Monthly Archives: May 2011
There are a lot of ways to define success. My definition often depends on my mood and on the balance in my check book.
But most of the time, I fall back on the definition that just seems to make the most sense: Success isn’t measured by the size of your bank account, by the number of people who admire you (or who fear you) or by the number of awards you’ve received. Success is defined by the positive difference you make in the lives of others.
I say that because I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by successful people. These are people who humble me. People who make me want to be a better person. People who give far more than anyone would ever expect, and in many cases, far more than I am capable of giving myself.
I’m more than simply fortunate. I’m down right grateful. If it weren’t for these successful people, I couldn’t do my job.
For those of you who don’t know what I do, you aren’t alone. I’m not sure my husband even knows what I do.
Sometimes I tell people that I work in the community to address health and human service issues. Sometimes I tell people that I get to spend the money that others raise for the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. And sometimes I tell people that I herd cats.
But none of those simple descriptions defines the scope of my job: every day, I get to work with a wide variety of community members who simply want to make a difference in the lives of others. And I get the privilege of watching them succeed.
During this past week, when some of these committed volunteers were deliberating over the best way to invest donor dollars, an article that mentioned that United Way of the Eastern Panhandle was published in our local paper, the Martinsburg Journal. Twenty years ago, this article would have simply been an account of an event . But, thanks to the internet, people can now anonymously express their opinion about every article. Or the content of every article. Or their perceived content of every article. Or about any person, business, or organization mentioned in the article.
In this case, people took the opportunity to bash the United Way. The comments ranged from claiming the United Way is a racist organization to claiming that we use donor dollars inefficiently. For anyone familiar with the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, these individuals obviously don’t understand the organization. Or more importantly, they don’t understand WHO the United Way is. Most likely, they don’t care.
While the internet has added so many wonderful opportunities — from social networks that let us re-connect with people from our past to a wide variety of information at our fingertips - - it also provides the opportunity for people to hide behind anonymous names and cruelly attack just about anything and anyone. Not only do they spew their negativity as though they were are an authority on the subject of they day, but they seem to take pride when others take the bait. And, unfortunately, these people mistakenly believe they are thriving. But they aren’t – - quite the opposite, in fact.
Thriving people are those who spend their time and energy building others up rather than tearing others down. The kind of people who I’m surrounded by every day:
- Staff and volunteers who work for nonprofit, service and faith-based partner organizations, and who have such passion for a cause that they often put the needs of the organization and the clients above their own.
- Community members who raise dollars that are used to make a measurable difference in the lives of others, such as a local businessperson who continues to ask for donations despite being turned down again and again and again.
- Individuals who donate what they can, even when they are struggling to make ends meet. These are people who, even when they don’t have an extra penny in their pocket, will hold a fundraiser so they can still give something. (Interesting, studies have shown that lower income people give a larger percentage of their income to charity than do the rich . Some experts think this is because they have needed help or have a family member or friend who has received assistance, and they know how important giving back is.)
These are the most successful people I know. Because, despite the size of their bank account, despite their educational status and despite the number of times they’ve been criticized, they are making their little corner of the world a lot better.
And, ironically, they are so busy doing the right thing, they don’t have any time to do the wrong thing… or to post anonymous, critical comments online.
There are times when I truly believe I am the most self-critical person on earth. At the same time, I also believe that, for the most part, I’ve become pretty good at hiding that trait from all but those who know me best.
(And yes, I also know those people are doubled over laughing at that idea that I think I can hide anything I’m feeling or thinking. But, believe it or not, I really don’t reveal everything. Really, I don’t).
But here’s the thing. I’ve begun to wonder if there might be a gene for self-criticism.
I say this in all seriousness.
While many women point out their flaws more often than they point out their strengths, there are those who take it to a whole new level.
My mother, the over achiever, is a prime example. For all her accomplishments, I don’t remember her ever being satisfied with what she had achieved. Instead, she was always comparing herself to others and thinking she didn’t measure up.
For skeptics of my self-criticism gene theory who believe it’s simply a learned behavior, let me go on the record saying my mother tried her hardest to ensure she didn’t pass that characteristic on to me.
