I have a hard time with all the “inspirational” stories on social media these days. Today I found stories about: a little girl learning to walk with an artificial leg, a teen with Down’s Syndrome who is rounding the interwebz as this week’s most beautiful person, Alicia Keys’ #nomakeup movement, women breastfeeding in public, an ex-Army Ranger who is slowly rehabbing after severe injuries from an IED… I could go on.
Do I sound like a heartless bitch yet? I know. I feel like an awful human being because I’m sure that for every one of these stories there are real human beings who are only trying to be the best version of themselves. That is a good thing. But inspirational? On a deep and meaningful level?
Overcoming great odds inspires me. But a little girl with an artificial leg? I can’t quite stretch to inspirational for that one. Of course a girl who loses a leg is going to wear an artificial leg and learn to walk on it. Do you look at a lizard or starfish and call it an inspiration when it grows a new tail or leg after losing one? Nope. It’s just what happens. Living beings adapt to their circumstances. If they don’t, they are forever hampered. Maybe the little girl will learn to run SUPER fast. Or dance with her fancy, shiny leg; perhaps even gracefully. Or maybe she’ll learn to jump rope or play hopscotch. Those are all amazing for her, personally. I’m sure her parents are relieved that she won’t be permanently and wholey limited by her physical other-ness. And I’m glad for them that they have that sense of relief. But are they somehow super-humanly strong or tenacious because they – by accident, fate, or some other circumstance – had to face something they never thought they would? That none of us would rather.
I don’t think they are. I’m happy for them, but they don’t inspire me.
Why? Life is one long challenge, for every single one of us. If I hold one challenge (Down’s Syndrome) up as more admirable to overcome than another (Club foot) what am I saying to the kid growing up with trouble walking “normally?” Sorry, kid. Your disability isn’t “cool” enough. (P.S. Your parents should have had the money to spring for medical treatment so you wouldn’t walk so weird.)
Everyone has their own challenges. Some of them are invisible and private, others are impossible to hide. Instead of ranking them in ways that just end up as judgey, what if we encouraged everyone we meet to be their best? Actually, no. How about if we EXPECT the best out of everyone, instead?
That would be so nice…….
And just in case you’ve gotten all the way down here to the end and still think I’m a heartless bitch. Well, that’s your perogative. But in my defense, I am the consummate cheerleader. This means in every challenging situation, my nearest and dearest always count on me to be on their sideline cheering them on loudly and in probably an inappropriately boisterous manner. So I’ve got that going for me 🙂
When I was growing up we had very few rules in our house. I’m not sure why that was. My parents were young – my mom was 22 when she had me and I was her third child. That might account for some of it. I think young parents parent differently because there are fewer things to worry about when you’re young. Sure, you understand, intellectually, that every time someone walks out the door you may never see them again. Or that the loss of a job could be devastating. Or pain and injury, starvation and war could be lurking around every next corner. You understand those things as a young parent, but you don’t have much sense of the gravity of them. Not like when you get older.
Or maybe it wasn’t so much that they were young as they weren’t super consistent with rules. Here’s an example: some random Saturday morning, we kids would wake up to suddenly find a chores list on the refrigerator door. It was probably at the beginning of summer. Our list featured the good old standards: clean the bathroom, wash the dishes, dust the living room… You can picture it, right? But the thing is, with my parents, that sort of thing usually lasted a couple of weeks. Then it would be forgotten. We kids never complained about it…
Of course, maybe our list of rules was so short because both of my parents liked to keep things simple. Why complicate life if you don’t have to. Fewer rules are easier to keep track of. So we really only had those two. Be your best. Try your hardest. That pretty much covers all the bases.
Be your best means, “don’t hit your sister” and “be polite” and those kinds of things. Be your best is about who you are. And who do we want our children to be (not to mention our friends and spouses and bosses, etc.)? Their best. It doesn’t matter what else after that.
What about Try your hardest? Yes, that’s just as easy; it’s about what you do in the world. Try your hardest means whatever you do: DO. IT. With every ounce of your being. With every pound of your muscle or brain, and with the immeasurable totality of your soul. Do it.
