What If I’m Not Remarkable?
I’m staring at an application for people who have “demonstrated remarkable accomplishment.”
I’ve had it open for about two hours. I haven’t filled it out — only looked. I can’t even bring myself to type my name in the first field. I’ve thought about this application for almost a year now. I set a calendar event on my phone to keep me aware of the exact day applications could be filed. Now it’s here, and the words “remarkable accomplishment” have morphed from tiny, sans-serif words on my screen to an impassable wall of stone, and I feel like a baby ant in its shadow. Not just an ant, folks. A tinier, smaller, less-formed little baby ant.
I look over my résumé — it’s long. I work at some places, I’m in charge of a bunch of things, I’ve done such and such activities, and I’ve helped out this organization and that project. My résumé is chock-full. Keeping it short is a challenge. But is it remarkable? I don’t know about that.
In the dictionary, being remarkable is to be worthy of attention, to be striking. I don’t know if my work qualifies.To make myself feel worse, I looked at all of the synonyms, too: extraordinary, exceptional, amazing, astonishing, astounding, marvelous, wonderful, sensational, stunning, incredible, unbelievable, phenomenal, outstanding, momentous.
Now, I feel all of the bravado, the confidence, the excitement I’ve boiled and brewed for months over this application begin to fizzle and fade, to cool and congeal. I don’t know that I’m remarkable, and I don’t know if anything I’ve done in my entire life qualifies as remarkable. And I don’t know whether I’m okay with that or not.
I tell people all the time I don’t care about garnering big stats or boatloads of likes on my work. When I write or speak or create anything, I don’t enter the process thinking, “What can I do to make this go viral or make everyone like it?”
More often than not, I approach my “creation” process with this question in mind: “What are my friends going through?” And I start to write. And most of the time, that’s good enough for me. When I get one person who tells me, “I so needed this. Thank you,” I’m good. I’m content. I’m satisfied my work has made a difference.
Most of the time.
Then, I run into the words “remarkable accomplishment” on an application, and all of my noble contentedness gets zapped and replaced by this voice which scrapes out my insides and says things like, “You have done nothing with your life.” And I see people my age reaching thousands and thousands of people with their work, or twenty-year-olds who run businesses that help starving kids in Africa, or a thirteen-year-old who invented a lollipop to cure hiccups (true story and, uh, awesome), and I’m like what in the mother-loving world am I doing with my life?
Do I really believe that if just one person finds hope, or courage, or comfort, or inspiration from what I do, it’s enough? Or does what I do need a bigger reach, a more quantifiable impact to be remarkable and worthy of attention?
I know the “right answer” to this, by the way, but knowing is different from believing. Knowing acknowledges the truth of a thing. Believing lets that thing settle into your insides and change you. Right now, I feel like this application is doing to me what I do to a steak that shows up on the table in front of me. I take my fork and knife, I slice through the meat, and I check to see if it’s done.
That application has run its knife through me, and I’ve found out I’m not done yet.
I know I don’t need a “remarkable” résumé to be the gauge for how much I matter or not, or how much my work matters or not. It’s so easy, though, to take each little accomplishment, each little success, each accolade and compliment and referral, and nestle myself in this little fortress called “Look at What I’ve Done.” It feels safe there. It feels warm and strong and keeps the scary things out.
But Big, Bad, “Remarkable Accomplishment” has huffed and puffed and knocked down my straw house of false security. Every little item on my résumé is stripped away, and here I stand feeling small, fragile, unimportant, and exposed.
Now begins the real work: without anything else to hide behind, can I be I okay with me? Remarkable accomplishments or not, can I be good with where I am and what I do? Can I find fulfillment in this stage of my life, or does some other person or organization validate me if they deem me remarkable enough? Can I be satisfied if everything I do stays hidden under the tree line, or do I need to tower above the pines where everyone can see me?
The only way to know is to stay here, with my accomplishments scattered on the ground around my feet instead of built up over me like armor, to stay and wait for the quiet whisper to finally, finally, finally settle into my soul:
Originally published at www.paulfrankheggie.com.