Her efforts didn’t work. And neither did her mother’s.
I’m fairly certain that my grandmother carried a self-criticism gene that weakened upon passage to future generations. There’s simply no other explanation for why my grandmother would have been critical of herself.
First of all, she was beautiful. I look at photos of her and wonder how she ever could have any self doubts about her appearance. But she never thought she was attractive
Secondly, she was one of the strongest and most intelligent women I’ve ever known. She grew up on a farm in Michigan. I’m told she held the record for the hundred yard dash at her high school for decades. And she, like her three other siblings was so determined to get a college education that worked hard to pay her own way through Michigan State University.
In the early 1930’s.
As a female.
During the Great Depression.
And not only did she graduate, she excelled.
But, like my mother and like me, instead of seeing her accomplishments, she often focused on her perceived failures. And she constantly compared herself to others, particularly her older sister Sylvia.
I never understood why. I always thought my grandmother was prettier than and just as accomplished as my Aunt Sylvia. I also thought Aunt Sylvia was a really cool lady who lived her life in a manner completely foreign to me.
What Sylvia didn’t lack was a passion for living and a limited fear of failure: all things my grandmother strived for.
While my grandmother thought she was too skinny, Sylvia carried a few extra pounds.
While my grandmother was cautious, Sylvia embraced life.
While my grandmother aimed for perfection, Aunt Sylvia aimed for laughter, love and music.
And while my grandmother always felt like she was being judged, Sylvia never seemed to worry what others thought.
Admittedly I can relate too well to my grandmother. I have battled some of these issues all my life (with the obvious exception of thinking I’m too skinny. I have NEVER had that concern.)
But, here’s the really cool thing about genetics. They combine with those of our other ancestors to create some really remarkable combinations.
So if you can buy into the whole “self-criticism gene” theory, you can also accept that there are genes for compassion. And humor. And tenacity
All traits I think I got from some of my amazing relatives.
Which means while I believe “there’s a gene for that,” I also believe that “there’s a family for that.”
And I got one heck of a great family.
As Mother’s Day drew near, I once again found myself shopping for the perfect card for my mother.
Shopping for my mother is never an easy task, but card shopping for her is next to impossible.
I just can’t equate any of the flowery, sappy cards with my mother.
Granted, I’m not the flowery, sappy type myself, but compared to her? I’m a sentimental fool. I would be kidding myself and others if I claimed I had never wished my mother was the warm fuzzy type. Or that I didn’t find her a bit too serious and intense. Or that on more than one occasion (count hundreds in my teen years), I’d wished she was more like other mothers.
But I’d also be kidding myself if I didn’t recognize that if it weren’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be me. And, although it’s taken way too many years for me to publicly admit the fact, I really do like myself. So thanks Mom.
Thanks for living your life on your own terms and not bending to societal pressures. And thanks for expecting that I do the same.
Thanks for having the fortitude to speak out for what you believe, even when everyone else is keeping quiet. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
Thanks for taking on stereotypical male roles and responsibilities. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
Thanks for living a life that demonstrates what you do for others is more important than accumulating material possessions. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
Thanks for taking time to pursue your own dreams and passions while still ensuring your children get everything they need. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
And while I am grateful for everything my mom is and did, I’ve never have found the perfect Mother’s Day card to share that message. This year, I settled on one that simply said “You are special.” But I wish I could find the perfect card for her.
It would be a card that tells her to relax. She did her job as mother, and she did it brilliantly. It would tell her that she needs to stop worrying about her perceived missteps and focus on the facts: both of her kids turned out just fine. We never went to jail and we never made headlines for our bad behavior (at least I never made headlines for my bad behavior, I’m not sure my brother even participated in bad behavior.)
It would tell her she helped stack the odds in our favor so that we could live happy, productive lives. We are both well-educated, we are both responsible for ourselves and our own families and we are both parents who greatly appreciate that we had positive role models in our parents.
Most importantly, the card would tell her that she gave her children the best gift of all: the gift of knowing we are accepted and appreciated for being who we are with all our own flaws and quirks.
So instead of providing her with the perfect card, the best I can do is write my thoughts and share them with anyone who is willing to read them.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom.
I love you!