Officially speaking, I should be a high achiever in adult society. After all, I performed very well all through school (from kindergarten up through grad school), and I have natural talents scattered throughout the arts and technology. Why, then, am I still at home at age 28, having been unemployed for almost 4 years?
Part of it I can blame on the lack of jobs in my fields around home. My skills in creative writing, music, and web design/development don’t seem to be in much demand around here; retail workers, nurses, and industrial workers are more needed. Plus, I’ve had a plethora of health problems which have kept me from working (not least my crippling headaches which have made even “fun stuff” impossible–more about that in a later post).
But there is another part of this that up until last Sunday, I had completely failed to acknowledge. Despite my skills and knowledge, I lacked one important thing to make me a self-starting dynamo: faith in myself. And that, more than anything, has kept me not only unemployed for years, but sick and depressed as well.
Sitting in church on Sunday, August 11th, I listened as our pastor told us exactly what God demands from us–utter trust. “But sometimes,” he said, “we are too stubborn to depend on the plans God has for us…or we are too fearful of where those plans will lead.”
I sat in the pew, silently angry with that statement. Where had all of “God’s plans” left me so far? Waiting 4 years for the right job opportunity, one that I actually had the skills for? Trying to write a novel that I wasn’t even sure would have an audience when it was finally finished? Making music that it seemed only I would ever fully enjoy, playing away at my keyboard in the basement? I was such a useless human being! Why had I even been made, if this was all I was capable of?
And then, a thought that was most definitely not my own burst like a bubble into my mental stream of self-hate: “You are capable; I made you that way. You just haven’t trusted Me yet.”
In that instant, anger turned to tears; I wept the rest of the sermon, as if each tear were a frustrated prayer, prayers I thought God had put off indefinitely. That one thought, which I firmly believe was a thought from God, had started a cascade of new understanding.
What God’s Little Nudge Was All About
Like I said, by all outward appearances, I should be a very successful person; not only do I have a lot of skills, but I have dreams and ambitions. I daydream about the reception my first novel will get from the public (in these daydreams, it’s always overwhelmingly positive). I think about performing onstage as a solo pianist and singer, in some unnamed auditorium full of family, friends, and fans. I plan for a future in which the money raised by these creative efforts goes toward repairing my parents’ house (the only house I have ever called home), tithing to my church, and preparing a beautiful wedding at long last for myself and my boyfriend.
But in some part of my mind, all these dreams have been reduced to just that: dreams. Increasingly, I have come to believe that I don’t have the skills to make these things come to fruition.
I wasn’t always this way: I remember sharing my talents joyfully with others, and seeing the happiness I brought to their lives by doing so. I am a pleaser, and am happiest when my works give joy to others. But my first foray into the working world soon quashed that idealistic spirit. I learned, shatteringly, that sometimes my best would just not be enough, as I struggled to teach middle-school Language Arts and found myself overwhelmed by the mental workload, demanding time schedule, physical strain, and emotional toll of the job. My hat is off to teachers everywhere; I attempted the job, thinking I would make easy work of it because I was “so skilled,” and I simply could not do it–I nearly committed suicide just to escape it.
What I had not realized until last Sunday was that the scars of teaching school had never healed; indeed, they had spread infection into every last bit of my spirit. Because of my massive failure in teaching, I had learned not to trust my own instincts about the quality of work I produced. Even as I confidently told others that I simply wasn’t made to teach and that I would soon find my “place” in the world, the doubts snuck in: “What if I’m no good at ANYTHING anymore? What if I’ve lost my touch at absolutely everything?”
Subsequent attempts to work resulted in failures as well; I got a retail job that I had to quit after a week because my legs swelled and bruised so badly I could barely walk. Not to mention the webdesign job I got, in which I gave the customer every chance to veto any design components, and I presented the person with the finished product only to hear “Can you design it all again? This isn’t what I want.” It seemed, at least in the working world, that my efforts would be either frustrated by my own disabilities or pooh-poohed by the people I needed to please. It all began to feel absolutely hopeless.
As silly as it may sound to those who have never suffered depression, anxiety, or just plain ol’ self-doubt, these thoughts and situations began to cripple me mentally. I stopped applying for jobs because the massive lists of required qualifications intimidated me. I quit sharing my music with others for a long time, because I thought it “probably wasn’t good enough for anyone else to hear.” I even quit writing on my novel for almost a year; “after all,” I thought, “who’s going to want to read a book like mine? It’s so different from everything out there–it’ll probably never sell anyway.” And I kept writing my blog here, but every week I went without comments from readers left me more and more desolate. Was anybody even reading? Was it even worth it to continue anymore?
This horrible little merry-go-round of self-hatred was what God was trying to free me of that Sunday morning. In fact, He’d probably been trying for a lot longer. But on Sunday morning, I finally heard Him, and the merciless round-and-round in my head stopped at last.
Where Do I Go from Here?
“So what do I do with this?” I found myself wondering, after the bulk of this very blog post had crystallized into an understandable form. “Now that I know to depend on God, where do my dreams and ambitions fit into that?”
I’ve prayed about it quite a bit over the last week, and here is what I’ve come up with:
- Quit trying to do everything myself out of pride. I need a support system, full of people who understand what I’m trying to do and can help me do it better. (And I also need to actually listen to their advice instead of being offended that they’re offering me advice.)
- Quit pre-disapproving my efforts before I show them to someone else; I need to give someone else a chance to observe them before I haul off and hate on myself for “not being good enough.”
- Quit being afraid to share my efforts because someone else might steal them. God gave my talents to me, not to hide them or hoard them, but to use them for His glory. It’s not about me anyway!
- Quit being afraid to attempt things which I’m not sure I can do. The worst anybody can tell me is “No” or “Try again.”
- Quit being afraid! THIS most of all!!
So, from today forward, I will seek to connect with people who are professionals in all my fields of talent, people who know the business well and can guide timid little newbies like me. After all, I know that God will lead me to the right people, if I will only step forth in a prayerful decision.
This really terrifies me, to be quite honest; I’ve become so withdrawn and isolated that stepping outside this shell feels like putting my toe out into a frozen wasteland. But I have to, if I’m ever going to “make anything of myself”–if I’m ever going to actually live my life instead of being scared of it!
(I hope my story will help others break out of their own merry-go-rounds of self-defeating intimidation and depression. Let me know in the comments 🙂 )