Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Life lately is a roller coaster ride for me. I haven't been blogging because everything on my mind is either a) mundane, boring, or trivial or b) so very personal that putting it out into the big wide webworld would be the equivalent of posting nude pictures of myself on the internet. However some of what I'm going through is so universal, so very common to maturing, that admitting I'm having trouble is akin to admitting that I'm a normal functioning adult.

Today's topic is just one of those many universal challenges.

For the past year and a half I've been in the process of rediscovering myself after 16+ years of hiding who I am in order to conform. I've discovered constraints I've put on myself since the tender age of ten or so, constraints which determined everything from how I to acted, how thought and how I felt.

Everyone has some type of constraints, some idea of how they should be, act, feel. These constraints can be ideas, expectations, modes of conduct, or just our outlook on the world. The only people who function without constraints are small children, the mentally disabled, and the severely mentally ill. Everyone else acts according to their perception of the world and their place in it.

The most successful people I've ever met have had only one true constraint: their conscience. These people excel because how they view the world is as clean and unfettered and close to reality as possible and the only box they stay in is the one dictated by their own honor and sense of right and wrong. These are the people who solve and invent because their minds can go anywhere and understand anything they have the capability to. These are the people who as kids invented and created out of their own volition, with no care of whether or not it was possible just because they wanted to see if it worked.

Then there's the rest of us, people like me.

I could have been the above, if I'd understood at the time what I understand now. Now I understand where the ideas and expectations that hold us back come from: they are a combination of our own tendencies and our early education.

I've been blessed with two overriding qualities in my personality: a desire to nurture, to see everyone else happy and healthy, and a blazing passion for my own work. The first quality has been encouraged and used against me: the other has been underground so long I've been having a hard time uncovering it again.

My father and my early religious education taught me that humans have an obligation to help our fellow man and serve God. My father learned this very early, he's just old enough to remember the rationing of WWII and how in order for everyone to have something everyone had to do with less. That's still my father today, he will still go out of his way sacrifice what he wants in order to help someone in need. My mother taught me to serve others, particularly family. This may seem to be a very old-fashioned self-destructive idea, but it's far more progressive an idea than my mother was raised with as she was practically treated as a slave. From these sources I learned that humans are meant to help each other as much as possible, and care for each other.

My VERY liberal public education just expanded on that concept, but in a much worse way, School taught me that life is a zero-sum game, that every benefit a person has is because someone else is doing without. I know that's not true now of course, but at the time I was growing up in poverty and the idea that it was someone else's fault was appealing.

So here I was, a child with an extremely high IQ, a bit of auto-didact, and tons of drive. And I let myself be convinced that excelling and wanting to be successful would hurt those I wanted to protect. So what else could I do? I suppressed all of those parts of me, stopped being ambitious, and attempted to be “normal”.

I was never very good at that last part. It's funny how people still manage to resent you when you manage to ace college level pre-calculus without even trying.

I admit, my lack of ambition and my willingness to do “just enough” (which drives Chris nuts) has made me more than a bit lazy. But for all of those years, why would I have tried to do more if I thought by doing more I would hurt everyone else? I'm not that much of a selfish bitch.

But I've learned better now. I know that my success doesn't preclude other people from succeeding, and may actually help. But that doesn't mean I've been having an easy time getting rid of the constraints that bind my thoughts, actions, and feelings. The guilt that comes with wanting more is immense, the voice that tells me that I don't deserve more than anyone else is loud. Until I can get rid of those and my messed-up view of my place in the world, success in anything will not come easy.

We all meet up with the strait-jacketed versions of ourselves at some point in our life. We all have to face those self-destructive expectations of ourselves and blow them away somehow, just in order to grow. We all have to let go of what everyone else wants for us at some point, I just wish my point had come sooner. Right now I'm mourning the person I was and could have been, and trying desperately to get back to that 10 year old who wrote three books and knew that all she ever wanted to be in the world was published. I hope I get there before she's gone forever.


Just call me Mel, everyone else does.