Many years ago I was sent on a training course by my employers, where attendees were asked by the lady running the course to think of one thing that they had done and were proud of. I could think of nothing; not a single thing. I had worked my socks off to achieve many of the things that I had been aiming for: exam results, landing a decent job, buying my first flat. None of these filled me with pride. I could have done better in the exams, I was still in a very junior position at work, I was up to my ears in debt after buying my own home.
Of all the challenges that I had undertaken up to that moment, the one that had been the most important to me at the time, and which I had been most nervous about, was sitting my driving test. Passing that gave me my first taste of freedom, but I couldn’t say that I was proud of it. Most people of my age that I knew had managed to pass their driving test.
When I look at each of my achievements I cannot help but see how they are simply milestones along the way. There have always been people in my life who have done better than me at each stage.
Some of the ladies on the course cited a child as a source of pride. I am certainly immensely proud of my children, but they are individuals; their achievements belong to them. Of course, I can look on and feel happy and proud for them, but I cannot claim credit. I know plenty of people who have done their very best to be good parents, whose children have struggled more than mine. I am simply lucky.
This feeling of luck is one that I consider regularly as there is such a high risk of transience.
When my husband asked me to marry him, we set a date for the wedding a little over eight months away. I felt so incredibly blessed to be marrying the man I loved, and was terrified that something would happen to him before we could get married. Even at the time I knew that this fear was bizarre; I placed such value on this momentous event it seemed too much to hope that it would actually happen. A number of my friends were surprised that I was getting married; they had never imagined it happening to me.
Once my wedding day passed (it was a very happy day) my life continued to be filled with blessings. We found our fabulous home, enjoyed the novelty of married life and, in time, created our family. So much good fortune that I could never quite believe was being granted to me. When I say that I try to live life each day, enjoying the here and now, it is because I still harbour a fear that it cannot continue forever. Some disaster could take it all away, and I value this life I lead so much.
I still do not feel pride in achievements. Somehow I can always see the reasons why it is not just down to me that milestones have been successfully reached. Others put in the same effort, yet are not granted the same blessings. I can see that I have made some good choices along the way, but it is only with hindsight that I can be sure those choices were so right for me.
I have no idea if this way of thinking is unusual; it certainly helps me to appreciate what I have got. My fear of losing those things that I value, that make my life so good, bubbles uncomfortably below the surface but it does not spoil my enjoyment.
Perhaps if I had managed to reach the dizzy heights of achievement that I watched good friends reach when I was younger then I would have felt that I had done well in something. When I entered sport or dance competitions, the best I could manage would be the occasional runner up prize; at school I was given one progress prize but never a cup or commendation. I do not remember ever being first in anything of significance.
My dogged determination to succeed in something, anything, drove me through many challenges. I needed to find the drive and the energy to keep going to avoid the feeling that had been so prevalent growing up, that I had failed in the goals I set myself. As an adult I do not aim for success, but rather to avoid that empty feeling of failure.
Accepting what we are can be such a challenge at times, especially when those around us are critical. I suspect that I would not be where I am today if I had not demanded so much of myself. I cannot feel any pride in that though; the emotions that I experience when I consider my achievements feel too negative. I have the wonderful life that I lead, shared with the people I love and value, because I have been granted the blessing of good luck. I may not deserve what I have, but I thank God for it every day.