You Cannot Be Anyone Else. Don’t Sacrifice Yourself Trying To Make Others Happy.
“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
― Jane Austen, Mansfield Park
My father did not graduate from high school. He got a job working in a printing factory in Philadelphia when he was 20 and stayed there his whole life. He once told me angrily that it wasn’t his dream to work there but he did it so he could support us. I asked him what his dream was. The question clearly took him aback. He didn’t really answer. Fortunately, at the time, I missed the purpose of this conversation. He was trying to tell me that I had no business going to college. He later stated this more clearly when I had been accepted and the courts notified him that his child support payments would continue for four more years. He asked me who did I think I was? I should get a job like both of my siblings had and work for a living like everyone else. College was for snobs and was a waste of time and money.
My mother told me that she had taken care of me for eighteen years and that now it was my turn to take care of her. Physically, she was fine. Mentally, she had never been well. When a neighbor told my mother that she had met her husband, an engineer, at college, a light bulb went off. Mom had one of her formal conversations with me and told me she decided it would be ok for me to go to college for maybe a year or two. She suggested I study Home Economics and maybe find a nice husband. She wanted me to apply to Rutgers University. My math skills were not so hot. They were passable but not Rutgers material. I refused to apply so she applied for me. To my relief, I was denied entrance.
I applied to three schools with solid writing programs that were as far from my crazy family as I could get. I ended up in Boston. My family cut me off.
Child support payments were $40 a month. Not enough to pay for school or even groceries. I worked a lot of jobs, and scholarships and financial aid kept me going. I was naive enough to have no idea how difficult it would be. I was innocent enough to follow my heart, not knowing that I was not capable of making it. And I made it. After four years of school, I became just self-aware enough to completely doubt my abilities and worth. But life happened anyway. I had a freelance writing and editing business that was marginally successful for a year. Due to the isolation of it I quit it and after some time, became a Substance Abuse Counselor and HIV educator. I worked in the prison system, in halfway houses, and in teenage respite facilities. I loved what I was doing. It was not Home Ec.
There is an expression, “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” It’s also what happens when you don’t make plans or don’t follow the plans that others have made for you. I’ve had many difficult times in life and have been financially desperate at times. This had little to do with my career choices and everything to do with what I thought of myself. It also had a bit to do with American society and its lack of support for women, especially single moms. I raised two daughters alone for 15 years and times were tough. But they were only tough financially. I loved being a mom and the three of us had a lot of joy in our lives. I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.
Through all those years, jobs and parenting I was given a lot of mostly bad advice about what I “should” do to make my life better. I was intelligent so I should go get a job at IBM or Cisco Systems. I had a college degree so I should be making more than ten dollars an hour — I should demand it! I should become an Administrative Assistant for a CEO because they are paid well. Since I had a degree in writing I should start tech writing. That’s where the money is. It’s not fun to be broke, I’ll give you that. But I don’t think making enough money doing something you hate is fun either. Just look at my father. He was miserable. He often growled that he hated his job. He was an alcoholic. I still wonder what his dreams were. He died from alcoholism in 2008 so we will never know.
“I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way. How would it be to live a lie every minute of your life.”
― Alison Goodman
I once asked my father what his favorite color was. His answer: I don’t know. I don’t really have a favorite. I was eight or nine years old and this was important to me for some reason. I asked if he liked yellow. He said yes. I decided for him that yellow was his favorite color. I don’t really know who my father was although I lived with him for my first eleven years of life and visited on and off for the next twenty. I don’t think that he knew who he was. How can we find ourselves if we follow the direction of someone lost? I have a pretty good idea of who I am. I am fearful, but I usually step forward anyway, even when everyone seems to disagree with me. I am much braver for others than I am for myself, but I am happy with my life. I am hard on myself, but I like me. I can still be foolish and make mistakes and these are the things that teach me the most about myself and my world.
An opportunity is now in front of me that is something I have desired for a long time. The gap from here to there is vast and daunting and I have no idea how I will cross it. The words, “1–2–3-JUMP!” come to mind.
Don’t be afraid of your fears, they’re not there to scare you; they’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”
― C. JoyBell C.
The occasions I have done what someone else thought was best for me have usually been a mistake. The time two friends convinced me to give a chance to a guy I did NOT want to date. It was uncomfortable for me from start to finish. It ended badly. The time I contacted someone to apologize at a mentor’s assertion when my inclination was to steer clear. Well, neither of us felt better for the apology. Some wounds should be left alone. There was one exception: I thought I hated cherries until a coworker insisted I try one. I love cherries. Most of all, when I try and err I don’t want to be able to credit anyone but myself. I say ‘credit’ because ‘blame’ is a futile gerbil wheel that creates destructive thoughts and feelings. It’s easy to get stuck on the wheel of blame. Credit, however, will move us forward. Credit means recognition of an attempt at something. The outcome is not necessarily important. Self-discovery, joy, satisfaction, and confidence are of the most value.
Finally, I have reached a point in life where I don’t care so much about what others think. Trying something new is no longer an act of rebellion, but a realization of how short life really is and what a waste it is to withhold our true selves from it.