Monthly Archives: February 2012

Good Enough

In my high school years, I really loved Sarah McLachlan. I think I actually took the CD from my brother’s huge box of CDs — remember when you could get 12 CDs for  $1 or something crazy like that from BMG? — and just started listening, without much prior knowledge of what her music would be like. When I like something, I tend to love it; no lukewarm feelings for this girl. So I used to play track 4, “Good Enough,” off her album Fumbling Towards Ecstasy over and over again starting somewhere between late sophomore year and into my junior year.

“So don’t tell me why
He’s never been good to you,
Don’t tell me why
He’s never been there for you,
And don’t you know that why
Is simply not good enough,
Oh, so just let me try
And I will be good to you
Just let me try
And I will be there for you
I’ll show you why
You’re so much more than good enough”

While I’m sure there there are lots of interpretations of these final chorus lyrics — as there are any time words are put out into the universe — the part that always resonated with me was the phrase “good enough,” especially the last line: “I’ll show you why/You’re so much more than good enough.”

My entire life I have wanted to be “the best.” The best student, the best athlete in my sport, the best teacher, the best ______. I think it’s important to aspire to greatness, to want to do a thing well. But it’s also a very dangerous desire, to want this, because if you don’t become the best, then does that mean you have failed? I still struggle with this idea at times  because I am used to doing things well. I can be easily frustrated when I’m learning something new (I’ll save my skiing meltdown anecdote for another day) instead of enjoying the process because I start getting competitive with myself or start comparing where I’m at with others. I know objectively that it doesn’t matter, that I only need to worry about my own improvement, but… I struggle.

I think most people today (myself included) are more often guilty of underestimating their own abilities than they are  of overestimating them. While most of us can probably picture right now the face of the most arrogant person with whom we have ever worked, I guarantee that arrogance is only a facade for the fear of being inadequate. We worry that we’re not qualified enough to apply for that job; not athletic enough to try that new sport or workout; not worthy enough to be in that relationship. If any of my friends, regardless of gender or sexual preference, ever ask me for general relationship advice, my go-to response is that you have to work on the relationship you have with yourself before you can start/maintain/improve a relationship with another person. Because at the end of the day, if you don’t believe that you are “more than good enough,” then who else will believe that? My mom always taught me that; she often used to say, “You have to know what you’re worth. If you do, they can’t touch you.” “They,” of course, being anyone else who wants to sit in judgment about your character or talents. “Can’t touch you” meaning they can’t harm you emotionally or break your spirit. As I grow older and have a clearer understanding of my self-worth, I am mostly able to remain “untouched,” though it’s not easy every day. On the hard days I talk to Husband or my mom or my sister or one of my best friends.

During my senior year in high school, I led Kairos for my peers. In fact, I was the rector, in charge of my fellow student leaders and of overseeing the entire retreat in conjunction with our Campus Minister and the teacher team. Up to that point in my life, I would argue that it was the most meaningful thing I had ever done. As the rector, I was charged with giving the final talk of the 3-day retreat, entitled “Live the Fourth” — it is intended to inspire the retreatants to take what they have learned from their time of reflection and bring that spirit into their daily lives.I’m sure that somewhere in my old bedroom I could find the physical copy of my speech (typical of the writing saver that I am), but I still remember, 12 years later, that I talked about my battle with perfection, and the way I disliked being labeled by others who only knew me from the outside. What “they” didn’t know was that I worked my tail off (and still do — it’s the only way I know how to invest myself in my work) primarily because of the high expectations I placed on myself, not because I sought out attention and recognition from others. I know better now that all of those kind of external rewards go away (or never come), and in the end we are left facing ourselves in the mirror back at the original question: Am I good enough, just the way that I am?

And so each day, even for a fleeting moment, I try to remember that who I am and what I can give in a particular moment is the best of me, that it is “good enough” for that time. And in the spirit of Kairos, that the best is yet to come.

Where’s Your Outline?

As I have mentioned in a previous post, although I was an English major in college and taught English to high school and middle school students, writing an outline was never one of my strong points. It always seemed like such a major extra step before writing an essay, because I actually enjoy the revision process. So why do all of this pre-planning when it was much easier to just let the ideas flow?

