Today was the last of the Christmas celebrations for me. My mother’s side of the family gathers in January of each year, to avoid the press of the Christmas rush. It allows more of us to attend, presumably. Some years I like it, some years it just seems to make Christmas drag on forever.
Here’s the deal, something I realized as I was preparing to shower this morning. I *always* feel judged while I anticipate family gatherings. Notice I did not say I *am* judged or that they are judgmental in any way. But I feel judged, and I feel like I am found lacking. This passes as soon as we are all together, laughing and eating. But the dread continues.
Most of my family on all sides are very successful people. They have the *things* that announce success. Big houses, newer cars, jewelry. You know the stuff I mean. Stuff. Status symbols. And I don’t. Nor do I want them.
There are reasons. When I was in high school, I had planned to become an attorney. I wanted to be a defense attorney. I was accepted at a prestigious school. But my parents made too much money for me to qualify for any financial aid at all, and they told me they couldn’t afford to send me to school. So I went into the Army. Met a man, married him, became a mother.
Then I used my GI Bill to go to school. He thought I should be an accountant, because accountants make good money, so that is what I studied. When he asked for a divorce 3 and a half years into my four year degree, I let him and that degree go. I had never wanted to be an accountant anyway, even though I was good at it.
I briefly enrolled in a paralegal program because it was a fast-track to a decent job. He sued for custody of our daughter and so I dropped that, too, in order to focus on what was more important.
I met another man, married him, had seven more children. And now I am back in school. I’ll graduate in May with a degree in social work. And my ending salary as a social worker will not approach the beginning salary of an accountant. And I am okay with that. Because according to my standards, I will be wildly successful. I will make a difference in lives, and when I do that, I will be making a difference in the world.
In fact, I am already wildly successful. I have eight happy, healthy, intelligent children who know that they have my unconditional positive regard.
See I drew parallels in that shower today. Defense attorney, paralegal, full time mom, social worker. Service. Right livelihood. And I am not saying that anyone else doesn’t have right livelihood. I am saying that my choices all along have been consistent, that I knew what they meant at the time, and that I willingly accepted the consequences. The only problem comes when I compare myself to others. * I * do that. No one else. I judge me for not having the *stuff* of success when I have chosen a different measure. I have done so clearly, intelligently, and repeatedly.
I need to let that go. I need to let go of measuring myself by lack of stuff as clear-headedly as I have let go of the stuff itself.