I wrote half of this post on my Blackberry at 3 in the morning, after waking up from a somewhat strange and surreal dream. The bizarre part wasn’t the dream, but rather what thoughts it inspired. As always, I knew if I didn’t write them down, (or put them in the oft-used “Notes” section of my Blackberry) I wouldn’t remember them this morning.
So here goes the dream: I dreamt that I was swimming laps with a number of people, one being an ex-coworker who was both arrogant and competitive. I remember thinking in the dream that although I was a good swimmer, I wasn’t good enough. I was mentally critiquing my own strokes, expecting that he and others would be doing the same. It wasn’t until later that he asked how I learned to dive, admiring that possibly I could have been better than he was at something.
Here’s what makes the dream interesting: While I can swim well, I’m not a great diver. I swam because my mom didn’t let me take dance. Somehow, my intrinsic clumsiness (a.k.a. “bull in the china shop syndrome”) didn’t seem conducive to ballet. With swimming, I was never close to the best but better than many people I knew. I secretly enjoyed knowing that people who could outrun me or do other sports well couldn’t often swim better than I could. I always wanted someone to be in awe of my talent. In anything.
Now for the interpretation: whether you can dive, write or call football plays nine out of 10 times before you see them executed, we all tend to protect our talents for fear of finding out that, well, maybe we’re not so unique. Even worse than being common is finding out that perhaps you’re not good at “this” after all, this being what you thought your talent was. For this reason, we tend to end up dating people who aren’t necessarily good at the same things – you want to share interests, but fear that someone could be better than you – and then you won’t be as special anymore.
Since I was a kid, I was always told that I was a good writer. I was used to being complimented by my family, peers and teachers for my creativity and writing ability. Then one day, it was essentially hinted at by someone who is important to me, that maybe I’m not such a great writer. And it stuck. I’ve never been able to reflect upon myself as being as talented anymore and find myself afraid to commiserate with people who are good at the same things as I am.
Some of my best friends are amazing writers, and perhaps, that is one of the pillars that our friendship stands on – a common interest. However, we have a mutual appreciation for each other’s talent and what each of us knows and can bring to the table. There is no inherent fear of competition.
Recently, I dated someone who possessed the complete opposite skill set as me. He was very smart – mechanical, analytical and thought in numbers. On the other hand, he considered himself “functionally illiterate” because he didn’t have the same fluidity with language as I did. His admiration of my talent made me feel special – that I could intellectually bring something to the table that he couldn’t.
After that dream last night, I was reminded that my ability to recognize my own talents is fragile. I will question “if I’m any good” when I compare myself to others, especially others who excel in writing. I’ve never been a competitive person; in some ways, it could be a detriment to me. But just the same, the fear of seeming “less” to someone you want to seem “more” to, will also reign supreme.