High Horses

I’ve got a long history of martyrdom. Not in the heroic, up-in-flames kind, either. Nope. Just the kind that chooses misery and suffers (mostly) silently for it.

What the hell, right?

It’s a bit murky, even for me. But I think it goes something like this: If I choose to do something that I don’t want to do–that nigh on makes miserable–for the “good” of someone else, well that must be righteous suffering. And I’m like moth to the flame with righteousness (or moral superiority. Same same).

Bluntly: misery makes me feel good about myself.

Kind of.

But not really.

Because I’m still, well, miserable.

Obviously a conundrum.

My penchant for martyrdom isn’t a conscious choice. I don’t wake up and excitedly lay out my martyr outfit for the day. Sometimes it starts with something as simple as not speaking my mind…

I own a small indie bookstore that’s been closed to the public since March 15th. For the past 2 months, I’ve been a one-woman book delivery service. Which, truly, has brought me more happiness than I could’ve imagined. It’s allowed me to form relationships with some of my customers (through email, text, and carefully socially distanced chatting) that might have taken years to create otherwise. And the unmitigated joy that people show over a book left on their front porch… well, it gives me hope for the future of the store but also for the goodness and cohesiveness of Atlantans.

I recently had to put some limits on where I deliver books. Metro Atlanta covers a lot of territory. And it isn’t cost or time effective for me to drive 10 miles to deliver a book that sold for $6.50 (especially since I refuse to use the highway, which I swear is Satan’s playground, so that 10 miles can take at least half an hour to cover). So, I set a 6 mile rule. Free delivery within 6 miles of the store.

I swear, the day after I established said rule, I got an order from just outside the 6 mile radius. Like 6.6 miles. I sighed a little bit. But instead of reaching out, I was going to hop on my little martyr horse and ride out to deliver the books. I didn’t want to. I felt resentful. But I was going to do it anyway. And not because I thought she’d cancel the order if I didn’t deliver them. But because I’d be doing her “good,” even if she didn’t realize it. Even if there was really no need.

Then I saw a note on the order, which clearly indicated that she’d be happy to come fetch the books.

And still I wavered. I could just take them to her, I sighed inwardly. (Foot in the stirrup.) It really wasn’t that big of a deal. (Horse mounted.) I was just taking up the reins when my email dinged.

And there she was again, telling me that she’d be happy to come get the books.

This time, I clearly saw the Universe nudging me toward a more fulfilling (less emotionally, shall we say, trying…) career that was more bookseller, less martyr.

So I agreed. I let her come get the books.

And the world did not end. I did not feel morally inferior because I’d let this chance for (unsubstantiated) righteousness slip away.

I felt relieved. And seen. And respected. Because I’d chosen to be honest about what I wanted and needed.

If you’re thinking “Wait. This is the end of the story? That’s IT?!?”, well then perhaps you’ve not encountered the seductiveness of climbing up on your high horse and riding off to save the day (when it didn’t need saving at all). And that’s okay. We’ve all got our thing.

But, for me, seeing this pattern and choosing something different–that’s huge. And as my high horse grazes in happier pastures, I think we’ll both be better off for the insight.

An Enneagram of One’s Own

I’ve been married almost 14 years. Which is both forever and not nearly long enough. But one of the things I most know about my person is that once he really gets into a thing, it’s best to join him for the ride. Otherwise, there’s going to be a side circus going on & I’ll just be looking all perplexed and possibly confounded. But most of all, just left out. No, it’s better to go ahead, roll up my sleeves and dig in a bit to his current obsession.

For a while the thing was organizational systems. (y-a-w-n) If there’s anything I resist as if it is actually trying to kill me, it is planners and lists, timelines and flowcharts. I get that organizational systems, for him, are tied to bigger life goal/psychic things he’s working on. But good god almighty, it’s hard for me to invest in. He says “bullet list” and my eyes glaze over.

But, fortunately for me, for a good while he’s also been into personality tests. Which is clearly much more exciting. The inner workings of people? Yes! Let’s analyze that! And, like anything he becomes–ahem–obsessed with, he knows a lot about different personality types, with a keen focus on what drives them to do what they do.

Right now, it’s all Enneagram all the time.