That sounds about right to me, but here’s something else. Actually a couple of somethings else. FYI: They’re things my parents never told me, but probably because I was meant to learn them for myself. This is the first — When you bring your kids up with these two rules, they learn that every single thing they do is a direct result of their choices, and only theirs. If they choose not to be their best, then whatever the consequences? Honey, it’s on you. If they don’t try their hardest? Too bad… It’s called learning accountability. That word is everybody’s favorite buzzword these days, but let me say I hate buzzwords. They are so overused they become meaningless. So let me say it this way, too. By being raised with these two simple rules, I learned to be my own worst critic. A lot of days that sucks because I am really good at being hard on myself. But I wouldn’t change that about me for the world.
The other something is this: Some days your best is simply amazing, and some days it’s not. Some days trying your hardest leaves you sweaty and frustrated and only inches further on your path, or worse maybe despite all that work you moved backwards. But it’s okay because you’re going to try your hardest again tomorrow.
And there’s always a chance that tomorrow will be better. (I learned that part from my parents, too.)
Why am I so hard on the people I love?
Why am I so hard on myself?
Why are my expectations so goddam high?
What makes me so freaking hard to please?
I ask myself these questions more often than I wish I had to admit, but the truth is I am one of those people who is terribly hard to please. I’ve done a quick Google search and it seems the internet considers this a specifically female problem. Hmmm. I think the issue is that men who are hard to please don’t worry about it and aren’t made to feel like there’s anything wrong with their expectations.
What’s the deal with that, anyway? Men who are hard to please have high standards, while women who are the same are demanding or difficult. Well that’s unfair, isn’t it? It’s funny how the way we use language can so subtly skew our opinions on a subject.
But I digress. Me personally? I am hard to please, there’s no doubt about it. I usually consider this a good trait to have. Namely because if I care enough about you to have high expectations, I’ve decided you’re someone I want to see have the very best that life can offer. What that means is that you have to give your best to life first. Ahhh.
I said “usually” earlier because sometimes being so hard on myself and the people around me is just plain shitty. I know it because I do it to myself. Maybe I had a bad week and on the weekend all I want to do is veg out on the couch. LAZY. That’s what I think to myself. You lazy so-and-so. The weather’s nice out you could be out hiking. Or the kitchen is a mess you should clean. The bills to pay, the dogs to walk, chapters to write, my demanding self says, are so much more important than being gentle with myself after a hard week.
Sometimes I listen to her, sometimes I don’t. Either way, though, she can make me feel pretty crappy about myself. Which is the bad part and why I don’t always consider this trait to be a good one, in and of itself.
The important point I need to remember is that this being a hard to please person can be good or can be hurtful. It’s up to me how I use it. And now I feel like a sword or something… I kind of like that 🙂
I may as well start from the beginning.
I just turned 49, so I’m living out my 50th year on earth, starting today. Right now. And that seems momentous to me. I’ve always wanted to be a “wise woman,” and 50 seems like the perfect age to claim that title, doesn’t it? The problem is, I don’t think it’s one of those titles you’re allowed to self-proclaim. Like, I’ve heard people call themselves a “thought leader” and my first reaction when that happens is, NOPE. No you’re not. That title is earned and it’s not true unless it’s attributed to you by others. Same with wise woman.
So, my goal, my intention, over the course of this next year, and for all my years afterward, really, is to earn that title.What will follow this first post is your guess as good as mine. Like life and a good sour dough starter, these pages will evolve and become what they’re meant to become over time. I’m aiming for wisdom, but I can’t say for certain whether I’ll reach that goal. I’ll try really damn hard, though, and hopefully I’ll strike a cord every now and then.
If letting things evolve naturally, untethered by concrete plans or expectations, makes you uncomfortable, you might not be my target audience. Or maybe you are and you’ve never let yourself think so boldly before? I’ll leave that up to you. Either way, I hope you’ll read me every once in a while. Even more than that, I hope I can entertain you, provoke thought or a hearty guffaw, inspire kindness or a slightly off-kilter way of thinking. If I’m able to do any of those things, even once, then I’ll feel as though the goal I set myself is worthy of my attention. And I hate to waste anything, especially my attention.