Je l’aidai de mon mieux, c’est-à-dire, en essayant d’écrire un chef-d’œuvre immortel.
(I did my best to help her, that is, by trying to write an immortal masterpiece.)
–Romain Gary, La promesse de l’aube (Paris : Gallimard, 1960) 185.
Relief for me is finally, finally being good enough in my own estimation, within my own head and heart.
I haven’t felt good enough before now. I would have liked to be a great novelist who stirs readers’ souls. Or perhaps, I thought, I would be good enough if I earned a doctorate and became a tenured university professor, or even if I earned a Master of Fine Arts in writing. My master’s degree in literature is not a “terminal” degree and so is not good enough, or hasn’t been. I began a doctoral program at the University of Maryland but changed states and jobs when I was just two courses into the program. Even at this point in my life, I’ve thought about earning an MFA or PhD. I’ve explored university websites from time to time, hoping to discover the path to wholeness. I would enjoy the academic work; I love to learn. But I can learn outside an expensive degree program. The degrees have appealed to me because I’ve thought they might make me, finally, fully sufficient.
For most of my life, I have felt insufficient, second rate next to the world’s full professors, full-time writers, musicians with careers, people with a life mission. Above all, I have with desperation sought a mission for my writing. I’ve been searching for fifty years. Having a mission would, I was convinced, permanently ignite my writing, giving it drive and meaning, carrying me past procrastination, past wondering what to write, past the paralysis of feeling overwhelmed with projects calling to me but languishing unsupported by confidence in how to do them and in their offering others something of value.
I have with frantic intensity tried to find my writing niche—my life niche. Good ideas have come and given me hope that I have finally found this longed-for writing and life niche. But inevitably I’ve bogged down sooner or later from a loss of energy, inspiration, momentum, and belief in the merits of my plans.
I want to write about so many things, but the pen becomes too heavy to lift if I think I must write specifically about X or Y and do so at a suitably high level—what that is, I am uncertain. I bloom at intervals, even finishing substantial projects from time to time. But then I sink back into the slough of discouragement, fatigue, and endless games of Scrabble on my Kindle Fire.
The truth is that, in contrast to my ambitions, I love being a Jill of all trades. I have not proved willing, or even able, to give up the quantity of my interests and hobbies in order to achieve quality, to overcome my master-of-none status. I love the full range of my enthusiasms. I don’t want, for example, to give up my French class in order to spend more time on Italian, or give up Italian in order to practice my flute daily, or quit billiards, tap and line dancing, or my occasional acting to reestablish a regular program of reading literature. I don’t want to give up my meaningful visits with friends in order to have time to produce masterful creations, as much as I am driven to express myself creatively. I’ve joined a choir and signed up for spiritual retreats with a dear friend. I want to organize my possessions, walk down by the pond, meditate, make jewelry from beads. And still I’ve craved—begged—to find my overarching purpose in life, my reason for being, my way of serving.
Can I possibly serve merely by being as I am—rather than only as I have, all my adult life, longed unsuccessfully to become?
I can’t be a great writer and also spend long hours studying my part for a play, or figuring out how to fill seventy-five minutes leading a book discussion in French, a language I love but in which I lack confidence. I can’t be an accomplished musician if I spend my days on other than practicing music. Yet perhaps, after all, my failure to reach the heights I’ve been thinking I must scale if I am to count, to serve, and to overcome my sense of not measuring up is because God didn’t form me to be an Isabel Allende, James Galway, or tenured professor.
Maybe I’m meant to serve as I can by savoring smaller bites across the vast smorgasbord of life and by sharing my enthusiastic efforts—whatever their limits and deficiencies—with others. I can encourage others, too, to find their joys in the world and to embrace their own God-given ways of being.
I suppose it is shortsighted of me to smother the pleasure and satisfaction of my Jill-of-all-trades temperament and opportunities because of my shame and discouragement over my master-of-none status. I’ve been damping the fires of who I am. I’ve spent large portions of my days mourning the failure to materialize of the person I thought I ought to be—but couldn’t figure out how to make myself become.
What profound relief I feel as I begin to move forward, having decided that who I am is not simply enough but is also who God made me to be. I have the responsibility to grow, to serve and to seek to master being me, but not to become other than the nature I was given.