She sat with tears in her eyes, across from me on the sofa. In my usual chair, I looked at her in emotion, but it didn’t match.
“Four years ago” she began, “I thought everyone who passed me on the street was sad they had to see me. I thought everyone who had to talk to me during any day was sad and felt negative and gross when they walked away from me. I felt guilty just being alive because I thought constantly about how horrible I was for other people to have to deal with. I hated myself, and I hated my life. I thought about dying almost every day. Never did I think I could feel this way about myself. I never dreamed I’d someday love who I am and get excited thinking about who I’m becoming. Never.”
At this point, we shared some tears together. We talked about her journey and everything she had to be proud of. It was such a long, beautiful, raw list of triumphs.
“But I’m so far behind. That’s the downside.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, sincerely not understanding how this incredibly bright woman could feel behind on anything.
She continued, “All my friends are getting married and some already have kids. I don’t even have a boyfriend. They’re done with college and have real jobs and I’m still going to school.”
“While you’re working full-time in a “real job” while you’re finishing your degree, may I point that out?” I added.
She smiled. “It’s just so hard sometimes to feel like I’m on track instead of feeling like a messed up because I was depressed”.
And so began our conversation about the difference between a life that is pleasing and a life that makes you proud.
“How many of your friends have been through what you have been through?” I asked.
“None. Most people don’t understand it at all”.
Honestly, meeting this young woman on the street, I wouldn’t understand it either. She’s bright, beautiful, motivated, compassionate, all the good stuff. But still lovingly attending to this version of herself that is new to her. That same version I mentioned. The “all the good stuff” version is the one she has worked her ass off to see and love and develop these last four years.
Here is my take on it – right, wrong, or indifferent.
We seem to have an idea of what life is supposed to look like if we’re doing it “right”. And, sadly an idea that most of what isn’t, is wrong, or “failure”, and accordingly, less than the “right way”. Let’s try on this scenario. A kid grows up in a good household – with a mom, dad, and maybe a sibling or two. They have plenty of money to provide for everyone, and everyone is kind, loving, and relatively healthy enough to take care of each other. Good stuff. This kid gets good grades, is good enough at extracurriculars and feels like they belong in this world. Kid graduates and heads to college, gets good grades, of course, and gets hired to a good job that provides plenty of money for everyone’s needs to be met. Kid meets a really nice person, marries them, they have the love and support of all who know them, and they live happily ever after.
It’s a darn nice story! Hear me clearly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this story. It’s a story many people can relate to because they’re living it. Lovely! It leads to a very pleasing life, and that’s great. It’s the story most people want to have, which is why people often see it as “the right way” to do life. It looks so nice! It’s so pleasing.
Here is what I find odd: Isn’t this simply living up to your potential? Isn’t it doing what’s expected of you? You’re fortunate, so you have a fortunate life. To me, it’s an equal sign, not an exclamation point. It’s pleasing. Indeed, and it’s great.
But what does the person who didn’t have that upbringing get? What about the person who didn’t feel included, maybe made a mistake or two, or five because there were struggles? We panic! Your child has changed their major for the fourth time?! Johnny will never graduate college at this rate! I’m laughing inside right now because I don’t have enough fingers and toes for the number of times I’ve heard people talk about how others aren’t doing life “the right way”. Maybe they didn’t get good grades, maybe they didn’t go to college, maybe they don’t get the “good job”, maybe love doesn’t sweep them off their feet, maybe they have a life that gets interrupted by, well, life.
“Let’s take the inventory”, I said. “You’ve taken four years to leave behind depression so severe you wanted to die, learned to love who you are to the point you actually get excited thinking about your future. You have a full-time job many people wouldn’t mind having which pays you enough to support yourself, pay cash for college, and take vacations a couple of times a year…am I on track so far?”
“Yes” she says. Her gaze drops to her lap. Her cheeks turn a little red, almost a little embarrassed at hearing her accomplishments out loud.
“You’re finishing an undergrad degree with your eyes already on your masters degree so you can create change for a very specific part of our population that is totally underserved, and have a desire to meet a wonderful man, step consciously into a loving healthy relationship, and see what the two of you can do together. Does that sound about right?”
She giggles, “I get it. It’s stupid for me to feel behind”.
“How do you feel about your life?”
She pauses…I wait.
One word. Just one – proud.
Proud because she was raised in a less than perfect household and sees the errors were with the adults, not her as a child. Proud because of facing severe depression she has found healing and Joy. Proud because she recognized in the midst of the past few years that the relationship, she valued in the eyes of her illness wasn’t serving her so she left it, which was so hard. But, she knew she had to, so she did. Proud that her dreams are becoming a reality and there is so much more to come.
See, I believe often times we confuse the two. We feel proud about the equal sign, living up to completely fair and reasonable expectations. And we look slightly downward as we view those who have struggles, or don’t make as much money, or came from hard family life, and believe that what they are living is perhaps the best they can hope for “considering”.
Hear me clearly. If you have a pleasing life, I am truly, honestly happy for you. But please, can we take a moment to consider what some people have to work through to get to where they’re at, even if that doesn’t look like the place we think they “should be”. They’re not done yet! We are all works in process, me too. Hell, me especially!
Can we take a look at other people’s lives, their struggles, what someone else is working through to get to where they want to be in this world and can remind them to be proud? Can we feel pride in them, with them?
I was sitting in a women’s group meeting a couple of months ago, and someone was sharing a life move. One of the other women said, “I feel weird saying this, but I’m proud of you”. It suddenly brought to all of our attention we often don’t think it’s ok to feel pride or to be proud of someone else, especially if they’re our own age. It was beautifully received. Isn’t being proud of someone really just acknowledging the fact that they’ve done something extraordinary?! Perhaps they took a hard situation and made it work and we are recognizing their efforts. Being proud of yourself, or others is about seeing the difficultly and the perseverance it took to overcome. Pride comes from having to overcome something adverse. It’s about walking up the hill, not across the way.
Take pride in those you see persevering and let them know you see them! Be proud of yourself, please! Life is not for the faint of heart, my friend. Be proud.
Blessings Galore, Anne