Wednesday, November 09, 2011

take that golden mean and stuff it

We all know the ways that our culture makes us feel bad because we don't measure up.  We're not thin enough, rich enough, witty enough, beautiful enough-- oh, the list is just endless.  We get it from magazines and TV shows and movies and even walking down the street.  The frumpy among us don't attract attention; the young, beautiful, thin ones do.

But what I was thinking about on the treadmill this morning is the other end of our endless urge to fit in.  The way we don't want to own our gifts, our brilliance, our unique amazingness.  Because what then?  Lift up the lid on that reluctance and what's there?  I still won't fit in.  I might stand out, I might attract attention.  Other people might be jealous, or they might not like me anymore, or it might make someone feel bad because they don't have my kind of special-ness.  It might throw off the dynamics of my friendships, my group.  What happens to a writing group if one person has considerably more talent than the others? What happens to the dynamics in a group of co-workers if one woman is brilliant and beautiful and frighteningly good at what she does?  or my own personal one:  what if I'm spectacular this one time, and then people expect me to be that way all the time?  and its variation:  if I'm good at this, what if it leads to complicated social interactions that are way too complex for me?

And then there's the whole "stuck-up" thing, leftovers from the playground days.  If I own my own brilliance, other people will think I'm stuck up, or a snob, or full of myself, or vain or conceited.  Ah, the playground.  The whole thing was about grinding you down, making your squiggly, unwieldy, capacious self fit in that little bitty mold of acceptability. And you go from the playground to junior high.  How in the world did we survive?

Here's my treadmill thoughts for today.  First of all, forget the playground bullshit.  There's some kind of playground economy that makes us feel like there's a tiny supply of one kind of brilliance and everybody wants it.  Only a few people can be the popular people while the rest of us look on longingly from the sidelines.  Don't believe it.  There's plenty of brilliance, oceans of it, infinite overflowing barrels of it in all shapes, colors, sizes, and types.  You've got plenty, and there's still an infinite amount left for everybody else.

And secondly, you do have to watch out about becoming a snot about it.  There's a fine line here, and it's complicated.  How do I own my own brilliance, without becoming conceited and full of myself?  (We're speaking hypothetically here, because I haven't owned mine yet.)  I think it must take recognizing that although your amazing gifts are yours alone, you aren't the only one that has gifts.  Everyone does, their own unique brand of them.  Ironic as it may sound, I think you have to have a bit of humility about being brilliant-- they're my gifts, and yet in some way, I'm not responsible for them.  Whether it comes easily or you have to work really hard, there's still some way that our gifts are exactly that:  gifts.  Something to be grateful for.

I think my fear about this part of it goes back to my post about confidence the other day.  I don't want to be one of the kids on the playground that is good at stuff and makes some hypothetical other kids feel bad.  In the past, I'd rather just be mediocre than make someone else feel bad. But I'm coming around on this one.  It really is their problem if they want my kind of gifts and not their own; there's not much I can do about that. 

One final thought:  I think this reluctance to acknowledge our own gifts is different than fear of failure.  Fear of failure is about going out and trying something new, something you might be good at or you might not.  I'm talking about acknowledging who we already are.  Allowing the things that I'm good at (which may be small, behind-the-scenes kinds of things) to be just as amazing as more showy ones.  Allowing myself to feel good about who I am, because dang, I'm good at (*insert your gifts here*).  Entertaining toddlers.  Dumping stuff in a crockpot and having it turn out well.  Spiking a volleyball.  Listening patiently to my daughter describe a movie.  Putting words together in sentences.  Teaching basketball.  Organizing a bunch of volunteers.  Knowing which can of paint to buy to turn a ho-hum room into a warm, welcoming one.  Macramé.  It could be anything.

And (of course) I'm reluctant to post this, because what if people think I'm conceited?  what if someone thinks that I think that I'm special?  what if someone thinks that I think that they think that she thinks....  right back to junior high.  Let's all just blow through that and be brilliant.


  1. You ARE brilliant! And deargawd you're smart as hell too. Own that, you've earned it.

    Okay, all caught up now. :)

  2. This is an absolutely fabulous post. I am printing this sucker out. Or better yet, I am making a digital copy to keep. Trying to be as paperless as possible which is, as you know, difficult for me given my Post-it note issues.

  3. well, I wrote it because I needed it. :-) I'm glad if it was relevant to you two, too!