Feeling Worthless

I remember the man at my former job who had come to me a mess. I saw in his file that he was supposed to return some paperwork for his disability case and he hadn’t sent in the right forms. I went to the lobby and called his name.

“That’s me!” he yelled as he waved his little white ticket number and jumped up to meet me at the door. He dragged a metal cart full of large black trash bags filled with unknown items.

As soon as he sat down he began industriously pulling out clumps of papers and laying them out over the entire desk. Not sure at this point what form he needed to turn in I grasped at the scattered sheets and notes, some office-related, others having nothing to do with his business here. Most were crumpled, and some (is that coffee or…?) were stained.

Starting with my usual routine, I typed away at the computer and began his application interview by asking the standard questions.

“What do you do for exercise?” one of the application questions asked.

“Well, mostly I just sit. So I don’t exercise.”

Next question. “What are your hobbies?”

“Well,” he replied sinking further into chair, “I don’t really have hobbies. I don’t do much of anything.”

I recorded his answers as he stammered on. As the interview grew longer, asking more in-depth questions that increasing ate away at his self esteem, his shoulders slumped and he clutched his face in anguish and self-pity.

“Do you have any family who takes care of you?” I continued.

“Well, no, my family doesn’t really come around.”

“Do you have any friends that help with any of your personal care?”

“No.”

I typed his answer.

“You know what they say, ‘Having no friends and no family really tells you what kind of person you are,” he continued, with an edge to his his voice.

“You know what they say, ‘Having no friends and no family really tells you what kind of person you are”

I tried to move on to the next question. 

“I’m just a loser!” he interrupted, voice growing louder. “I make people upset. And sometimes I talk too loud and people don’t like that.” He was shouting now. People were staring.

Please, just let me make it through this interview without having to call security! “Sir, it’s ok, let’s move onto the next question,” I pleaded with my calming soft voice. “It’s ok. We’re almost finished.”

“Nobody cares about me. I’m worthless.” He slumped back into the chair.

Somehow we got to the end of the interview. I escorted him out with his cart with the black trash bags and he still grasping his wad of government papers.

“Don’t worry sir,” I told him as he passed through the door. “You’re not worthless. You are worth a lot. I think you are worth a lot.”

His eyes lit up. “Thank you, ma’am. Thank you!” He smiled as he vigorously shook my hand.

 

Quiet Strength – The Freedom to be Myself

quiet strength

The first time I believed with utter conviction that it was ok to be myself- completely myself – I was slurping spicy ramyun at the Filipino/Korean cafe below the tattoo shop where I got my first tattoo. The aroma of kimchi and fish sauce lingered in the humid twilight air. Cheesy elevator music blared from the SM mall up the street and snippets of Tagalog conversations ebbed and flowed from passing pedestrians. My wrist seared with pain but my heart was ablaze with triumph. I had a tattoo.

All my life I had been categorized as the “shy one.”

“She’s so quiet in class,” teachers would tell my mom, concerned at my inability to chatter away incessantly like all the other girls.

“You’re so quiet,” friends who didn’t know me well would blurt out, as if being quiet was the ultimate insult.

“Why don’t you like to talk about yourself?” people would ask. “We never know what you’re thinking.”

Why do you like to talk SO MUCH about yourself? I’d think in return.

 

quiet strength mountains

 

During my time in the Philippines, I spent many quiet evenings drifting gently back and forth in my hammock, gazing at a mass of mountains upon mountains in the distance. Sometimes the rain came, pounding on the corrugated metal roofs, trickling off banana leaves, dense misty fog slipping through the valleys like a chiffon veil. And yet, the mountains stood tranquil as ever, a still, black silhouette amidst a frenzy of rain showers.

Sometimes the sunny clouds came, bright white puffs that carried with them the essence of the ocean. Calm, powerful, vast and swirling, those gentle pillowy formations stretched for miles, engulfing all but the tips of my mountains upon mountains. And yet, those peaks stood tall and defiant; not to be overshadowed, even by floating snatches of heaven.

Sometimes the sun dipped lower and lower in a lazy decent, and the sky was filled with brilliant gold and pink patterns, trumpeting loud cries of sunset glory. And yet, without the dark contrast of the familiar mountain outlines, a twilight sky was nothing but a twilight sky.

 

All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other
– Only the mountain and I.

               ~ Li Po

 

Those mountains became my resting place, a source of comfort for all that they represented – silence, tranquility, peace, strength. I was mesmerized by their beauty, taken by their stature and stance; I felt pride and assurance that I too was like them. I reveled in silence, I basked in peace, I drew energy from tranquility, and I emitted strength – a quiet strength, not unlike the mountains I so much admired.

It was then that I decided that quiet was ok. See how the mountains stand dignified and strong? I told myself. I am like that. My strength came from my calm and quiet nature. I liked quiet; I liked me.

I sketched out an ambiguous idea and let it slowly percolate and transform through the next few months. Arranging and rearranging, drawing and scribbling, my sketch began to materialize into what I had envisioned.

A simple outline of the mountains represented strength. Underneath, inscribed in ancient Tagalog script Alibata, was the word tahimik – Tagalog for “quiet.” Quiet Strength. That was me to the core.

