I have a hard time believing in myself for many reasons, most of which are boring and way too common. Low self-esteem, perfection, all-or-nothing, blah, blah blah. Part of it is because in my family, every decision is made only after all the possible problems are talked about and dealt with. Endlessly. It’s not bad to think about issues, but it can be bad if it’s ninety percent of the conversation. I was just talking to my bestie, and it reminded me of something we used to talk about back in the day. When she was having problems with her husband, her mom told her that she would be fine either way. that struck me because if I were in the same situation, my mom would tell me why it would be hard to deal with either way. Neither mom is wrong; it’s just a different way to focus on things.
I mention this because I was talking to my parents about going back to school for a grad degree in psychology. We were discussing the pros and cons (mostly the cons as is our wont), and somehow, we got on the topic of the actual coursework itself. I said that would not be a problem, and my father told me not to be so sure. What I heard was that I was overestimating my intelligence and that I would have a nasty shock when I was actually faced with reality. I talked about it with my mother at a later date, and she said it’s probably because he had such a difficult time when he was earning his PhD (in econ) and was just projecting his feelings onto me. Which, duh, because narcissist. Anyway, I said to her, “I have enough worries and anxieties about going back to school. This isn’t one of them, and I don’t need it to become one.” The one thing I’ve counted on my entire life is my intelligence. More to the point, school is easy for me. I’m not saying the work won’t be hard, but will I be able to do it? Of that I have no doubt.
It upset me because it’s a pattern in my family. Don’t you dare show anything remotely resembling pride about anything because then you will be seen as arrogant. It’s part of Taiwanese culture, but it’s also my father’s neurosis. He needs to be validated from the outside and the center of attention, but he also has a horror of appearing arrogant. He was scolding my mom for telling people she went to a sandplay conference in Hawaii because he thought it made her look like a braggart. He said, “I’ve gone all over the world and participated in OPEC conferences, but you don’t see me mentioning that!” I said, “Why not? It’s what you did. There’s nothing wrong with saying it. Also, if I ever made it to the NYT Best Sellers list, I would be bragging about it all over the place.” He went on to say, “Is she the only one who can do this?” in reference to the conference, which made me gleeful because I could say, “Yes, she is. She literally is the only person who could have done this.” I mean, how many times do you get to say that in real life? My mother established the Taiwanese Sandplay Association and is the only person qualified to represent it in certain circumstances, and she should be fucking proud of herself! She wasn’t even saying it to be proud, however, just stating it as a matter of fact. It’s only my father’s neurosis that twisted it into something perverse, plus the fact that he hasn’t handled being forced to retire* with any grace at all.
Anyway, I remember my father really struggling with his PhD, largely because of the language barrier. English is his third language, so it’s no wonder he struggled with it. He assumed because he had such a hard time, so would I. He doesn’t understand that I’m not him or an extension of him, so he thinks his issues will be my issues. Which, fine, but I am really good at school. I always have been, even when I chose not to be. It’s easy for me, the learning part, and I don’t expect that to change for grad school. Will it be hard and arduous, and will I struggle? Of course! But the actual learning part? Don’t fucking take that away from me.
It’s difficult because I can understand my parents’ viewpoint of preparing for any situation, but they overdo it. The way they come across is that they don’t think I can handle x, y, or z because there’s something wrong with me, not because a situation is going to be difficult. Many moons ago before I went to San Francisco to get my MA in Writing & Consciousness, I was sitting in my therapist’s office, listing all the things that might happen and how I wouldn’t be able to deal with it. Of course, it was always a worst-case scenario because that’s how my brain processes things. My therapist let me ramble for a length of time before cutting me off. She said, “Minna, half the things you are imagining will never happen, and half of the things that will happen to you are things you can’t even imagine.” It stopped me cold and really made me think. Of course it’s obvious in retrospect, but it’s exactly what I needed to hear.
Similarly, my bestie and I laugh about how I used to pack. She said she remembers the first time she took me to the airport, I had packed a roll ef quarters and stamps ‘just in case’. I was preparing for any circumstance, which made me an over-packer. At some point, I don’t remember when or exactly how, I realized that, “Hey, all I need is my driver’s license, my credit card, and my ticket** when I travel. I can buy anything else I need.” I recognize the enormous privilege in being able to buy anything else I need, but it helped put things in perspective for me. I can’t control life, and while it’s good to be prepared, there’s only so much I can do.
I’m getting better at accepting that I have strengths. Taiji has helped me with this as well, and, yes, I’m becoming an evangelist about it. It’s hard, though, because I don’t always feel like it’s OK to say (first wrote admit) that hell yeah, I’m good at this thing. In talking to my parents about why I’m not good with self-promotion, I said it’s because I’m part of two cultures that tell me I shouldn’t say good things about myself. American culture is really harsh on women who seem too uppity or bitchy. So, we learn to couch our positives in tentative comments or don’t say them at all. There was a question at Ask A Manager in which the LW (letter writer) said she had a huge issue because she was jealous of one of her reports. LW said she wasn’t in on the hiring process and wouldn’t have hired the report because of the jealousy. It centered around EDs (eating disorders), stereotypical notions of feminine beauty, etc. The LW was very clear about it, and she said it’s so bad her coworkers picked up on it. Half of them thought it was because she (LW) was jealous, and half probably thought it meant the report wasn’t good at her job. It was so bad, the report went to LW’s boss to talk about it. The boss went to LW and said, “Report says you’re jealous of her”, and the LW lied about it. Because she’d been there ten years, the boss took her side over the report.
