The Fear of Success

A new opportunity has come my way. It may go very well, or go nowhere at all. Either way, I will have learned alot about myself in the process.

I was talking to a close friend last night, and we spoke about what I call the New Mommy Conundrum. When women have children, especially if they are at home moms, we get very used to becoming invisible. Our lives are easily sublimated to the wants and needs of our families. We become selfless, spending hours volunteering at preschools, cooking for bake sales, tying shoes, doing laundry and the like. We go to adult gatherings, and we are passed over as the least interesting or compelling people in the room. We grow used to being in the corner, to being treated as unimportant, and sometimes even become uncomfortable with seeking attention for ourselves. We feel invisible. Sometimes we even start to dress and present ourselves in ways that further diminish our visiability to others. Sweat pants and no makeup aren’t a good way to draw attention to yourself, but it’s the uniform of legions of moms.

We are invisible. While this can be frustrating, sometimes there’s a comfort in being in the supporting cast of the main story. We drive the story, make the main story and plot possible. We guide things from the background. For example, I know many families where, when the husband actually goes into a store, he is SHOCKED by how much things cost, because he hasn’t had to buy his own underwear, shirts, socks or pants literally for years. Kids assume you will be there to pick them up or make sure their every logistical need is met, along with on board catering and entertainment requirements. (Mom, did you bring me a snack? Where’s my gameboy?”) We become house wives in every sense of the word- we are married to home and hearth and making sure everyone else’s lives are perfect, while sublimating our own wants and needs.

And then, we get to a point where we start to carve out some space in our lives for ourselves. Maybe it’s a hobby. A regular date night with your spouse. A girl’s night out. A part time job. And all of a sudden, you have value beyond your enormous set of mad skills regarding stain removal and anticipatory catering. You start to have your own interests and develop a sense of yourself as a person with value. But how far out of the shadows can we go before we get burned? How much proverbial spf do we need, in terms of personal armor, thickening our skins to critique, before we can feel comfortable out there in the sunshine?

Women are different creatures than men. Men are much more naturally overtly competitive than women. Women are subtler, much more envious creatures. For example, when we were trying to concieve our first child, I remember someone I knew got pregnant by accident and weren’t sure what they were going to do. I couldn’t help having those secret thoughts that that woman was having MY baby. I wanted one, she didn’t, and the world was unfair. It was like having a brief psychotic moment where I was willing to believe there were a finite amount of pregnancies being passed out by God, and somehow, I forgot to get in line, or was simply passed over as being unworthy. Of course, this is all stupid, but the feelings of vague jealousy and that the Almighty had one weird sense of humor were rampant. My friend reported in the Moms group she went to, that when several women were trying to concieve and one did, there was that moment of forced joy from the others, who wanted to be happy for you, but were much more consumed by their own situations to be able to truly feel or share your joy. As my friend said- that moment of emotion on the face where they flash to the Oscar nominees that didn’t get the prize.

So, what happens when we leap out into the sun? It’s scary as hell. It is going WAY beyond my natural, “well, do they know it’s just me??” comfort zone. I keep trying to wake myself up from this dream world. But I am finding that as I practice what I preach to other parents and friends- to find your strengths, and that when you use your natural talents to their potiential, you cannot help but succeed.

I used to get caught up in the traps of “If I just lost some weight, then my life would be wonderful.” Or the “My life is on hold until the kids are in school, then I will find myself.” For a while, I’m not sureI was really looking for myself, and I was overly grateful for meager scraps that came my way. I allowed myself to be treated in a less than professional manner, because I had flexibility, and I needed some flexibility, and the person in the back of my mind was saying “well, what do you expect? You’re a mom- who is going to take you seriously? Why do you think you know what you are talking about? Who made you so special? Why do you deserve any better? What do you really add to the situation?” In an interview I did for the LD Podcast with Jim Conroy, we talked about the first thing people ask you at a party is “What do you do?” and I joked that there are packs of women in the ‘burbs on antidepressants and margartias because of having to answer this question and try to justify their existance.

