Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but when I love someone a lot, a very weird thing happens. I begin to doubt that they could ever, ever be wrong. This has proved to be extraordinarily detrimental in many ways, but you know that whole deal – when you’re living it, you can’t really see it. And God forbid someone point it out to you, because hand-in-hand with this particular malady is an innate, obsessive need to protect your loved one and the pedestal on which you’ve placed them.
I’ve done it over and over again, with family members, friends, employers, significant others, even mentors who were far too famous to notice me looking up at them adoringly with heart-eyes.
I wasn’t exactly blessed with circumstances that created confidence as a child, so instead of placing trust in myself, I placed it in others. I found decision-making to be a painful experience, because I never really believed I knew what was best for me. If my dad gave us permission to select a candy bar for a special treat at the grocery store, I would be the last one pacing the aisle, scared to death to make a choice. I didn’t want to regret it. Sometimes, this worked in my favor. Once, a last-second “choose now or you get nothing” command from my dad ended in a desperate grab for a Heath bar – a sweet treat I’d never even heard of before. It was a deliciously divine surprise, and it is still one of my favorites.
A little background: My mom was alternatingly terrified of life happening to her four children and horrified that these small beings were clinging to her. She shifted without warning or reason between deep love and complete contempt, and this manifested in unusual, extreme ways: she sobbed dramatically, sliding down the wall in a doctor’s office, upon realizing it was time for our “poisonous” vaccinations; on a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, she held us far enough away from the edge that not one of us can actually recall being there; she locked us out of the house for full days at a time in the scorching heat of summer to play in the mud, hose ourselves down, and then forage for food at the homes of our friends.
She was hot and cold, and she was magnificently critical of everything we did or did not do, including developing on schedule, as we entered our teen years. She criticized how we put on make-up, but never showed us another way. To my sister, she would question, “When are you going to start your period so you can stop being such a bitch?” To us both, she snickered and mocked the size of our budding breasts compared to her own ample supply of womanhood.
She was the most influential adult in our world, though. She was a tiny woman, but she was louder – and so much meaner – than anyone else. And it didn’t matter how much you loved forward; it was never returned back in quite the same way. Love seemed to come in starts and stops, conditionally doled out depending on her mood and what you’d done to deserve affection.
So much of our adult lives are shaped by what happened in our youth, and I fought the truth of that for many years. I still believe that, as adults, we are responsible for our own happiness and success. But I now also understand that these two things are more of a challenge for some than others.
I can clearly (because THERAPY) draw lines between what happened when I was a child and how I do or do not react to life now. There are so many lines, guys. So many. Today I drew a new one as I thought about an old hurt. Some time ago, someone very close to me began to question many of my decisions as I moved forward into a new season of my career. I made large statements during this period, and I saw, very clearly, a goal. Backing up the statements, I made drastic, super-scary moves that took every ounce of courage I could tap into, plus a whole bunch of bravado I did not actually possess to keep the momentum going.
Remember in the beginning of this story when I told you about being scared to make decisions as a kid? After an exceptionally unpleasant divorce that was quickly followed by a massive blow to my career, I was forced to find a good pair of decision-making britches. With my brand new, Bambi-legged ability to make choices, both large and small, I learned the benefit of calculated risk. Over and over again, I made decisions on my own for my household, my daughters, and myself. I bought a car, enrolled the girls in activities, moved house, and built a business in a field that I enjoyed.
But old habits, you know, they die hard. When I made a massive move, a gigantic decision, and I went all in on something that I believed would truly change the trajectory of my life in a meaningful way, I turned my gaze eagerly toward a person I had looked up to all of my life. I hoped for encouragement, enthusiasm, and an outpouring of loving admiration and support from my mentor. I had received all of those things in the past from them; it seemed reasonable to expect them again.
What I received, though, was a steady flow of concern, a furrowed brow, and a series of question marks that made me doubt every single thing I was doing. When my business venture began to flow in a new and exciting way, my loved one brought me down to earth with a reminder that it wasn’t what I set out to do. New ideas were met with statements such as, “You can’t do it that way.” “You don’t understand how this type of business works.” “You can’t make money that way.” “You won’t reach your goal.”
It crushed me because it was so unexpected coming from someone that I held in such high regard. It crushed me because I believed that if they felt I couldn’t do it, I really couldn’t. It crushed me because I had seen them succeed at something similar, and it appeared that they didn’t believe I was capable of the same success.
What I know now but didn’t recognize then is that this beautiful human was on their own journey. They were closing a business as I was opening mine, and they had a million lessons they had learned and wanted to share with me. They loved me so much that they didn’t want me to trudge through the mud – they wanted to give me the tools to navigate swiftly and wisely through waters in which they themselves had nearly drowned. They were worried about my well-being. They wanted what was best for me. They thought they knew what that was and how I could get to where I had told them I wanted to go. They acted in love, and it’s difficult to be angry about that when you really see it.
Not entirely because of this person’s influence, I gave up. I turned tail and ran back to what I knew would work, and I let the business die. New businesses are scary for even the most courageous folks. All of my own fears were verbalized by a person that I thought was never, ever wrong, and my façade of courage was quickly set aflame. I sought comfort, found it once again in a space of familiarity, and I truly have no regrets. It was an incredible time in which I learned a lot about business, networking, brainstorming, and myself. Best of all, I made some wonderful memories with my husband, who stood next me through it all.
I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned through this. People don’t belong on pedestals; they belong next to you. Give them the allowance to make mistakes and learn, too. Humans are imperfect, and when you view them as otherwise, you create impossible expectations – both for yourself and the guy or gal on the receiving end of your adoration.
Most importantly: No matter how educated a person is, no matter how much experience they have or what skills they possess, there remains only one person who really knows what’s best for you. YOU.