“She used the ‘f’ word!” We know what that means. And either the speaker’s frustrated or angry or unaware of social niceties or maybe both. Depending upon how well we know the speaker and what the context is, so goes our analysis of the speaker’s state of being.
And, sure, that word does exist in my personal arsenal of pissed off words. There are times when that is the only word which sums up how I feel about what’s going on. It’s straight forward and to the point. And depending upon how I say it, I can express so many emotions. I once had a student who used the word for almost every part of speech. When I think about it, the ‘f’ word is almost acceptable language now. It seems that no one takes much umbrage on hearing it anymore.
Not too long ago, and thanks to a powerful BSI © session I had with Sheila Winter Wallace, I realized that there are other ‘F’ words in my life – words whose impact on me and my sense of mySelf and my beliefs about who I AM and what my world holds as vital have been insidious to the point of being devastating.
So what are these infamous ‘F’ words? ‘Frivolous’, ‘Freeloader’, ‘Fraud’, ‘Failure’. Even as I write them, I feel somewhere in my body like I’ve been bitch slapped.
When I first started teaching, I was told by my first principal that I was silly. As I sit here now, almost 40 years later, I wonder if he meant that my students and I had fun in my classroom while we were learning. Just a thought that’s come to me now. And I wonder if he meant that I was frivolous?
I’ve always thought that frivolous implied something which was not serious or sensible. As I’ve lived with this concept for the last few days, I know that I have felt that being frivolous has meant lacking gravitas and weight and worth. It’s meant trivial. Being frivolous, to me, has meant wasting time in foolish pursuits.
I like to think of myself as not being frivolous and I know that I’ve judged what I’ve done in the world – especially my work as an educator and weighed if it had worth and importance. I’ve wanted to be someone with presence and influence. I’ve worried that what I’ve done has not been good enough to be considered by others as significant. I’ve tried so hard not to be considered a light weight [now there’s a play on words if there ever was one]. I’ve wanted to be necessary and needed and have value and substance. And it has all been centered around what others say to me and about me.
I’m proud of the work I’ve done as an educator. I’ve created interesting and engaging ways to cover the required curriculum for the courses I’ve taught. I’ve created teaching units, courses, and curricula which were not only interesting but also innovative. I know that I’m an excellent educator – one whose focus has been on my students and finding ways for them to explore who they are and what they are able to do in a safe environment without worrying about external judgements. Deep down, I recognize that in all ways I’ve had a profound impact on my world through the work I’ve done and the way I choose to do it. And yet, I’ve discounted what I know in my heart of hearts – like my opinion does not count. I’ve still looked for approbation from others as if what I’ve done isn’t important unless someone else says that it is. I have believed that tooting my own horn without receiving a corroborating pat on the back from outside mySelf is just so much persiflage. I’ve believed that I don’t have the right to speak my truth and own it and know that that is all that I need.
Money has always been an issue for me. I’ve hoarded it and felt safe. Having money to spend and save has been a buffer between me and my fear that there will come a time when I won’t have enough. I’ve agonized over decisions about buying anything and questioned every purchase I’ve made. – “Do I really need that?” Must be frugal and logical and practical or, eventually, I’ll have to do without something else. I’ve gone beyond being careful about money to being outright stingy.
My world has been one of insufficiency and scarcity. And it has gone beyond money. I’ve surrounded myself with more and more stuff believing that the more that I have, the safer I will be. I will be able to keep the outside world at bay. I’ve coveted what other’s have. I’ve sought to make sure that I get as much, if not more, than they do – the same size piece of pie, Christmas presents that are worth the same amount of money, at least the same value or number of bequests from my relatives who have passed away, the same amount of attention and time. And, in doing all that, I’ve felt like a freeloader.
And I also understand that I’ve felt like a freeloader in my life for one other very major reason. One of the ideas that was drummed into my head when I was growing up was that everyone had to pay their own way. For me, that always meant that I was expected to commit both my energy and my money to meet obligations as I grew up. I had to earn my allowance by doing filing for my father’s business and answering the phone. Once I got a part-time job, I was expected to buy my own clothes. I had to earn the money for my university tuition. When I quit university and moved back to my parent’s house, I had to pay them rent even when I didn’t yet have a job.
