Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How do you solve a problem like Mardougrrl?

The hills are alive...with the sounds of low self-esteem...
For many years, I’ve avidly consumed self-help and self-improvement literature. Go ahead…name a book. Chances are, I’ve already read it, or it’s on my list of books to read.

Something about the books speaks to an essential optimism, to a belief that if I just get everything right, if I get everything just so, then I’ll be able to sally forth and join the human race, finally free of those nasty aspects of my personality. Truth be told, I’ve always been a little overly-proud of myself for being so concerned with all of my problems. It was proof that I was determined to live up to my full potential, and not live in unconscious mediocrity. Sure, I could read novels, go to movies, etc, but that wouldn’t really HELP me, would it? And so lately, it’s almost felt like a job, this slog through one self-help book after another. I tell myself that I am trying to make sure I “fix myself” before Madam is old enough to see me as a bad role model.

And yet…I am still a procrastinator. Still fearful. Still full of flaws and problems that never seem to go away.

Thus, I keep postponing my dreams, rationalizing that once I get rid of the fear, or the confusion, or the low self-esteem, I’ll be better equipped to DESERVE my dreams.

Well, I’m 33. How much longer am I going to wait? It occurs to me that these flaws are a part of me, but that focusing on them so intently has made me over-identify with them. I mean, am I a full person, or just an endless series of problems to be solved?

I know what it’s about, of course. It’s fascinating to see how many different ways fear can rule my life. In this case, it’s a fear that, without the books, I’ll relax into my flawed state, sink into a sort of catatonia, and stop pushing myself to go after my dreams. That I’ll sit in front of the television, concerned with nothing except the latest round of “American Idol” (and I don’t even LIKE American Idol!).

It’s a fear of giving up who I am.

But…while the books make me feel as though I am earnestly working towards my dreams, making lists and flowcharts, in reality, I can’t seem to translate any of the lessons into just LIVING—into attempting to find my creative tribe, into writing my books, into finding a way to incorporate beauty into my life. No, the books just seem to lead me to more books.

The thing is…I have learned a lot from these authors. They’ve inspired me, and, if nothing else, made me more aware of the many ways my treacherous monkey-mind can operate. But now it’s time to acknowledge what I have already learned and actually use the information, no matter how ineffective and wrong I still feel.

I am afraid to sully my dreams by attempting to reach them in my current imperfect, deeply flawed state. And I am afraid to make mistakes, to do it wrong, somehow, and put them out of my reach forever.

I am afraid.

But this relentless focus on my faults, on my lack, has drained me. The world is too fascinating, full of new books on Transcendentalists and India, and poetry, and art, and music, and Project Runway…it beckons me right out of my head. And that’s a welcome place to me, all of a sudden. I’m tired of trying to improve myself. My navel is just NOT that fascinating (except to Madam, but that's a whole different thing).

I am probably going to stay afraid. And a procrastinator. And probably continue to have low self-esteem.

But I’ve decided to accept all of that, and jump into the world with both feet anyway. After all, imperfect people are writing books, making movies, painting pictures, moving to Spain, learning ice dancing, dyeing their hair pink, and marrying their muse every day.

I think I’d like to join their number.



Blogger Alex aka Gypsy Girl said...

As Sark once said (wisely as usual)... "We are all splendidly imperfect"!!! Whatever breaks inertia and gets you going! If it's a self-help book or walk in the woods, it doesn't really matter... Sometimes I just need to mix it up a bit to experience a new perspective.

1:06 AM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger Cate said...

I'm afraid, too.

I thought that the 30s were supposed to be better than this. I remember seeing Julia Roberts on Oprah right after she turned 30; she went on and on about how wonderful it was. I imagined that when I turned 30, all of my creative dreams would come to fruition and all of my self esteem issues would disappear--HA--was I wrong!

From one self-improvement book junkie to another, I applaud your acceptance and willingness to jump in with both feet. You are going to do (and have already done) many wonderful things! xo

7:44 AM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger Laini Taylor said...

Hey you, YES, come on out of that head of yours! (I love that you threw Project Runway into that list) On the subject of self-help books, I recently read a column by the Salon advice columnist in which he (I think it's a he) didn't give the title of a particular book he wanted to recommend as part of his advice, because he thought that with self-help books people sometimes confuse the process of reading the book with "doing the work" -- in his opinion it was no substitute for seeing a therapist. I don't know anything about any of this; I just thought that was interesting. But there is an overall positive attitude in this post that I was glad to read -- and the thing about following dreams is that achieving one big goal gives you the confidence to go after others; it feeds on itself, and maybe it's BETTER than self-help books. (P.S. -- We had Columbian pastries for breakfast in Queens this morning and I thought of you -- I put up a pic on my blog!)

10:26 AM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger earnest and game said...

oh, cool. how liberating. bravo! xoxooxoxox

12:35 PM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger Rach said...

Well done for saying how we all feel. Bravo! Oh and jumping in wit both feet - I will be right behind you. You'e been tagged too.x

6:28 PM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger Alexandra S said...

