I’ve been seeing someone.
A psychiatrist. Or a psychologist. Or therapist. Or something like that. I don’t know what she is, actually. I’ve been seeing someone who’s trying to help me figure out my shit, okay?!? I’ve got some demons that I’m not so proud of, and I’m trying to expose them and learn from them and move forward from them.
For a long time, I have not recognized these demons that have laid dormant inside of me because in my “past life,” I was too busy being caught up in someone else’s life. I never really paid much attention to myself because I didn’t even matter to myself. It was this someone else’s needs that I allowed to matter above my own, all day, every day. Since that person has been out of my life, I’ve been smacked in the face with some of my own personal crap. It’s not very comfortable, sometimes, finding out that these things exist inside of me. But I’m learning to manage them. I’m learning to identify fears and patterns and recognize that I’m playing old patterns and I’m allowing–sometimes– fear to get in the way of my success– both personally and professionally.
Currently, I’m working on this nagging fear of not being “good enough.” I’m not a good enough teacher, friend, “plus one”, sister, daughter, cousin, whatever…I’m just not “good enough.” And so I’ve been reflecting on my life, trying to figure out where this feeling (or false belief) comes from, and trying to have some compassion for myself, and forgiving myself for having these feelings, and even giving myself a bit of a hug and learning that “I’m okay” in spite of– and maybe because of– my past interaction with life in general.
This three part series is about some of those discoveries– my earliest memories of not feeling good enough. This is the conclusion to that series. Part one can be found here: Mr. Meckis and His Amazing Technicolor Art Projects and part two here: Coach T and His Amazing Technicolor Lady Lions.
She used to get so angry with him. Or maybe frustrated is a better word.
“Well you probably could’ve made this better if you’d just crossed out this word and added this one instead,” he’d suggest.
Her eyes would dart back and forth from the young girl to him.
“Maybe if you’d boxed that girl out a little harder on that one play, you would’ve been able to snag that rebound and the ball back out to the guard for another shot before the buzzer.”
“Al,” she’d curtly assert, “why don’t you just tell her what she did well?” She predicted ‘ominous clouds of inferiority’ beginning to form in her youngest daughter’s mental sky.
“She already knows that; I’m trying to help her improve; to step up her game.”
Maybe these aren’t the exact exchanges between me, my dad, and my mom, but they ran something a little like that.
Before I go further, I want to go on record and state that I won the parent lottery. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, I had– and have– fantastic parents. This is not to be thought of as a bashing of either of them. I want that to be abundantly clear.
Mom was right– those clouds of inferiority were being built in my little mental sky. But Dad wasn’t the one who began their formation for me; that had been happening long before he’d critiqued an English paper or analyzed my performance on the basketball court.
And maybe it’s because he’s my dad that he sort of gets a “pass” from his critiques because I never really felt like I wasn’t “good enough” for my dad. I knew I was (and am) loved. I knew that he was trying to encourage me, even though sometimes his pontificating and tone felt discouraging at times. I knew that he was proud of me and my accomplishments; he simply wanted me to push beyond my own perceived limitations. What father would not want their daughter to do that?
So I bear no grudge toward my father. He is probably a dominant reason why I have ambition and drive to succeed and a willingness to push forward when I get knocked all the way down. And Lord knows, I’ve gotten knocked down. A bunch.
But what about Mr. Meckis? Coach T?
The truth is: I don’t know what they were thinking, and I bear them no grudge either. Hear me out…
I don’t know their reasoning for why my art projects weren’t put on display. I don’t know why Coach did not find me “impressive enough.” I don’t know for certain.
All I knew was my perception.
And maybe, just maybe, my art teacher and coach had really valid reasons for why they did the things they did.
Elementary school teachers seem to have a really keen and intimate knowledge of their students and their family backgrounds. They just do. It’s part of their job to know this stuff so they can make assessments about students who might need a little extra help or even a student who might need a school-supplied breakfast before class begins. So maybe it was with this prior, insider information that Mr. Meckis never selected my artwork.
Maybe he knew that I had a great family; that my father and mother both had good jobs; that they were putting food on the table; that I was being encouraged at home to succeed; that in school, I was already succeeding in every single subject– even cursive handwriting– my handwriting samples were always on display in the classroom; and that at home, I was afforded every opportunity that one would hope to be able to offer their child. Maybe he knew that.
And maybe he knew that Russell didn’t have such a great home life. That his father was unemployed and abusive. That his mother was an alcoholic who tried, often unsuccessfully, to hold down three waitressing jobs in an attempt to pay the bills and sometimes put food on the table. Maybe he knew that Russell was not being offered the opportunities that one would hope to be able to offer their child.
And it wasn’t as though Russell’s artwork was any more spectacular than mine, perhaps, but maybe– just maybe– Mr. Meckis knew that posting Russell’s artwork in the classroom might give Russell a bit of a boost. Maybe it would make Russell’s day. Maybe it would give Russell that encouragement to keep creating art because he was good at art. Maybe– just maybe– he was shining a little bit of light into Russell’s dark, mental sky.
Maybe Mr. Meckis knew that I didn’t need that kind of encouragement. He knew I was already getting it.
I don’t know.
I will never know. I will only know my perception of those events, and I will only know that my artwork was good enough. It was neat, colorful, beautiful. Because I created it. With my heart and soul, I created it. It was plenty. It was plenty good enough. And Mom and Dad certainly thought so. My work would be proudly displayed on the refrigerator until the next masterpiece would be brought home from Mr. Meckis’s class. My mom still has all of my artwork; they’re stored in a big cardboard box in the attic. Yes, I am 43 years old, and she still cherishes those pieces I made back when I was in the 6th grade.