One of my current endeavors involves me having to write an article, and I have been vainly trying to put together my article outline for far too long. I finally completed said outline over the weekend, and the weight lifted off my shoulders has been tremendous. With my outline in place, writing the full text is going to be a piece of cake. It is in these small moments of victory when I wonder why I was being such a procrastinator in the first place.

Of late, I have also been involved in a lot of planning: creating a timeline for our upcoming reunion this fall; organizing a team-building staff meeting; putting together a professional development session focused on standardized testing. It has occurred to me that part of the reason why I loathe “writing an outline” is because it is time-consuming. It requires having a clear purpose to why I’m doing what I’m doing. It forces me to do research, get on the same page with other people, coordinate efforts, condense my ideas… all of those things can be exhausting. The planning often feels much more taxing than the execution of the idea itself. At the same time, the process of planning (read: writing the outline) can be rewarding in and of itself and lead to greater clarity around the goal.

Somewhere in my teaching I heard or read a quote that went something like this: “I’d rather take an eraser to a blueprint than an axe to a foundation.” In other words, revising or adjusting plans is far easier than having to undo actions that didn’t make sense or didn’t move toward one’s intended outcome. It has taken me up until this last month or so to internalize that thought more deeply and start to think harder about how I want to be applying the same principle to my life. While I have no intention to try to control every single second of my day, I find that having a plan in place is comforting; that way, when things seem to deviate off course, I have a sense of where I’ve left off in my “outline.”

Right now, Husband and I want to find a house. We want to start a family. We want to develop our respective career paths. Those things don’t necessarily happen just because we want them to. It is up to us to make plans, to have the hard discussions with each other, to have moments of internal dialogue so we can create a basic outline of steps to complete to lead us forward. While I know that this process will be challenging, I also know that it will also be rewarding and hopeful as we look toward our future together.

Oh Happy Day

I don’t even know if I remember what year this movie came out, though I’m almost positive it was prior to high school. By then Lauryn Hill was with the Fugees. Given my Catholic school education and a multitude of years attending all-school Mass, where I helped lead music, this scene/song performance brings me to a place of joy. I only wish for a fraction of their gospel/soul style in me.

This song reminds me to find a reason to sing every day. Just because singing makes me happy.

Making a Connection

I double-checked the meaning of “vulnerability” before I started writing this post to confirm that it means “the state of being vulnerable or exposed.” I don’t particularly like the sound of that, nor did I enjoy scrolling through all of the other variations on the word that kept mentioning “weakness,” “ability to be attacked,” and other phrases of that ilk. But my question lies on the other side of this word: If we are not vulnerable or don’t like feeling vulnerable, then does that mean that most of the time we are guarded?

When I look back on the relationships of mine and my friends that didn’t work out (as in, didn’t end in marriage or other variation of lifetime partnership), I know we could create a long laundry list of why things didn’t work out. But if we had to hone that list down to one reason, I would argue that ultimately one or both persons wasn’t ready to be — or couldn’t be, because of whatever life circumstances surrounded him/her — fully vulnerable to the other. Fully exposed, in body, mind, and spirit. That is a daunting idea, in my book, except when I am with my Husband, and even then it can be hard to be transparent all the time. He has seen me at my very best, at my very worst, and at every other emotion or state of mind between those extremes. And yet… I’m not always good at telling him how grateful I am for all the little ways he takes care of me. I don’t always explain very well about why I need my alone time or quiet time at the end of the day. Luckily for me, he reads me like a book 99.9% of the time, even when I say nothing at all. When we did our marriage preparation and took a personality inventory, part of that process involved taking the test a second time and answering questions as if we were our partner. Guess who nailed almost every single one of my answers?

I’m not convinced that we can have meaningful relationships if we aren’t willing to be vulnerable and allow people to see our human sides.

Today we had a staff meeting that was intended to be a time to be together. No hardcore agenda, no announcements. Eat, drink, and be merry was the goal. I was floored to see a few people somehow manage to not smile or laugh or relax for the entire hour. How is that possible? As someone who participated in the planning process, I initially felt selfishly offended. That slowly melted away to pure awe at how much energy it takes to maintain such a carefully guarded facade. Then I started to be curious: What would I find behind such an ominous guard? Someone with an incredible sense of humor? Maybe a brilliant educator? A musician? I may never know.

While I think it is inane to pretend that we are all going to be best friends with every person we meet, I do sort of live for the moment when people drop their guards and let me in. I want to connect with other people; I want to figure out what we have in common. (Clearly I’m not alone in that desire, because how else can we explain the phenomenon of social media? It makes us feel like we are not isolated islands on the planet.) Especially right now, as Husband and I are trying to be part of this community, I’m hungry for “real” connections. I feel vulnerable every day here, but not necessarily in a bad way. If I allow myself to embrace that feeling, it gives a green light to others around me that they can go ahead and be a little bit vulnerable too. We as humans were built to connect to each other and make meaning of our Purpose here. It is through a reflection from others that we recognize ourselves, and I can’t know what is truly there unless it gets exposed.

Maybe “vulnerable” shouldn’t have such negative connotations after all. Maybe it’s only a sort of code word for being authentically ourselves.

One Minute

I used to think that one minute was a very short period of time. It never really dawned on me how long a minute could feel until I took a public speaking course in college during my senior year. On the very first day of class, the instructor announced that each of us would have to walk up to the front and stand in front of everyone for an entire minute. Take in everyone’s eyes, make or don’t make eye contact, but stand up there in a silent room full of people. I have never been a shy person, but that was an awfully long minute. I remember feeling the vibes of tension spreading throughout the room as people contemplated the idea of surviving that one minute and worrying about when to go so they could go back to hiding in their respective seats.

In the land of fitness, one minute can also feel like an eternity. Max reps of anything in a minute can go on and on, seemingly. Mobilizing a body position in yoga or while stretching also makes me question the length of 60 seconds — does it get longer and shorter sometimes, like the length of sunlight in a day?

Last year I remember a speaker at church sharing a revelation he had while traveling. He said he had thought for most of his life that prayer was something that “needed” to last for a while, or else it didn’t count. So unless there was a good chunk of time in his day set aside for prayer time, then it just wasn’t going to happen. Finally it occurred to him that there is no rule that says prayers can’t be short and still meaningful, and he developed his own practice of one minute of prayer each day. That could look like one minute of true silence — no radio, television, or other background noise. It could be one minute of simply feeling gratitude in his heart. Maybe one minute of repeating a one-line prayer (similar to a koan for some people who meditate). Me personally? As a little girl, I used to be good at saying my prayers before bedtime in my head (“Now I lay me down to sleep…”) and on occasion I still do that. But I was intrigued by this concept of one minute of prayer and tried it out last year, especially when Husband and I were living apart and the days seemed long. Every afternoon, coming home from work, I would wait to turn on the radio or plug in my iPod in the car to spend a minute in silence. Usually when I checked the clock, one minute had turned into three to five minutes (the length of one song, of course), and I was surprised to find that I started to enjoy the silence more.

I know that it is worth one minute out of the 1440 minutes in a day to spend one minute in prayer. One minute to focus my energy on a relationship to my faith that can be so very easy to neglect. Because one of the markers of Lent is prayer, there is no time like the present to renew my commitment to one minute of prayer each day and see where it might lead me.

Ready for My Close-Up

I am quite fascinated by the number of pictures that people take of themselves. I don’t mean the ones where you gather all your girlfriends or all your teammates or the whole crew who has gone out together. I’m not even talking about the kind of solo shots people take when they go on vacation or to some other memorable place. I specifically mean the photos people take of themselves by themselves when I assume no one else is there. Just close up shot after close up shot. See me? I’m cute. Not even “these are my new glasses” or “I just got my hair cut.” Just plain old self-portraits, shared out with the world to see.

My wonder about this is whether it stems from innate narcissism within us or from a need for others to affirm us, or maybe both? Don’t we all not-so-secretly post the “good” pictures of ourselves because we kind of hope that other people will say we look lovely in that photo?

