It’s actually really difficult for me to think about the successes I’ve had in Life. It is a difficult thing for most people, I imagine. We tend to think of our lives as being the most normal and plain life anybody could live – we never think of our own life as being successful or glamorous. It’s always other peoples’ lives that seem fantastic.
We see photos of people having a night out with friends and as we scroll through photos and more photos, it seems like people are going out with friends and indulging in cocktails all the time. What we don’t realise is that scrolling takes but a few minutes. Perhaps if we were to stop and look at the dates and times of these photos, we would realise that there were weeks, if not months, between the photos. What we do not realise is that most people really do live normal and so-called ‘plain’ lives.
So when someone asks me to recall just one successful event in my life, I find it really difficult. I have never thought of my life as successful or glamorous in any way, shape or form. I am but Plain Jane. That is how I feel.
Could I stop and think about a moment in my life when I felt extremely proud or accomplished? I might have a few small moments.
I remember that when I was Age 4 I performed in front of the congregation at church and I was always complimented on my vocals afterwards. I remember that when I was Age 11, I performed in a violin ensemble with other violin players. I had only just begun lessons that year and being able to perform in a group at the annual school concert made me feel very important. I remember when I was 13 and I graduated from primary school, my mother gifted me a beautiful watch with diamantes in its clockface instead of numbers. We were very poor and this gift was something I treasured from the bottom of my heart because I knew in my soul what Mum would have had to do in order to be able to purchase such a gift for me.
I remember that when I finally graduated from my university degree my eyes filled up with tears and I knew that it wasn’t pride at having completed my studies, rather tears at all the private pain it took for me to get there. I had moved away from my loved ones; I had endured many broken hearts, loneliness and a loss of identity – not knowing who I was or what I stood for. I remember feeling the same way many years later when I graduated from my postgraduate degree. I felt proud but I also felt sad; a feeling of bittersweet. This time it had taken the near-end of my marriage and still I did not have the degree I had initially applied for – I had had to graduate with a lesser degree because we had had a baby (and I needed to leave this foolishness of further study for the desire to be Mother).
I try to think harder. And I realise that it’s nothing tangible that makes me feel proud. It’s not one particular event in my life. Rather, what makes me feel prouder than anything in my life (next to the privilege of Motherhood) is my own self-discovery, self-development and building inner strength.
About two years ago I had a turning point in my life. I came to the realisation that the level of giving that I ever gave was beyond what anybody ever expected or wanted. I came to the realisation that what I had grown up believing to be my duty, my role and my right to protect and guide and carry others – was false.
I am the oldest child in my family and I had been taught all my life that I was the eldest, that I had to be responsible, that I had to look after my younger siblings at all times. And this is something that many first-offsprings will relate to – it is our legacy and one we carry with pride well into our adulthood. And it’s not something we limit to our siblings but it is something we happily take into our friendships with others, into our workplaces as we assume roles of leadership, and into our wider sphere of contribution to the world.
But I had to realise that this view was not held by many around me; and that, if anything, my giving or my own self-expectation to give, was just downright annoying and a downright nuisance to everyone around me. It was not appreciated in the depth and width that I felt in my heart. I realised that I simply gave too much… And in that sense, threw the pearls to the dogs.
Around that time I also came into the knowledge that I was not as loved as I thought I had been. I realised that I had hurt someone I loved nearly a decade earlier but she had never said a word to me about it. By the time she did, she made it clear that she had no softness or respect for me anymore. Her confrontation was meant to clear the air, but instead it pushed me away from her altogether.
To be honest, these realisations broke me. I wondered whether everything I had ever believed about life and about myself was ever true. I wondered what my role in life should be. I felt lost and angry. I felt cheated and defeated. And it hardened me. I grew a shell around my heart because I was not going to give my heart to others anymore.
But effectively, Life was just showing me that I really needed to grow up.
Although this process of healing initially began with a hardening of the heart towards everyone and everything around me, this was but the initial catalyst for change. I had to learn to be there for me, first and foremost, because I understood for the first time in my life that nobody else was there for me the way I had thought them to be. By being there for me, emotionally and spiritually, I had to learn to say No to others. I had to learn what it felt like to say No to others. It felt awful, it felt cold, it felt cruel. But over time I simply learned that saying No to others didn’t actually hurt others. They simply respected it. And I learned to respect it myself.
That’s not to say I am not any more a giver. I still have a lot of love to give. But I have simply learned to wait to see if the person I wish to love shows that they want or need it from me in the first place? I assess whether someone reaches out to me, makes contact with me, addresses their conversation to me. I assess whether they are inviting me into their lives. I also assess if the person is experiencing REAL need – because if they are, then that is where my focus on giving should be and will be. I will not give above and beyond to those who don’t ask for it, nor need it. And this has been my lesson. To take a balanced approach to life, to loved ones, to friendships.
I feel fairly proud about that achievement in my life. It took a lot of me – more than I can describe right now. It took time, it took my heart, it took my soul, it took my mind. A lot processing. A lot of healing tears. A lot of the sense of isolation. It has been a long, arduous and ongoing process since then and I am still amazed when I do have to pull back from something and choose not to get emotionally involved in something that does not belong to me, nor is my due.
Recently this inner strength led me to be able to go through the most awful thing that anyone should ever have to go through. I will not divulge details here but let’s just say that it involved children and it involved authorities and it involved a friend. I was put in a very vulnerable position and I was described in such a way as to come across as the one choosing to abandon my friend and her children, when this was utterly not the case because this would be far, far removed from the type of person that I am, or that I could ever be. This event really shook me to my core and had me in bouts of tears and emotional breakdowns for weeks, and even months. My friend chose to believe the lies that others told her despite the fact she had known me for many many years, and as a result, I lost her friendship completely. She cut herself out of my life and I had to deal with the consequences of a horrible situation that was completely out of my hands, as well as the loss of what I had thought had been a strong and longstanding friendship.
I had to see that what I had ever known, I had never really known.
But despite Life’s hard lessons, I am happy and proud that I’m no longer in a position to have my time or my kindness, taken advantage of. And I am no longer in a position where I have to wonder where I stand with someone. I can spend my time with people who truly value what I have to give.