I heard from his classmates. They either pretended he didn’t exist or they fell in love with him, and if they loved him, they never hesitated to tell me how cool my brother was.
Meanwhile, I had just begun to carve out a spot for myself in the school. I had finally learned how to make jokes before people could make fun of me [for whatever reason, usually for being smart, ugly, or too skinny]. I learned sarcasm and wasn’t afraid to use it, even if it hurt my target. I wasn’t relentlessly cruel, but I could be mean.
I had learned not to be so sensitive, to build a wall between who I really was, and who I let people see. Of course, now I realize that I did myself considerable harm, but at the time, it was the only way I could cope.
That’s when I began to ridicule people who showed character traits that I had stifled, too. I had hidden the part of me that doesn’t quite fit in, whatever that something is. I dunno, I guess it’s the ‘artist’ mentality, for lack of a better word. I’m still trying to reconnect to that part of me, and I’m not all the way there yet.
So from my home life, I developed a strong desire to be in the spotlight. To be considered significant in my own right, not because I had a brother in a wheelchair.
I had a couple of instances early on where I would really try on an art project, or contest of some sort [I did spelling bees], hoping to distinguish myself. Sometimes I succeeded, and other times I failed. I’m just figuring this out, so bear with me, but I think at some level, I always wanted to be the ‘teacher’s pet.’
I was in a bad class to accomplish that, though, since several of my classmates were kids of teachers, and several others had parents who were friends with teachers, so those kids had connections before I ever started school.
They got preferential treatment because of who their parents were, and no one knew my parents. We lived in the country, and my parents were never big on being ‘room mom’ or whatever. Mom worked nights or evenings, and Dad was a farmer and worked his ass off, so there wasn’t an opportunity for them to get to know the teachers. I was on my own, and I was too shy to speak up most of the time.
There were a couple of things that I could shine in. Unfortunately, they were areas that the teacher’s kid was good at, too.
So my whole life has been about wanting to be the best. But, as if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to give myself an ‘out,’ just in case I wasn’t ‘the best,’ so I never put forth my absolute best effort. That way, if I failed, I could believe that it was because I didn’t do my best, not because someone else was better than me.
This is exhausting to write about, I can just imagine what you are going through right now trying to read it.
I’m still trying to figure out how I can be a perfectionist and only do things half-assed, but that trait is still there, too. I think it’s been about making excuses for not doing anything, and making excuses for not succeeding when I do try [because I don’t try my hardest].
And all of this is because, like an idiot, I compare myself to others, and find myself lacking. Which brings us full circle, back to: I really don’t like myself very much. I don’t matter as much as others, so I don’t matter at all.
It’s all a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
So last night, I realized that I have to stop doing things half-assed. I need to do the best that I possibly can, and then let the chips fall where they may. One thing I figured out is that even if I fail, if I’m not the best, I can know that I did my personal best, and then the next time I try it, if I learned from my mistakes, I will do better.
I also have to stop using the, “If I can’t do it perfectly the first time, I’m not gonna do it, and if I’m not perfect the first time I attempt something new, I’m never gonna try it again,” lame-ass excuse.
I mean come on, big baby much?
That means I’m gonna finish this damn novel I started if it kills me, then I’m gonna edit the hell out of it [or into it, depending on how you look at it!]. Then I’m gonna take a hard look at it and start querying agents so I can send the damn thing out. If it gets published, great. If it doesn’t, I’ll write another damn novel, and do better next time, won’t I?
The cool thing about figuring out some of your shit is it empowers you to change the self-defeating behavior. The bad thing here is, I still haven’t figured out all of my shit.
I’m writing on my novel again, so I’ve obliterated a couple of blocks, but at some point this is gonna happen again, because I have a feeling I’m not done yet. I’m liking myself more and more, but finding out that I’m really competitive [and not very nice about it] bothered me a lot.
I’ve never been one to outwardly be a bitch to other people, but in my thought life, I’ve eviscerated more than one person who was more successful than I was. I’ve fought jealousy more times than I care to think about, and I’m sad to say that jealousy has probably destroyed more friendships or potential friendships than I realize.
I’ve been resentful, and a little afraid of people who are more successful than I am. Rather than try to learn from them, I’ve avoided them, thinking that they would see me the same way I saw myself: Inferior. I think I’ve missed a lot of valuable lessons by doing that, and I’ve probably missed getting to know some incredible people, too.
I’ve read two books in the past few months written by people who went to Calcutta to work with Mother Theresa for a while. Both of those people wrote a letter, or made a call, and ended up making the trip of a lifetime to meet and work alongside one of the most amazing people of our time.
It never occurred to me to write a letter to Mother Theresa because I figured it would be a waste of time. I never imagined that she would be able to take the time to talk to me, or respond to something I had written. And yet, for at least two people, she invited them to come, and they did. I wonder what would have happened if I’d taken a chance and called the number. I’ll never know now, but there’s a lesson in there, don’t you think?
Life’s about taking chances and risking failure, and sometimes a ‘no’ isn’t a failure, but a postponement for something better. You won’t find out if you never take the first step, though, right?