I’m well versed in his Enneagram number. We’ve watched videos, read excerpts, laughed at memes. I’ve watched him try to puzzle out what Enneagram number our daughter might be. And he’s real, real confident he knows exactly what number I am.

But, come on, I can’t just take his word for it, right? Sure he’s approximately a million times more well-versed in this than I am. But lordamercy, I’ve let people tell me about myself all my life. I’m taking that power back, thankyouverymuch.

So, last night I took an Enneagram test.

Holy vexation.

Parsing out my aspirational self from my actual self? Yeah, I guess maybe I’m not so good at that? All I know is that I’d look at the most basic questions about what drives me as a person and be all “I dunno.” Which, for a person who prides herself on being introspective, is all kinds of unmooring.

I am adrift, y’all.

Because what’s required to make the Enneagram work is that I look back on my whole life and take, as a sum, what’s motivated me. Well, shit. I mean, the past 11 years of my life have been a quest to completely overhaul the way I behave, see, and interact with life. Which is why to dig back through who I want to be, the ways I want to be seen and to treat people, underneath to what actually drives me is … well … GOD AWFUL.

And, even more interior-chaos-inducing: the Enneagram doesn’t offer a definitive answer. I had to read up on the personality characteristics of my top 3 types and decide which one I was.

Stop it. That’s too much.

Still, I pressed on. Because I’m brave like that.

I may have a perfectionist tendency or two, because I took the test three times. I agonized over the top 3 personality types that kept showing up until, finally, Simon took mercy on me and told me to read the descriptions of the top 3 to him. So, of course, I started with the one that he hadn’t picked out as my number. And I was all like “yes this!” to like, 75% of it. Which felt really high to me. But how could that be?!? Because the number I was reading is the same number he is and we’re so different and…

Read the other two, he suggested.

So I read the other one that he hadn’t picked as my number.

I got just a ways in before I realized, and had to admit aloud, that these characteristics were who I aspired to be. Not innately who I was. Which was kind of a blow. Because that was #2, The Helper. And of course I want to be someone that helps and nurtures. And I am those things, sometimes. Because I’ve decided to be. But it isn’t what comes most naturally.

So, with great resignation and some tremendous sighing, I read the number Simon had pegged as my personality type months and months ago.

Every last line. Every last line rang true.

DAMN IT! I hate it when he’s right.

As he talked me off that little ledge, he reminded me (gently) that everyone gets a choice about how they behave. Inner motivations, not so much. And nothing more potently makes room for change than to first simply accept what is.

That’s, you know, a pretty profound life lesson for a regular old Monday night.

Turns out, he had my number all along*.

*(ha! sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Oh, are you still hanging around? Fine. I’m a Type 1, The Moral Perfectionist. And don’t you dare say that seems obvious. Don’t do it. Even if it’s true.

Know-it-all-ness + perfectionism = the death of curiosity

Developing good listening skills is a top priority for me in 2019. I know some folks who will be REAL thrilled about that.

I’m kind of a shit listener.

giphy-3

Trust me, this is as shocking a revelation to me as it is to you. I thrive on interpersonal connection. When someone is telling me about the stuff that drives them, shapes them, makes them them, then I excel at listening.

It’s the other 85% of the time that I’m falling way short of the mark.

But being a good listener is a trait I really prize in other people. Good listeners are the folks I usually consider wise and insightful. Other people gravitate to them. Because you know what people want more than almost anything else? To be heard.

So, with these thoughts in mind, I started sorting through my listening problem. Being an abysmal listener isn’t a space I’m willing to dwell in–now that I’m aware of it. Nope. Onward and upward.

