Being Good Enough: How to Separate Who You Are From What You Do
The caption says “Not good enough for Beijing.” Well there go my dreams of ever being a champion head lifter.
I’m nervous. Not nervous in a betrayed-by-my-bowels kind of way. Yet. (Which speaking of being betrayed by one’s nethers, ESPN had the most fascinating article on explosive pooping while racing. Seriously, you must read it. It was in their Body Issue which I want to hate because it feels like using naked chicks to sell more copies a la the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue is so tired and yet I love it. Think less bikinis on the beach and more biceps. Lots more muscles. The cover even features a paraplegic tennis player! Of course she’s gorgeous and starkers except for a strategically placed tennis racket but how cool is it that they put a woman in a wheelchair on the cover? There’s such a fine line between art and artifice.)
I’m nervous for my race on Saturday. You know, the one that I signed up to run “just for fun” and have managed to suck all the fun right out of. (Well, almost. Gym Buddies Allison, Megan and I are running in sparkly tutus – mine’s purple! – and striped knee-high socks. Fun!) I’m worried that I’m not going to be good enough. What is good enough, you ask? No idea! Like Alice at the fork in the woods, I don’t know what the end goal is. Of course Alice had the Cheshire cat mocking her and her angst. At least I’m feline free. And like Alice, I realized today that I need to decide now, before I take even one step in the race, what the end is going to be. That whatever I do is going to be good enough. Finishing will be good enough. Even if I don’t run my 100% best race, I’ll still be good enough.
This is difficult for me to believe because I’m so used to defining myself by what I do. At times this has worked well for me. Like when I got straight A’s in school then I was Charlotte the Smart Girl. It cuts both ways though. I remember the first time I decided that I was Charlotte the Bad Person because of something I’d done.
“Charlotte?” My high school teacher frowned at the note, “You’re to go to the office. The police want to talk to you.” Yeah he actually read it out loud. There were some gasps, lots of snickers. Nothing says fun like getting pulled out of 3rd period by the police! By the time I got to the office I was shaking head to toe. I was having visions of being an unwitting drug mule like Brokedown Palace and I’m nowhere near as cute as Claire Danes in prison clothes. Does the U.S. deport underage non-cute unknown-package acceptors?
Someone handed me the phone. “Charlotte? This is Detective Johnson from the Police Department. Do you know a Nathaniel X?”
My mouth went dry and I knew this phone call had been a long time coming. “Yes,” I squeaked. Nathaniel and I worked together at the local university and even now it’s hard for me to describe our relationship without putting unsure quotation marks around each descriptor. We were “friends”, certainly. For awhile “best” friends even. We were together all the time. Despite our ten-year age difference, I had a massive school-girl crush on him. He might have had one on me too. To this day I don’t know whether he really loved me, just thought he loved me or was only pretending to love me in order to manipulate me. He was the first boy to tell me he loved me. He was the first boy to tell me I was sexy. He was also as crazy as a guy’s night out with Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Michael Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. And unfortunately his brand of crazy manifested as pervert. Which meshed perfectly with my brand of crazy – insecure.
I became his confidant for things that no fifteen-year-old should know. Every conversation with him would start “You can never tell anyone this. Do you promise me? You’re the only person I trust.” I was too young to know that anytime anyone says this, that telling anyone and everyone is exactly what you should do. So I kept his secrets. And became a erstwhile victim of some of them. The more he told me, the less I wanted to know and the more I believed him when he said I was a part of all this.
The police, apparently, agreed. “Do you know where Sara is?”
“Isn’t she in school?” I whispered.
“No, I’m afraid Sara’s gone missing.” The detective added, “And her parents think you might know where she is.” Sara was one of my oldest friends and even though we’d grown apart since the advent of high school – she was cool, I was not – when Nathaniel had asked me for her number I gave it to him. Do not misunderstand the magnitude of this. I knew what he was. I pimped out the girl with whom I still had the “friends” half of a “friends forever” heart necklace.
I burst into hysterical tears, sobbing mascara streaks all over the secretary’s shoulder. I didn’t know where she was and that was the truth. But what I did know was that she was alternately intrigued by and afraid of Nathaniel and his overwhelming advances. Much like myself, I suppose. And now Sara was gone. Plucked, so they told me, right off the street when she went to take care of a vacationing neighbor’s pet. Would she have gone willingly with Nathaniel? Perhaps. Would he have taken her if she hadn’t? Did he? I didn’t ask why he hadn’t taken me.
“Can you contact Nathaniel?”
I could. I had his private pager number. I had his e-mail. I knew the chat rooms to find him in. I knew he would answer if I called him. And so the sting was set with me as the bait. Even then I was conflicted. Torn between wanting to warn him, an impulse that baffles me today, and wanting him caught as soon as possible. It dragged on for weeks as I printed out copies of every cryptic e-mail, had short stilted phone conversations with an officer listening on the other line and typed in chat rooms with a cop taking notes next to me. I only talked to Sara once and she told me she was fine and to leave her alone before he took the phone from her and hung it up. I cried as I listened to the dial tone for 10 minutes.
If this were TV, this would be the climactic moment where I jump in and do something terribly risky and yet heroic like drive out to the deserted barn and unchain my friend while fighting him off with a horse whip and my razor wit. Instead… nothing happened. Eventually Sara showed back up at home. Except she wasn’t really Sara anymore. I didn’t see her smile or laugh for a long time. In fact I didn’t see much of her period. Nathaniel, on the other hand, was more in than out of my life for the next several years. Sara had refused to talk to the police, refused to press any charges and the information from me was not enough to convict so he was free to do as he wished. What is a girl to do after she’s participated in a police sting that ends messily with the perpetrator still in her life and the cops totally out of it?
I internalized it. I made it my All My Fault because that was the only thing I had control over. I ended up tearily apologizing to Sara for not protecting her (which only earned me a glassy stare) and then tearily apologizing to him for the betrayal (which got me this). And with every word I knew: Charlotte was Bad. I created this terrible thing and therefore I must be terrible. The worst effect of this was how perfectly it set me up for the next man to abuse me, for the horrific spectacle of the Very Bad Boyfriend.
Charlotte back then had no intrinsic self worth, I was only a sum of my actions. And as extreme as this sounds, it’s a belief that much of our society reinforces today. People are made and taken apart for what they do in their jobs, in sports, with their bodies. You are only as good as your next big accomplishment and only as far away from bad as your next big failure. And nothing is ever good enough.
But I refuse this black and white interpretation. I am not fifteen anymore. There has got to be a line between who I am and what I can do. I just need to take a deep breath so I can find it. Because in the end, this fear of failure is permission not to try. And I’m better than that.
There is great power in good enough.
There are some posts that I really agonize about posting and this is one of them. (And yes, some of them do remain unpublished.) I may regret writing this but I’m putting it out there in the hope that perhaps you can tell me how you figured out how to separate who you are from what you do. How do you get over that paralyzing fear that you will never be good enough? How do you stop feeling like you always have to one-up yourself? And was anyone else totally fascinated by that ESPN race-pooping article??