In high school, there was a girl in my class who was awesome. She was vibrant and funny and nice and fun to listen to and she LOVED art. Not only did she take art classes all 4 years of high school, but she was constantly *making* art. Not making even, living art.
Art was her life. It still is, in fact; she is now a professional artist.
In high school, she always carried around “art books”, literally old books that she defaced in different ways (painting on them, cutting them, folding them, pasting stuff in them, writing on them, etc.) so that they literally were works of art.
I remember being completely mystified because it seemed like the most wonderful thing in the world, and so natural for her. And, despite how much I wished to the contrary, so unnatural, so UNTHINKABLE, for me.
I would have never thought to do such a thing. And even knowing it was thing, I still couldn’t do it. There was a block.
I couldn't even picture myself even trying to start one.
That was the story I told myself, reinforced by a home life that disdained such things.
But I didn't realize it was just a story; it felt REAL. This caused me alot of internal distress. I wanted to be the sort of person who naturally did something interesting and beautiful and ALIVE-MAKING.
She always had something to talk about because she had her art to share. She always had questions to ask people and an excuse, no, a PURPOSE, to go out and collect things for her books.
I desperately wanted the joy, energy, the excitement, the ALIVE of getting out and MAKING and sharing and growing and LIVING.
But all I seemed to be good at, or made for, was occupying space and being completely depressed. For large parts of my life, I went to bed praying to God to take my life while I slept because I was tired of being so unhappy with no end in sight, and no good reason for being here. What, so I could write an essay my teachers probably didn't really want to read? Most of them were wonderful people, I just can't imagine them getting much from having to correct my 15-year old formulaic lackluster paper-waste I just did to get a grade, at home after they worked on that sort of thing for 8 hours every day already.
The other thing that interested me--and confounded me-- was how people became close friends.
I was very, very blessed to go to a high school where I really didn’t have a problem with anyone. My classmates were very nice to me. People would smile and say hello in the hall. If you were struggling, someone would help.
But those are really friendly acquaintances. I only went over to someone’s house twice in high school: once as a sophomore for a mandatory history group project (because I had to), and once for a brass-cleaning event for marching band (which was good fun, but I was still very much only there because of school).
I never felt eligible to connect with people because I felt like a burden, like a disappointment...honestly, like an embarrassing piece of trash who would only make my (and others’) life Hell by imposing my wretched company on them (and considering what an emotionally immature wreck I was, I was entirely right about that last bit, although I didn't really know why).
Every class for 4 years I would wonder how people connected so easily, how they wanted each other so comfortably and told each other everything...
It didn’t make sense to me.
I learned from a narcissistic parent that people are dangerous and frightening and unpredictable and untrustworthy and stressful…and everywhere I went, adults gave me a hard time for “not smiling enough”, “not talking enough”, “not coming out of my shell”.
Yeah, well, I didn’t know how to (and if I tried, I would almost certainly do it wrong).
Why didn’t they leave me alone? Or rather, why didn't anyone wonder what was really wrong? Why did no one intervene in a deep and meaningful way?
I certainly didn't know how to help myself.
In truth, I both wanted to save myself from showing how much of a horrible embarrassment and failure of a person I was, and at the same time I wanted to be constantly reassured that I was wanted and valuable.
This came from the fact that I had been raised in a joyless, defeatist, isolationist environment on a diet of shame, criticism, and disappointment.
I had been raised to be docile and controlled with fear (fear of the world, of taking a risk, of failing, of showing I was a human with flaws).
I followed orders and went to college. I did not follow orders to become a doctor.
I hated that direction so much I literally couldn’t face life if I had to do it.
Still, I got 2 degrees to compensate, one in business, one in design, and graduated cum laude. I did what all the preachy 1990’s television shows and the misguided older generation said to do. I followed the rules. But I couldn’t support myself (which was allegedly the point).
For 2 years after graduation (there was a “recession” that was a lot like a depression) my already somewhere-in-the-Mariana-Trench low self-esteem continually took more beatings as the hours-long job applications I filled out never got more than a form-letter e-mail rejection (or worse, no response at all).
Parent’s (the only person in my life, the person who my tiny world did and always had revolved around) disapproval and “I-told-you-so” were at an all-time-high in this, one of the darkest points of my life.