Here’s what I found:

  1. My not-so-good listening is connected to my know-it-all-ness. True, in daily life, I’ve tamped down my need to act like I know everything. Because that’s all kinds of of annoying. But there’s still this underlying thing: when confronted with information I know nothing about, I simply gloss over it in my mind. It’s a mental version of yeah-yeah-yeahing. I just assume I kind of know what’s going on and can make educated guesses about the rest of it. And I do this with topics I know nothing about.  You can imagine how effective that might be. giphy-4
  2. This mental yeah-yeah-yeahing relates directly to my lack of curiosity. I’ve realized recently that I don’t ask enough questions. I don’t ask why or how enough. And this is precisely why I suck at small talk. I just assume I’m not interested in “surface topics.” Which is some bullshit that means I don’t want to mentally engage about things that may not be in my wheelhouse. I don’t want to dig deeper–and leave my comfort zone. But lately I’ve been watching Simon communicate with people–and I’ve realized he really excels at this. He asks questions about things that are obviously important to the person he’s talking to. And then he gets these really interesting answers. Because he’s curious. I need more of that in my world. giphy-5
  3. Ultimately, I think all this–the know-it-all-ness and the lack of curiosity–finds its root in the perfectionism that’s dogged me since I was a kid. I know some folks roll their eyes at the idea of perfectionism. I mean, who doesn’t want to be perfect, right? But I was the kind of kid who wouldn’t do something if I didn’t know I could do it right the first time. Anything less than a A on a test made me want to give up (see: high school Trigonometry and Chemistry). I’ve worked hard to shake this nonsense. Because–hello–I believe life is a continuous learning cycle. But I also wrote a novel that I thought I got perfect on the first try. And I was kind of crushed when someone told me it, in fact, needed work. Even though I should’ve known this right away because a) I am a writer. I revise things all the time and b) I taught college writing for 5 years. Which means all I did for 5 years was read student revisions, while constantly reiterating the benefits of revision to said students. But suddenly, I wrote a book and I forgot all that. I needed the project to be perfect to be worthwhile. Which meant I didn’t want to listen. To anything.giphy-6

Good listening is top on my list of priorities in 2019. At 43, I’d be a fool not to admit how little I know. The universal well of knowledge is so vast that the mere thought of how much I don’t know can completely paralyze me. But the easiest way I’ve found to let knowledge flow into my world is simply acknowledging that everyone I meet is my teacher. Which means I have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t know everything, and then open myself to the knowledge people are willing to impart if I’m just curious enough to receive it.

I write because I believe that stories matter. That they can change the world. I think it’s time to really open myself to the stories around me–even the ones that present themselves in the most ordinary of ways.

Valedictorian of Taking Myself Less Seriously

I like to be valedictorian of everything. I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong. I’m a gem, aren’t I?

I like to be valedictorian of everything.

I want my conversation to be the wittiest, the wisest. I want my contributions to be insightful and to command respect. And I never, ever want to admit that I am wrong.

I’m a gem, aren’t I?

The good news is, after years and years of being a perfectionist with a zillion excuses and justifications for never actually TRYING at much of anything, I got sober. And that taught me two important lessons: 1) Perfectionism is just a bullshit excuse to prevent me from ever really putting myself out there, and 2) I don’t know shit about shit.

Really. I am wrong a lot.

The first few years of sobriety taught me that I’d been a master at making myself a victim, at playing helpless to avoid work, and pain, and adulting. So I womaned up and started taking responsibility for my own chaos. And it sucked. I thought my tragic victim role was all kinds of romantic (it wasn’t). But this actual attempt at vulnerability and openness–the kind that allows you to learn, grow, and accumulate real wisdom–was gritty, and real, and hard AF.

Then I had a baby. And motherhood disabused me any idea that I was always right. And it sure as hell has taught me to admit when I’m wrong. Jane has taught me about ditching perfectionism in favor of joy and about letting go of expectations and just being in the moment. I’ve relinquished the constant need to be right in favor of building up and supporting the people I love the most. (But I still love an “I told you so” more than I probably should. Progress not perfection, y’all)

But the latest BIG lesson for me is a doozy: I take myself too fucking seriously.

 

After we all stop singing Closer to Fine, I’ll give you the most mundane (profound) example. Ready? Alright:

This morning, I was plodding along on the track. And my leg was all janky. It was tight, and the tightness was throwing off my gait. And I was going to run through the accumulating pain. But then I thought: WTF? What am I trying to prove? Hasn’t this summer been all about really diving into the adventure of running? Why the hell wouldn’t I just stop and stretch? What was I trying to prove? That I could run a 5K? I’ve done that over and over and over again. This run just wasn’t that serious. I had nothing to prove.

