What Makes You Think You Can Do That?

It’s been a year now since my inaugural post. I still struggle with the discipline of writing consistently, but I feel that I’ve come a long way. The fact that this blog even exists borders on the miraculous.

I’m not a risk taker by nature. I have a tendency to play it safe. Risks can produce some really wonderful things that we might never know without taking a chance. However, the flip side is that they can cause great embarrassment, shame, and/or other long-term negative consequences (like debt) if they don’t pan out. I’m not saying that I don’t take risks. I do. They just have to be well calculated. Or I’ll act on the advice of someone I trust. I don’t trust myself to weigh the risk in a stock purchase, for instance. But, I do trust my cousin-in-law Ed enough, that if he tells me where to invest my money (Let’s pretend for the moment that I have some.) I would do so. I would, because I trust his financial savvy, as well as his care for me not to lead me astray. I’ve cared too much about what people think of me for most of my life, but I put much more stock in the opinions of people whom I feel care most about me, who want to see me succeed.

I suppose I should have realized it much sooner. I have always loved to read. My heart has often been captured by a well-turned phrase. I do remember being praised by Mrs. Bennett, my third grade teacher, for a story I once wrote. Although I don’t remember anything about the story itself. And I really hadn’t recalled that fact in a very long time. And Mr Bender, in the seventh or eighth grade, looked at me with genuine astonishment when I actually wrote and delivered my persuasive speech assignment on why I thought students should be able to chew gum in school. He asked me where that guy had been for most of the semester.

Through most of school, including college and graduate school, I really didn’t like to write papers. I say I didn’t like to write them, but actually I think I’ve always been scared of using incorrect form in writing, or that my writing would not be interesting. This is still true. I have perfectionist tendencies, and a bit of a lazy streak when it comes to writing. I think it’s because I don’t want to expend a lot of energy on something that won’t be good enough anyway. But…I did have a few successes in writing through the years – when I actually did my assignments.

I also have a tendency to find my way to the office and school supply sections of any store I go to. And I can kill as much time in Office Depot as I can Best Buy. What am I usually looking at? Pens. And journals, or stationary. I often spent no money. But other times I would find a good buy on a journal, or a pen that felt good in my hand and wrote smoothly in my tense grip. Some of my favorite gifts have been pens, as well. But I didn’t realize for a long time why I had an “obsession” with writing tools.

I was always very quiet when I was young. Some of my newer friends might find that hard to believe. And I have often been accused of over-thinking things. Guilty, as charged. And, as I have said, I am a recovering people-pleaser. Therefore, I have taken way too much direction in my life from the opinions of others.  Looking back, I realize just how little I believed in myself. But, then again, my low self worth came through conditioning. I don’t remember much praise in my life – though I’m sure there was some. But I can recall all too well when I was told that I didn’t measure up, and would never amount to much. I think some of my accomplishments were simply to prove them wrong. However, it was the few people that I knew truly cared about me, who would give me affirmations, and point out things that I did well, that had the best effects in my life. I suppose this is why I like teaching. I see kids that have been emotionally and verbally (if not physically) beat up by peers, parents, and life. Somewhere inside them, locked away and buried deeply, are gifts the world desperately needs to see, hear, experience. And those gifts will never be experienced until someone cares about that child enough to see what they can’t see, and lovingly and patiently draw it out of them in a safe way, and help them see their own beauty. That’s the most important thing an educator (or any other human) can do for another person, in my opinion.

As a teen-ager, one of my dreams was to be a singer. I sang in my church’s youth choir, then young adult choir. But there were people whose opinion mattered to me because of my relationship to them, rather than because of any expertise that they had, who would tell me that I sang flat, or gave me other negative criticisms. Always negative though. Never encouraging. It wouldn’t matter later even, when I took a chance and sang a solo at my church when I was in college, and a music teacher told me that my voice had a nice resonance. It didn’t matter because other opinions had more weight for me. After a while I pretty much stopped singing altogether. I was even leery of singing alone in my car out on the open road, for fear of judgment and the feeling of shame. I’m still working on this.

I realize these things about me more now. I spend a lot of time processing the whys of my life. I gave way too much power away to those who should not have been trusted with it. It may take me a while to learn some things, but once learned…they’re pretty solid.

So how do we know that we’re good at something? Or how do we know if we have the aptitude, or gifts to try? Don’t we rely on some outside affirmation? I realized that there was something in me that wanted to write. What I didn’t have was the belief that I could; or that anyone would want to read what I wrote if I did.

Then it happened. And it all started to change.

In catching up with a long-lost friend, we were exchanging parts of our stories electronically. We were casual in writing, but trying to cover years of personal history. In the course of exchanges, she told me that I was, “an amazing writer”. Of course I thought (and think) that she was being kind, but it was like the planets had aligned in that moment. Though her words were kind, I also felt that they were the most genuine compliment that I had ever received, that she actually believed what she said about me. In many ways, I believe that was the beginning of a rebirth for me. I am convinced that this blog would never have happened if she hadn’t seen something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, and if I didn’t trust her as I do.

Pens and paper, and even education, did not make me a writer. Neither did (or do) my laptop or blog (although the blog allows me to fulfill a legal definition). They are merely tools. If I have any ability to write, it is because someone, whose opinion I value, and whose word I trust, said I was a writer. And that’s what makes me think I can write. And that’s what makes me strive to be amazing at it. I feel I have a ways to go, but this chapter in my life is still developing. Thank you for the part you play by reading.