One wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I do struggle with my own self-worth at times. Writing my book, Googling God has helped me really come into my own this past year and has helped me solidify a place as someone who is a well-known expert in the Young Adult Ministry field.
I recently had someone come to me for spiritual direction and without divulging the person or the nature of her spiritual issue…it was a moment for me when I saw a lot of myself in another person and therefore I think I may be the right person to help her find meaning in her life with God’s help.
We are both people with meager upbringing. Her, from a small Podunk-midwestern town and me, the son of a school custodial worker. Both of my parents did not graduate high school (my mom came close but had to quit to support her family when her dad got sick). I think my dad’s best year he made $27,000. Somehow, some way they sent me to college–and not just any college but, my beloved Fordham. No easy task on their behalf–and I’m very proud of them and their efforts.
But let’s face it. There were probably a lot of naysayers who didn’t think I would amount to much (and there still are). I remember telling people that I was going to work in radio and they told me “fat chance”. For someone who had no connections and no experience to work for 10 years in that business is itself an achievement. I even got to cover some professional sports and did “phone-in voicers” and broadcasted a year of minor league baseball! I was an arrogant young kid who didn’t listen to people when they told me to get out of New York and develop my on-air skills somewhere else and then try to work my way back east. Had I actually done that, I may have done somewhat better than I did in that business, but ultimately, I think I would’ve been unhappy in the long run. So I’m thankful for the experience nonetheless.
Regardless, becoming an expert in the field of ministry is something I never thought I could or would do. Writing a book was never a long-term dream or goal. And I have done both of those things. A friend recently pointed out that a lot of people I know have had many connections and have been able to use those connections to help them get what they want. A friend had a parent who wrote a book–so when they wrote a book, they were able to get it published a lot easier. Another friend has a sister who worked in politics so they had an inside track to their job.
“But you, Mike, had none of those connections. You should be really proud of yourself because you did it all without anyone’s help. And probably with quite a few people saying that you never would be able to do any of it.”
I started to say some of the same things about all the gifts and talents that my directee has to her and mentioned how far she has come with her own limited means and several other challenges that would have made a lot of people quit on themselves. I hoped to reveal to her just how great she really is and how much she has accomplished despite all the struggle. And it hit me really hard after the person left:
I really need to say the same things to myself from time to time about my own accomplishments. I often have struggled to be happy about things–or to feel good about myself. Sometimes all it takes is one naysayer to bring me back down. “See you’re not that good.” Or I start sensing impending doom: “Someone is going to prove my book wrong.” (One of my first thoughts after my book was published).
One of the things in this past year that helped me get past some of these feelings of inadequacy was when David Gibson, who is a religion writer and reporter that I admire asked me to sign a copy of Googling God for him. I used to get so surprised when people would ask me to sign their book. I had these feelings of “Who me? Sign what? Huh?” I was often overcome by the fear of my own inadequacies. When David asked me to sign, my first thought was “I should ask him to sign this book for ME!” I began to have a rather paradoxical mindset. I was somebody who had written a book but then I was minimizing that accomplishment because someone who I regarded as a great writer asked me to autograph it for him.
But then something happened, as I signed an inscription for him, I began to allow myself to finally feel comfortable about my success–to still remain humble, but also allow myself some pride as well. I think something was holding me back from really accepting success and it was Dave’s gesture that helped me push much of those inadequate feelings to the wayside. When people thank me for signing their book now I often thank them–not merely for purchasing it or even just for reading it–but for their anonymous help in allowing me some further self-esteem.
I have noticed since then, that I have began to stand up for myself more (and others too). I don’t let the naysayers have the final word and when I feel like someone has minimized me, I remember that theirs is only one opinion and that it’s not one that many others share. I also look more carefully about what people are really saying and where my gifts really lie and how I can do more of those things more frequently and how I can continue to collaborate with others who make me feel more alive, empowered and connected to God.
So 2008 is nearing its completion and while the Dow is still down (my retirement accounts are getting wacked!) my spirits are at an all time high. I’m an author, an expert, a minister, a husband, a son, a podcaster, a retreat/spiritual director and my dog’s best friend. Whew! That’s a lot and yet there’s still more to evolve! I am excited about a new year for the first time in a very long time and know that God has much more in store for me and for all of us.
Blessings on your 2009. May your year be filled with self-esteem for all you do for yourself, others and God.