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“To Thine Own Self Be Skeptical”

Over the decades, I had managed to fail at a marriage, a couple of careers, multiple friendships, and countless smaller endeavors. There were the forgotten birthdays, the missed appointments, the unfinished projects, the mishandled opportunities. So why should I ‘trust my instincts’ or ‘love myself above all?’

In years past, long before my ADHD diagnosis, whenever conversations with friends turned to talk of skills and abilities, I always used to say that I was really good at just one thing: sleeping. Though it was said in a jokey tone, the sad truth was that… it was the sad truth. Even the things I was good at — languages, growing house plants, hanging a spoon on my nose — I wasn’t really good at. Only sleeping. A solid nine or ten hours a night.

Then the unthinkable happened. With menopause came sleepless nights, and I wasn’t even good at sleeping any more!

So this seemed the time to take stock of my life and history — at 50-something, there was a lot of history upon which to reflect — looking for some forgotten, overlooked skill… and the result wasn’t pretty. Even my ficus wasn’t looking all that healthy anymore.

Assisted by my ever-faithful black dog of sadness, I came to the conclusion that the only thing that I had truly mastered was — insert teary-eyed emoticon — screwing up. Messing up. Bungling, misjudging, miscalculating… you get the idea.

Over the decades, I had managed to fail at a marriage, a couple of careers, multiple friendships, and countless smaller endeavors. There were the forgotten birthdays, the missed appointments, the unfinished projects, the mishandled opportunities. Hastily spoken words (or worse, carefully considered ones) that caused mortal offense. At some point, I had disappointed, offended, or angered pretty much everyone I knew. A lifetime of mistakes.

So where am I going with this? Straight to motivational memes. And how those ubiquitous little to-thine-own-self-be-true gems make me crazy. You know the ones:

Know yourself. Know your worth.
It’s hard to like someone you don’t trust, and it’s hard to like yourself if you don’t trust yourself.

Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.

As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.

Okay. Since experience has taught me I can’t trust myself (see above), how can I possibly know how to live? How can I make a decision, knowing there’s a good chance it will be a bad one? How can I go for lunch with friends, knowing that at some point it’s quite possible I will say the wrong thing and cause hurt? How can I go to a party, knowing I will not remember names, will not be able to think of things to say, will freeze up and appear aloof and disinterested? How can I apply for a job, meet new people, look up old friends, have a dinner party, pick a paint color for the bathroom, do…anything?

A permanent solution remains elusive, though things have improved since it occurred to me that a) every mistake is a learning experience, so I’ve learned a lot, and b) I have built up a network of understanding friends and advisors to emulate and turn to for direction.

But giving other people that much influence brings us back to our memes, doesn’t it?

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

Stay true to who you are.

Think for yourself. Trust your own intuition. Another’s mind isn’t walking your journey — you are.

My intuition is faulty. My inner voice gives bad counsel. My journey is wavering and erratic. I need my mentors, all the time, for everything.

But maybe that’s just who I am? The me I need to be true to? Someone who knows she’s prone to stumbling and bumbling and often needs to turn to others for guidance? Who knows her every decision could probably benefit from a second opinion? Who knows she will spend a disproportionate portion of her life apologizing? But someone who knows in her heart that she means well. And that sometimes that just has to be enough.

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