Historically, I’ve always been a little scared when people believe in me, especially when it’s someone whom I respect or admire. If you’re not a perfectionist or someone who lacks self-esteem, you may not understand why that would be. But if you’re anything like me, you might be familiar with the feeling as well.
Last night, my fiancé gave me a birthday gift that clearly communicated how much he loves and believes in me. It was really sweet and I cried numerous times, but it also made me feel scared. I told him this, and he helped me come to a new realization, something that’s been plaguing me all these years.
His belief in me isn’t contingent on me completing some task or achieving some particular benchmark. He just believes in me. Period.
I sometimes think it’s to our detriment when we’re too similar to someone we love. It allows so much room for us to assume we know what’s going on, what the motivation is, what that gesture or action meant. I’m very like my parents. My whole immediate family scores as the same type on the Myers-Briggs test. So I think I’ve spent my life assuming something was one way when it was another completely, and it’s never occurred to any of us that I might need it spelled out.
My parents have always believed in me. They’ve always communicated that, with words and actions. That fact has always baffled my mentor, TC, who has been trying for years to help me conquer my perfectionism and my low self-esteem. He’s tried to help me find the reason behind it all, but a story where the girl’s parents didn’t punish her for bad grades and who always loved her unconditionally doesn’t add up to the issues I’ve been dealing with. It’s always baffled me too. Until now.
I assumed my parents belief in me meant that they believed I could do something specific. And, at times, that is what it has been. When I needed to take over doing my own insulin injections at age twelve, they believed I could handle that. When I started playing tennis in high school, they believed I could succeed and learn a new sport. When I went off to college, they believed I would be able to take care of myself and do well in a new environment. When I chose to go to seminary and pursue my master’s, they believed I would be capable of that. They have believed in me being able to do particular things along the way, but that’s not what their belief is. It hasn’t merely jumped from thing to thing, achievement to achievement. They just believe in me, like Joel does.
When I quit grad school, I felt like I had failed a lot of people. It’s not because they expressed that, but because they had expressed that they believed I could do it. In my mind, that meant that I had disappointed them by not doing it. My parents never once acted like I was a disappointment or like I had messed up their faith in me. They continued to express their belief in me, but I didn’t understand it. And every failure since then has felt, to me, like I’ve disappointed them—and probably a hundred other people—again.
While I’m sure there are people in my life who expect certain things from me and pass judgement when I don’t fulfill their expectations, those people are not my parents, Joel, TC, or a bunch of other people who really care about me. For reasons I still have trouble grasping, they see something in me that I can’t see for myself. They don’t believe I can do _______. They just believe I can do.
My grandpa will call my brother and me from Texas pretty regularly to catch up with us. He has a little phrase he sometimes adds at the end of things: “And then you go and do.” It’s always struck me funny because of how vague it was. Go where and do what? But maybe that’s the perfect example of this kind of belief I’m discovering. The where and what don’t matter. My grandpa just believes I can and will “go and do.” He’s excited to see what the particulars are; he’s not filling it in for me. That’s for me to decide.
Will there be other “failures” along the way, paths abandoned and new ones picked up? I have no doubt. But I think it’s high time I realized that’s not antithetical to what people mean when they say they believe in me. They’re just excited to see me “go and do.” I’m free to decide the where and what.