 

Tahimik – Tagalog for “quiet”

 

be yourself

I liked that no one could read the Alibata writing.

“I like your tattoo,” people would say, “but what does it mean?”

And then I would proudly explain my story; I would explain who I was.

It wasn’t getting a tattoo that made me someone special. Anyone can get a tattoo but it doesn’t change who you are. It was my acceptance of who I was; the pride and joy I felt at being the unique person God made me to be. No longer did I find the need to be someone that others thought I should be. I simply wanted to be the person I thought I should be.

 

“A Woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”

~ Maya Angelou

 

Every day I continue to walk the path of discovery of who I am and what God is calling me to do. When I stay true to my core self and what I know to be my own strengths, I am continually surprised with how much joy and freedom comes with just being completely me.

And I like that. I like me.

 

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

 

Am I Good Enough?

am i good enough

I used to have a guitar student who could play a mean improv rock solo. His fingers slid up and down the fretboard, masterfully plucking out a melody that always evoked a few dropped jaws and a whole lot of awestruck stares from onlookers. He’d then finish abruptly as if suddenly self conscious about his playing and look up at me with his intense brown eyes, silently asking for confirmation. “Had I done a good job?” his eyes asked me in that brief flicker of a moment.

“Am I good enough?”

Despite how successful or talented we are, all of us have struggled with the feelings of inadequacy – not doing enough, giving enough, praying enough, not talented enough, beautiful enough, likable enough.

Our yearning to aspire for greatness, to better ourselves, and achieve our dreams and goals in life can sometimes bring us to the brink of a large canyon we find we are unable to leap over. Our ambition suddenly transforms into weakness, incompetence, inadequacy. We find ourselves lacking and our hearts ache with that realization. On days like that, we allow our minds to swarm with distorted ideas and beliefs of the measure of our abilities.

“I will never be good enough to do that.”

“I’m not pretty enough for a guy to like me.”

“I’m out of her league.”

“I’m not smart enough to apply to the school I want to.”

“I don’t have enough experience to get that job.”

“I don’t have the guts to do that.”

“I haven’t gotten to where I expected to be in life.”

These feelings of not being good enough can stem from outside influences – societal pressures, family expectations, comments from friends, even strangers – but most often, they come from within. We constantly compare ourselves to others. We fall short of our own expectations. We focus on what we haven’t done; we allow our failures to define us. We look over at the next person and think, “I’m not like them. Look how amazing and successful they are. Why can I not be more like them?”

 

Enough, friends. Enough.

 

The fact is, you are not like that person because you are not that person. You are YOU. You have different strengths and talents that were meant to be used by you alone. You are a child of God and you exist for a very specific reason. You were made in God’s image; you were created by the same artist who painted golden sunsets and fashioned delicate flower petals. You are God’s beloved.

sunset god's beloved

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” ~ Job 33:4

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ~ Jeremiah 1:5

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” ~ Psalms 139:13-14

god's beloved

Don’t allow yourself to accept the idea that you are not good enough, for you have been carefully crafted into the person you are. God will continue to lead you to discover more about who you were meant to be and the path God is calling you towards. One of my favorite books, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, written by Fr. James Martin, speaks of vocation and discernment in life. Who are we called to be? Where is God leading us? How do we use our strengths and abilities to express God’s love and live in a more engaged and fulfilling way? Fr. James explains it simply:

“Each of us is called to a unique vocation in life, based on the desires that God plants within us, as well as our talents skills, and personalities…That means letting go of the wish to become someone else and remembering that your own vocation – not someone else’s – is the path to happiness. You don’t need to use anyone else’s map to heaven, because God has already placed within your soul all the directions you need.”

When we start focusing on what we know to be true to our self and our own unique strengths, we instill in ourselves the power to move with forward momentum. Despite our human limitations and weaknesses, we have the capability to persevere and triumph over our personal obstacles and challenges. No matter how inadequate we may feel at times, God is our cheerleader, inviting us to see just how wonderfully made and delightful a person we have grown to be. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of focusing on what we can do in the moment, to do our best with whatever we have and to not be afraid to use the gifts we’ve been given.

you are loved

What if I don’t know what my strengths are? What if I’m not talented at anything?

If you don’t know your own strengths and limitations, now is the perfect time to do a little personal reflection. Maybe go on a retreat, ask your friends and family for feedback, or spend some time alone to discover what is truly unique about YOU. If you think you are not talented at anything, YOU ARE WRONG. Everyone has gifts and talents and it is our life goal to discover and utilize those gifts.

“A rough and unshapen log has no idea that it can be made into a statue that will be considered a masterpiece, but the carver sees what can be done with it. So many…do not understand that God can mold them into saints, until they put themselves into the hands of that almighty Artisan.” ~ St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ultimately, when we stop comparing ourselves to others and start focusing on what God is calling us to, we refuse to be defined by others’ standards of success. Understanding and following the path God is calling each of us towards brings us to a more satisfying and fulfilling way of living. God knows exactly what we can excel best at and calls us to use those strengths. Start with what you know, build on your strengths, strive for what makes you feel alive, and let God do the rest.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson

 

My friends, you are God’s beloved. You are more than good enough.

 

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

**This article was originally posted on the Words of Witness Blog.