Many folks know that I am a fan of and admire actor/comedian/multi-hyphenate Hal Sparks. He’s inspired me a lot since I met him nine years ago, and is in fact the reason that I gave up all those new year’s resolutions I never could follow. Instead he uses his birthday to assign a theme for the coming year, making each year consciously progressive toward meeting his many goals. I thought this was a grand idea. I started doing it myself way back when with the “Year of Courage.”
By assigning each year a new theme on my birthday, this would guide and direct my goals for the coming year. And since I started doing this so many years ago, I’ve done some amazing, incredible things. If you had told me in 2004 that this is where I would be, I would have thought you were crazy. The girl I was in 2004 wasn’t ready, physically or mentally, to embrace the woman I am today. And I know that goes all the way back to these goals. Each birthday I am faced with the question: How can I challenge myself to evolve even more into that picture of myself I’ve had in my head for so many years of the person I want to be?
Or, more specifically, since my goals have always been fairly lofty in the first place, which challenge naturally follows the aspirations I had the previous year?
This past year was my Year of Living Boldly. I expected to face many uncomfortable challenges along the way as I faced, rather than avoid, those difficult situations that shoved me right out of my comfort zone. For me, this could have been anything. I dealt with my social phobia head-on by going to events that I normally would have skipped. I was still uncomfortable, but I went all the same. Likewise I stood up for myself by removing myself from toxic situations that simply made me feel bad. Most of all, I dealt with all my inner demons by completing, in one year, the Fierce trilogy of books that forced me to face some of dirtiest, most shameful secrets on a national stage for the world to see.
I was Jordi in many, many ways.
Bold living indeed, even if there were many challenges I let pass by me entirely. It isn’t about the quest for perfection… it’s about progress and improvement, so that I can look back after nine years and think, “WOW! Look how far I’ve come.”
I lose track of this many, many times. I’m so focused on those things I WANT to do, I often forget all the things I’ve already done. Like my heroine Jordi, I have a really hard time giving myself credit. This stems directly to my poor self-esteem, that demands I have to work harder than anyone else to get half as much credit. No one around me makes me feel that way, this is something I decided for myself a long time ago.
I was raised in a very religious family steeped in the Southern Baptist church. I wasn’t allowed to feel “proud” of my accomplishments, because that was vain. Instead I was taught to see myself as a dirty dog sinner who didn’t deserve what blessings I had. Everything I had that was good didn’t belong to me, but everything I did that was bad hung around my neck like a dead chicken.
It all came back to value. Instead of being celebrated as the unique individual that God had created me to be, I was constantly condemning myself (and others) for how we all fell short of these standards that were completely self-imposed.
Value doesn’t come from any external source. When it’s all said and done, it doesn’t matter what the world thinks about you. It is what you think of yourself that guides your path in life. It’s the difference between happiness and conflict, victory and victimization. And I’ve been fighting this battle for decades, even though I’m perfectly aware of it.
Through Jordi’s struggle, I was able to examine why that was. In repeating some of my life’s mistakes on the page, I was able to understand the motivation behind the mistake rather than the mistake itself. Like Jordi, I’ve had an entire cast of people in my life who repeatedly build me up when I try to tear myself down. Their voices are continuously drowned out by my own damnable inner chatterbox that regurgitates this crap over and over again, dismissing what I’ve done as “never enough.”
Earlier this month I wrote a blog about a novella I wrote in the seventh grade. I had to pull out my old yearbooks to get some information, and in doing so I went down memory lane in a way I normally don’t. I run from my past because I have no use for the old me, the scared me, the flawed me who knows better now. That girl had always embarrassed me so much that I never gave her credit for being a kickass kid who wasn’t afraid to try new things and chase after her dreams.
Other people could see that, but I never did. As I looked through the inscriptions in my yearbooks, so many people I knew praised my writing ability. One teacher in particular wrote that she hoped I’d be “famous” one day, to keep writing.
It hit me that I had become what I always dreamed I would be. I knew I was destined to be a writer from the time I was eleven years old, and despite all the crap littering my path, I turned those inscriptions into prophesy. I didn’t quit doing those things I loved, even when I thought it was all in vain, that I’d never, ever make any of my dreams come true.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and I am a published, professional writer who has best-selling books and a growing number of readers who really do *get* what I do and why I do it. I wanted to live a life of importance. And slowly and surely I’m making that a reality. This is a significant achievement I often overlook while I’m beating myself up for all those things I have yet to do.
