As with many who self-identify as Survivors of Well-Intentioned-But-Ultimately-Fucked-Up Parenting, the confounding mix of messages I received in my formative years served to demagnetize my self-esteem compass for decades to come.
"We expect a lot from you" really meant You will not be good: you will be excellent. Or else."
"You can do it!" was mainly true, most of the time. Unfortunately, the critical phrase, "...and without any help, or it doesn't count", was left unspoken but did its damage anyway.
What has been the hardest thing to reconcile, however, is the idea that I should take pride in my accomplishments, but not too much.
W as the kids say TF?!
Not being able to discern between appropriate rejoicing and vile showboating has the same effect as not knowing which fork to use: you end up giving a wide berth to a lot of invitations, just to be on the safe side.
Safe may be safe, but it's hardly fuel for growth. With the possible exception of Emily Dickinson, no one ever changed the world by making it smaller (and one could argue that even though her physical world was profoundly limited, that chick was 100% down with the Truth.)
Safe is also not very joy-making. I'm not a happiness addict, well, okay, I am, but I'm 12-stepping my way out, and besides, "happiness", or really, "pleasure", as it's come to mean, has relatively little to with living in a joyous state, which I'm going to come right out and call "ability to live in the moment and thrive because of it." Safe is about keeping things as they are, and any boob will tell you that it's impossible to reside permanently in a state of pleasure. The ice cream melts. The orgasm passes. Crafting the buzz is theoretically possible, but even if you spend the time to become a Jedi knight of the bong, aren't you eventually going to have to do something else with your life, if only to replenish your stash?
The Youngster, who in many ways was wise beyond his years, had a great saying: "Don't save happy." It is one of the World Champeen Sayings precisely because of its obliqueness-to-brevity ratio.
Don't hold back on a compliment. Don't be stingy with a loving impulse.
Pointless to hold on to a snowflake, or a gallon of whipped cream, they won't keep.
And those gift cards? If you're living in most other states besides California, land where the consumer reigns supreme, they expire, dude; use them.
I think the application of this rule works beautifully both for people with no self-esteem issues and for those of us who feel like tooting our own horns means forever branding ourselves as That Asshole. Slow and judicious application is the trick to digging your way out.
For example (WARNING: HORN-TOOTING ALERT!!), last year I was approached by a representative from a fairly large publishing house about writing a book.
(Hang on, gotta wait for my heart rate to go back down.) (Okay...)
The odds of this actually culminating in my being hired and paid actual cash money to write this book are long, and the steps along the path to getting there are many. Still, one cannot deny that it is a fantabulous thing just to be asked, and on the basis of nothing more than a bunch of blog posts. If a friend told me that, I would think it was hot stuff.
So that's what I did: told a (few) friends.
And when I got the word back from my contact that she liked the chapters? Again, I told a few friends.
And when I heard that it had cleared the next hurdle of my contact's boss, the editor? Friends got told.
It was not, shall we say, easy. My heart raced and my face flushed every time I said it out loud.
But to not say it out loud, at least to some one, is no longer acceptable. It's something I need, for now, if for no other reason than it is, for whatever reason, difficult out of all proportion.
There is another reason, though: if I hold back and play it safe, how can I be of any use to you, who might need a nudge to break through your own personal roadblock? If I can't deal in the Truth, how can I expect to anyone else to give it to me straight?
If I don't move forward, if you don't, if each one of us doesn't, how will the world?
The truth is, something will always be hard. When a thing gets easy, if you're living your life out loud, you move on to the next thing. You climb a bigger mountain or tackle a bigger equation or break a tougher record. Cynicism prevents me from dragging out that confounded Marianne-Williamson-not-Nelson-Mandela quote one more time, but it's true, cheese factor and all.
Being small doesn't serve. It just takes up less room on an airplane seat.