I’ve been thinking a lot the past few weeks about what mysterious forces and processes come together to allow for “success” in something — insert your own definition here.*
*Let’s just all try and assume for now that it’s something positive and mostly-desired.
One of the themes I keep coming back to is the “someone believing in me when it seemed like no one else did and I didn’t know how to believe in myself” thing.
I don’t like it. I don’t like it because it’s cheesy and annoying.
It reminds me of made-for-television movies and excessively romantic sunsets and crescendo-ing violins.
Also because it’s outside of the space where most self-work happens. You know, it’s no longer directly about the relationship with (or to) yourself. Which is where I want to hang out.
That’s where I want to focus my energy. That’s where I’m inclined to spend my time. Not with outside forces and outside legitimacy.
Except that it keeps coming up. So clearly there’s something going on there … probably something important.
So hang out with me for a bit while I process out loud.
I spent a little over a year in Madison, Wisconsin … allegedly attending university but mostly internally raging and biding my time until I could either move back to Israel or figure out a way to get to Europe.
All sorts of people were giving me the “you’re not living up to your potential” spiel, which (shockingly!) missed its intended motivational target and only resulted in me getting more depressed.
Other people’s expectations were heavy, irritating and seemed to bear no relation to my own conception of who I was.
And then by a rather miraculous (or at least incongruous) series of events, I was spontaneously adopted by David Mitchell and his bizarre and wonderful group of friends.
Dave’s friends were all in their late forties and early fifties. They were intelligent and funny and quirky and free-spirited, but not in an especially bohemian way or anything. They just really enjoyed being alive.
A concept that was completely eye-opening to me.
Anyway, Dave and Joan and Paul and Victor (Maddog) and Cathy and the rest of them all — astoundingly — thought that I was absolutely fine the way I was.
They also all believed that I was bright and talented and going to do great and exciting things in the world and that it was completely okay if I took as long as I needed in getting there.
This was all news to me.
Everything I knew from my parents and friends was “Doom, doom, doom” and “Things generally get worse, not better” and “You’re wasting your life!” and variations on all of that.
But here were a bunch of people who saw potential in me but liked me as I was right then — and anyway weren’t at all worried about me squandering it. That was what I took with me from Madison when I moved back to Israel.
My friend — the one who killed himself — was the one who was not just a fan of my writing (at a time when no one got to read anything I wrote ever), but of the fact that I did it at all.
He would introduce me to people as “my friend, the writer”, and when he did it, the word “writes” didn’t even make me want to throw up.
Once he bought me an old beat-up typewriter for my birthday.
He also thought I was the best bartender in town.
And then when I quit the bars and became a yoga teacher he also thought I was the best yoga teacher in town, even though of course he never took a class from anyone other than me.
Mostly he just thought that having me around was good for the world.
And at a time when I was deep into self-destruction, paralyzed by self-doubt and loathing and a whole host of impossible fears, this was pretty hard for me to believe.
But I also knew that he believed it. I knew he was smart and discerning enough that I would have trusted him if he’d said those things about somebody else.
So some tiny part of part of me believed him.
It was February. It was cold. I was sick. But really sick. The kind of sick that forever changes the definition of the word.
I had a horrible middle-ear infection which, among other things, was causing blood and insane amounts of scary-looking goo to erupt from my head in a never-ending fountain of yuck.
I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming from the pain. Sometimes it was the sound of the screaming that woke me up.
The doctor who treated me absolutely refused to let me pay no matter how many times I tried. She’d sneak me in before work and during her lunch break and tell me stories about her childhood in East Berlin.
She cared for me. She cared about me. For whatever reason, she took an intense personal interest in both the process and the experience of me becoming well.
It took several months before I could really hear again, but healing from that particular illness launched a crazy chain of intense healing experiences that have brought me directly to the work that I do now.
After Berlin I took Selma and went to San Francisco, solely on the basis of several nights of recurring “Listen, you need to go to San Francisco” dreams that were then encouraged by a couple of wonderfully bizarre coincidences.
And one of the very first things that happened when I arrived was that I met my gentleman friend.
Obviously being in love is pretty much the best thing in the world. But you know what else?
Meeting my gentleman friend is not just the best thing that ever happened to me. It’s also the best thing that ever happened to my business.
Mostly because he believed in it so entirely that he could see what it could become and had no doubt ever that I’d be able to pull it off.
He consistently dreams big for me, without putting pressure on me to act on those dreams and without ever being impressed by my stucknesses. He just assumes I’ll be fabulously successful at whatever I do just because hey, I’m that great.
And at the same time, he’d love me just the same if all I did was read books all day and go for walks and do yoga.
I’d honestly never been in a relationship with someone who didn’t need to knock down my every single idea with a bunch of objections about why it probably wouldn’t work.
Not out of meanness or anything. I think they mostly just wanted to keep me from getting my hopes dashed — to keep me from getting hurt. Or maybe there was some jealousy involved or some more general insecurity, too. I don’t know.
But the end effect was that they’d dish out the kind of “helpful critique” that would convince me to dash those tiny hopes myself before they ever got a chance to breathe.
My relationship with myself is, of course, always interacting with and reflecting themes of my relationship with others. So there’s tension there, but there’s also play.
Here is what’s going through my head right now — and I hope you’re not expecting coherency here:
- It’s easier sometimes to trust others (well, certain others …) when I can’t trust myself.
- I can also remember how to trust myself, just from remembering what it is like to have had someone believe in you.
- Sometimes this isn’t easy (sometimes nothing is easy).
- But then at other times there’s flow — the sense that it’s possible to allow things to get easier.
I’m thinking that all these people who were able to believe in me like that are really more than sources of strength.
They’re reminders of what I already know.
The fact that they’re there … in my memory or in my kitchen or whatever, is a reminder of a whole range of strengths they see in me — strengths that I forget about.
This is a steady, calming reminder to shift my focus inward so that I can reconnect to the internal resources and strengths — the stuff that I tend to avoid, even though it contains all the qualities that I need to guide me.
I used to think a lot more about all the people who knocked me down. Or that I perceived as having knocked me down.
Lately I’ve been thinking about all the other people. The ones who have carried me when I was tired.
But I’m also thinking that they were only carrying me because they knew how strong I was.
One last thing.
I’m also thinking (but I have no way to say this without it devolving into cheesiness so please forgive me), that I hope you know that part of why I am here is to be that person for you.
Because Selma and I are completely prepared to believe in the great things that you’re going to do, without at all needing you to have done them yet — or ever — in order to like you.
We just believe. Because it’s true.