Sunday, November 18, 2012

Excuses, Excuses

While I realize I actually should be working on my never-ending marathon of homework, grading, and Ph.D. applications, I have learned to recognize when I've been beaten and need to go do something else so I can later concentrate on my work better. This is one of those times.

It amazes me how many people go through life with no ambition. Or those who have ambitions, but a list of reasons (or sometimes, even just one) why they can't accomplish it, so they move through life somewhat sadly, saying, "Well, I really wanted to do _____ but I can't because _____ so I'll just do ______ because it pays the bills,"  or some variation of that. I hear a lot of excuses that are somewhat akin to "I wanted to be a painter, but I can't because I have asthma."

I sincerely feel sorry for these people. I have come to believe such statements are actually code for, "I'm terrified of putting myself out there, and because I don't want to fail, I won't even try." All I can say is, what an incredible waste.

It amazes me that an otherwise physically perfect young man can have a toe amputated due to frostbite, and then say, "Well, I guess I can't train to be in the military now, so I'll just get a job that'll pay the bills." Or a really smart young woman can say, "Well, I really wanted to major in piano performance, but I crushed one of my fingers in an accident, and now I can't play, so I guess I'll go back to retail.

Some of you know I spent a number of years in an IFB (independent fundamentalist Baptist) church and a larger fundamentalist organization, where legalism and patriarchy ruled supreme. As such, I know a lot of people who came out of that background as well, or are still there. One of my friends told me a number of months ago about someone she knows who is a mid-twenties stay-at-home-daughter, and the only of her siblings still at home. This is a trend among some of the more strict followers of fundamentalist patriarchy. This girl spends her days reading at the beach, making herself new outfits, going out to visit friends, and generally doing anything that strikes her as 'fun.' I remember hearing that story and being absolutely taken aback by her attitude. The idea that God made her a woman, and therefore her purpose in life is to live at home until she gets married and becomes a quiverfull homeschool mom, is one thing. But to then take it so far as to justify a life of  spending days doing as she pleases, so long as her father approves is quite another.

I was once a stay-at-home daughter myself, with no younger siblings. I hated it, but I was 22 before I found a way out. Even so, I found ways to be productive. I did chores around the house, taught a few piano students a week (in the home, of course), was involved in church (and other) ministry, spent 4 hours a day practicing the piano, etc. I know many other SAH daughters who took online college courses and got degrees, spent one or two days a week helping out an overwhelmed homeschooling mom, or built home businesses. Anything to remain busy and productive. I can't imagine doing whatever I please all day simply because I can. I would despise myself.

I look at all of these people, and then I look at myself. I'm doing things I shouldn't be able to do. Most people who know me, know my health history and personal history, freely say they really couldn't blame me if I didn't function as I do. They couldn't blame me if I still lived at home, or just kind of subsisted, in "survival" mode. I've lost track of how many doctors have looked at my level of illness, pain, etc., and said, "How do you even get out of bed in the morning?" Or how many friends have said, "How are you even still functioning as an emotionally healthy person?" I'll also never forget the woman who did my LD (learning disability) testing and said, "I've been doing this testing for almost 30 years, and you are only the second person I have ever met with your level of disability who has made it past the age of 10 without a diagnosis." I was 21, and her point was that most people with my level of disability can't function the way I do. She also said very few make it through a B.A.

And yet even with all of the issues I have to deal with, I still have ambitions, and better yet, I'm still working towards them. I got my B.A. In May, I'll graduate with my M.A. In August (assuming all goes well), I'll start my Ph.D. Has any of this been easy? Have I gotten through all of this with even the normal level of difficulty? No. I wake up every morning in pain, and I go to bed every night in pain. The people around me have just learned to ignore when I show up on crutches, or in various braces. I still do my work. I taught one day this semester with a dislocated rib. I often just work through my pain, sometimes close to excruciating. Do I want to? No! I can't tell you how many days I get up and want to cry just thinking about everything I have to do, and doing it through all of my pain and mental fog. And you know what? I'm managing to do these things at a better-than-average level.

"But Kathleen, you're obviously just more intelligent than most." No, really, I'm not. My IQ is fairly average.
"But obviously, you've always wanted to be a history professor, and there's nothing else you'd rather do." Again, not really. Don't get me wrong. I love history, and I know I'm good at it. I absolutely love discovering new things and finding out all history has to offer, and helping other people understand the relevance of history to the present day. But music was my first love. If I hadn't hurt my hand in an accident, and it hadn't been permanently damaged, I would be working on a doctorate in music. My second choice was medical school. But I can't do the math required for it. History was my third choice. It is true that there is nothing else I can be doing that I would rather do. But it is not true that there is nothing else I'd rather be doing. I did not let one crushed dream snuff out my ambition. I found a new dream, and I absolutely love working towards it. I look forward to spending the next several decades in the field of history.

I have been given a brain, and opportunities to use it to its fullest capacity abound. I can't imagine letting my health, or my unfortunate personal history, or my learning disabilities, or my injuries keep me from finding something I love, can do, and am good at. I have friends who were full of life and ideas and ambition, and died before they could fulfill their dreams. My friend Greg, pursued the woman he loved in spite of having cancer. He and Melody didn't get to get married, but he didn't let his cancer get in the way of finding love. My friend Aaron has a similar story to mine when it comes to health, but he still worked his way through an M.A. while working full-time. He couldn't find a teaching job, but he never stopped trying to apply, and figure out his options. Even after he got cancer. He applied for a new teaching job just a couple of months before he died.

I could go on, but I'm not going to. I'll simply close with this: Don't let one hiccup, or dashed dream, or set of convictions keep you from being a productive human being, and making significant contributions to those around you. Find a way to work through all of that.

Find a passion and pursue it, and in the process, find a way to help your fellow man. Otherwise, really, what's the point?