Now that is something, don’t you think?
Ahhhh, but what about Coach T? According to some of my teammates, he was considered abusive. And maybe he was. But that is not my truth; my truth is this: that man taught me some of the most important life lessons, and I am grateful to have been a part of his team.
It was the summer of 1989. It was a sweltering day, and we had a summer league game at the Hollidaysburg YMCA, a facility that had no air conditioning in its gymnasium. My teammates and I took to the floor in our Sheetz-sponsored red t-shirt unis for warm-ups. That would be the last I saw of that court floor that day.
We were playing a cross-town rival, and we were blowing them out of the water. The score was ridiculous and by the time the third quarter had rolled around, Coach began clearing the bench and giving everyone a chance to play.
My father, sitting in the stands in that sweltering heat, waiting for the chance to see his beloved daughter get a little bit of much-needed playing time, was infuriated. I’ll never forget when that final buzzer rang…my father stormed down from the bleachers, a cross look on his face, and headed for the door, pulling me empathetically under his protective wing as he offered some sort of obscenity toward Coach whom had just pissed my father off in a way that I’d never seen my father be pissed off before.
It was that night that I, too, had taken as much as I could take. I decided to quit the team.
The next day, we had a practice at Coach’s backyard professionally-laid basketball court; except it wasn’t “practice” because according to PIAA rules, no such summer practices were permissible.
I didn’t show up.
Coach called my house to find out where I was, but I wouldn’t take his call.
I didn’t show up for the next summer league game at the Y either.
I’d given up my high tops and my dreams of being a varsity starter for my beloved Lady Lions.
The next week when I didn’t show up for summer practice at Coach’s house again, our assistant coach, Coach Gates, called my house.
I took his call.
“Hey, Liz! How are you doing? We’ve missed you! Where have you been?”
Coach Gates was always so much gentler and offered a kindness that seemed to be foreign for Coach.
I’d explained to Coach Gates that I’d quit; that I’d no longer be returning for games or practices.
“I figured that might be the case; and Liz, I gotta tell ya’, Coach doesn’t want to see that happen. He really wants you to stay on the team. He was hoping he could talk with you and your parents.”
“I don’t know, Coach Gates. I’m pretty upset, and I’m just so tired of never getting ahead with Coach.”
“I know you’re frustrated; but why don’t you just come, listen to him, hear him out, hear what he has to say?”
Mom, Dad, and I sat at Coach’s dining room table. After my dad was given a chance to speak his mind over that day at the Y, Coach offered a whole bunch of things, but perhaps the most meaningful one was this:
“Y’know, Liz, if you quit, I assure you that you are going to regret it for the rest of your life. You are an essential element of this team, and I need you. You may not be the star player, but I can promise you that when it is all said and done, no one is ever going to ask you how many points you scored, or how many rebounds you snagged, or how much playing time you got. They are going to ask you what team you played for. And you are going to be able to tell them that you played for the Altoona Lady Lions! And around these parts, that is something. You are something!”
According to Coach, I was an integral part of that team; but my perception of what “integral” meant at the time was synonymous with first-string and varsity.
He was right. I was a very important contributor to that team, only I had misplaced and undervalued my importance and my worth. I would have to re-write, re-frame my own story.
This is what I’ve learned from “seeing someone”– my shrink. I’ve learned to re-frame and re-write my own story, my truth.
I was the team motivator: I was the one who inspired my teammates to work longer and harder because I set that kind of example during practice and the few precious minutes of playing time that I was afforded. I was the team mother and psychiatrist: teammates would air their grievances about Coach and lean on me when the going got really tough with Coach. I was the team comedian: the one who could poke fun at and mock and mimic Coach’s strange coaching techniques while we were getting dressed in the locker room. I would have my teammates in stitches.
And when we lost the state semis my senior year, my last game, and my teammates hung their heads and cried as we piled back into the charter bus to head home, it was me who commanded them to stop crying and to hold their heads high, for we had nothing to be ashamed of. We had entered that season as underdogs, having lost 7 of our first 10 games. NO ONE thought we’d make it to districts. But we did. We made it all the way to the state semis, losing to WPIAL powerhouse, Penn Hills.
That was my contribution.
And Coach needed me. I was good enough. I was plenty.
Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is an accomplished scholar as well as author and speaker. A few years ago, she gave a TED talk on the issue of shame. Shame, she says, “drives two big tapes: ‘never good enough’ and if you can talk it out of that one, ‘who do you think you are?’ The thing to understand about shame is that it’s not guilt. Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is ‘I am bad.’ Guilt is ‘I did something bad.'” Guilt, she says, drives us to apologize for having made a mistake. Shame, on the other hand, is “‘I’m sorry; I AM a mistake.'”
Thing is, I’ve been carrying shame around for a long time. I was ashamed of my artwork. Ashamed of my inability to make varsity and the starting string. None of it was ever good enough. I thought I was a mistake.
But I was looking at the wrong things. I made mistakes, yes. Maybe I colored outside the lines, and maybe I couldn’t score enough points to win the game. But there was a lot I could do, and I did it.
In the same TED talk, Dr. Brown quotes a passage from Teddy Roosevelt. Ironically, it is the same passage that I’d seen many years ago, hand-copied onto a piece of orange construction paper, and taped to my basketball locker: “The Man in the Arena.”
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
I was– and am– in the arena.
I am marred with dust and sweat and blood. I try. Valiantly. I mess up. Over and over.
I know the triumph of high achievement and the heartache of defeat and failure.
And I have dared greatly.
I have dared greatly.
And I am enough.
I have always been — and AM
Re-frame your own story. You ARE enough. You ARE.