Rejection is a recurring theme on this blog. I said once that it took until the very end of my second-to-last year of high school to realize, with amazement, that I had actual friends: people who wanted me to hang out with them, who felt that their experience of things was better if I was there. I've felt that same shock and amazement a handful of times since, and it still shocks and amazes because of how rare the experience has been.
That rejection-thread has run through my whole life, and it's a painful one. I've only just discovered a parallel thread, one that seems quieter -- but which maybe lies the deeper, maybe damages the worse.
I don't value myself. At all. Nor can I easily conceive that other people do.
The rejection-thread came to light when I got pushed into some new experiences. This one is being revealed by how I respond to work and money, the things causing me so much heartache lately.
One of my brothers' families has been looking for a babysitter to cover a few hours when both parents are at work. It made me remember, for the first time in decades, of a sitting job I had -- not for kids, but sitting in the afternoons with an elderly lady who needed someone to be at home with her. She was part of a neighbor family, and like my brother's situation, they just needed someone to cover a gap between work hours.
That was my first proper job, but it never occurred to me at the time that it was A JOB. I never actually understood that I was providing a valuable service for money, even though I got paid to do it. I have no idea how I fell into it -- probably my parents knew there was a need and made the arrangements. If someone had instructed me to go and do it for nothing, I would have because I did what I was told. Nobody ever sat down with me and said explicitly "this is A JOB," and I never figured it out for myself. (I don't remember how old I was -- 10? 12? Older than you would expect to be confused by the concept of having A JOB.)
That experience made no impact on me. I didn't really enjoy it, and I didn't do it for long. I never recognized that I was doing something needful and important.
I didn't work during high school, even though many of my friends (or rather, those people I didn't realize were my friends) did. I didn't see a point. I didn't understand why people would want to pick up after-school or weekend jobs, even though I listened to my friends talk about it all the time. I didn't want money, or independence. I didn't have a social life. I didn't do anything outside of school, family, or church. If I ever wanted to, I suppose I assumed it wasn't possible, because I didn't know I had friends.
I didn't start working until the summer after high school, when I needed to help pay for my college education. It didn't occur to me that I should take serious responsibility for this, or that I even could. Not even though I had been watching an older brother walk through the exact same process for two years before it was my turn. I just did what I was instructed to do. Like I always did.
I fell into the first summer job I was given and kept it -- a cashier job at a department store. I never imagined I could keep looking and get something I liked better, or that paid more money (which was the point of the whole exercise, after all).
I didn't learn how to value my ability to work. I did a good job out of fear, fear that I would be caught out and rejected for failure, not because I took pride in what I could do or grasped that it was my responsibility.
I never valued myself enough to think that it mattered much, whatever I did.
After college I fell into grown-up jobs, via being a temporary office worker. That's how I got the job I kept for a decade. I learned a lot of computer skills there, but still never grasped that I was valuable.
I mean, honestly. I managed the entire document collection my entire financial-services company used to produce nearly every single piece of work we did for every single client. I'm only right now, sitting in this very chair, grasping the true scope of that -- the responsibility and importance of that position. How my work threaded through such a big percentage of my company's output, and how little pride I took in doing a good job at it, and how I didn't properly hold the responsibility, because I still and always just worked out of fear. I was terrified of failing and being shamed for it. My unspoken, unrecognized understanding of my job was still "do what you're told, and don't mess up. (Or else.)"
I'm doing different work now, but I still don't value it. I still don't value myself. I put off personal writing for weeks, because it's "just mine" so who cares? I'm not looking for potential freelance clients, because I don't recognize my ideas and skills are worth a hill of beans. Not because the ideas or skills themselves are meaningless. Other writers matter; writing itself matters. It's just my work that doesn't matter.
My lack of value enables me to be horribly selfish, because if I'm not valuable I may as well suit myself. It helps to dull the pain of not mattering. I drop things so easily. I let go of responsibilities and don't care because if I'm the one doing them, I assume they must not be very important. Anyway, someone who matters will come along to take care of things soon.
I drop people too, which is much worse -- but I do it because I never, ever think those people could possibly care, that they will even notice if I disappear.
It does not occur to me that I'm significant enough to be missed.
I'm terrified about money because I don't believe I have the power to go get it, to pursue good and worthy work attached to a paycheck. I'm valueless, therefore I'm powerless. I'm thoroughly dependent on other people being nice enough to give me crumbs of work, and my family loving me (even though I'm pretty pointless) and giving me a place to live.
Am I correct? Is what I am saying about myself objectively true?
My head knows the right answers. Ask me out loud if I'm a valuable person, and I'll say "yes." If you catch me on an honest day, I'll add "but I have trouble living that way."
But I don't really believe it. Because I'm not acting like it.
There is a serious disconnect between the answer in my head and the one deep in my being. The "I'm not valuable" thread is the one ruling my behavior most of the time, even though I can parrot the "right" answer when prompted.
Our behavior tells the real story about what we believe. I believe I'm not valuable. That I matter little if at all.
I've spotted it, this deep thread.