I've never been good at selling myself. I am horrible in interviews and wretched during auditions. My nerves get so overwhelming to me that I never put my best self forward. Neither have I had any bigger than life dreams. There were a few accomplishments that I worked for and achieved, but nothing out of the ordinary. A meaningful career and a strong relationship. These are enough for me.
But others pushed me to go outside my comfort zone, and they are the reason that I am able to say, "my book went into publication today". Friends and colleagues generated excitement when I couldn't conjure up my own. My students had dreams which forced me to figure out how to make their dreams come true. My family gave me a firm base that would never be shaken.
It's still surreal to realize that people will read my words. It's terrifying that people will judge my talent. But it's exciting to achieve something bigger than I ever imagined before. So, the dedication for my book After Genevieve reads as follows: "To my Father, Raymond Michael Wiren, Jr., who always dreamed more for me than I ever dreamed for myself."
And it's true. My dad always believed I was more. He assumed I was smarter, wiser, funnier and sometimes even prettier than I could ever live up to. His dreams forced me to become a writer. So while he's in heaven now, I still want to take this time on this earth to say, "Thank you, Dad."
I asked a few of my volleyball players this question and made sure they knew I didn't want an answer out loud. I just wanted them to analyze their personal philosophies to promote a team-first mentality. The question was, "would you rather play every point of every match on a losing team or play less time on a winning team?" Okay, so there may be a bit of fallacy in that question since there are probably a few more options, but the application to life might just outweigh the use of logic.
My sports journey was modest at best. Yes, I made all conference in softball for second base, but that was because our bunt coverage could not be beat, which wasn't really my doing either. Our catcher and pitcher were so on point, all I had to do was stand on first base and catch their throws. It was so stressful, but their skills helped me get an award for being where I was supposed to be.
In the sport I love the most, volleyball, I didn't get to be a starter or play very much until my junior year (thanks to Margaret for breaking her leg), and boy was that a fun season for me. But with the limited amount of actual game time I played in four years, it never once occurred to me not to be part of the team. I loved the game, I was a contributor in practice, and I had some shining moments here and there. I never considered it a waste of time because my whole purpose was to play a game I loved. More importantly through that experience, I took away knowledge. Knowledge of the game, knowledge of athletes, knowledge of people, and knowledge of how a team works. That knowledge helped shape my career.
When I think that if I had said no to being part of a team because I didn't get the playing time I wanted (notice I used the word 'wanted' not the word 'deserved'), I realize I would have missed out on even more special and meaningful times. Thank God I said yes.
So would you rather be on a losing team while being the star or would you rather contribute to the success of many by doing the job they ask of you? If your answer is both - you might need some more lessons on what Team is all about.
My creative writing students remember lessons with the objective of telling Bob to shut up. Yes, we use those words in my classroom, and Bob deserves it. Bob is the name chosen for the inner critic we all have within us. Often, he's good at grammar and plotlines, and thinks he's an expert on what the audience wants. But Bob is wrong, and after a few weeks of beating the inner critic down, you very easily could have witnessed students of mine mumbling the words, "Shut up, Bob" or whatever they may have called their inner critic.
Writers and many creative types fall prey to the pressure to be correct the first time. Their inner critic tells them each idea is crappy, and they probably have erased more ideas, sentences, or whole novels than they want to admit. I didn't figure out the whole "Shut up, Bob" principle until I went to grad school. That's where I learned that I was my worst enemy; I was editing before I ever wrote anything down. I had done that my whole life. My pattern is that I need roughly three levels of crap before I find the gems on which I can work. It takes a lot of fight and perseverance to get through three layers of crap.
Writers are vulnerable to people's opinions, and that vulnerability twerks with the writer's confidence which then invites the writer to critique before it's time. There is a time for editing and there is a place for Bob, but we have to keep Bob reigned in until it's his turn to shine. And, while confidence can grow with experience and success, vulnerability is always palpable for the writer. That means Bob will always need to be told to shut up. But he's strong and can handle it because he knows he will have his day.
(Apologies to any real persons named Bob who may have taken offense.)
I'm either the smartest dumb person or the dumbest smart person ever to exist. Okay, so this might be a bit hyperbolic, but it feels very true in my life as what I am about to share with you is the type of thing that happens to me All. The. Time. Last night I decided to make a tuna casserole (please set aside your opinions on tuna or casseroles in general for the sake of the blog post). I cut up the onions and celery then began mixing all the ingredients in a large bowl. It felt familiar; until it didn't. Once I put the noodles into the bowl, the task became downright difficult to the point I started talking to myself: "Why is it so hard to mix noodles with creamed soup and cheese?" But I kept stirring and stirring, hearing the crunch of noodles against the spoon until it finally dawned on me...I had forgotten to cook the noodles.
Wanting to turn an embarrassing incident into one of meaning, I started to wonder if the uncooked noodles couldn't represent how people try to live life everyday. For 29 years now, I have watched students take shortcuts in their education almost every chance they get. Just like adults who take shortcuts with their health choices everyday. Instant gratification is a much stronger driving force than the investment into the future self.
Now, my noodles were an unintended shortcut (I just poured broth over the whole mixture, covered in foil, then baked it anyway - it turned out edible), but the principle is still evident. When we skip steps like doing homework or exercise or cooking the noodles, the next steps in life become much harder. We need to be patient with the process of the things that we know are good for us because we make life harder when we skip small but important steps - like cooking the noodles.
Or, if none of that makes sense, I also learned that taking a nap before cooking is not for me.
As I begin this blogging journey and in shoutout to my Uncle Jim, the Philadelphia-based columnist James Smart, I hope I can be half as smart and a quarter as witty as he ever was on a bad day. For my first happy rant, I'm going to use a reoccurring lecture I have used for the last twenty-eight years of teaching, mentoring, and coaching. Let's talk about the phrase, "I'm a perfectionist".
Oh really? Consider that a pianist plays the piano, a machinist works on machines, a plagiarist plagiarizes, an absurdist is characterized as being absurd, and a phlebotomist phlebots? phlebotes? phlebotomizes? Okay, so he punctures holes in people, but I think you get the point. When you add "ist" to an action you are proclaiming that that person does the thing the suffix has been added to. Need more proof? quarterfinalist (in the quarterfinals), agriculturist (dabbles in agriculture), experimentalist, (experiments), oppositionists (they oppose), and on and on it goes.
So when people claim to be perfectionists, I must draw the conclusion that they believe themselves to be perfect. But wait, no human being on earth other than Jesus has ever achieved perfection. So, how can all these perfectionists exist? I suggest an alternative adjective. Prideful. Human beings are prideful and find their identities in their accomplishments. So, when a task rears its head, whether ugly or pretty, that task is now going to be another litmus test of someone's worth. If that task goes well, the worth of the person remains intact. If that task does not go well, anxiety sets in because a person's worth is in danger of being diminished.
If we could separate our worth from our everyday tasks, then maybe our pride wouldn't take so many hits when life proves we are not and never will be perfect. And maybe that would free us up to find something more concrete to base our worth on. Like being made in the image of God.
Just a thought.