On self, self-esteem and related topics

As you grow up, it’s pretty well bashed into you that you’re going to start to “wonder who you are” when you’re an adolescent, that you will suffer self-esteem problems and depression, and that when you’re older – besides coming to a point where you think “fuck ’em all” – these sorts of things tend to keep going. You know, I’m not so sure about all of this.

It could be that I am supremely confident in who I am, or arrogant, or something. I’ve always had a very strong sense of myself and my own self-worth. Coming from a family that has not always treated me the best way they could, because I didn’t bow under the power struggles that ensued well into my 20s, probably helped.

This isn’t to say that I have never struggled with depression. God yes. When I was twelve or thirteen I could have killed myself several times over; when I was seriously depressed and wanted to talk about it as a youngster, all I got from the grown-ups around me was them singing Puberty Blues (which was offensive as well as irritating); in my mid-teens I went on a rampage of blackened, mis-directed aggression which tended to find an outlet in self-injury; and throughout my adult life I have regularly hit pits of blackness too. I don’t get this any more… maybe I grew up, or started to learn to soothe myself. It’s an important skill and one that is completely under-acknowledged.

It also isn’t to say that I never wondered who I was. Not literally, sexually. Most of my friends in high school were bisexual: I had one girl climb into my bed one night and try to seduce me; another one gave me the come-hither look one night in my room and I freaked. Well, I thought at the time, it’s a good way to discover that you’re probably not into chicks.

But, with all of that, it’s not to say that your self-worth necessarily drops. Here I am going to digress. Bear with me.

Although my family was not religious one iota, I was privileged enough to go to the local catholic primary school. All of the talk about jesus and god and such bored the shit out of me. I knew less about religion than the dumb-arses in my class, mainly because I never paid attention (it wasn’t worth it, I considered). Instead, I went on journeys into eastern philosophy and western philosophy, and the study of other cultures and other religions, from quite a young age. I even tried to discuss reincarnation with a teacher at primary school, to be told: “Put that away, we don’t believe in that.”

That comment slapped me to such an extent that I started to pity these people who wouldn’t even consider another point of view, who wouldn’t even discuss it. Why wouldn’t they? Are they that intolerant that they wouldn’t even try to address the notion? No wonder the world was fucked up.

The whole notion of organised religion had seriously palled with me by the time I was in grade three – when I hit communion I actually sang to myself, “yay! no more religion”. Fuck, was I wrong. I had three more years of the shit before I could get out of it.

The first time I read the I Ching I was about seven years old. I remember sitting on the floor of the local library, way up the back, and discovering an entire shelf of eastern philosophy. I thought I’d found Treasure. I spent hours there.

One element of this is that I discovered the Tao from a very young age. Not that I understood it. Elements of it hit chords with me but I couldn’t get past the way it was written: the verse, the riddle. All of it was so very foreign that it kind of washed over me. Funnily enough, it wasn’t discouraging: I knew that there was gold in there somewhere, and that I had to find it.

My own interpretation of the Way has been to always follow the path of happiness. So, I studied arts (much against my family and anybody who thought I wouldn’t have a future, you should have seen the fights!); and not generalist arts, but a focused writing degree, and I was the first student in the history of the School of Communication to complete a degree wherein the major was in professional writing, the minor was in technical writing and editing, and all the cognate studies were from the same field. I knew what I wanted from a very young age: I wanted to write. I have always had a huge passion for writing, books, music (playing and listening) and the arts. It revives me. It always has. When I asked if this path at the uni was ok, they said: “Nobody’s ever done it before. But it doesn’t mean you can’t.”

So, I also knew by the time I finished uni that I would like to work as an editor, and that I would be a good one if I tried. I always had this one goal in my head; finally I did edit. And by the time I worked as an in-house editor for a fucking bitch who devalued everything I did (she was a psychologist, you’d think she’d know better), I knew that the only way was to work for myself as a publisher. Within a year and a bit, I’d achieved that goal.

The point of all this is that I have friends who say to me “you are so inspirational”. Fuck off, no I’m not. All I do is know what I want and I set out to get it. Not in a machiavellian way; not in a nasty, aggressive way, but I have goals and dreams, and I have always said you can do anything – and I mean it when I say it.

My mother is a brilliant ideas woman. I grew up with this woman who had a fantastic artistic ability (that she didn’t indulge, by the way), who always surprised me with her drawings whenever she did them, coming up with brilliant ideas. I would turn around and say to her, “so why don’t you do it?”

To which she would always say no. Because she was (a) too old, (b) didn’t have any money, (c) needed a place in a city to do that properly, (d) blah blah blah.

Fuck that. If you want to do something, fucking well do it! It must have just been frustrating to me as a young’un to grow up with these fabulous ideas and never see any action. That is why when I have an idea or a notion, I grasp it with both hands and don’t let it go until I’ve achieved it. It took my mother until she nearly died from a stroke to get to this point; now she’s done a major in visual art at Deakin and is being encouraged to exhibit her work. It really is very, very good. I’m quite proud of her.

Some people might say that you need a great sense of self-worth to do this. I don’t necessarily think you do; but you do need to know that you are worth achieving things for. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that you should never achieve something for anybody else but yourself. If you grow up wanting adoration all the time, then once it’s gone, or the first time it isn’t forthcoming, you’ll get depressed and sad and start to hate yourself, and wonder why you’re not worth it.

Well, this post got a long way from the notion of self and self-esteem, didn’t it? Or rather, maybe it didn’t. Maybe the idea of Self is so deeply entwined in everything that you can’t necessarily separate it out and address it on its own. After all, you don’t want to look like a complete fruitloop, do you?

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