On Success & Hope

During my last semester as an undergraduate, I started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. I stopped reading somewhere in the first chapter. Gladwell introduces the book by talking about the outstanding health of a certain population of Italians and uses the beginning of the first chapter to introduce individualistic myths of personal agency. Of course he introduces these myths in order to dismantle them but he doesn’t betray this goal immediately. I had heard these myths presented as fact every semester since my first at the four-year university and I was devastated and enraged to see them here in what I thought to be my personal space. It didn’t matter that he didn’t believe the myths, it mattered that for even a short amount of time I thought he did. I was too crushed to keep reading, so I stopped.

Just today I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, and as I read I kept thinking, “That character can’t say that! He has no proof! All he has is a feeling!” It didn’t matter that the characters were right in their feelings, nor did it matter that Murakami might have been using this as a device in a book that proposes that while “logic” can fail, intuition holds true. I had been trained that “feelings” mean nothing without “proof.” What a sad, cold world mine had become. What an abusive, mean world to tell me to distrust myself in so many ways and so often that I came to believe.

[As an aside: I think it is interesting and damning that the longer I was in the university system, the more intolerant and self-righteous I became. Having so many frequent interactions with other students and professors who would dismiss my ideas flat out, coupled with interactions of others not in the university who told me what I was studying was useless allowed me to foster an attitude of hostility and distrust. I’ve seen this same attitude in other students and professors, however if it didn’t reside in me I am certain I wouldn’t have be able to identify it in others.]


I feel as if I have been fighting some kind of demon this past week. I feel sluggish and ache-y. It’s as if I know that this is a special buffer time—my job has yet to start, the apartment is straightened up, the meals are all planned with back-ups, my partner is no longer my chief worry. When I feel like watching TV, I watch TV, but mostly I read and sleep and put things away or get to the things I’ve put off for months or years. I let my hair down and look in the mirror and see someone who is tired, but I don’t make her smile. She is who she is. She is me.

But I have been fighting a demon. Fourteen years now I’ve felt I had to find some way to exceptional. I had to do it all, do it the biggest, be the best. But I never felt like I was the best. I never felt that I was even second or third best. People would tell me how lucky I was to be adopted, and in my head this was translated into how utterly ordinary, how unworthy, I was. Then I attended university, and for every one professor who gave me space to dream there were three who told me I wasn’t enough. Maybe they thought they were doing me a favor, maybe they thought their job was to be tough, or maybe they were just careless, but at the time and even now I cannot see the merit in their bored and cutting comments.


Here’s a thought:

What if, when my biological mother gave me up, she thought she was giving us both the best chance to be happy?


Another potential bombshell:

What if my parents mean it when they tell me that they’re proud?


I picked up Outliers again. This time I’m not reading it as a scorching indictment of my own lack of success. I’m not so angry, so hurt that I can’t enjoy my life—which is more than I can say for the past four years. This time when I’m reading it, I’m thinking about hope—hope that I will be successful at my new job, hope that this book will help me understand what conditions help make children into successful adults, and hope that I will finally be able to adapt my vision of success to include me.


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e lewis

I'm a bibliophile with a love of social justice theory living in the Pacific North West trying to figure life out.

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