When Opportunity Knocks, but it Isn’t Looking for You

How about those women’s marches? I feel better about my country than I have in months.
View of the January 21, 2017 women's march in a major city with protestors filling the street between tall buildings and holding signs
As it happens, I didn’t attend one. Pop-up protests over the past few years have been a major source of stress in my life, and I’m pretty angry about that. The same few demonstrators show up to anyone’s march, looting, breaking windows, vandalizing random cars, and stoning police. Not a constructive way to espouse a cause. I depend on public transit, and a few dozen demonstrators can close it down for hours. As I result, I have often been stranded far from home, in the middle of a very tense situation, lugging 30 pounds of perishable groceries.

Because of this, I am on alert lists for the bus company and police department. Which is how I heard about the women’s march – the bus company sent out an advance email about expected service disruptions. Other than that, I saw only a TV commercial, which surprised me. Protest marches advertise? That’s new. But given aforementioned experiences with protests, I wasn’t intrigued enough to find out more.

But on the day of the march, when texts from the police department started coming in with massive numbers, I realized something different and historical was happening. I briefly considered going, until I got a text from the bus company saying they had completely closed down bus service to the downtown core. I texted back “completely unacceptable!,” but I was relieved from the decision of whether to enter an intensely crowded, noisy situation where my ability to retreat would’ve been severely limited.

Maybe I would’ve risen above the limits of sensitivity on the group high. Then again, I tend towards disturbed-hibernating-bear syndrome in January, so maybe not.

But even from my armchair, it was pretty cool. And the more I learned about it, the more amazing it got. It wasn’t just the massive turnouts in major cities. There were also hundreds (not an exaggeration) of marches in smaller towns, and even tiny villages, some of them in very bad weather and/or unfriendly environments.

I’m something of a coward about putting myself physically and visibly on the line. I’ve found some peace with this reluctance, now that I understand it’s a pretty natural reaction for an HSP introvert. There’s more than one way to be an activist. Still, I respect people who expose themselves in that way, even if it feels less risky to them than it would to me. If you participated, thank you. A lot. Thank you for showing me I wasn’t alone.

But this post isn’t about that. The rest of it isn’t, anyway :)

What’s New – or Not – with Me

My self-employed career isn’t going well. It turns out there is a fatal flaw in my business plan (this is a figure of speech. If you happen to be comparing yourself with me, I don’t want to deceive you into thinking I have anything as organized as a written plan). I’ve done a really excellent job at finding people I emotionally resonate with as clients. Over and over, they tell me they chose to work with me because they felt I understood them.

And I do. They are people who are going it alone, carving out their own career niche, plus a few passionate bloggers who just have to write. Like me. Most of them are struggling financially, also like me, with a very limited budget for things like… my services. I have done an excellent job of finding my peers. At creating myself an income, not so much.

One obvious option is to enhance my skills so I can attract either a broader range or a larger number of clients. I have been thinking about additional skill training ever since I began. What stops me? I like the work but I don’t love it. I’m not doing it because it’s my passion, or until I figure out what my passion is. I KNOW what I want to be doing. This, what I’m doing right now. Writing this post. So investing more energy to go in another direction feels really wrong.

Traffic sign, "wrong way"I should probably mention here that it’s very difficult for me to have more than one focus in life. This has nothing to do with time, not really. I engage deeply with whatever I do, not only while I’m doing it, but in an ongoing way. It becomes part of my identity. So I feel literally torn, not to mention drained, if I try to engage in more than one life-focus at a time.

For example, I haven’t been writing much this past year or so because I’ve been trying to make my business work. It’s not that I didn’t have time. Some (many) weeks I had no business at all. But I felt I should be using any free time to build my business or otherwise bring in money. Even when I didn’t know what else I could be doing to accomplish that, I couldn’t write without feeling guilty and/or distracted.

I’m a mess, aren’t I? (sigh)

My financial situation is, frankly, pretty desperate. I have a broken tooth I can’t afford to fix, an enormous load of credit card debt, and I’ve been a food bank client for so long, I know all the volunteers by name. I would really love to tell you I have answers, because I know some of you are trying to figure out many of the same things. But I don’t. Not yet.

All I have is faith that this all – the poverty, the tooth ache, the ambivalence and confusion – is part of a necessary process for something in me to shift, a shift that cannot be brought about by any other means. A bottoming out, really.

