I grew up thinking that life was a zero-sum game. If I got a piece of pie, it meant that there was that much less for everyone else. And that I didn’t deserve to have that piece of pie, because I wasn’t worthy enough.
This belief was taught so subtly by everyone around me that I didn’t even articulate it till much later in life, till I started to read books and articles about self-esteem and self-worth. Knowing isn’t the same as doing something, and I might be able to rattle off all sorts of information about the subject, I am not sure I have moved much further along the spectrum.
Yesterday I went to someone’s house for a meeting. They had a sofa, some chairs further away, and everyone else was expected to sit on the floor. When I arrived, there was already someone sitting on the sofa. Now when I sit on a sofa, I sit in the corner, kind of trying to squish to the side as much as possible, trying to take as little room as I can. I don’t deserve the pie. But this person was sitting kind of in the middle, taking up a lot of room. But there was space for another person. And I am sure she would have moved a bit if asked.
I have knee issues, and I try to get a chair or something to sit on for these sorts of meetings, so I crossed over to the back and grabbed a chair. Far away from everyone else. Not that I didn’t want to be closer, I just didn’t think I deserved to sit on the sofa - which would only seat two people. I don’t deserve a slice of pie if everyone else can’t get one. And I kind of seethed, wishing I was on the sofa. By now someone else was sitting there, so I couldn’t change if I wanted to.
This may sound like a silly little incident, but to me, it was another time I told myself, I don’t need this. I don’t deserve this. If there can be only a few writers who make money from their writing, then I don’t need to be in that list. If only person can get this job, what makes me think I am so special? If only lucky authors get fans and readers and books on bestseller lists, then why should I dare to dream to be among them?
Not believing I deserve something, not feeling like I should ask for something, or make my wishes known, is a lifelong habit. Recently my mom’s close friend scolded me, saying that I never say what I mean. I was taken aback by her tone, but I know what she means. When asked if I want coffee or a soda, I always say “Whatever”. Meaning whatever is convenient for you. Whatever is spare. Whatever you don’t mind offering me. Again back to my childhood beliefs. I don’t deserve anything special. I don’t deserve the pie. She thought I was being noncommittal. What I was doing was protecting myself. From being rejected. From being told no. No you cannot have more, otherwise there won’t be enough for your cousins. No you cannot have any meat, the adults have to be served first. No you cannot meet your friends, you need to run errands for your grandfather. So I don’t tell people what I really want, because I simply assume that I am asking for too much. That I am not staying in the shadow, making myself small like I should.
The worst part is that this comes across in my writing. I don’t dare to write the stories I want to. I don’t dare to declare that I need to be alone now because I want to write. I don’t dare to say to the world that I am capable of writing a short story or a play or a novel. I don’t believe that I am worthy, so why take the time to find out that I am not good enough or can’t do it or am a failure. I reject myself, before anyone else can get a chance to reject me.
But here’s the power of words. You can rewrite your thoughts. You can say enough. I am worthy. I can write what I want. I can dream. I can decide whatever future I want for myself. I can ask for the drink I want. I can sit on the sofa. I deserve the last slice of pie.