This post is my response to my first writing assignment in the “Trust Yourself” writing challenge. Each day we receive a “prompt” with the goal being to write an introspective response to the prompt.
Today’s prompt is “We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This writing challenge will certainly be that, a challenge. It is suggested I write an introspective response to a specific subject everyday for the next thirty days. What interested me about this challenge is the way I have been asked to be introspective, to look inside myself and trust what I see…this has been a task which has been the topic of much conversation and the source of much anxiety for a long time.
The first line of Emerson’s quote hit me in the face without warning and stung like an ice-cold snowball smacking me in the face. As someone who grew up in a home with two very strict parents, I learned to please others by doing what was right, what was expected of me. Unfortunately many of these decisions did not meet my intrinsic needs. I felt afraid most of the time. I was afraid of groups of people because I felt I could not control the conversation. What I really meant was I could not control the anxiety I felt.
I have been a practicing social worker for the past twenty-five years. Like many individuals who find themselves gravitating toward the helping professions, my motivation was intrinsic. I could easily diagnose myself as having “social anxiety.” My own shadow was often enough for me to jump. The motto “Physician heal thyself” was amended to read “Social worker heal thyself.”
I learned over the years through reading and journaling…my two forms of therapy, I need not be afraid. Emerson was often my companion. I read his works several times, not always understanding what I was reading and being afraid to read certain essays because they too confronted the norm; my norm which was to not confront the norm, to not rock the boat. There was something about Emerson’s words which continued to attract me and continued challenge my norms.
As the years progressed I like to think I became more intelligent although I believe my intelligence is more a strong willingness to be introspective. I now am at a place in my life where it is more important, of more value to me to understand who I am. As Emerson said, “Our age yields no great and perfect persons”, I now understand I can be no one but myself. This lesson remained difficult and my education would continue.
At one time I had the pleasure of working for one of the most insightful individuals who my path has crossed. Jim was the CEO at the first community mental health center where I worked. Jim was also a social worker. Jim and I met for supervision monthly. During one memorable meeting Jim asked me who at the agency I looked up to and respected. A more difficult question which was also posed to me was why I looked up to them and respected them. Those answers came with relative ease. My responses were fear based. As I pondered Jim’s questions, questions of my own raced through my head. “What is Jim looking for?” “What is the ‘right’ response?” As if someone reached for a wall switch to turn on a light, it came to me the superficial nature of my responses.
I realized I wanted to be just like those people I admired. I assumed if I could be just like them I didn’t need to be me. Fear, panic and anxiety would leave and success would fill that now vacated void.
Jim took the time to foster our relationship. I trusted him. He nurtured my role as father, husband, academic, and clinician. Jim worked exhaustively with me to ensure I comprehended the importance of identifying and see the strengths which defined me. Jim gave me permission to be myself.
Several years later, our relationship continuing to grow, Jim passed away. He was 46. When I heard the news I stood in shock completing the statement which had been interrupted by the news of his death. Thoughts raced and words would not come. Denial was my new friend and closest companion. I felt as though I had lost a parent. The loss of Jim in my life, while difficult taught me new lessons. It was if Jim had said, “I’ve taught you everything you need to know.” Jim’s final words to me when I last spoke to him were, “Get the Hell out of here and go practice what you know!”