One of my grandmother’s favorite sayings, usually while excusing someone for something stupid or mean they’d done, or even more for continuous counter-productive behavior, was “we don’t make ourselves.”
True as far as that goes, and in the deep intersection between nature and nurture, it’s often very hard to tell who did what.
One of my kids tests off the scale for verbal reasoning/competency. One of my kids tests off the scale for math. Hint, they’re not the kid you’d expect, either for their professions/interests, or from interaction with them.
Partly, I think, because would-be verbal son is so introverted he’s not been around people enough to polish his verbal fluency.
Thing is, he could have, if it were a high value for him and he wanted to do it, get over his introversion and learn social graces and sociability. I know. I acculturated pretty completely, (I’ll never acculturate as completely as if I’d grown up here, because a lot of the learning we do is before we can speak, but I’m say… 95% of the way there, and no worse than an American who spent his first year or two away from the US with foreign relatives, which you know very well happens) and culture is laid so deeply in that it’s not, but it acts like inborn characteristics.
Now breaking your habits of mind and behavior is hard. It feels like going insane. Our minds have all sorts of safeguards in place to prevent that happening, from distrust of what is strange, to the deep, abiding comfort of habit, which pulls you towards routine, which forms a great part of what you are.
You can’t do it without sufficient wish, sufficient will, sufficient motivation.
But it can be done.
We don’t make ourselves, but we sort of do. Take the innate differences between male and female. I realized how massive they were when younger son turned 14. I’ve always been an unusual strong female (perhaps not now. Years of illness have taken their toll.) I don’t remember, anymore, how much I could lift at 30, but I remember the trainer telling me that it was more than the average male. And I had greater endurance. Which I already knew because through the many, many house moves of our thirties, Dan and I would consistently do most of the work, long outlasting any male friends who came to help (and in one notable occasion doing as much as an 8 person team of professionals, because yeah, we were paying but it had to be done sooner than they’d manage.)
HOWEVER that was in a time when I was in exceptionally good shape, and it’s not normal. When younger son — who is a bit more inactive than the rest of this family and at the time had flab instead of muscles — turned out to be able to dead lift a 100 lb. cement sack when I couldn’t. And I was in actual decent shape. And he’d just started getting the call from Mr. Hormone, betrayed by a fall in voice register and a sudden and — to his mother startling — hairiness.
I.e. I know that males, including very young males get an advantage from testosterone that I simply don’t have.
If I wanted hard enough however, I probably could have maintained the strength of my younger years and be “stronger than the average male” (probably just stronger, not you know, overwhelmingy stronger.) which would still cause me to fold like wet kleenex when faced with a male with a modicum of training or in good shape (which I’m going to guess doesn’t describe the “average” male.)
I wasn’t willing to do that. On this side of recovering from serious and prolongued illness, I’m doing my best to actually exercise. I don’t however have any interest in becoming exceptional at strength (if it’s possible, still, at my age, which I doubt.) I just want to be in reasonable good shape, because I have better things to do with my time.
So, what is this in name of?
Oh. We don’t make ourselves.
There will be some time in your life when you’ll either come up against something you really, really want and aren’t good/strong/smart enough to get. Or the thing you always wanted and were smart enough to get will disappoint you so greatly, break you so badly, that you won’t be sure you still want it, much less keep chasing it. What was once interest and desire and the ability to work insanely will turn into “anything but that.”
I don’t know anyone my age who hasn’t experienced times like this at least once: either in career or in work, or with their children.
Sooner or later we all hit the wall and become profoundly broken and find it hard to take one more step, make one more attempt, reach for the brass ring once more. My friend Dave Freer blogged about this.
You will experience this, even if you’re not a writer. You will hit this wall. You will find yourself lost, with the beloved thing now an object of aversion, something you will give anything not to do/be/be around.
Obviously in the case of some marriages, some professions, even perhaps some living situations, for your sanity, for your peace of mind, for your survival you have to walk away.
But what if you don’t have anything to walk away to? What if you molded yourself into this thing you wanted to be for a lifetime, and you have no other goal, no other dream?
Well, then, again to quote grandma, you must forge your gut into a new heart. And you must march on.
Because you have nothing if you give it up. And you die. You either die physically or you kill a part of yourself. And you can’t go on.
No marriage, no career, no child rearing will be as it was in your dreams. When you embarked on this, with flags flying and trumpets blowing, be fair, you had no clue what it was like. You didn’t even know what it was truly like.
Just like no plan survives engagement with the enemy, no dream of “I want to be/do/create” ever lives up to the image in your mind. And every career field, filled — alas — with humans is filled with suckitude and failure. If you run from this, you’ll meet it again, sometimes over and over again. And you’ll die lost and embittered.
Forge your gut into a new heart and go on. Older, wiser, experienced, prepared. And make the thing you love into as close as possible as what you imagined. Ransom yourself from the depths of bitterness and horror and tiredness.
Be not afraid.
And I too will take my own medicine.