Recognizing what I’m good at

So I’m discovering that the clearer I get about my goals, the stronger my sense of self becomes. And I’m also starting to see myself through others’ eyes a bit, which not surprisingly is much kinder than how I saw myself.

Yesterday was my birthday. My husband got me a sweet card and very thoughtful gifts. And I got homemade cards from two of my three kids, which were so kind and complimentary that I’ve started to wonder if my husband put them up to it.

The things they wrote (which I will keep private) let me know that I’m actually making a huge difference in their lives. I’m giving them the values I think are important in life and trying to cultivate the traits I think will make them become good people. I may beat myself up for not doing enough, but they don’t view me that way.

Looking at myself through the lens of how they see me, and how my husband sees me, I’m starting to understand that I do have something very valuable to contribute to the world. All these years when I was frustrated that my career was stuck because I was at home, I was shaping kids who have a solid moral compass and concern for the well-being of others. I suck at caring for little kids and don’t enjoy it, but I love big kids and teens (especially my own.)

Now I’m also suddenly able to step outside myself and see what kind of person I am. That makes me love myself more. Especially as I consider my goals and my vision for my future, I can see now how much of it is about helping others. It’s less about getting things for myself and more about being of service.

I saw that my church needs female volunteers to serve in a prison ministry for women and that excites me. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It will be a small time commitment but an important one.

In fact, wanting to be of service to others is such a motivating factor for me that it is finally my “why” for taking the disease-modifying drugs for my MS. I’m very scared of the drugs and they may have a lot of side effects. But if there’s a chance the drugs will enable me to contribute to the workforce — and my role will specifically be in helping others — that makes it all worthwhile for me.

It’s interesting that I kept trying to force myself into being a writer for so long. After all, everyone and their brother from the time I was in kindergarten told me that’s what I should do with my life. And it’s what I always thought I’d do, too, even though I don’t write fiction or poetry as a hobby at all. (I also don’t like reading classic literature.) But it turns out that even though I’ve done it for more than a decade, I actually hate writing for a living. Like, a lot.

I switched my undergrad major from writing to sociology, in large part because I didn’t like one of the core writing professors and the program itself was like a cult of personality. It was all very pretentious and pseudo-artistic and that didn’t appeal to me in the least.

But even though I didn’t like the writing major, I fell in love with social science. So I got my degree in sociology and minored in writing. Many people, including most of my relatives and my kids, think a degree in sociology is worthless. I disagree. I just knew I’d need a graduate degree, even then.

Now that I’m envisioning what will make me happy for my career, it’s still social science. Helping people. Counseling them. Connecting them with resources, whether it’s tangible physical goods they need or strategies to get past their personal traumas.

I do have a lot to offer the world. I’m not only concerned about helping others, but I’m also personally super determined and resilient. You can give me a lot of obstacles, diagnose me with an incurable illness, and I might flail for a while. But eventually, I always stop feeling sorry for myself and get back up and keep fighting. And I want to help others find that spark within themselves.

I have a lot of insights into why people act the way they do, including myself. That doesn’t mean I can figure out everyone; I’m not a super sleuth. But I do observe patterns and can often see why people might do the things they do. I try to lead people to be better. I also know you can’t force anyone to do anything before they’re ready.

Perhaps one of my strongest beliefs since childhood is that nobody is a lost cause. There are some people I can’t have in my life for my own sake, but I think everyone has the potential to get better if they try. I think that most people are innately good, unless they intentionally embrace evil instead.

I think this trait of mine is probably my gift to the world. St. Catherine of Siena famously said, “Be who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

I used to feel bewildered by that saying. I didn’t think I knew who God made me to be. He gave me this writing ability and freakishly good verbal skill, so why couldn’t I make writing work? Wasn’t that who God made me to be?

And now I realize that no, that’s not the whole story. Maybe someday I’ll write a book, but I think my writing and verbal skill is incidental to something else. I might use writing but that itself is not who I was made to be.

Namely, I think who God made me to be is what has always made me different, ever since I was a little kid: accepting of everyone. It takes a LOT to get me to give up on someone entirely. That doesn’t mean I like everyone but I don’t write them off as having no value, either. I literally do pray for and help even my enemies. I truly believe everyone has something good at their core and I am always shocked if I discover that I’m wrong.

But sometimes — a lot of times, even — people don’t know that they’re good at their core. Especially in this messed-up American society, where everything is believed to be merit-based. If you’re suffering, this country will tell you it’s your fault. If you make a mistake, you may find it impossible to get back on your feet.

And that’s where my mission comes in. I believe in second and third and fourth chances. Whether you’re in jail or bankrupt or just trying to turn your life around, what matters most is your desire to change.

I don’t think it’s ever too late as long as you’re still breathing, even if the odds seem impossible. I believe in miracles; I’ve gotten a few of my own.

What I want to do is help. Tell you that you have dignity, that hope is never stupid, that you are loved and good just as you are. You won’t be loved more when you’re perfect — you are already good enough.

Whether I’m handing out food to families in need or counseling someone with a personality disorder who’s been told their issues are incurable, I just want to give people hope. I think my belief that everyone is redeemable is who God made me to be. And that, in turn, informs what I’m going to do with my life.

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