So, I plopped down on the side of the track, laid back, and stretched. For a good long time. I ran a few more laps. Then I stretched AGAIN. And it felt luxurious. And indulgent. But it also felt like adulting. Because I was taking care of my body. Turns out that, over this long, hot Summer of Running, I’ve learned to trust my body and to listen to what it’s really asking for.

I’ve also learned to listen to my heart. Because living a satisfied, joyous life isn’t about being right all the time. Or holding firm to a position (or an identity) when you’ve outgrown it, or evolved past it, or when it just no longer works for you. There’s power in evolving, in being open, in embracing change.

And there’s so much room for joy when I don’t take myself so fucking seriously. It’s only life after all.*

 

*C’mon. You knew I’d work in that last Indigo Girls reference, didn’t you?

Facing The Things I Suck At

Moving pushes all my buttons. For real–uncertainty and WAITING? I suck at those. But I’m doing it. And that’s growth.

Moving. For real, this whole process is fraught with uncertainty: will the house sell quickly? Will we find another house we think is dreamy*? What if we close on our current house and then have no where to live? What if? What if? WHAT IF?!?

I suck at uncertainty. 

That’s kind of just always been my truth. So, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that I haven’t been freaking-the-hell-out. Not even a little bit. I’m just kind of along for the ride. The Universe (… God… whatever) hasn’t let me down yet. So, I’m trying to be all zen. (Living life on life’s terms, as the AAs say).

But shit, I am DONE with this moving business.

I know. I know. I don’t get to be done. And no one cares if I’m done. The process is the process is the process. Listing a house–cleaning, prepping, threatening family members that if they leave their dirty clothes on the floor one more time…–is the opposite of fun. It’s anti-fun. It’s soul-sucking. And that’s just when I’m feeling positive about it.

Through my efforts to be zen, a feeling keeps pushing through: discomfort. I am uncomfortable with this moment in my life. I want to be settled. I want to focus on writing. I want to think about something else other than keeping the house clean so that random strangers can wander through to decide what they think our home–the place where the most sacred things in our life happen, where love and tears and laugher and intimacy collide, where our LIFE happens–what they think it’s worth. I want to live my life. And right now, I’m just waiting.

And, if there’s anything I suck more at than uncertainty, it’s waiting. 

But, that’s okay. I can manage these things I’m ultra-sucky at. Because managing them is building resilience. How the hell are you supposed to develop something that seems so inate (like you’ve just got it or you don’t) as resilience? Brené Brown has some thoughts:

It’s all about a “tolerance for discomfort,” she says.

People who healthfully navigate firings, divorces, and other super difficult situations are able to do so because they’re aware of their emotional worlds — which are often uncomfortable places.

“What I’m talking about is an acceptance that our drive, this insatiable appetite for comfort and happiness, does not reconcile with who we are as people ,” she told Tech Insider in a recent interview. “Sometimes we have to do tough things and feel our way through tough situations, and we have to feel tough emotions.”

“Hold up!” I can hear you thinking. “This move is, like, no where near as emotionally intense (and potentially devastating) as a divorce or being fired. What is your major malfunction?” 

And you’re right (although you can ship “major malfunction” back to the 80s where it belongs). This move (that we chose freely to make) is not in the category of a major life event. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hit on some of my biggest pain points, some of the places I can most use growth.

Truthfully, an earlier iteration of myself wouldn’t have chosen this move, even though it is best for our family. Because earlier iterations valued comfort and certainty above all else. I wouldn’t have been able to take a chance on leaving a good house in a good neighborhood to move to another community that we think we might love EVEN MORE, just because we thought it was right.

But this iteration of me can. And I’m proud of that. And I’m god-awful uncomfortable. But I’m sitting with it and managing it. And I’m choosing to stay in this moment and do the next task at hand, instead of letting the what-ifs make me frantic.

And that is the best I can do. That is my next right thing.

 

*I watched a ton of Brady Bunch as a kid. I was always a little smitten with how Marsha used “dreamy” to describe a variety of things (although, most often a boy). So, because I’m into living my best life and seizing the moment and all, I worked it in. I think we’re all better for it.

 

Pug Image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash