Our Best Selves

For the life of me, I cannot draw.  Stick people are a major source of stress for me.  The legs are always uneven or their round heads seem to droop to one side.  I distinctly remember being in a seventh grade art class and being instructed to make a paper mache replica of my shoe.  At the end of the project the teacher chose a few shoes and held them up for the class to admire.  I was stunned when she chose mine.  Until it came time for her to hold my shoe up for all to see and she proceeded to pick it apart, piece by piece, telling my laughing classmates every single detail that was wrong with my project. I was mortified, but also knew in my heart she was speaking the truth.

In eighth grade, there was a poster contest for an upcoming spaghetti dinner with our church.  The winning poster would be framed and displayed the evening of the dinner.  For whatever reason, my mom insisted that I enter this contest.  After much arguing and many tears and stomping of feet and slamming of doors, it was decided that my very artistic sister would draw the poster, my mom would do the lettering, and I would trace and color everything.  The poster was really cute when it was finished.  It had a little Italian face and a big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, with perfect lettering to accompany the perfectly cute picture.

I won.  My poster was framed and displayed that evening.  My picture was taken, along with the second and third place winners, and placed in the local newspapers.  My teachers all fussed over my accomplishment.  My mom and dad were thrilled.  And I was disgusted with the entire thing, from start to finish, for many reasons.  It wasn’t my work and with every compliment given, my stomach would do flip flops, my eyes would look downward, and my meek and mild “thank you” would be barely audible.  It took everything out of me not to run off and hide.

I knew the work wasn’t mine and quite frankly, I’m pretty sure everyone complimenting me did as well.  I would get the same awful feelings when a simple test or quiz  which I spent absolutely no time preparing for would be returned to me with a big red star on the paper and a sticker proclaiming my excellence.  My teachers, in an effort to reprimand my peers who didn’t do as well, would gush over my perfect papers and ask me to tell the class how I prepared for that particular assessment. I would sit red faced and mumble my way through an answer I knew they wanted to hear.  My stomach is almost doing those same flip flops now, as I type this.

False compliments or unearned praise and attention has never been something I have enjoyed or sought from anyone.  And in all honesty, to this very day, when I pour my heart and soul into something, the pride I have in myself for a job well done is plenty for me.  Sure I appreciate a word of thanks for my hard work, but the fact that I know how hard I worked and that the end result is the very best I could offer is plenty for me.

The other day I went to watch my friend’s twins play in a soccer game.  They are four and the game was fun to watch as every little body out on the field ran their hearts out, up and down the field, not really knowing what they were doing but just having fun.  At one point “Little Johnny” happened to score a goal and his mom and dad went crazy, jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, beaming with ridiculous pride over something that “Little Johnny” didn’t even completely understand he had accomplished.

I watched the remainder of the game, as Johnny slumped his way through the final minutes.  He was the last one down the field.  If the ball did come near him, he either gave it a half hearted kick or ran away from it altogether.  His parents encouraged him from the sideline and his coach instructed him on where to go, but Johnny had very noticeably lost all his spunk for kicking the ball and having fun with his teammates.

They ended up winning the game 1 – 0.  Johnny was the hero of the game and as his teammates slapped his back and offered high fives, he stood with a grim look on his face.  His dad even came over and lifted him in the air and put Johnny on his shoulder, acting as if he had just won the World Cup for his preschool team.

I wish I could have said to Johnny, “I know what you’re thinking and feeling and I am so sorry that those around you can’t understand it.”  I believe from a very early age, we instinctively know when we do a job well and are deserving of praise or recognition and when we get lucky and just happen to be in the right place at the right time, doing the bare minimum for what is needed to complete the task at hand.

The only part of the Presidential Debate that really stands out for me from the other night was the very last question.  Both candidates were asked to name something that they respected about the other.  Hillary complimented Donald on his children and Donald told us that Hillary was a fighter and never gave up.  I think in both cases the honesty of their answers and the pride they felt for the responses given were genuine.

Our accomplishments are really only justified when we recognize in ourselves the results of a job well done.  Self esteem is not a gift we can give others.  It is something that is obtained through hard work, sincere effort, and the knowledge within that the very best of ourselves was offered and the very best result possible achieved.

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