Sunday, May 11, 2008

Player Haters

I always get myself in trouble when I worry too much about what people think of me. When I strive to please EVERYBODY. That’s what I did back when I was doing gymnastics and it turned on me. I tried so hard to continue extracting approval from my coaches and parents that I denied my own best interest. The tension between wanting or believing something different than what others do and also desiring to have these people ‘like me’, creates havoc on my body and brain. I internalize their displeasure and it rots inside my gut.

I find myself struggling with this now but I am fighting to have learned from past experiences. I’m really trying to just be okay with some folks thinking that I suck. It’s impossible to have EVERYONE approve of you, right? What progress I will have made if I can shrug disapproval off with a smile and an ‘Oh well! You can’t win ‘em all!” avowal.

Recently, I was promoted at work. I now carry the hefty burden of the title, “Vice President, Worldwide Marketing, Levi Strauss & Co.”. Yikes. I fought hard for this position. I know that I can do it and do it well. I interviewed for months on end, took tests - psychological, IQ, leadership – to validate my worthiness. And after being poked and prodded for almost 4 months, I was handed the position the same week that my book came out. What a week! (As I left on book tour, I thought to myself as I boarded the plane, “I’m going to crash. I’ve had too much good fortune of late.” Neurotic? Yes.)

The first week in my new job and I’m on a vacation that I’ve planned for many months. Not much of a vacation really; I’ve been on a plane every day for 5 days, on book tour. Going from city to city doing readings and local press. This is a well-earned ‘vacation’, as I’ve ‘banked’ at least 7 weeks of time off at Levi’s, not having taken a break in the past year, in my effort to prove myself worthy of this new job. Yet, I am riddled with guilt at taking time off the first week of my new job. Thus, I’ve made myself available in every possible way – blackberry, email, phone, etc. I ring and vibrate from every pocket as I walk through the airport. I’m going to need a vacation from this vacation, for sure.

Despite my best efforts to stay connected to things at work, to push things forward - things like TV commercial shoots and such - there’s been a bit of a dust up over some issues not worth getting into. Some of my colleagues aren’t very happy with me. And so it goes, I feel more guilt. I feel practically buried by it at times as I sit on the runway waiting for my plane to take off for Houston or Cincinnati or home. One week into this job and I have convinced myself that people will be clamoring for my resignation in no time. Oh the humiliation. I am sure they are going to rescind this promotion. To say, “We’re sorry. You aren’t right for this after all. We’ve found another, more worthy. And, we can’t offer you your old job back either. Bye-bye. Best of luck to you and those children you’re responsible for!”

And then there’s the book hoo-ha. The nay-sayers (and it seems there are just a very vocal few) regarding the book are adding fuel to my self-destructive fire. The ‘you’re a liar!’, ‘you’re a pathetic loser and you’re just bitter because you never made the Olympics!’, and 'you must really need money!' types of comments can’t help but sting a girl.

But I’m in a new phase of my life. I’m nearly 40 years old. I’ve had therapy. Not truckloads of it, but enough to question my usual response to things; to suggest to myself there may be another way to handle disapproval; to steer myself clear of self-loathing. I’m attempting to have learned from my mistakes. I’m fighting to accept that sometimes people just don’t like me or what I have to say. I won’t cow to people at work that say I’ve not done my job well. Are there things I could do better? Sure! But overall, we disagree on this fact that I’ve really mucked things up irreparably. We don’t have to always agree. We don’t have to like each other, we just have to work together. In past years, I would have practically gotten on bended knee, bowing in apology and shame over having pissed some folks off. Not gonna happen this time. I’m going to stand my ground.

And so it is with the book. Not everyone will like it. Or me for having written it. But that doesn’t make it untrue and it certainly doesn’t make me a charlatan, cheater, liar, desperate-for-money loser, as I’ve been called. If I’d lied and been called on it, I’d feel shame. I don’t.

This is not easy for me, accepting that there are those who kind of dislike me right now. But I will live with it. I have to. Otherwise, I go back to being a 16-year old so desperate to please that she nearly self-destructs in a muddy jumbled mess of anxiety and depression and desperation and shame.

Hate me if you will. I’ll be just fine with it. I’ll try to be anyway. Given that there are people I don’t like a whole lot either, it seems only fair that I should have to endure being disliked too. I’m aiming for empathy – rather than disdain - towards those who are angry with me. I try for understanding. For calm.

In the words of my husband and some rapper I don’t know, I’m striving to not hate the player, rather, hate the game. (Best when pronounced “playah”, of course.)


Caroline said...

I'm sorry that you have received such harsh criticism but I feel compelled to extend my admiration for your work. I was moved by your book and impressed with your ability to talk so frankly about such difficlut issues. As a former gymnast, a new mom, and a doctor there were many topics that touched me. When I saw a young athlete in the office last week who I suspected wasn't able to talk frankly about her experiences in athletics- I thought- God it's hard to be 15, And it's even harder to watch someone be 15. But I also thought about your book and will do so again many times.

Best of luck in your new job.

Caroline said...

Growing up I was also judged constantly - by my peers and by my parents. I was often told by other kids that I was not liked. Now as an adult it's very hard for me to believe that I am not only liked, but loved. And it still hurts when I am scorned. It's very very hard to undo the past, and I feel for you. I was not a gymnast but I understand what you are going through. Know that you are not alone.

klmgym said...

I have not been able to read your book yet, but it is on my to do list. Please do not let others make you feel bad about telling your gymnastics story. It is your story and only you know the whole truth. As a member of the gymnastics community, with a child heavily involved in the sport, I really hate to hear negative press about the sport, but on the same note, I would rather be informed than bury my head in the sand. Every sport has it's evil side, no high level sport is immune. It sounds like you have truly found yourself and are coming to terms with your time as a gymnast. Please, tell your story. You cannot please everyone and should not strive to. Congratulations on the promotion. I wish you well.