In the shadows
To compare ourselves with others is a natural part of life. It is an important element in our development to contend and compete. It stretches us – our abilities, our capacity to overcome, our mental capabilities to deal with the fallout of defeat or feelings of lessness. Lessness? Yes, that sense of feeling less than others around you.
Having an older brother by 4 years means you have had to contend with these feelings. Sportwise I was probably very sporty, but comparing myself with someone 4 years older is not a wise thing to base your ability. I spent the best part of my childhood waiting to beat my brother at something …anything. Even when I was getting really good at tennis and we were equalising in our physical stature he thrashed me off the court. It was not until I beat him at chess did I taste success. And even when I beat him there was this nagging doubt whether he had played his best.
At university I followed my siblings lead. I think I had to make a statement of intent and this I certainly did for I knew I was different and this studying life was not how I tick. Having two brothers and a sister come out with a 2:1 you would think the pressure was on. Only pressure that comes from living life in a shadow. I got a degree … a 3rd!
Roll on thirty years and I have watched my son pit his wits against me in various challenges. And as my physical peak has waned and his physical abilities and mental strength add confidence to his arsenal so I have got used to losing once more. I do so gladly for it means that he never gave up. He never allowed losing to me fuel his view of himself. He never accepted the shadow as his fate.
I look on all my children in the same light. As they step into their adult mould they have learned to look on their parents not as people to copy but to emulate. Don’t they mean the same thing? In my understanding, not really. What I feel we have done as parents is to live life, stretching our talents, setting goals. And as they have watched they have recognised our humanness, our determination, our fragility at times. We haven’t hidden our weaknesses but we have striven to stretch and grow. In this space we have seen our children gradually exercise their own selves – finding their own abilities and desires. And I can safely say not one of them lives in the shadow of our successes for they are succeeding in life.
Succeeding in life? What does that really mean? Well, it doesn’t mean money! Or possessions! Or career! (although these will come) I think what I have witnessed with my children is that they are able to use their limited resources to live life. They travel, they give their lives to friendship, they have healthy lifestyles that involve good food and sport, they are always fantastic company at home and they have a wide open aspect where job, money, possessions won’t be the measure of their success.
Learning to be yourself is life’s toughest lesson. Life imposes its restrictions that can force us to take a course that can lead us away from what we truly need to do, pursuit of money a big example. Yes, money helps but when it traps us in a place that heaps pressure upon pressure, can we really be our real selves there?
And so out from the shadows I want to emerge…for I have learnt something great from my children. To live life! To get out there and enjoy life. When you have very little there is little to lose in finding a different path to the one sold by the world.