I kept following “the rules” that kept getting recited, the common advice that people threw out: join clubs, go to this social gathering, go to that social gathering, get involved, blah, blah, blah.
While I did get to go do a few really cool trips thanks to clubs, I never connected to anyone in them in any meaningful or lasting way, nor by visiting or joining any special organization I went to for the express intention to network, be it a church, business association, or educators group, neither during university nor afterwards. Why?
1. I needed help, but I never wanted to help back (or it was too expensive, or it was too far away, or at the wrong time, or it got re-scheduled, or it fizzled out). They wanted help and money. It felt a bit like a parasitic relationship. What part of that is a recipe for success? Some of the "organizations" lacked just that: organization or commitment from it's members. Everything was about taking or flaking. Our mindsets were not the mindsets of winners :(
2. It was the most awkward, unnatural thing EVER. In those meet-people organizations, you’re either a newcomer (a.k.a. on the outside looking in) and they are all tight-knit, so that you feel like you just crashed someone’s 10-year family reunion (even though they are trying with ALL THEIR MIGHT to make you feel welcome)
you’re all a bunch of strangers trying to impress each other and/or avoid looking stupid (as Natasha Adamo says, “Auditioning”). Real, warm connecting isn't happening because everyone is so wrapped up in themselves and how they are coming across; too busy making an image to be real!
Either way, everyone was trying so hard to make a good impression that there was no real warmth or genuine connection, there was no REALNESS because the whole situation was ARTIFICIAL and felt completely FORCED, FAKE, CREEPY, OVERWHELMING, and STRESSFUL. Anything but the rewarding that you would be going there for.
This is what happens when people are tooting their own horns instead of creating value for others, or taking a genuine loving interest in others. It was gimme interest.
3. The culture didn't match the culture I was longing for. This was further enhanced by the fact that these organizations had hierarchies: people who, call it what you will, basically lead the others and were considered “in charge”. This inevitably lead to more distance and more difficulty connecting.
In some organizations, no matter how humble or down-to-earth the "leaders" may be (and yes, they may be), you are just not quite on the same level. You're always beholden to or triaged by somebody, somebody who stands over you and ultimately calls the shots, whether you agree or not.
4. Even if, by some miracle, there was a slight connection, it always fizzled out before it started. Why? Because since these social events were mostly occasional and out-of-the-way, and because people are busy and have a never-ending list of things to do and take care of, and because they had family and friend quotas all filled up, nothing synched up.
The remotely possible reward of a what? Text-acquaintance at best? Most people at those networking meetings weren’t people who were or knew how to be successful, looking to the blind to lead the blind...so no help there...
It wasn’t worth the ridiculous logistics-trouble of trying to shoe-horn in someone with little ambition, no clue, and a completely different lifestyle and schedule, who lived several towns over, and would "ghost", etc., etc.
I didn't know where to start so I was following “the rules” made by, essentially, morons. The rules being: Go to events that looked good and sounded good on paper, but that I (and few others) had a genuine interest for and therefore little generosity-in-effort towards.
You know when I met people who were meaningful to me in some way?
I don’t mean that they were meaningful in that we’re necessarily taking the journey of life side-by-side. I mean that the world seems vaster and better and more beautiful because I was able to connect with someone who was vast, and good, and beautiful.
People I’ve stayed in contact with for years and people I only talked to for minutes, but regardless I still remember them and they still make my life special today. People who taught me something, even if they didn’t mean to. People it felt good to be around. Real people.
I met them while I searched for answers to how to make myself genuinely better.
I met them when I looked for someone who was where I wanted to be, and cried out for help.
I met them when I kept searching, or when I was making and sharing things, or when I was trying to solve problems, or when I was having fun and feeling good!
It happened when I was REAL.
When it just feels *right*.
It just happens while *you* are happening.
Now, 14 years later, I finally see that the two things that mystified me so completely, were so intrinsically linked: making, doing, getting out and living in the truest and most joyful way possible...and meeting the right people.
Your joy and the gift of being yourself and what you love *IS* the value you provide to society. It may not be the only value, but it is the best and most valuable value!