Celebrate Yourself (and keep going)

My friends tease me that my catch-phrase is “I celebrate you.” I celebrate names on papers, first trips after getting a driver’s license, and winning Nobel prizes with equal amounts of congratulatory gusto. Yes, equal. I have noticed, however, that I’m doing much less external celebrating lately, and the reason is simple: I can’t celebrate for you or with you if your fervor in drawing attention to yourself far exceeds any measure of congratulations I could offer.

I’m not just talking about selfies. I think they’re fun, spiffy, and contain just the right blend of self-congratulation and attention seeking to be mildly annoying and occasionally excessive. What I am referencing is the attention seeking that validates one’s reason for the effort. Did you really just get an A in Chemistry so that I could celebrate you? I surely hope not.

I hope, for all our sakes, that our reasons for exerting extra effort don’t rely on someone else drawing attention to that effort. If you want to run a marathon, that is awesome, but your joy should come from the fact that you lived through the experience and not from the fact that I will hug your sweaty, electrolyte-depleted self and say congratulations.

People who succeed at whatever endeavor they undertake don’t attain their goals so that someone can shout hurray from the mountain tops or so that they can prove someone wrong. They may begin that way, but they succeed on blood, sweat, and grit because that journey becomes more about themselves and less about others. Their successes are mental, not public. Of course people like knowing their efforts are appreciated and will work harder in response to that recognition, but at some point don’t we have to put on the Adult Pants and celebrate our own selves without the validation from the multitudes?

I am reminded of a video clip I watched recently about a person who lost 70 pounds in her quest for a more healthy lifestyle. That’s awesome and I would hug and celebrate her if I knew her. The thing she mentioned having to come to terms with is how little people cared about her weight loss, and how sometimes people undermined her efforts or gave her negative attention for it. That made me sad at first, but then she pointed out that she began to understand that her healthy eating journey was hers. In other words, the things that are most important to you are most important to you, not necessarily anyone else.

We definitely need to do a better job of celebrating others, but we also need to do a better job of recognizing that our own efforts are ours, and not for someone else to celebrate. I am reminded of the phrase that “You have to toot your own horn.” Well, good, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is obligated to sing along, or that you’re any less worthy if you don’t get a parade in your honor with confetti and balloon animals. It just means that we should all build some internal motivation to be a better version of ourselves each day without seeking permission or acknowledgement from others. It’s time to get out those Adult Pants, get to work on whatever thing of awesome we’re passionate about, and let the confetti fall where it may.

Reading: Not Just for Homework

One of my students came to see me early this morning to say hello, as she does, with her folder full to bursting and protein shake in a Tervis tumbler. She’s been a little quieter than usual lately and I was glad to see her linger by the door.

She told me I was busy and she’d see me later (thoughtful little passive aggressive person); my response was to pull out a chair and invite her to sit. Once she organized her thoughts, her description of her troubles was fairly typical for a person her age. By saying ‘typical’ I don’t diminish what she was telling me. As a gross understatement of the obvious, middle school is not for the weak of heart, and she was experiencing the conflict between trying to accept herself while still fitting in with the expectations of her family and friends. Added to this was her deep-seated (still secret) knowledge that the thing she most loves to do is read.

I forget that the stereotypes of those who love books runs counter to the propaganda in the media. Here is a wonderful person bursting with energy and joy over reading and she feels she must contain herself because she is too bookish for her family, not girly enough. I haven’t personally experienced that type of pressure to fit in, but I saw in her brown eyes her passion and the fear that she was somehow behaving “incorrectly” (her words).

This ball of person-ness is at a crossroads between who she is and who she wants to be, and I couldn’t tell her the truth: that she’ll deal with this for the rest of her existence, that sometimes it will be wonderful, and sometimes it will be awful, but that she is a fabulous person now who will be an amazing adult. I just want to see her make it with her authenticity intact. I know, high standards.

She shared her ideas about how to be a better daughter, a better friend, and was absolutely confused when I reminded her to be better to herself. “You like to read, so read,” I told her. “Find books that bring you joy, that make you feel all the feels, that lift you up.” She shook her head. “Books cost too much money and I will get in trouble.”

I asked her, “Will you get grounded? Punished?” She wiped a stray tear. “No, but they don’t want me to buy books.”

The solution to this is obvious, but she is a proud person and books that are gifted feel an awful lot like charity to her. Library? Too far away. School media center? Due dates loom too quickly. My bookshelves? No, that would be imposing. Then inspiration: homework. We agreed that she is now going to be reading books of her choice for my class, with homework assignments and tests, the whole works. This is only a temporary solution. At some point, I hope she develops the self-confidence to read with joy, not just because it’s homework.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor   

I’m back from hiding, metaphorically peeking out from under my blanket just in time to vote for the next President of the United States. I enjoyed an odd summer away from writing and spent it doing nebulous, whimsical, forgotten yet cherished activities which I didn’t even bother to post on my social media. I think that might mean they never happened. However, I am now looking to see whether it’s safe for me to come outside of my little self-protective cocoon.

I have been doing my day-to-day adulting of course: do the job, love the job, worry about the job, obsess about the job, switch topics and fret about my children, go back to obsessing about the job. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Oh yes, now I can obsess about my sparkly and prematurely grey hair, which while I like it, I’m on the worry train and it hasn’t switched tracks yet, so I’m just riding this to its ambiguous destination. Kind of like my writing.

I have become dizzied by the political whirligigs and maelstroms slinging around 2016. I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable person who believes that information is generally good and that research goes a long way toward understanding, but I am stuck. I can’t process the information as it concerns the American presidential candidates. Do we really lack anyone better? I’m reminded of a novel by Isaac Asimov in which the current global president is someone who doesn’t want the job, but who would accept it as his/her duty for six years before giving it to the next person. I like that idea a whole lot. I liked it enough to check on my Googles for the title of this novel, but the Googles linked me to a listing of books that offer alternative (obviously dystopian) versions of political life in the future. The Handmaid’s Tale and Wall-ee (yes, really) jumped into my short term memory. Yep, there you go: Wall-ee for president. I’ve oversimplified the reason for that list, but my Googles at least made me feel slightly better. No more informed, but better.

That’s the whole point, though. I think. I may have forgotten what my point actually is because I’ve been assaulted with ignorance and character assassination masquerading as information for way too long. I am not going to feel good about exercising my democratic right in November. I didn’t feel good about it during the primaries either. Although I am vaguely aware that there are two other party ticket runners, I am only aware about them in the sense that I am aware that eating right and exercising are good for me. In other words, I am not aware of them. Does this make me horrifyingly under-informed? Yep. Guilty as charged and now please pass me the green beans while you measure my pulse. I think I still have one.

I’m overexposed and also blighted for information at a time when I most need it. As a good American would, then, I will look for sparkly diversions. I hear there’s line dancing at the Ignorance is Bliss Bar and Grille. They have free chips and salsa on Tuesdays. This rant has been brought to you from our sponsors. Who are they? I don’t even know that. Looks like it’s back to the blanket for me until I can sort this out.