Why is it when I’m with a group of smart, confident and self-assured women I come home feeling like an inadequate underachiever?
There is no logical reason to feel like this, they say and do nothing to belittle or deflate me. I enjoy their company, they’re stimulating refreshing and energising. I just walk away from them feeling I’ve failed on so many levels.
They all have/ had high powered careers, reams of academic qualifications and efficient, successful domestic lives. Their offspring work hard, have the maturity of thirty somethings and careers mapped out from the age of sixteen.
They believe, genuinely, that life will be perfect if they just work hard enough and stick to their life plan. Oh boy. I have enough life experience to know it doesn’t work like that unless you also factor in a large dose of denial to cover the inevitable cracks.
This morning I’ve decided to rid myself of this illogical feeling of inadequacy. I’m not a total idiot or underachiever. There are things I’m good at comparable, if different, to the successes of some of the women I know.
I sit with pen poised and paper pristine determined to list my life achievements, letting my mind wander and drift into oblivion remembering past glories.
Sadly, the first thing to pop into my head is me, aged around seven, at the National Brownie Revels in England. (I was a Sprite). Along with another girl the two of us paraded through hundreds of cheering, clapping and stomping Brownies, beaming, blushing and bursting with pride clutching a large and heavy trophy between us. We were joint winners of the National Brownie Poetry Competition. I’m not sure this compares to a Masters in Astrophysics but I have to start my list somewhere.
Looking back, I’m wondering if my first literary success was even completely my own as my father had made some enthusiastic and witty contributions to my masterpiece.
‘Write a poem with the starting line ‘there was a little toadstool all red and white and blue’.’ I’m wondering if there was some national event to celebrate that year as I’ve never seen a blue toadstool but admit that’s another arena in which I have no expertise. Beyond that, and starring as Aladdin in a school production of the same name aged nine, my mind is a complete blank.
I’ve sat here for ten minutes doodling and procrastinating and my mind is a fog. Not because I can’t remember but because there are so many things I no longer consider important.
I have yellowing pieces of academic paperwork proving I once gained certain levels in particular academic fields a very long time ago and they just don’t seem relevant to life today, here and now. There is no need to drop them in conversation, ever.
Which leads me to wonder how do we compare success when it’s such an individual concept? And why would we want to compare unless it’s to feel better about ourselves?
It seems success is defined differently by people in diverse life situations.
If you’re with a group of academics they will trade universities/ colleges, degrees and research papers even if it was twenty years ago. Talented individuals compare creative achievement. Scientists strive to be the first to make new discoveries. For people fighting illness, addiction or grinding poverty getting through another day is right up there with splitting the atom.
More importantly, unless you’re impoverished and starving, monetary success seems to be secondary. Seems to be.
So if I acknowledge success is defined by the individual why do I feel so darned inferior when I’m with people who define success in a different way to me? No clue, but it’s a real feeling and not a positive one.
If my kids were having this conversation with me my immediate response would be (and has been) ‘find people with the same definition of success (values, behaviour, creativity and drive) as you and hang with them’.
It dawns on me that the women who intimidate me most are high achieving, driven women with a 5, 10 or 20 year life plan they will follow come hell or high water. They are super organised.
And that is the first place we differ.
I’ve learned over the years that life will hit you with a curveball from left field when you least expect it and all plans, dreams and hopes go out of the window.
I may not have an engraved or polished life plan, a gazillion relevant degrees, be a CEO of a global company or have a coded weekly family schedule stuck on my fridge, but I’m pretty good at dealing with life’s curveballs.
The life mantra, for me and my family is, It doesn’t matter what life throws at you, it’s how you deal with it that counts’ And you know what? I’m darned proud of how we’ve handled some of those balls.
After sitting here far too long I’ve decided to abandon my list. I know what the list is, where my strengths are and what’s important to me and that’s all that counts. Whenever I’m in a situation where I’m feeling inferior, dumb or insignificant I shall define those around me by my own criteria of success – grit, wisdom, loyalty, friendship, empathy and generosity of spirit.
Life’s too short and too important to get hung up on anything else.