My task today is to respond to Michelle’s lovely and wise Monday post, in which she reflected on celebrating the many small victories along the path to publication. She evoked the concept of dayenu–meaning “that would be enough”–as a sort of mantra to acknowledge each moment of joy along the way.
I love this concept, and this attitude. I love the idea of reflecting on a draft or a round of revisions and gratefully saying to myself, “that would be enough.” I love the idea of smiling serenely and feeling the contentment of a job well done right down to the core of my being.
I also love the idea of meeting Mr. Darcy at a ball, having him fall madly in love with me, and professing the violence of his emotion for me right there in the Collins’ parlor. To be perfectly honest, the likelihood of either of these dreams coming true is about equal.
The thing is, the idea that my accomplishments are enough has never been something I could believe, at least not since grade school. Long before entering the so-called formative years of puberty, I had learned that most things about me were not enough, or at least not enough to earn me respect or affection from my peers. My grade school years were marred by fat thighs, cat-eye glasses, orthopedic shoes, and a wardrobe with way too much polyester double-knit. My peers responded with an understandable dose of horror. And while I did well enough in school, teachers let me know I was neither as smart nor as good as my sister, who they had adored the year before. By the time I entered the crushing years of puberty, I was already dragging an atrophied ego. My efforts to please, impress, flirt, or simply be liked, had been widely declared to be “not quite enough.”
Then I hit puberty, and the awkward years. If you feel the need for an audible groan, go right ahead. This is not one of those ugly-duckling-turns-into-a-swan stories. Nor is it the Brady Bunch episode where Marsha takes off Shy Girl’s glasses and she is suddenly transformed into the prom queen. I’ll spare you the gory details–suffice it to say I remained alarmingly unattractive, and for those of you thinking “beauty is only skin deep,” tell that to the scars on my psyche. And yes, as long as we’re talking in clichés, looks aren’t everything, but that overachieving blaze-of-glory sister was still blazing along a grade ahead of Mediocrity Me.
I can’t say that years of never being quite good enough did much for my self esteem, and what it did do was generally painful. But while my self esteem withered to a phantom limb, my sense of denial grew until it wasn’t just a river in Egypt, but something much, much bigger. What years of being told I wasn’t good enough did for me was to make me strive to prove the world wrong.
This, my friends, is my maddening double edged sword of achievement. I am driven to succeed by the need to prove that I AM GOOD ENOUGH, because sometime before the age of ten, a grain of NOT GOOD ENOUGH got wedged so deeply into my soul that it will not come out. My accomplishments are the pearl that I have formed around that grain as protection, but the grain is still there.
The reason I have a PhD in my chosen field, the reason I have an agent, the reason I have a novel under contract, is because I have never been able to say “Dayenu.” Is this healthy? Were those achievements equal to the pains and humiliations of my youth? I don’t know, although I know I am not alone. CEOs, sports superstars, artists and literary figures before me have been driven by insecurity. I am in good, if somewhat pathetic, company.
Still, Michelle’s post was so beautiful. I like the idea of someday saying Dayenu. Even more, I like the idea of knowing what that feels like to say it and believe it. And maybe some day I will. Maybe I will be able to put my insecurities to rest once and for all, embrace and celebrate my talents, and step into the light as someone who can say
That would be enough. Dayenu.
But there are still things I need to achieve first. For one thing, my editor has some amazing best-selling writers on her list, and frankly, that’s seriously scary. I’ve got to keep striving for more if I’m going to hang out in that crowd.
So for today I’ll say, “it’s not quite enough, but it’s a great start,” and I will consider that a big step forward from the crushed little girl I once was.
As for “Dayenu,” I’m saving that for the day Mr. Darcy proposes.