I don’t have many happy memories of childhood. The memories I do have seem to jump from one moment of being yelled at or hit by my father to being bullied in school. Fourth grade. Dad is pissed I am too scared to swallow a pill needed for my chronic infections. He slaps me across my face. Hard. I’m stunned because this is the first time in his hitting me where I am convinced I did not deserve it. Sixth grade. Other student in art class takes a stuffed animal I brought in to draw in a still life and completely destroys it when I’m not looking. Third grade. Kids call me the cootie girl and make fun of me. I spend my recess times along singing by myself waiting for this supposed “fun” time to fly by. First grade??? I didn’t clean my room. Dad comes home from work, screams at me to come into his room, bend over the bed. I know what I’m in for. His belt slides quickly out of his oversized pants, (the woosh of leather sliding through pant loops is unforgettable and so sharp in my mind), and I don’t know which is more horrifying, his uncontrollable, inconsolable rage, or the snap of the belt against my back and behind as I squirm and learn to, in some ways, appreciate the pain. It is the only thing in the world that feels right. It is what I deserve. Twelfth grade. Half-assed attempt at suicide. Cry for help.
Yet here I am… still here. I guess I should give myself credit for that. But I’m still that girl whose only understanding of self was someone who was not worth much of anything at all. My comfort zone was playing the role of scape goat. Want someone to blame for all of your problems? Blame me. It’s easier that way. Everyone needs a scape goat.
The problem is, no one really needs a scape goat. No want wants a martyr. People want people who are confident and effective. They want leaders who can get shit done. A good friend recently explained to me that one of my biggest flaws in leadership is that I don’t communicate decisions clearly. I’m so whishy washy. You want to know why I don’t communicate decisions clearly? Because I can’t make them. If a decision must be made by instinct than I don’t trust mine. I grew up being told time and again that whatever I thought wasn’t right. If it’s a decision made by data then sure this should be easier but there’s never enough data to support decisions that in large part must be based on intuition and enacted with full confidence.
So every single day, I’m faced with this huge problem — if I don’t trust my decisions, even on the most minute detail, how can I expect anyone else to? And the way leadership works, you don’t really get a lot of chances. You fuck up once and your cover is blown. You need to be clear, solid, directed, and consistent. That shouldn’t be so hard. But my challenge is I make my decisions based on understanding what other people want. That’s how I was raised. I take in a lot of information, pay close attention to how people react to something, and then come out with a solution which is a compromise of what everyone else wants. Only when I really feel it is what “other people want” can I confidently back it up. My own opinions/ideas/thoughts have absolutely no worth. At least not until I can create a final project/result and it is a big reveal moment. When I can show versus tell – then, and only then, can I have confidence in my own ideas and outputs.
This all is rather disastrous professionally. I’ve clearly added value in the past when I’m able to just run with things, but I crumble when I need to lead. I can’t quite decide yet if I just don’t want to be a leader or if I want to be a leader but I really suck at it today. Every single tiny choice builds up great anxiety in my chest. I have physical pain in my chest daily due to being frozen over decisions. I fear I’m not intelligent enough to pick door number one or door number two. My communication skills are beyond pathetic and people run out of patience with me. I find myself fantasizing about moving to New Mexico and working as a waitress at a diner for the rest of my life because then I don’t have to make any choices – I just have to take orders.
But I also don’t like just taking orders. Even if an individual contributor-type job paid the same as a managerial position, I would feel stifled in that. I do have ideas. I do like to make processes better. I do see the bigger picture and understand very quickly how one thing can effect many others. I feel like there’s something there of value, though not everyone values it. And often this skill, if you’d call it that, is actually a determent to success. Instead of focusing on what moves the needle now I want to fix the bigger picture. I feel this unrelenting, heavy, exasperating pull to fix the architecture of the bigger picture. And I spend too much time stuck in this as a way to avoid dealing with the real issue – that I can’t actually make day-to-day decisions… whether that be what to wear or how to delegate a task. And, as a result, I drive everyone nuts. I wouldn’t want to work with me.
At the end of the day, I do need a job. And if I have to have a job – which I do – I want one where I know I’m adding value. As someone who was raised to “serve” versus to “lead,” I am only happy when I accomplish a task set out for me and am rewarded for not just meeting expectations but overachieving on this task. The clearer the goal and more my own doing can get me there, the more productive I am and the more success I achieve. When things aren’t so cut and dry, when there’s a thousand things to do in order to do a remotely good job and there’s only time in the day for four of them, I am crippled beyond belief. I still get work done, but I do it at night, when I can escape the confines of the office, where I can breathe and think and focus.
I want more than anything to be successful right now. It really isn’t about the money, though that’s a nice plus. I want to make a difference. I want to prove to myself and others that I can get shit done. That I can lead. That I can be a great leader. But clearly I don’t actually believe this to be possible. How could I? I’ve been beaten down so many times throughout my life, I’ve been told I’m into good enough and others are better than I am, I’ve been bullied and ridiculed (sometimes for good reason) and I am at the point where I must admit that will always be me… that is never going to change. Either I learn to deal with it – or embrace it – or I’m not sure what.
I know I have to stop being so hard on myself… I honestly feel like I might have a heart attack any day now… or at least some full-blown “take me to the mental hospital” panic attack — but there isn’t time to deal with it effectively. I mean, you can say there isn’t time to not deal with it, but nothing I’ve tried so far has worked. I’m tired of costly therapy that goes no where. At the end of the day, maybe I’m just not cut out for this… business world. I don’t know. There must be others out there in the world who were raised in a similar way I was — children of narcissists, low self esteem, bullied as children, bipolar II, highly anxious, and still making their way in the world somehow. Who are they and how do they cope? Is it possible to rise above all of this to make quick, confident decisions and actually lead effectively? Or is this hopeless? No psychologist would tell me it’s hopeless – they get paid to “fix” these problems – but I want to know, really, if this is hopeless – hopeless in that I’m never going to be the right fit for this, and hopeless in that I should get used to lower-paying jobs where I can maintain a stable living and “dot the i’s” all day in someone else’s vowel-only alphabet.