When I was little, school was easy and prizes came easily. My prizes brought me little joy, especially after my mother asked why I didn’t win them all, which was her way of spurring me on to greater heights. I lined my prizes and waited for my father’s praise. When he finally gave it, my life assumed colour and the monochrome of my existence ceased to be.
I think about it now, and wonder if it wasn’t crippling to let my enjoyment of life hang on someone’s approval. I was a child, I didn’t know better. You would think I’ve been cured, after all these years, but I’m not. I am not yet a black belt at life; I have only learnt to do life better.
Am I the only one with this disease?
Years ago, I met a young man at the behest of a mutual friend. He had written a story they both thought was good enough to submit for a competition. I was to look it over, you know, give some pointers.
From the start, sloppy errors that MS Word could have fixed littered his story. I read every line of the first six pages, displeasure turning the corners of my mouth down. In my review, I mentioned that he had a strong story to tell, but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
He responded with accusations that stung, as if my review had attacked his person, not his work.
I should have sensed his vulnerability in the conversation we had at our first and only meeting, underneath the Chicago Bulls baseball cap he wore and his bravado words. When he placed the manuscript in my hands, I should have seen his heart. I should not have dismissed the way his hand shook so that a few sheets went sailing in the wind, as superstition.
He was not unlike the men in my life; men, who like a 5,000-piece puzzle, take weeks to unravel. Men with broad shoulders that absorb the weight of my fears and the problems of our world, and yet . . .
Anyway, if he wanted validation as a writer, why did he say, “Be brutal in your feedback, I want to get better.” His girlfriend was supposed to hold his hand and whatever else needed holding not me!
Nevertheless, the need to prove my niceness to a stranger ate my sleep. I replied and gave him concrete examples of what he could have written better, including how and why. Although he baited me to read the entire manuscript, saying that, the errors were only in the pages I had read, I declined for I was not that hungry.
That experience cost me a friend and a potential one. Seldom have I received a request for feedback that was not encroached upon by the need for affirmation. I hear it often in the defence people give in response to feedback.
Wise men pause when a woman asks, “How do I look?” Bombarded by images of beauty in the media that thrive on the insecurity that the media put there in the first place, she is asking for validation, not the whole truth. Happy is the man who gives it. Even my son knows that his answer to this question can mean the difference between his favourite take-out pizza and frozen pizza popped in the oven.
I used to dream of meeting someone special who anticipated my needs so I would not need to be weak and speak them. I now know people do not spend all day gazing at crystal balls to decipher what you need. Growth means that I untangle my web of feelings and answer these questions honestly.
Timi what do you need?
Who can give it to you?
Where is it safe to get it from?
Last week, I had a shitty day and if I am honest, I had set myself up to fail. I went to the one with whom I feel safe and recounted the day. Then I said, “Just for tonight, tell me I’m beautiful, tell me I’m smart. In the morning, you can tell me I’m full of crap.”
I am further along on my journey than when I began.
©Timi Yeseibo 2014
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