Well, as a result of this lack of self esteem and self value, diminshed during the years of sublimating many wants and needs gladly to those of my terrific family, I have gotten very used to throwing ideas around cavalierly with people I know. Never expecting any of them to stick, and expecting that if others actually like the idea, they will be the implementers., Much like teaching a child to ride a bike, I will sit there, from the sidelines, cheering as they make it happen for themselves. Taking satisfaction in being a small part of the overall success, but not taking credit for the achievement. Just planting the seeds, maybe even helping with the fertilizer and water, but never reaping the harvest myself.

As I have done in the past, I pitched an idea to a good friend who I think the world of, because I thought it was something that could really help them out. It’s a great idea, in fact. But I was surprised when I got a very quick response from them saying- “Wow! This is just what we’ve been looking for! Can you put something together so I can show my friends and see if they want to do this? What can you do for us now?” So I put something together. Now we wait to see if the friends are interested.

I am anxious and excited and scared and ecstatic and – it’s all a bit overwhelming. And why? Because I am used to not being taken very seriously. I am not used to success. My husband has always said- You have to be ready for them to say YES. But all the softballs I pitch around, the ideas that come off the fly wheel daily, so often they lay fallow. I have gotten used to having low expectations, and only recently have made what was a huge leap into the sun for me- moving to the “Well, if you don’t ask, you won’t get” mode of operation. Now I have to adjust to the next important step which is “Well, if they say yes, then what?” part of the program, and become as prepared for Yes as well as No.

I guess I have treated life somewhat like a lottery. I play, but I never expect to win, and sometimes keep myself from enjoying the fun of dreaming and saying “What if”, because I don’t want the crushing disappointment of the “No Luck This Time, TryAgain.” But without dreams, there is little hope and joy, and I have to prepare to let myself experience the joy and the hope, without the guilt chaser.

Because there is guilt with success for some of us. We are happy for ourselves, but we are aware of the others who are struggling. Others who think they deserve it more than you. Others who think your hard work, your ability to harness and focus your ideas and energy is a fluke. (Also because you are using your strengths, it just isn’t as hard for you as it is for them, as hard as they think it should be.) Dumb luck. Others who you know will say that you didn’t pay enough dues before finding the winning ticket. You skipped too many levels of suffering. These nay sayers undermine our self confidence and joy. And it is really hard when some of the snarky people are people you like, admire, or enjoy.

I have the experience where you rush to tell a family member or a best friend the greatest news ever, and they are under-whelmed or negative about what you consider to be a life-changing moment of happiness. I hate this. I hope I am never this person for anyone I know-family, children, friends. And this is where the thick skin comes in. We have to be willing to take their lack of enthusiasm, not as a signal that our news is not great, but that their own insecurities and worries prevent them from being happy with you and for you. Sure, you may need to be grounded a bit and be lead back to reality, but you deserve the right to enjoy the successes, however big or small.  So my new favorite saying is “A good friend will come bail you out of jail if you need it.  A great friend will be sitting there next to you saying” Dang, now THAT was a good time!” (It’s a dead heat between that, and the bracelet I saw in a catalog with “Cleverly dsiguised as a responsible adult” written on it.)

So how to sum up here….

We are all in charge of our own personal destiny. We have to be able to recognize opportunity when it comes knocking, and not be afraid to take a risk or say Yes, when No seems so much safer and more conservative and more “Sensible”. We have to be willing to take in other perspectives, but be willing to have the confidence in our own ideas and vision, and be willing to drag those dreams out into the sunlight as well. So for now, I am loading myself up with sun block and sunglasses, preparing for a long day at the proverbial beach, and hoping I brought enough supplies. Wanna come play in the sand with me? Let’s have some fun, and not lose sight that this is gonna be a really fun day in the sunshine!

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One response to “The Fear of Success

  1. Pingback: Why Podcamp? | Reading Whitney

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