Why not?

Have you ever taken one of the innumerable personality tests that are out there these days? I took a fair number of them as part of some research when we were  setting up the School. Results vary so much from provider to provider and from day to day, I came out differently almost every time. Talking things over with those who know me better than I know myself, it appeared that they would each place me in a different area. I would have categorised myself differently again, but their observations encouraged me to have a good look and re-examine a few things. ‘Know thyself’ takes on a whole new layer of meaning when you actually start looking.

Over the years, like many of us, I have been obliged to submit to the psychometric testing now required for many jobs. The results can be illuminating in ways perhaps not immediately obvious.

I remember going to the first one at a time when my self-confidence was minimal and my self-belief even less.  I never did have much of either; I had been raised in the shadow of one of those sparkling people and felt dull beside the glitter and inadvertently allowed that contrast to undermine my confidence as I grew. An unusual adolescence, a disastrous marriage and having my face rearranged by a drunk driver didn’t help my self confidence much either. So the young woman who began to grow into life always felt second rate. Almost, but never quite, good enough. No matter how conscientious I was, how hard I worked, or how much I tried, I never expected to amount to much. I saw myself as second best. A shy, retiring mouse of a woman. And because I saw myself that way, I allowed others to see me that way too.

Life took a new direction when I packed my bags and went to work in Paris. Years passed and the blinkers wobbled a bit. I recognised the flaws in my own growing as I learned to instil confidence into my sons. I didn’t care what they did with their lives as long as they were happy, healthy, whole human beings. I wanted them to believe in themselves and know that I did too. Raising them while dealing with my late partner’s cancer I found I had a lot more confidence than I had known. It was odd really, as I had always believed that every one of us is valuable, unique and necessary to the world. Always known that we carry within us a spark of the Divine Life… and what can be greater than that? Yet somehow that knowledge didn’t filter through into my vision of myself.

When my partner was dying we discussed what I would do when he had gone, knowing I would have to earn a decent living to keep the boys. I learned to drive, a big step after the severity of the accident years before. Then I addressed another problem. I had dropped out of maths at school, and that was one qualification I lacked and would need. Others I had. I signed up for night school, in the hope of getting something  that said I wasn’t an idiot where maths was concerned; I had accepted the assessment that I was no good at that either.

In three months I completed a two year course and came out with a Distinction. No one was more surprised than I and my self-assessment began to change. Maybe I wasn’t as worthless as I had thought. It made me wonder what else I could do if I tried.

Looking back, I began to see that the mouse had not lacked courage to roar and had faced some pretty awful stuff and dealt with it. I had taken risks and leaps of faith, lived a Bohemian life for a while, done many things a little house-mouse would not normally do… yet I still had no faith in myself? So maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t who I had thought I was. Maybe I could do stuff.

I applied for a high profile job I felt completely unqualified for, in spite of the bits of paper. I was surprised to be called to a series of interviews and finally arrived, terrified, for a day of psychometric testing in London. There was a room full of professional looking people exuding confidence. And me. Feeling like a fish out of water and thinking I shouldn’t have come.

This was a full eight-hour day of intensive testing across the spectrum. Half were dismissed mid-morning, more at lunchtime. By the end of the day, only three of us remained. I was called in for the results. I didn’t get the job… but I got something better in my eyes. I had scored joint-top but the other person had relevant experience. I had tested at doctoral level, I who had left school at 16. They went through the test results in depth, one by one, and my journey home was taken in shock.

I do not think any test can tell you all about a person, but this one certainly opened my eyes. I was obliged to re-examine who I thought I was and who I had allowed myself to become; it wasn’t a pretty sight. Much of it was habit, a kind of laziness that had clung to the comfortable rut of familiar mediocrity because it was known and safe. And perhaps prevented me from having expectations of myself that frightened me. It made me think about other areas of self-belief and confidence and question my courage and character in a whole new way. But it wasn’t just me. It made me question the origins of the self-image we hold, how much of it we simply accept as we are fed it by others, who may see us better than we do ourselves, but who sometimes see only what suits them or what they themselves need to see. How much of it is the fear of being ourselves and being rejected, of taking a risk that might make us stand out from the crowd and lose the safe anonymity of our accustomed normality.

We are all such odd mixes of strength and weakness. We are not pale imitations of what we could be, nor do we have to try to be anyone else; we are who we are. We do not need to be a mirror reflecting the world back at itself because that is what the world expects to see. We can be our own mirror. We are unique, all of us and capable of reaching our ‘own peculiar star’. Instead of asking ‘who me?’ when an opportunity arises, maybe we should just be saying, ‘why not?’

53 thoughts on “Why not?

