“A serial killer doesn’t beget a serial killer.”
That’s what Mom told me ten or fifteen years ago when I started grappling with some of my many demons - specifically, the personality traits (being selfish, self-interested, and solipsistic) that I perceived myself as inheriting from my father.
What she meant was that just because he made a lot of mistakes and wasn’t a good father (or really any type of father), and is a very damaged person, doesn’t mean that type of behavior is etched into my genetic map and thus the only road for me to follow.
Even with that, it’s always been helpful for me to think about my father’s flaws and use them as a warning bell or litmus test as I navigate my own personal growth and evolution.
I have learned firsthand in recent years that it is indeed very possible to be less selfish and show up for people and be there for people. And the best part is, it’s actually easy. I truly thrive in being a consciously loving, supportive, and present friend, sister, daughter, aunt, sister-in-law, etc.
Also, sometimes selfishness actually means self preservation. Closing down Uplift was, of course, selfish. I probably could have found a way to keep going, but at the end of the day and for so many reasons, I didn’t want to. That was the right decision for me, and the right decision overall.
But more often than not, my selfishness means self-interest...and isn’t the right decision.
It can be something “small” - like earlier this week when I was on the phone with a customer service representative from Staples because my order had been lost in the mail. I was an impatient asshole to the poor woman on the other end, selfishly letting my irritation show to an irrational level (and truly the punishment didn’t fit the crime - I could live a while longer without printer ink) who was probably making minimum wage at best and spoke English as a second language. This has plagued me for days.
But more often, it’s much bigger - like recently when I was staying with one of my very best friends in the Hamptons and on our last night together decided to go out with a guy instead of with her. She is always incredibly generous with her time and her home, not to mention her friendship, and I trampled all over that for the attention of a guy I may never even see again.
The worst part of all of this - selfishness big or small - is that often I know what I am doing when I am doing it.
Sure, I can justify it - my friend had been busy with work all day and as a perpetual houseguest I never want to be in anyone’s hair so I decided to make other plans to give her some space - but deep down, if not in my conscious mind (because who wants to face that?), definitely in my gut feeling, which is often more vociferous than I would like to admit, I knew what I was doing was wrong when I was doing it.
When I contemplate these things, I wonder: why am I so flawed? Why do I make so many mistakes, huge and tiny and everything in between? Does anyone else fuck up as much as I do?
I know it’s human nature to go over our flaws and mistakes (perceived or otherwise) endlessly - my brain’s preferred time is around 3 a.m., when I need to get up at 5:30 and be “on” for a big day ahead.
I also know that most people are, ironically, self-focused, and don’t give nearly as much airtime or agony to our actions that we think they do, or as we do. Brene Brown cites an example from her own life and relationship with her husband where she imagined he wanted to divorce her because he was a little quiet and pensive during a swim they took together. She uses that to remind us the danger in making up a story about what someone else is thinking or feeling about us when we’re in the midst of struggle.
What’s happening behind my story as Brene Brown would say?
Well, as much as fucking up (over and over again) gives me not only anxiety but pause about who I am as a person, I suppose I am grateful that I at least have some semblance of awareness - because if I wasn’t aware of this stuff, didn’t have the sensitivity chip or anxiety over my obvious bad behavior, or maybe worse, just didn’t care, that would mean I would never change, would never get better, would never evolve. It would mean I was exactly like my father.
It’s painful to face my shortcomings. But maybe the universe gifted me with so many flaws to make my growth that much greater: the more I make mistakes, the more I learn, and therefore, the stronger and wiser I can be, and the more impact I can make.
It really is my choice to make. And that’s empowering.