Now, there are several reasons this letter has stuck with me, but the reason it’s relevant here is because there were many people in the comments who couldn’t believe the report actually went to the boss about the jealousy. Various comments in the vein of, “How strange this woman (the report) actually called it jealousy!” There was more than a whiff of, “Who does she think she is?” in those comments, even from people I know would consider themselves feminists. Now, remember, the LW frankly admits she’s jealous. She admits that other coworkers have picked up on it. Therefore, it’s not out of the realms of possibility that the CW (coworker) picked up on it as well. So why wouldn’t she mention it to the big boss? The commenters were not saying the CW shouldn’t have gone to the big boss, just that it was strange she went right to jealousy.
She must be a stuck-up bitch to think she’s all that! To think other women are jealous of her! Except, she was right! In addition, it could be that she went to the big boss and listed all the behaviors/comments, and the boss is the one who put the word jealousy on it. It really bothered me how many people were suspicious of the CW calling it jealousy even when it was. Somehow, the fact that she would acknowledge it almost made it worse to some people than what actually happened. Addendum, the LW wrote back and said she was fired when a client went to the big boss because the client noticed the LW was acting in this fashion. When the big boss asked the LW about it, she admitted she had lied earlier and that she was jealous of the woman in question.
Again, some of the doubtful people are ones I know from other comments to be thoughtful people, so it was disheartening that they were criticizing the CW for actually talking about the jealousy. The CW noted the problem, took steps to correct it (got lied about in the process), and still got shit on by some people who thought her uppity. Some of the commenters were like, “Why would the CW go automatically to jealousy?” with, again, the undertone of, “What an uppity bitch.” I wanted to say, “This has been going on for months. Her coworkers were noticing it. It reached the point where she went about her LW’s head to talk to the big boss about it. I’m pretty sure she had an accurate assessment of what was happening.”
I know when people are jealous of me for whatever reason (even though they totally shouldn’t be). If you’re used to dealing with it, then it’s not hard to pick up on it when it happens, especially if it keeps happening for the same reason. I felt that there were commenters who were more sympathetic to the LW than to the CW, and that really pissed me off. I mean, the LW had some mental health issues and drug abuse issues, but in the end, she was abusing someone in her workplace. Period. She wrote in about stopping it, but she was still doing it. I have a saying, “I’m for the abused–right up to the point where they abuse someone else.” That is, I’m sympathetic with someone who is struggling with abuse/mental issues of their owns, but that doesn’t give them permission to abuse someone else.
Anyway. My point is that it’s hard to be confident about yourself when you’re told that confidence makes you an uppity bitch. Taiwanese culture, at least the Taiwanese culture my parents know, are very much about saving face and not appearing like you’re better than anyone else. You don’t want to shame your family or other people, so you better not say anything nice about yourself or your life. Again, I know there’s a line between confidence and arrogance, but I’m so far on the other side of this line, it’s hard. I know if I want to have any kind of online career, I need to be better at promoting myself, but it’s so fucking hard.
The second problem is that I’m an all-or-nothing kind of woman. I’m getting better at it, but I still have a problem with thinking that if I’m going to do something, I have to be ALL IN 24/7. For example, if I’m going to go back to grad school for psychology, I tend to think I have to get my PhD/PsyD or not go back at all. Right now, I think it would be more practical to get an MA with an eye for getting my PsyD later if it’s what I want. It’s hard to break my habit of thinking an MA would be a waste of time when it really would not be. I could get a lot of good jobs with an MA in psychology, even if I would prefer to have a private practice (for which I’d need a doctorate, at least in MN).
In the case of my online presence, I’ve been thinking of moving towards a more interactive format. I noticed when I live-tweet a movie, I get a lot of response. I’ve had people tell me how funny I am, how much they love it when I live-tweet a movie (bad implied), etc. The last time I did it, I did a RiffTrax movie, and they followed me on Twitter, which blew my mind. Anyway, I’v been thinking of doing it as a regular thing. Maybe once a week to start with. But, in my brain, it’s not enough to just do that. I need to have a whole new blog with that as one feature, me doing a YouTube cooking show as another feature, me doing five-minute vlogs as another feature, etc. Talking to my bestie, she said, “Start with one! See where it goes. If it takes off, maybe you can add other things.” She suggested the movie thing because I’ve already got the attention of RiffTrax, which GULP.
It sounds simple, right? Why not start with the one thing you’re already doing and expand on that? But in my brain, if I didn’t start a whole new blog with five new fresh ideas, there was no point in doing anything. This is also from my childhood where nothing I did was good enough. So, at some point, I learned that if you weren’t the best at something, you might as well quit. I’m not saying it’s not valid to assess a situation and say, “Yeah, I’m done with this”, but it’s not good to have it as a default or to think if I’m not immediately good at something, I should quit because it’ll never get better.
Anyway, it all means I’m a work in progress. It’s hard, but it’s baby steps, man.
*Brief primer. He’s part of the DPP, the Democratic Party equivalent in Taiwan (though it’s more lefty than our Dems). He was president of a large economic research company, and the board was taken over by the KMT, the Republican Party equivalent (but much worse). He was forced out, and it really hit him in the ego.
**You don’t even need a ticket any longer because you can get it at the airport or use the code on your phone.