Brought up by modest and reticent Protestants, I learned early that pride in oneself was an indulgent blemish on your personality; it was shameful. Since I couldn’t take pride in myself, I basked in my grandparents’ pride – in my drawings, my writing, my report-card grades, my piano recitals.
I myself was proud of my engineer dad’s math skills and the fact that he put himself through WPI by working full-time in an axe factory. I was proud of my smart, artistic, self-effacing mother, who in spite of being made by her parents to take the “secretarial track” in high school graduated as salutatorian of her class and became executive secretary to the president of a large company.
Pride was okay when you directed it at anyone but yourself.
I still flinch when I try to think what I’ve done that I can be proud of. I suffer from impostor syndrome, certain that I’ve pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes: No, I’m not a great employee; I’m a shirker who can work fast! No, I’m not such a nice person; I’m selfish, self-centered, and prone to indulging in schadenfreude when someone I don’t like suffers a misfortune. I have an urge to point out what a loser I’ve been: I had some musical talent but gave up the piano after college – quitter! … I did some difficult volunteer work for a suicide hotline but shied away from good works in person… I talk a good liberal/progressive game but seldom act decisively on my politics because I’m prone to second-guessing.
Here’s something I am proud of. Since my mid 20s I’ve battled mood disorders, beginning with panic and anxiety attacks. For many years I couldn’t drive on busy highways. I had a crippling phobia of high bridges and air travel. For the past 40 years, my neuroses have been a humungous and unending project. I’ve gotten every penny out of the mental health benefits my employers have provided. The fight has been exhausting, though not without small payoffs: I can drive on highways. Sometimes I can drive over a big bridge.
And when it counted, I could fly. I made myself fly… all the way to Colombia in 1991, where we adopted the children I’d been wanting so dearly from an orphanage in Bogotá. To make it happen, I got intensive behavioral conditioning in advance. I had to take a boatload of Xanax to even get on that 757. But dammit, we wanted those kids. So I did it – I flew. And our kids came home.
Twenty-six years later, I’m proud of my resolve and courage at a time when my fears kept me in a very small cocoon of home, work, and friends. I pushed through my dread. I made it back and have loved those kids more than anything else on earth. Flying to South America was probably the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
So, yeah. I’m pretty proud of that. And if they were still around, I think Mom and Dad would be, too.