Not Quite Good Enough

Are you one of those people, like me, with unreasonable self-expectations? I demand more of myself than of anyone else and offer myself little mercy. It’s not surprising there’s an official OCD diagnosis in my medical history. I work hard and aim for perfection so it’s no wonder I often feel not quite good enough. Let me recount some painful failures.

At age seventeen I was college-bound, considering a major in piano.  That summer, though, I got sick with severe pain and swelling in my joints. The diagnosis: rheumatoid arthritis. The disease made it difficult to even climb a flight of stairs; long hours of practice on the piano were unthinkable as was any chance of majoring in music. I was ready to leave home, fly to independence, but instead, couldn’t get out of bed without help. My body was sick, which had nothing to do with my efforts, but I still wondered what I had done to mess up my future so badly. “Will I ever play the piano again?” I asked Mother through my tears. “Of course, you will,” she said with an encouraging smile. But I learned later that she went to her room and cried.

The piano has drawn me like a magnet since I was a toddler. In spite of my years of playing it, though, I cannot play by ear. I need a sheet of music, or at least a chord chart, in front of me. My limitations are abundantly clear in my Music City environment where musicians perform with no practice or print music. My inability to join an impromptu jam session makes me feel incompetent. In fact, I usually don’t mention my ability to play the keyboard out of fear someone will suggest I join in. Can’t do it without the roadmap no one else around here seems to need.

I earned a degree in accounting and upon deciding to become a certified public accountant, took four tries to get through the exam. At the same time, I worked with a man who passed the entire test his first try with the highest grade possible. Anything less than a perfect score has always felt like failure, so the CPA exam experience was demoralizing.

Twenty-five years ago, after spending hours writing and submitting stories to publishers, I got enough rejection notices to wallpaper my bedroom (which you may understand as you read this story). As all writers know, rejections are tough on self-esteem.

When my husband, George, started riding a motorcycle at age fifty, I was ready to become a motorcycle babe. Even got a tattoo on the small of my back, called by some a tramp stamp, but maybe I’m not too trampy, seeing as the design was a cross. I took a class to learn to drive the machine myself and was told to give it up, that I was a danger to myself and to everyone else. It’s funny now, but back then, I left the class in tears.

My life has been marked by one depressing event after another.  (Yes, there are many more than the ones listed.)

At age forty-seven, my studies of alternative medicine helped me earn a Doctor of Naturopathy degree. I opened an office, eager to do consultations and supplement sales, but quickly discovered my penchant to give things rather than sell them. Of course, that doesn’t pay the rent, so I ultimately closed my practice, a huge blow to my self-confidence.

Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance rather than circumstances so my twenty-year relationship with Prozac has helped me cope with life. No wonder I expected to be a good candidate for a Vanderbilt study on depression in people over sixty. In evaluating me for the study, the researchers asked questions about depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and sleep habits. They tallied a score and decided I wasn’t depressed enough to be included. Seriously? The study would have been an interesting thing to do in retirement, so being excluded was depressing. But something kept bothering me, niggling at the edges of my conscience. What was it? And then the realization came: I was upset because I wasn’t sick enough to be included in a study of depressed people. Wow. How sad. Perhaps it was time for a new perspective, time to reframe the disappointments.

My arthritis, which went into remission after six years, steered me toward an unexpected profession, accounting. It paid my bills and allowed me to meet my husband.

No, playing by ear isn’t my gift, but I can read any piece of music placed in front of me. I am blessed by the ability to sight-read, especially when I’m in the mood for Beethoven.

It took four tries, but I did get through that exam, allowing me to put CPA behind my name.* Those letters opened doors for better jobs at higher pay.

The publishers didn’t want my stories, but my daughter enjoyed them enough that she recently illustrated two of them and had them printed. The mother/daughter collaboration was sweet and I was thrilled to see my children’s stories become beautifully illustrated picture books.

I never learned to drive a motorcycle, but certainly enjoyed riding on the back of the machine with my arms wrapped around the love of my life. I even dared to get a second tattoo on my back.

And yes, I failed in operating a natural health business, but gained knowledge that was invaluable to the health of my family.

I can’t overlook George’s great support. In fact, after I was eliminated from the depression study, he texted: “Better luck next time. I want to help, so I will see if I can do more to make you miserable.” His sense of humor helps me see a side I ignore when things don’t turn out according to my expectations.

Not quite good enough? That’s a ridiculous notion. No, I’m not perfect, but I’m exactly who God created me to be.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14


* I am no longer a CPA. I’m retired!

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