Don’t Rush Me!!
Just over a couple of weeks ago Josh, from The Jaguar and its Allies wrote this in a post that was promoting his Sister’s blog: “Every family has its underachiever (a completely unsubstantiated claim for which I have no evidence), and in my family that is definitely me; my siblings are far more accomplished than I am. My sister, for instance, is professor at Baldwin Wallace University with a PhD in Communications.”
That first paragraph struck a chord of discontent with me, and in fact conversations with Josh since then l know the the term ‘Achievement/Underachievement’ has been causing him some deep provocative thought.
There are a few things that l have a bone of contention with in this world and also that l consider somewhat overrated, these being:
1] Being social
2] People’s expectations of others
3] Achievement vs. underachievement.
The last one on that particular list is the one that l find the most irksome, having lived with it directly as an insult right up until my early forties from my early childhood years. It changed from that point because l confronted the insulter and basically told them to fuck off. The insulter was my Father who loved to bandy around the term freely when describing his Son to anyone who would listen.
“Oh yes my Son, absolute underachiever!”
Whilst my Father doesn’t say it to my face these days, l still believe not in a paranoid fashion way, but on some good authority that he still believes it, he just simply doesn’t say it to my face anymore.
For me that insult began from around the age of two, in truth l cannot specifically remember that, but my Mother informed me of this for years as a kid, that my Father considered me quite useless. I do however remember one incident with clarity when l was literally around the two and half years of age mark. We had emigrated from the UK to Australia and for the first six months l hadn’t actually spoken a word, whereas prior to that l had been quite a talkative little chap.
Doctors many years later would say that was the visible start to my Asperger’s, although none of us knew that back in 65. My first words after the absence came during one breakfast time where my Father was constantly complaining about something and that l was taking my sweet merry time eating. When l simply stopped what l was doing, looked up from my bowl and said “Don’t Rush Me!!”
Now l do remember very clearly from the ages of five to my late teens constantly being berated by my Father. In his eyes l was never good enough. I am not quite sure and these days my Father has selective memory, and chooses to not remember those years, although he can remember the day l was born as he can with my Sister, just nothing around those times, what his expectation was from a five year old?
In truth he never fully explained what those very same expectations were of me all the way through my schooling years, just simply ‘waste of time as a human’, ‘never amount to anything’, ‘absolute underachiever’,’ ‘he’s not my Son’, ‘he’s gay’, ‘he’s on drugs’, ‘he is too shy’, and the diatribe continued.
I am not going to lie and say that those terms didn’t upset me, because they did, most assuredly they did and bloody deeply too. At my own concession for reasons unbeknownst to me l did struggle at school, it wasn’t a case of not trying, l did my absolute best at everything l did. But my concentration was short; although if it was a subject l was dedicated to l absorbed everything.
Some of my own teachers constantly referred to me in the same insulting manner and the best line that l had from a young age was ‘The lights are on but nobody appears to be home. Rory is an intelligent child, but lacks the oomph to get started. He considers other children to be annoying. Sadly unless something happens, l can never see him amounting to anything except a school drop out!”
What you have just read was on one of my report cards when l was around 8 in Australia, but it wouldn’t be the first time they would appear there. No, many teachers became extremely frustrated with me.
Of course this kind of report card did absolutely nothing to bring me closer to my Father. He was an extremely strict Dad and a very stern disciplinarian. Back then, spankings were a regular activity in my household and l was punished with a great deal of frequency for underachieving.
The strange thing was that there were topics that l did excel with, English, Biology, Art and Classical and British History and some sports like running, hurdling and jumping, hockey, badminton, baseball and swimming. However l was useless at Mathematics, Chemistry, Languages, Technical Drawing, Metalwork and Woodwork and Religious Education, Cricket and English Football or Soccer. Of the topics l was good at, l won awards and recognition for, even if my grades were not spectacular.
But they were never good enough, not in the eyes of my Father. Instead of praising me for the topics l did excel at, he only criticised me further by stating that l should be exceptional in all topics and not just the ones that l liked.
Growing up in my household was a challenge, my parents were constantly arguing, there was domestic violence, mental cruelty towards my Mother and myself and to boot, a man who was by all accounts a fixated self-loving wack job. I was terrified of living at home and l know this reflected badly on my years at school.
If we can forget the presence of my Asperger’s which although was with me since my birth but 1] never known about and 2] never allowed to flourish as this would have identified me as more of an oddball. I am actually quite surprised that l did leave school with some qualifications, because l was determined to NOT be a drop out. I was ambitious but was never really allowed to exercise these enthusiasms openly.
My Father could only see himself as being the ‘perfect one’, this meant that especially and more so, my Mother and l in his eyes were completely and utterly useless excuses for air breathers. As to my Sister, she had faults but they were forgivable.
My Father’s expectations of his underachieving Son were never totally explained in any detail except “You are going to have to pull your socks up if you ever hope to achieve anything in this world Sonny!” On pressing, and l do remember countless times trying to understand what his actual expectations of me were? He would simply yell “Better!! Be a better person!”
