I recently discovered Penelope Trunk’s blog, Brazen Careerist. It has a fantastic name, doesn’t it? She does, too.
Well, I have a not-so-secret love of personal finance and business writing, which is slooowly leading me toward becoming a successful entrepreneur… which overlaps a lot with recovery. I mean, how many people do you know who do something brilliantly - crafts or writing or coding or cooking - who you just know could make tons of money doing it if they only believed in themselves? How many skills do you have, honestly, that you could turn into a career if you paid for it with the time and energy and self-worth that that takes?
(There are plenty of successful entrepreneurs, and successful everything elses, who don’t have a strong sense of self-worth. I’m thinking of people like Stephen Fry, Ellen Degeneres, and Douglas Adams, people who create amazing things and are modest and self-effacingly doubtful about it to the point of ridiculousness. The trade-off, I think, may be that with less self-esteem it takes more time and energy to make it, and it’s a lot harder to enjoy.)
Well, damnit, that’s not the post I am trying to write today, although it cries out to be written and will certainly be coming soon. My point today is that despite my struggles with self-promotion, I am pulled to read things like Brazen Careerist, and in that particular blog I have found a great treasure trove of smart, clear writing not only about business matters but about life. And I really knew I had found something good when I read Why you already know what you should be doing next.
This piece reminds me a lot of Wishcraft, one of the books I’m recommending for the cat-herding challenge and one which I will be including in the “tools” section of Facing Abuse when it comes out. In Wishcraft, one of Barbara Sher’s great points is that we can go back to our childhood interests and passions and memories in general to find out what it is we want to be doing. And it may not be as simple as “I loved to fingerpaint or collect twigs so I should become… a famous fingerpainting twig-collector,” of course. We can look at what we loved about those things, what pushed us to do them and what we got out of them.
And we can do the same in adulthood; we may have lifelong dreams of becoming an opera singer and find that what we wanted to get out of it is satisfied tremendously by joining a local choir, or by working behind the scenes for an opera, or something else we had never considered. Or, of course, that nothing but becoming an opera singer
will satisfy that itch, and that that passion is enough to power years of voice training and drama classes.
Trunk shares a similar story. She suggests that all we have to do is pick a memory and pull it apart:
“Close your eyes and think of a great memory of childhood… Do you have it? In my own, haphazard studies of this test, you can always learn something from the moment you pick. The first time I did this exercise, I thought of playing in my grandparents’ huge front yard. Of course, I was telling all my younger cousins what to do. Probably telling them why croquet was a great idea and I was going first. Something like that. But the bigger thing I learn from the story is that I am connected to space and nature and running around. All still true for me now, but it took me years of living in big cities before I could figure that out.” (emphasis mine)
The first childhood memory that came up for me was from, I think, first grade. We did this art project where we drew a colorful picture in crayons, and then (confusingly) painted over it with black paint. When the paint dried, we got to scratch it off, making a new picture in the black paint, and the old bright crayon colors showed through
wherever we scratched.
I remember a butterfly; I’m not sure whether we HAD to scratch a butterfly drawing (you know how rigid teachers can be with art projects), whether I did one, or whether both the Rachels in the class did. I think it was one of those where we each had to do a butterfly, I guess on the reasoning that butterflies are colorful. I was pretty pissed off about having to paint over my original drawing, not to mention having to then “draw” whatever the teacher told me to.
But I know that the Rachels did because I remember that their pictures both said Rachel and they were both of butterflies. And this bothered me tremendously. I was like, how are they going to be able to tell their pictures apart?! So I tried to help by scratching one of the Rachel’s names on the front of her drawing.
Man, you have never seen such a fuss. I am sure that it was huge and sprawling and defaced the whole picture, and as an adult I know that it was probably unnecessary - that they probably each could recognize their own butterfly. And maybe it didn’t matter if they couldn’t. But I remember the Rachel whose name I scratched being really upset, and the teacher calling my parents in (whether for a special meeting or just when they picked me up from school I don’t know) and them all very seriously and with great concern asking me why I did it, and trying to guess whether I was mad at Rachel about something or what.
And I tried to explain, and I don’t know if I had the language skills back then to do it. It’s hard for little kids to consciously reason these things out and get all the way to being able to explain them in terms adults will understand. Adults just aren’t that smart. They don’t remember, often, what it was like to be a kid and not have all these concepts of what upsets other people and how they feel about their artwork and that they might have different feelings than you do. Actually, I guess it’s more that they often don’t have the concepts
themselves that other people might feel differently, in a way. I mean, it was really hard for them to grasp that I might not think about it like an attack like they did, that I might actually have thought I was helping and be telling the truth when I said that. Adults, I remember, are weird.
Oh, and then I felt really guilty and weird around whichever Rachel it was for ages after that, because it had been borne upon me that she was totally shattered (SHATTERED!) about her ruined picture.
So what does this say about me?
Well, it illustrates some patterns that continue in my life, that I know are related to abuse. Like: the adults in my life loved to shame me to try to get me to act the way they wanted, which is not uncommon. And I learned from them that I should feel bad and guilty - shame myself - if other people might not like what I did. Not just if I accidentally hurt them, but if they didn’t like the work I produced or the way I expressed myself. It’s like how, if you are faced with an angry gorilla, you are supposed to attack yourself first so it will feel bad for you and try to soothe you instead. It’s codependence, really: worrying about how other people will feel and trying to guess and fix it to protect ourselves, even when there’s no need to. (And really, there’s never any need to.)
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