I have so much work to do, but this pair of posts is something that I absolutely have to write, so here we are.
Not that I shield my long-suffering readership from my all-too-frequent sightseeing excursions into my own navel, but this might be even weirder (also potentially more uplifting) than the usual fare. And it’s a two-parter.
I don’t remember feeling like I didn’t fit anywhere when I was a kid. I probably should’ve, but didn’t, or at least it didn’t bother me too much. Even as a kid I was what I would call ‘an acquired taste.’ I wasn’t popular and I felt that, as far as social graces were concerned, there were all these rules that other kids had internalized in daycare but I never had, as I had been cared for by my grandma before starting school, but I was a kid generally at peace with myself. I liked what I liked; I was very good at academics and competed in science and math; I also played sports in high school, and while I wasn’t popular or anything, I truly never cared about that anyway. I felt that the things I had going for me were generally good things, things that made me stand out in a good way.
But throughout most of my adulthood, I have been feeling that I am not how I am supposed to be, that I don’t fit in, and that everything I have achieved is not because of my strengths but by some sort of miracle and in spite of my numerous and overwhelming weaknesses. Why I feel this way I do not know, but the feeling has been growing over time, over the past twenty years. Perhaps it’s because I am now middle-aged, or because I live in a country where I didn’t grow up (although as I hit 18 years of living in the US that seems like an increasingly lame excuse), or because I do the job that I do (macho field; very competitive; relentless criticism and rejections; women few and far between), or because of the prevalence of social media and my reluctant but increasing participation in them… But yes, I’ve been feeling ever more that all that makes me me is a collection of maladaptive traits and that I have been doing reasonably well in life by sheer luck and despite of myself, because how I am couldn’t possibly produce anyone who’s capable of achieving anything.
In great part, the reason I feel like I am some kind of freak is that all the women with whom I tend to identify (highly educated and professionally successful women) in my life and even many I meet online seem to be absolutely nothing like me. Absolutely nothing like me. I am like the bizarro-universe version of them. This includes several female colleagues who are held up as role models of female excellence in my and related fields.
What brought this up, you ask?
I love The SHU Box blog because SHU seems like a really lovely, kind, patient person, and she has a beautiful family. I love seeing the pics of the kids growing up and all the fun they have. [Another one I love is Academomia; Becca (the mom/author of Academomia) is a hilarious writer.]
There are some other blogs that are connected to SHU’s but that I just can’t follow (such as Laura Vanderkam‘s or Lag Liv). I am sure the women behind these blogs are nice people, and they have lovely and large families, but their blogs are very much not for the likes of me. I understand these are curated online personas, but every post on these just makes me feel ugly, fat, uncombed, friendless, stupid, and generally a disorganized pathetic excuse for a woman and a mother. Again, not their authors’ fault, but this is the effect they have on me, so I don’t read them, other than on occasions when I am really in the mood for some quality self-loathing.
But SHU’s blog has a different tone, which has melted my Grinch heart, so I generally find myself cheering her and her family on from the sidelines (I don’t comment there often).
One aspect of SHU’s blog that I find fascinating is that she is a master planner and list maker. She has a well-developed set of algorithms and beautiful stationery for making lists of various levels and planning all aspects of her life, personal and professional. (She has a planner Instagram account, but I can’t find the link. Also a work-life balance podcast. I don’t follow these, though, but do check them out.)
I find SHU’s planning posts fascinating in an alien sort of way. This modus operandi is very, very far from mine. I have tried various planning exercises in the past and they only end up making me extremely anxious. They don’t help me get organized or relieve pressure; instead, they make me feel like my whole body is covered in poison ivy and I need to get out of my own skin.
I have always thought that I’m a freak because normal adults plan this way, and that I am simply self-indulgent and hopelessly immature.
And then for some reason I did the Myers-Briggs personality test (and this wasn’t even the first time in my life that I’ve done it, but I always forget what I get). I did this one ; there are others. It turned out I was an INTP(-T) and I felt that the explanation of the personality traits really captured a lot about my approach to life, both the professional and the personal. I’m not a freak! I have a legitimate personality type, albeit relatively rare: only 3% of the population (also here), but nonuniform between the sexes: 4.8% men but only 1.7% women — I guess it’s not surprising that I feel like a freak? I mean this half in jest; I know these tests are not really scientific, but it did make me feel quite a bit better in the moment. I am embarrassed to say this, because I am a forty-four-year-old woman and I should by now know myself and the world and everything else, really, as well as I ever will, but there you have it: a Myers-Briggs personality test made me feel understood and OK in a way that the I haven’t been able to get from the real-life crowd around me in a very long time. Not a freak, just an INTP(-T). I will take it.
I did the test again today so I’d get a screen shot. Behold! I believe the propensity for making lists would be encapsulated under “Tactics.” When you see how strong my P is, it becomes clear that I am comically unlikely to be a list maker.
— to be continued —