And if I was not able to meet my father’s expectations, he wouldn’t turn me out of the house or deny me my education [which was important to him] or expect me to wear old and worn out clothes and he would let me know that I was being a burden. “This house is only big enough for so many of us [by implication that didn’t include me].” Since I was not able to make my own way and meet my obligations without support from someone else, I was being a freeloader. Being a freeloader meant that I was unable to perform – I was a disappointment.
What I own now, in this space, is that I’ve been beyond being reluctant to share my things and my money and mySelf with others. I’ve capitalized on opportunities to have someone else pay my way in some way. And I’ve judged mySelf as not being a conscientious person for all the times that I haven’t lived up to what was expected of me – for not doing the responsible, ‘adult’ thing. And to write this out loud, does not feel good in my body. And I know that it’s what I’ve believed about mySelf even as I’ve never publicly owned it: that I’ve been a leech.
It wasn’t until I was 35 that I stopped feeling like I was a fraud as a teacher. Before that age, I had felt that I was doing something which I shouldn’t – being at the front of a classroom and responsible for the delivery of programming when I felt that I really belonged sitting with the class while someone else more credible occupied the teacher’s place and space. I was a kid playing at being ‘teacher’.
And I know that feeling like a fraud has gone far beyond how I felt when I was a classroom teacher. I’ve felt like a sham – a poseur in so many aspects of my life. I’ve pretended to be happy, to like myself, to be a good daughter, to be a good sister, to be feminine as I understood that to mean, to be an adult. It’s all felt like pretence and like I’ve been casting around looking for who I AM. There have been times beyond measure when I’ve felt I haven’t chosen to do what I wanted. I’ve done what I thought was expected of me, behaved as I thought I was supposed to, tried to say the right thing or do the right thing, tried to be the sort of person I thought others would accept. And it’s felt like an act and not me. I haven’t believed that I’ve known who I AM on my own without someone else telling me who I am. And I haven’t believed that I have the right to choose to live my life from that platform – from my knowing. As I write this, in this moment, I truly get that what’s most important is that I’ve felt like a fraud to myself. I’ve been acting ‘me’ for so long that I’ve wondered if I really know ‘me’. Owning that here, in this space, is the first time that I’ve ever allowed myself to admit this openly not only to others but also to mySelf.
Why have I chosen to write about failure last? Feeling that I’ve been frivolous and a freeloader and a fraud have all added up to the fact that I’ve felt that I’m a failure – that I haven’t succeeded at anything especially being me. I used to have a poster which I kept on the fridge door: “To be average scares the hell out of me.” Being anything less than the best at everything I’ve done – judging myself as being less than – has meant that I’ve deemed myself to be a failure. I’ve chalked each thing at which I have not been more than average up to just one more thing at which I’ve not succeeded. Then, I’ve cast about looking for something else I could try, some different arena in which I could shine intensely, some other way I could dazzle the world with my greatness.
And I know now that I’ve set myself up to fail. I’ve created a double bind so that the end result is that I will never be anything but a failure in my estimation. My expectations of myself in relation to how others respond to what I’ve done have been unbelievably unattainable. If I have not been able to astonish and amaze others with my brilliance then I’ve failed. It has not mattered how I feel about what I’ve done – if I’ve enjoyed myself in the doing or been proud of what I’ve accomplished for myself. That has not mattered. I have not allowed myself to truly enjoy anything for myself. In this space, for the first time, I’ve written and owned that that is how I’ve felt.
It all comes down to conscious awareness of all these beliefs about myself which have been driving my bus unacknowledged by me. As I’ve written this, there have been so many waves of emotion moving through me – waves of tears and sadness and regret. Rather than move on to something else or attempt to sidetrack my awareness in some other way, I’ve breathed through each wave knowing that, in doing that, I am changed. And it comes down to knowing for mySelf that I am real and substantial. I do not need anyone’s endorsement in order to celebrate who I AM.