  1. A beautiful post about growth, Sue. Is it growth or simply opening the eyes and perceiving what has always been there? A circle, I suppose, one leading to the other and around it goes. I like the idea of myths and how we build these myths about who we are. We believe in them, act them out, and present them to the world as real, so the world believes them too. But they’re only as real as we make them, and we can rewrite them at will if we have the insight and opportunity and the courage. A wonderful thought-provoking post. ❤

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    1. I think the two are intimately intertwined, Diana. We have to build the myths when we are young so we have something with which to face the world. What we create is a reaction to what we have known… and goes a long way to defining the path we take. Hopefully there comes a time when we start to question that youthful construction and see beyond the myths to the reality, with all its possibilities. Youth is just a first draft 😉

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  2. i love your story, sue. it showed that we have all what we need inside of us, though many of us don’t discover that until late or until too late, even. i am a bit of a late bloomer myself, so i can really identify with this. bravo to you!

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  3. Such a great post Sue thank you. May you continue to go from strength to strength. We have to do the work individually and not let conditioning or the past define us … we CAN move from there …

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  4. A wonderful post, Sue. I think confidence and ‘imposter syndrome’ are something so many of us suffer with. I look at you and see someone so wise and confident, so to hear you didn’t feel that way for a long time is so interesting. It’s also interesting how you mention your boys starting to help you on the journey – I had the same experience when I had my daughter. I thought about the person I wanted to be for her and, for the first time in many years, took a look at my life and realised how far I had strayed from my path. I wouldn’t change it now – I think it’s made me who I am, but it does take, as you’ve said, a catalyst to make us examine who we truly are, and what our potential is. Society, conditioning, gender expectations and life itself can conspire to knock us down – it takes strength to stand up again and grow 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Helen. We do seem to accept the evaluation of the world for a long time, instead of looking at the source of our own strengths and possibilities. Children do give us that momentary pause and make us look again, so do other major events in our lives, though often we don’t take that opportuniy either. I’m just grateful for the wake-up call that allowed me to roll my sleeves up and start reshaping the dough 😉

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      1. Yes, children are a big change but of course not for everyone. Lighting strikes can take many different forms 🙂 I’m so pleased for you that you heard the wake-up call and heeded it – I know the feeling 🙂

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  5. I can totally relate to the part of feeling like nothing amongst the glitter. I also have issues with self confidence and feeling like I can never be good enough or perfect enough. It’s hard to see the patterns outside yourself and work on negative thought patterns to recognize they are not us and do not have to define us in the end. I’m very touched and proud that you were able to conquer so much in your life….lots seen but I’m sure much more unseen. The unseen accomplishments are what I smile about. They are the glimmer that keeps me going. Wonderful post Sue. It made me cry!

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    1. It took me a long time to realise I don’t have to compete with anyone…being me is okay. And enough. I started saying, why not? when the opportunities came and found I could do far more than I would have ever imagined and ended up as senior management with a staff of hundreds, in a job I adored…and no-one more surprised than me at the time. That first step into believing you are worth it is the hardest… after that, it gets easier.

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      1. You are so accomplished! When I retired that’s when it all hit me. I didn’t really know why I had so much anxiety all those years. But now I know and can control my environment a bit better AND my reactions to it. Just like any other habit…you have to do it over and over for it to become more natural.

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  6. The human personality and character is always changing with its surrounding, scenery, and generally from everyday life. My sister once told me that all of us siblings (4 of us) had four different parents ~ as each one had a different personality towards the other. But there was one constant, and we thought the most valuable thing ~ it is what you mention about raising your sons: “as long as they were happy, healthy, whole human beings. I wanted them to believe in themselves and know that I did too…” You embrace and attack the world at the same time, and that is a thing of beauty I think people do not do enough of. A confidence that extends to those you touch. Cheers to a great week ahead.

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    1. Every pair of eyes sees something different and that alters the perspective and the alchemy of every life. As parents we can only do our best. Sometimes that doesn’t work so well, but at other times it is our percieved failures that allow our children to grow through finding their own strength.

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  7. Love this, Sue. It is a story familiar to many of us. We often don’t really know what we are made of until we are put to the test. What could we have accomplished all that time if we only knew that we would pass in flying colors?

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  8. I suck at math — monumentally! I once scored a zero on a test in primary school. And to this day I still use my fingers to keep track of numbers. Clearly my talents lie elsewhere. I’ve always been a bit dubious about personality tests. I just think that there is so much about a persons psychological make-up that is outside the grasp of empirical reasoning.

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    1. I thought I did too… and got a heck of a shock when I didn’t. Even worse, I actually enjoyed the studies… 😉 It’s still not my area of interest though.
      Most personality tests offer just general outlines and even the results are subjective. Those administered by a real person who knows their subject are more in depth and accurate. That’s one of the reasons why, in the Silent Eye, although we use the enneagram, which most people only know as a personality testing tool, we do not use it for that. We use its principles instead to allow students to explore their own being… a very different approach.

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