When I look at pictures of any kind where I am in it, I am immediately judging myself. How do I look? Do I still look relatively young compared to my actual age? How’s my hair? Does that outfit make me look good? I sit there and I notice all of the external imperfections, and sometimes I think about how I can prevent that in the next photo taken. I’m not a model and I won’t pretend to be, but surely there are tricks to trying to improve what the camera captures, right? It’s a silly little self-torture game that I play, and I know I’m not the only one who does it. I think most of us spend more than enough time scrutinizing our physical selves, especially as women. Not that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves and put effort toward making our outward styles reflect our inner awesome-ness… but I do look at photos of myself and want them to look good.

Which brings me to today: Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday — better known as the day before Lent. In the New Testament of the Bible, Christ spends 40 days in the desert preparing for His final death and resurrection, and it is not an easy time. He fasts and meditates and spends time examining his inner character. Regardless of our respective faith practices, I think that we are called to similar times of self-reflection, when we take the time to look at all of the parts of our inner selves and make plans to improve the parts that need work. It’s relatively easy to look at a picture and recognize the flaws on the outside, even if we are the only ones who notice them. It’s much more difficult to turn the magnifying glass on our internal selves and be honest about the areas of our character or our lives where we need to spend some more time. For me as a Catholic — and particularly as an adult Catholic who can better appreciate Lent as part of the liturgical year — Lent is a built-in time of every calendar year when I know I will pay a little more attention than usual to strengthening my character, to thinking about my faith practice. In the past decade or so, I can honestly say that March and the Lenten season in general has often been a trying time for me for a variety of reasons (Husband moving to AK before me in March ’11, most recently), but it has also given me a regular opportunity to work on my relationship with and understanding of myself. It is usually hard work and most often it can be a lonely journey, and yet I am  always grateful for what I learned afterward.

So alongside my closest friends, who are experiencing their own trials, respectively, and looking toward self-renewal, I am also getting ready for my annual close-up, just not the kind that shows up in a photograph.

My Virtual Self

Recently, I read an article that claimed that a paper resumé is becoming (slowly) obsolete. That employers, particularly in creative fields, are more interested in one’s “social presence” to learn more about the kind of person they might be hiring. What interests them, what do they think is important enough to share, how do they interact via social media — Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Google+, and all of the other ones I don’t know or understand completely.

So then I started thinking… I should probably update my resumé to make sure it’s current anyway… which would then mean updating it on my alumni account and LinkedIn. More virtual connections. I should probably update my volunteer profile on Stanford365 as well, because otherwise how will they send along any volunteer possibilities that might actually interest me?

Once upon a time I once had a Friendster account, which I think may still exist though I barely used it to begin with. Now, however, I have a Facebook account, a GoodReads account, a LinkedIn account, and most recently, a Pinterest account. Oh and I also have Google+ because I have a Gmail account. Not to mention that my IM account from college is probably still usable and my old Yahoo! email address… then there’s my college email account, my old work email account, my alum email…  Ooh, and I also like and use Dropbox for file sharing. In short, somewhere in the annals of network connections and “cloud” space, my fragmented identity exists for almost anyone to see. Even while I write this, I can think of more ways that I exist in virtual space, this blog being the next most obvious one.

Which begs the questions: Do all of those things add up to me? Or just a virtual me? If those things aren’t really reflective of me, then I should probably delete them, right? When did everything we liked, thought, breathed, and looked at have to be public? It’s like we’ve walked ourselves right into 1984, and Big Brother didn’t even have to force us into the Ministry of Love.

Don’t get me wrong — I think the power of the Internet and social media in general is incredible. It has allowed us to connect across time/space/culture in ways that were quite literally unimaginable before. I love being able to have a live face-chat meeting via the Internet with six other people, even while we are spread across four time zones.But I do wonder if having these capabilities actually means that we’re progressing…

It’s not that my interests, as seen in virtual media, aren’t real. I have read those books and I do like those shoes I saw online. And I DO feel connected to a larger community when I see how many other people have also read and commented on the same book or ask me a question about some article I posted. But my sincere  hope is that “the real me,” the one who writes in my little 5-year daily journal and is a sucker for crying at the end of feel-good movies; the one who dances in the car and at my computer and with my husband and sometimes even the dog; the one who really loves working with and for teachers and students; the one who adores Husband, family, and best friends… I hope that person will always be far more substantial — within and without — than virtual me.