Recently I watched Tom Shadyac’s documentary “I Am.” This has shifted my entire perspective by challenging what I think about true happiness and purpose. It starts off with this odd proclamation that we Americans are not primed to understand: the abundance of stuff doesn’t equate happiness. We think that if we reach that pinnacle of the “American Dream,” that we will be happier. If we have the money and the houses and the fame, it’ll plug up all the holes of dissatisfaction we’re hard-wired from the crib to have. Our media drives this message that in order to be happy, we have to accumulate and amass things. What you got yesterday is only half as good as what you can get tomorrow… and without it, you simply won’t “fit in” with the rest of the “happy” people on the commercials. Even on holidays where we are supposed to connect with other people (i.e. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day,) it’s all about what we can buy or collect.
But happiness doesn’t come from a store. It’s virtually impossible to buy yourself happy. If you are unhappy with what you have now, you’ll never find happiness in anything you get, because you have set up the expectation that what you don’t have holds the key to what you want most.
I always thought I’d be happy if I could work as a writer. Then I thought I’d be happy if I published a book. Then I thought I’d be happy if I sold a lot of books. With each achievement, I realized it didn’t quite plug up the hole. I had to keep going. Once I had what I thought I always wanted, I found that I wanted more. My standards for my own happiness marched just a little further out of reach.
In many ways this is a good thing. Progress is never fully satisfied. Once you hit one goal, realize one dream, there’s always one more step in the future. Excellence demands that we press forward.
But if you hinge your value on that next thing, you’re never going to feel fully confident and fully realized. This has been my problem. I shun compliments and internalize criticisms because I know I’m not where I want to be. This totally invalidates where I am, which is pretty fucking awesome if I take two seconds to think about it.
That girl who wrote her first novella in a spiral notebook, who wrote Barry Manilow to get his permission to use his song in the dedication of her book, was just as awesome. My biggest failure was that I never let her own her victory. I agreed with the world around her that she wasn’t good enough if she wasn’t extraordinary, instead of boldly proclaiming that she was kickass just as she was. In my drive to make her “better,” I refused to acknowledge how perfectly good enough she already was.
I was running from who I was, rather than building on each and every good thing and making it better.
This coming year I plan to change that. If I truly believe that we are all unique and valuable (and I do,) then I need to allow *myself* to own that beautiful muchness. We are ALL important. We ALL have value. We are ALL significant. That means I belong in this world. More than that, I have something to offer it. I don’t have to apologize for not being “completely realized” yet. My job on this planet is to grow and learn and progress. It’s OK that I make mistakes, fall short, or stumble along the way. And it’s even more OK that I reward all those times when I succeed and excel.
The biggest revelation of my life happened this very second, when I realized that I do the latter way more than the former. My focus has been on the failure because that is the only way to turn it into a success. But I have been doing the most damage to myself by thinking that it holds any more significance than the other, when it absolutely doesn’t.
Life is about finding that balance. If I’m going to beat myself up for all those things I’m not, then I need to be the first in line to pat myself on the back for all those incredible things I am. I need to be equal parts cheerleader to my inner critic.
I haven’t been. I’ve outsourced that to others around me, all of whom are not any more qualified to judge me than I can judge myself.
So this year ahead, I am going to own my muchness. I am not perfect but I am not insignificant. My main goal this year is to stop apologizing for who I am, what I do and how I feel. I’m also going to stop sniveling around like I have no place alongside humanity, waiting to be “invited” to share in the experience. Every day my eyes open is a day life itself decided – more than anyone – that I deserve to be here… that I have something to offer that no other person on the planet can or will.
It’s time to stop arguing, even though I am not where I want to be. I will never be. There will always be new dragons to slay, new mountains to climb. And they’ll be bigger and more impressive to defeat the farther along I get in my own journey. I am the heroine of my own movie, of my own book, of my own very specific tale. It is time to step into the muchness the universe has set aside especially for me to complete this task.
I spent a lifetime beating myself for all my flaws I believed made me less. What will life offer when I decide – at last – that I have so much more than I ever knew?