I believe in the power of self. Some people call it character or, strength of character, will, perseverance, confidence, but for me, these things are the window dressings of “self.” Self is that foundation, that inner voice that tells you when all else fails, you won’t fail yourself. You won’t let yourself down. You can and will depend on you. It’s not about winning, succeeding, failing, or losing but living your life, rolling with the punches, handling the mundane, the extraordinary and everything in between. It’s about experiencing all this life has to give you: joy, sadness, fear, happiness and keeping yourself intact.
My mother taught me this not through wise conversations or picture-perfect mother-daughter moments, but through example. She has a sixth grade education. supported two children as a single parent cleaning other people’s homes and businesses. Hard work, the kind of work that offers no perks, little respect and no security. She has faced poverty, job loss, the death of three adult children to drugs and AIDS and her common law husband to cancer. I’ve seen her scared, worried beyond the definition of the word, bone tired, but never, ever heard her say “I can’t deal with this.” At times she would ask for help. but never go derailed if it didn’t come. Hope, but never demanded, wanted but never entitled, expected, but in the end played the cards she was dealt. Believe me, she is no saint. She does more than survive, she lives. She’s seventy-eight now, owns her own cleaning business, makes more per year than her highly educated daughter and continues to roll with the punches.
I work everyday as a psychotherapist. I try and help others deal with the cards they are dealt. Some of what I hear is truly tragic. I wonder sometimes how this person sitting in front of me gets through the hour, let alone the day. Lives outstretched by poverty, illness, neglect and just plain bad luck. Then I remember what I believe to be true: it’s not the situation, but how you feel about yourself in relation to the situation that truly matters. A colleague told me this once and it has stayed with me ever since. It defines my mom and I hope myself. I am not the sum total of those degrees, awards, victories, failures, loses, sorrows. These things embody that self-the being that carries me through this life.
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