Thats exactly it Monica. All those books we love and learn from were written by people more like us than we suspect. My wish for you is that you can see yourself, if just for a little while, through the eyes of everyone like me who truly believe in you and cherish your voice, your incredibly beautiful writing, spirit, honesty, and willingness to be vulnerable and in the heart of your pain and doubts. But I also sense a real restlessness coming from you that you know you deserve more than what you think of yourself too often. I have so many self-help books too and I also have gained so much from them. They've helped me through many a hard depression and yet I agree, that we have to at some point let them be catalysts for us to take the next courageous step towards that which makes us feel most alive and creaively fulfilled. And I am sure that I wouldn't like a book written by a perfect person if there even is such a thing as one! xo

11:10 PM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

"Thus, I keep postponing my dreams, rationalizing that once I get rid of the fear, or the confusion, or the low self-esteem, I’ll be better equipped to DESERVE my dreams."-- YES! Gawd yes. Me, too.

I have read a heap of them. I still do. I listen to self-help radio!! But sometimes i get to thi splace where I just need a break from trying to fix my damn self!

Yes, I think we do miss out on life when we try so hard to be good enough to live it. Sometimes I am really able to say "This is me world, in all my fucked up beauty!" And then the funny thing is, I feel more healthy in these moments than ever!


11:38 PM, February 07, 2007  
Blogger Susannah said...

it sounds to me like you are grappling with your shadow side (can you tell i'm in therapy? LOL. best thing i've ever done though...) i'm starting to come round to the idea that i will never be perfect, and will never write the perfect book. instead, i'm learning to be okay with the messy glorious imperfection of it all... letting go of the fear is a toughie though.... i'll keep working on it if you do too - deal? :-) x

9:27 AM, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Leah said...

this is such an awesome post! i applaud you for jumping in as your perfectly imperfect self!

i have struggled with this stuff as well. the fiansor told me something that was really helpful in shifting my perspective. he said that he knows he has quirks that people would consider flaws, but he just takes them as part of his personality, not negative at all, and actually uses them to his advantage quite often. i realized i was spending so much time trying to "fix" my flaws, when many of them are what make me, me! he saw what i considered my flaws as attributes. and when i shifted my perspective, everything seemed to shift. it's all about accepting what is at this moment.

there's just no point in waiting for perfection. we'd all be waiting our whole lives for that.

4:32 PM, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Frida World said...

Oh lovely, I have such mixed feelings after reading this post. But mostly I feel close to you - I also have many days when I think I should not be a human rights officer if I lose my cool with my Afghan assistant, if I get grumpy with the driver or have to run away from some cases because I am too afriad of what will happen if I can't solve them. But here I am, imperfect messy me - taking on a job that surely only a saint should be qualified for.
I read my self-help books at night, I meidtate in the morning, I write out my feras and then send some cries out into the blog universe and get back all your love and then I get up and do it again. It's so very far from perfect that I was almost paralysed by the mistakers I was making and my failures for a couple of months but I'm emerging from that now and here in your words I read a similar emergence.
Let's keep walking alongside each other and reaching out when we need a little hand to steady us.
with love,


11:46 PM, February 08, 2007  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

I can’t seem to translate any of the lessons into just LIVING

Me too. Sometimes it makes me wonder what these books are really teaching me-- how to be a more balanced person or how to read more self-help books? Time will tell, I suppose.

4:20 PM, February 09, 2007  
Blogger paris parfait said...

Yes, stop thinking about it so much and start trying new things. Perfection is unattainable - the important thing is to enjoy the journey and have lots of fascinating experiences along the way - more stories to tell your grandchildren someday!

4:31 PM, February 09, 2007  
Blogger wendy said...

here's a horse analogy...you wanted one of those...right? A trainer once told me to compete, and get my ass kicked by the best riders I could find. You watch, learn, absorb...long before you can DO. So you "ride" with the best ideas you can aspire to...and you learn, and you fall....and then you do.

As for your daughter, she will see her mother wanting to attain, wanting to learn, wanting to try. This is a great thing to modle. the best thing in fact.

Hang in there!

6:14 PM, February 09, 2007  
Blogger deirdre said...

I spent my 30's trying to "fix" myself, reading every book I could find and spending a stupid amount of money on therapy. It all helped, I learned a lot, and then one day I realized I wasn't broken. And then the living began. So, from an older, but not necessarily wiser, place - live, screw up, breathe deeply, screw up again, but live. You are so much more than you think. It gets better. I promise.

11:29 PM, February 09, 2007  
Blogger Herb Urban said...

What a beautiful sentiment about your daughter. Mine is two years old. She is just discovering new words everyday, while making up a few of her own along the way. It is something to behold.

I agree with you on the struggle t find your own voice. When I was in college, I feel in love with the writing style of whomever I was reading at the time. Nothing I ever wrote seemed worthy in comparison. With the passage of time, and a wealth of experiences, I struggle with that less with each passing year.

Great read, as always!

8:23 PM, February 11, 2007  
Anonymous Shannon (Sentimental) said...

I certainly know what you mean. Leaping into who it is we think we are meant to be is scary. We never know which turn is wrong or right.

Good luck going feet first. I have done that a lot lately and I am waiting for the moment when I realize it was worth it.

6:41 AM, February 12, 2007  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

Yes-jump feet first!

I am with you on so many levels.

trying to let go and accept me too.


6:18 PM, February 14, 2007  

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