I’m not in a season of publishing most of my writing. As a writer, it is hard to admit this, but it’s my truth. I’m in a season of reading, observing, and soaking up my summer time with my son. And I’m also in the expected season of renewed self-discovery with the identity shift that momming brings. Sometimes, though, it takes my keyboard to help me fully form the things I’m learning.
I’ve been reading a book I never would have picked up on my own called “The Best Yes” by Lysa TerKeurst from Proverbs 31 Ministries. If you know me and know about Proverbs 31, you know I get my feathers ruffled by about 90% of the people who use this passage. So much so that I’m going to link an article at the end to help people realize that the woman described in that passage was a lot more like Wonder Woman than domestic goddess.
Why to Read
Regardless, this book has been extremely helpful for me as my identity has expanded to include that of Mom. A lot has changed since baby boy, but a lot hasn’t. What this book is providing is a way to reflect on the before and after and reset boundaries as is more necessary than ever now that it’s not just mine and Mike’s time being questioned.
Case in point for why I’ll admit I need this book: one night, two close friends and I were sitting around thinking of one word to describe each of us. They both used the word “driven” for me, and my own word wasn’t far off. Heck, the name Emily itself means “industrious.” I don’t do sitting still well. And I certainly don’t do anything half-heartedly. If what I’m working on doesn’t bring joy, I cannot continue it. But if it fulfills ideals, then watch out! The downside of this go-getter mentality is time. There simply isn’t enough physical or emotional space to do everything that I want to or everything that I’m asked. That’s true for all of us, and it was true for me even before motherhood.
This book has several filters to put requests or plans through to make sure that it fits before saying yes. That it is truly helpful towards meeting goals. I’ll admit I skim past some of the anecdotes, but the technical aspects of it have been eye-opening. Reading always brings along introspection and reflection, and through this book I have discovered a deeper truth about myself.
There is a lot in this book about saying yes in order to please others. Honestly, I have considered myself a people pleaser for years. Primarily because I THRIVE on feedback. As far back as I can remember, when I received back a paper I had written without at least a paragraph of commentary, I was devastated. The same is true professionally today; I crave getting feedback. I think I’m one of few teachers who look forward to being on an observation year. I might as well have a sign on my forehead that says “TELL ME HOW I AM DOING WITH SPECIFICS AND AS MANY WORDS AS POSSIBLE PLZ THANKS!” I assumed this meant I was a people pleaser. Yet, last year, while reading the book “Growth Mindset” by Dr. Carol Dweck with the rest of my building, a contradiction became more clear. This book talks a lot about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. It showed me that I am intrinsically motivated…but that contradicts my deeply embedded need for feedback. Or so I thought.
Looking back, I am a bit surprised I didn’t analyze this contradiction more thoroughly. Except that I am a Gemini, and sort of use to personal dualities. And a new mom. Who was largely sleep deprived last school year. Regardless of why, I didn’t second guess this information about myself too much. I continued to tell myself that regardless of receiving clear approval, I could be content in my work. I tried to make that my reality, but it didn’t solve this nagging need. It took an incident on a sidewalk in Evanston, Illinois to click the pieces together, turning the puzzle into a clear picture.
I was walking just behind my dear friend, who was carrying her almost 2 year old daughter. An elderly woman walked past us, smiling warmly at my friend and her girl. As I was just a few steps behind with my own adorable bundle of joy in my arms, I’ll admit I expected the same reaction. Instead of focusing on adorable Augustine, however, her sharp brown eyes fixated on my left arm’s tattoos. She shook her head and scowled. Now, this didn’t really upset me. I sort of laughed, and I remember thinking to myself that I signed up for being noticed, for better or for worse, when I decided to get visible tattoos. And I truly didn’t care what she thought of me…but wouldn’t a people pleaser care?
So I continued to read The Best Yes and dwell on this people-pleasing picture of myself that contradicts so many areas of my life. I thought back to how comfortable I am challenging others, even risking their opinion of me. But then I thought of how upset I get when I am misunderstood or disliked/unfriended as a result. I thought about myself in high school, constantly getting in trouble with the administration although in reality the worse thing I did was oversleep and thus arrive late. But I dressed like a punk, and so I was treated like a punk kid. And it still bothers me, although I continue to dye my hair bright red and that whole tattoo thing. I thought about professionally, how I often know deeply I am doing good things for my students but if it ruffles feathers I am questioned or worse. And I realized something big. I am not a people pleaser. Pleasing people is not what I am seeking when I crave feedback. Approval is not something I have really ever concerned myself with. It’s something different; it’s recognition.
Recognition to me doesn’t mean that you agree or adore what I suggest or work on, but it means that you are willing to look at it and see where it came from and/or where it’s going. I didn’t need my high school vice principal to like me. I didn’t and still don’t care what people think of my physical appearance choices because I didn’t and still don’t do these things to create an image that pleases anyone else. But I did need her to recognize that I wasn’t doing drugs, drinking, or smoking. I was academically unchallenged and dressing the way I did because of Christian punk rock bands and discovering Hot Topic. That’s all it was. I don’t need my superiors at work to hold me up on a pedestal. In fact, if they did and I knew I didn’t earn it, I would be uncomfortable. What I crave is their knowledge of what is happening in my classroom and their questions as to why. It’s far more about others understanding me, my work, etc. than it is about others liking any of these components. Having the Board of Education tell me they were going to help me fight for license conversion because they saw my transcripts and test scores and believed in the difference I could make for students felt a lot more meaningful than the certificates of achievement I received.
That last example brings some light to the fog of my confusion all these years about what really drives me. Because sometimes recognition does look like approval. And I am human, so I’ll own that feels pretty neat sometimes. But approval alone isn’t satisfying to me. Another way I have realized this is my post-baby body. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on how great I look. My body bounced back quickly. Like freakishly so, compared to my expectations. But I didn’t really do anything to ensure that. I had no control over it. So those compliments make me uncomfortable (which may be another issue I have to work through).
Writing this feels a little uncomfortable, too, because there are some descriptions of things that I recognize can sound like bragging. Which connects to my whole desire to be understood. I’m good with you disliking some of the things I’ve shared about myself…as long as you recognize that I shared them in an effort to be understood and maybe – just maybe – help someone else understand themselves. Recognizing ourselves is important to keep that intrinsic motivation going, after all. And it CERTAINLY helps with decision making and boundary setting!
*The link to the promised article about Proverbs 31/Wonder Woman!