Updated: Oct 23, 2019
"Don't be the person who makes the coffee. Be the person who tells the person to make the coffee."
I don't know how old I was when I first heard this but it was well before my teenage years. I grew up in a complex household. I was mostly parented by unresolved trauma dressed as a labourer with a chip on his shoulder, whom I forgave daily, and a strong woman, and if I'm ever half the woman she is I'll be happy. I love both my parents dearly but it was not a peaceful upbringing. Arguments and verbal abuse were a daily occurrence and being called an idiot or stupid or any number of insults on intellect were common. That's not to say it wasn't fun sometimes but it's the trauma we sustain that moulds us just as much as every thing else. My Dad resented the fact that at 14 ½ years old he left school to work, his father's health worsening and being the oldest son he took on the mantle of helping to support his family. He always wanted to be a boiler-maker but never had the opportunity. After stepping up, letting a failed dream fester plus surviving a near death accident, by the time I was 8 his resentment had turned to anger and bitterness. He wanted more for his daughters than to be an average Jo. He wanted us to be the person telling others to make the coffee. He wanted us to be in charge (not against him, of course, you don't topple the king of his own kingdom). I remember coming home from school one day and I had received an A++ grade on a project and I proudly told him at dinner that night, thinking, he's gonna be so proud! He looked at me, deadset, and said, "why didn't you get an A triple +?" My heart sank. I felt tears well up but I pushed them down and my Mum quietly but deliberately said, "because that grade doesn't exist and this is the highest grade there is.” ”Well, there should be a higher grade. She can always do better.” By that stage being told I was dumb or stupid wasn't new to me. It was like an old jumper with holes in it that you kept wearing anyway. And my Dad wasn't the only one telling me I wasn't smart. The only other influential woman in my family took me aside at age 16 and said, ”you are never going to be an A grade student..." And so I continued on, all through high school and University believing I wasn't "academically inclined" and to "be the person to tell the people to make the coffee" and with little to no recognition of accomplishment. (Can you imagine the confusion and internal struggle this creates?) And I made it through. Then I got to my working career and it hit me. To be the person my Dad wanted me to be I would have to hustle. I would have to prove myself. To him, to my employers, to everyone. Because my own self worth was based on external approval and if I couldn't get that then I'd show them what they lost. Anyone who knows me, knows that I can burn with the intensity of a thousand suns. Hell has no furnace like me on a mission. When I set my mind to something, a dog with a bone best move aside for a freight train. The expectation and pressure I put on myself is sometimes so high and overwhelming that I end up in tears - like tonight. I feel like I'm expected to be someone remarkable. That I'm supposed to bring this big amazing something into the world. And some days that weighs so heavily on me that I crumble under it. I've spent many hours of my adulthood talking with my Dad about his parenting methods and he has said to me before that I have taught him more things than he ever imagined. He has told me that he was hard on me because he thought he was toughening me up for the world - he didn't want me ill-prepared - and that looking back he knows he made mistakes. Knowing this doesn't undo the intensity it built in me or the drive and unrealistic expectations I have of myself. Nor does it negate the fear of failure and even fear of success that I'm still unravelling. What it does do is gives me compassion and empathy. And it allows me to crumble. Even if just for a bit. Tonight as I lay in bed, I felt the weight of it all sitting above me and I cried. The plans I have loomed, the desires made me ache, and I felt the hustle I have to make to bring it all about for the life we want to live. And I felt overwhelmed by it all and in the time I have left to do it. Some days it all seems too hard and I want nothing more than to pretend that I'm a nobody as I potter in the garden doing nothing substantial. Some days I wish I was an ostrich and I could put my head in the sand and make it all go away. But I can't. Because that's not me. I am not inclined to run from a challenge and I'm too used to a fight to stand down now. What I can do is examine the programming I have around external validation and the need to prove I am capable because as it currently stands, it really isn't working. I don't want to be the person telling others to make the coffee but there is no harm in helping others be guided to the coffee pot and cups, so long as you are willing to pour for them too.