The question makes me giggle. It suggests a life so absurd – so thoroughly outside our control – that it’s like we’re all living in a game my older brothers used to torture me with, where they’d grab both my wrists and make me whack myself in the face while saying things like, “Don’t hit yourself! Why do you keep hitting yourself? Stop hitting yourself right now!” and I’d laugh until I almost wet my pants.
Maybe I’m just strange.
But it does seem like life sometimes plops us into situations where we end up smacking ourselves around in some way, but if we’d just push back the tiniest bit (say, by threatening to pee on siblings who outweigh us) we could stop, and get on with whatever it is we’re supposed to do.
This bizarre chain of thoughts was triggered by this video by happiness writer Gretchen Rubin, who shares about a conversation she had with her sister. Gretchen was worried that if she left her job in law to become a full-time writer, she’d feel less legitimate. “Do you feel legitimate now?” her sister asked, and Rubin admitted that no, she did not. Which is hilarious, because her job at the time was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. If that job doesn’t make you feel legit, ain’t nothing gonna. What Rubin had wasn’t a legitimacy question, she realized. It was a personality trait. She tends to feel like her career choice is not legitimate. That’s just who she is. But it doesn’t have to drive her decisions.
It made me think of one of the (approximately 22,000) emails I received from the Fly Lady last week (if she used snail mail I’d be a candidate for Hoarders) asking “How Do You Value Yourself?” It was a little schmaltzy, but she asked some thought-provoking questions:
Do you value yourself because of your job?
Because of your husband’s job?
Do you value yourself on how you look? Act? Dress?
On how much you save when you shop?
Do you value yourself on how much you earn? On how much more you earn than someone else?
Do you value yourself on your volunteer work? Your church work?
Do you value yourself on where you live? How your house looks? The kind of car you drive?
Do you value yourself on your grades?
Do you value yourself for your hair? Your nails? Your weight?
Do you value yourself on how punctual you are? How organized?
Do you value yourself for being productive?
Do you value yourself for having the luxury of free time?
I tweaked some of the questions, but you get the gist. Interesting, right? I didn’t have “a ha!” moments with many of these, but when I saw Gretchen’s video, I realized: I value myself for the legitimacy of my work. Which means that a lot of the time I feel illegitimate. Because as Gretchen realized while working at the Supreme Court, legitimacy is in the eye of the experiencer. As a writer, I’ve felt completely “legit” despite someone telling me my dream of getting published was absurd. But I’ve also felt like a fraud at events celebrating the publication of my books, as friends and strangers paid hard-earned money for my pages and told me how much they were looking forward to reading. Again, if that doesn’t make you feel legit, ain’t nothing gonna.
I’ve been in church circles long enough to know that this is when I should cue the “finding my identity in Jesus” music. But to be honest, I don’t know what that means, practically speaking. Because following Jesus, while sharing several behavioral similarities across participants, plays out in a wide array of individual ways. Trish following Jesus looks similar, and yet very different, from Lynette following Jesus. (A truth for which both Trish and Lynette are thankful, because we’re not really equipped to swap out lives :) ) Identity in Jesus is sort of a yeast that works through us, touching every aspect of our existence…but it’s kind of elusive as an identity or value signifier.
I don’t know that we get to feel legit. I think Gretchen Rubin is right: we just have sort of decide we are, and find a way to keep going anyway, without the security badge of guaranteed legitimacy to keep us safe from scrutiny. We have to stop hitting ourselves, keep giggling at the absurdity of it all, and decide: Such and such may be my personality, but it’s not going to keep me from being happy, or from doing my work and enjoying the life I lead.
When in doubt, we can encourage each other via this handy reminder as we sing along with MC Hammer :)