When l was nine years of age l started Drama and according to my teachers l was very good at becoming someone else, little did we both know back then l think now. I held several lead parts in school shows and received good results – everyone was thrilled except one person. Who never paid any compliments? He would constantly berate me that l was useless.
At the age of thirteen l started my own ironing business whilst at school and earned my own pocket money therefore relinquishing his role in having to award me any monies and bought my own freedom in many respects. This only stopped because the tax man paid me a visit one day at home after school and said l was earning too much money and not paying any tax and so l had to stop. Once more my Father reprimanded me and said it was ‘woman’s work anyway’ and not befitting a man!
I am sure that by this time you may gather that l was terrified of my Father and for many, many years tried to prove to him, that l was anything but an underachiever and all to no avail.
With the money from my ironing business, as well other smaller enterprises like dealing in old books, antiques and house clearances l managed to pay for my two year course in Guildford Training College to become a chef because l saw this as the lead into management. The likes of some of the great celebrity chefs have nothing to fear from my culinary arts; however l am a qualified chef. This achievement was met with disapproval. I had originally wanted to work as a veterinarian, but my Father saw this occupation as a waste of time, hence why l took to catering as a learned skill.
I never attended university, mostly because my grades were not high enough for entry. But l did manage to secure work in the catering industry and progressed very quickly up the ladder to management.
All the way from around five years of age till my forties l tried so very hard to make my Father see that l was an achiever but l didn’t like to be pushed, rushed or cajoled into doing things that l had no love of. Over those years, l achieved many things for me and some of them were ‘great achievements’ not just in my eyes, but in the eyes of others also. I succeeded at many things that l put my hand to and have lived at my own concession quite the rewarding life. Even during the years leading to my early forties l was achieving more than most people ever achieved.
I only had my own expectations of what l could do in comparison to what l could not, and if l could not, then l would turn my hands to it and see – for me – if l could – and experience huge satisfaction when something proved successful. But never could l please the one man l was trying to prove to that l was most assuredly NOT an underachiever. He could never see in his eyes that his Son was the opposite; he could only ever see Failure.
Even during a mammoth breakdown which began in my early thirties and ended ten years later, l was still achieving more than most people would ever do. I was driven, almost hell bent on ensuring that l still battled this under achieving badge l had stapled to my forehead.
In my thirties with the breakdown, l started to isolate myself, this wasn’t just the hidden Asperger’s causing this, but the worthlessness l felt about who l was as a human being, that despite everything l had ever achieved l could never please the one person who l wanted to please – my Father.
During those years of breakdown, l battled demons every day, managed to not kill myself through countless suicide attempts, clung onto my sanity with a mind that wanted to close down and managed to, despite everything still try and hyper focus on living something akin to life. That alone is one hell of a fucking achievement, ask anyone who has ever experienced that shitload of mental angst and come through the other side what it’s like. To boot l was running a successful business through this period – l never gave up, despite desperately wanting to at times.
It is NOT easy.
By the time l started to emerge from the darkness, l confronted my Father and said enough was enough. I didn’t give a flying fuck what he thought of his Son anymore, that the problem didn’t reside with me, but him. That he was a bully and a mental abuser and that if HE didn’t pull his socks up, he would lose his only Son!
Nearly fifteen years on, my Father and l whilst not fully estranged, we live very different lives. I still get to hear of the occasional jibe in my direction, but l don’t care anymore. I have done things with my life that l am proud of, l have achieved much. Certainly in some respects l have achieved more than my father has. This doesn’t award me any glee, or self-righteous pride – if anything it saddens me.
That when l was younger, my Father instead of acting in the role he should have performed as in supportive and challenge orientated to motivate his Son was only ever interested in competing with him, proving that he alone was a God that needed worshipping. That he was the perfection of everything golden’, that he was the only person that mattered.
It mattered not to him at any time to simply stop in his tracks and look at what his Son had achieved with his life. He thought not twice of ridiculing him for not having children, or hitting on any of his girlfriends and trying to bed them. He thought not twice about boasting about his ability to play cricket and not poncy baseball, he never complimented him for becoming a hockey captain at twelve of the school team and the list went on.
I could go on and l probably have already bored you, however my point to this is this.
FUCK what people think of you!!
We must all do the things in this life, our lives that make us happy, because we achieve more when we are not trying to please others or meet their expectations of what we should be achieving for them.
We are not here to live our lives for our parents or narcisstic Fathers, we are here to do what we love. I am not a judgemental person, and l try to live by that ethos. I am happy for others when they are doing with their life what makes them happier – because happiness is one of the hardest emotions to not just achieve and secure, but to maintain and sustain.
You were born to be the person you were born to be, it’s that simple, you cannot be someone else, how your path evolves is down to you, and you alone, no one else. Sure accept guidance, wisdom, motivation and inspiration, but DON’T bow down to anothers expectations.
I guess what l am saying is this … stop telling yourself or believing that you are an underachiever – l assure you, you have probably achieved more than you give yourself credit for – however – you have got to start believing in yourself more. The moment l started believing in myself more the more l realised l didn’t care what others expectations of me were.