I hesitate to borrow language from the psychology of addiction to describe other things. In a lot of cases it doesn’t apply, and can even be dangerously misguided. For instance, I have heard people refer to bottoming out of depression. People with depression do not need to “bottom out.” Bottoming out for depressives equals suicide, which is not a learning experience. Not for the person who dies, anyway.

But I do think bottoming out is a factor in my struggle, getting sick enough of my maze to finally find the way out. My faith that I’m on the right path, contrary to all appearances, is constantly at war with voices in my head that are calling me irresponsible, delusional, or both. Sometimes I think that’s the crux of the matter right there. Which voices are the right ones?

The right voices for me, that is. One source of my confusion – possibly THE source – is that different voices are right for different folks. Hey, cool, that brings us right back to my title, and I didn’t even do it on purpose. Oh, wait, maybe I shouldn’t admit that. No, to hell with that. It’s not useful to me or to you to pretend I’m something I’m not.

Why am I like this?

I didn’t have an optimal childhood for an HSP. Or even for a non-HSP. I was born in the first year of my parents’ marriage. My mom had postpartum depression, and my dad quickly tired of her moodiness and started another relationship. So from birth, neither of my parents was dependably there for me. Sometimes I think that probably broke me in some ways that can never be fixed.

They were separated before I even remember. I was a joint custody kid until I started school. Both of my parents were students, so they moved constantly – I not only shuttled back and forth between them, but I lived in at least 9 different homes (that I can remember) in 3 different states by the time I was 5. From kindergarten through high school I attended 7 different schools.

I ended up living full time with my mom, who had been raised by an alcoholic. I suspect she may have been an HSP AND a narcissist, if such a thing is possible, but maybe she was just a damaged HSP. She was more concerned about appearing to be a bad mother than about being one. She didn’t get me or like me (that’s not just my perception, she told me so on numerous occasions). My intense reactions stressed her out, a stress which occasionally erupted into violence.

Her second husband also had stress management issues, and also erupted into violence with me and my brother. Ultimately, he ditched my mom for a younger woman without kids, and stopped paying child support almost immediately. Ironically, he was a graduate student in psychology. He and his new wife both went on to advise troubled people how to fix their lives. At a very high salary. While the kids he had adopted, then abandoned, went on welfare.

My mother did like my brother. He seemed more mellow than I was (actually, he was just more repressed, which ultimately killed him). Plus he was a safe tiny man she could control, unlike her cheating husbands. Therefore, I became the family scapegoat. When I saw things in a way she was uncomfortable with – which happened often – she told me I was crazy.

In my mind, I eventually stopped believing her, but she was my parent, the source of all knowledge, so in my heart, I still felt unlikable and confused about what was true. I still struggle with that. Since I changed schools and homes so often, I wasn’t able to form lasting relationships with people outside my family who might’ve provided a more objective perspective. Even though I can see now, rationally, that I was quite perceptive, I never feel totally sure. Of anything, really.

When I tried to get my needs met, my mother and stepfather joined forces to characterize them as selfish and excessive. They liked to say “give her an inch, and she’ll take a mile.” Note that even an inch is therefore too much to expect. I still have a really hard time feeling entitled to anything. You can probably see by now why I think this is all connected to my struggle with financial survival.

Ultimately, I have to find a path – an emotional path – to feeling deserving. I don’t think my life is going to change until I do. I’m not at all sure this is the right way to go about that, but nothing else I’ve tried has worked. I have learned a lot about what to avoid, but am not too clear on where to be instead, which leaves me with nowhere to stand. My theory is, this too is part of the discomfort that will, sooner or later (hopefully sooner) finally propel me to where I need to be.

Why should it be so hard to take steps towards something better? Because the unknown is always scary, and the more fear you already have, the more scary it is. As a result, the people who need change most are the most terrified of it.

Well, that’s where I’m at. If you have discovered any answers that you think might help me, by all means, lay them on me (gently, please). I can’t really tell if I’m progressing or not. Sometimes I think I’m becoming braver about admitting vulnerabilities, which, given a past in which anything I cared about was used against me, is an accomplishment. But other times I think it’s just that they’ve grown too huge to hide anymore. Perhaps both can be true.

When Opportunity Attacks

Oh, wait, I forgot all about my headline. A couple of weeks ago, I saw an ad for a mentoring program. I applied, and was offered an opportunity for intensive skill building in a structured environment.

I had several doubts about the program. I wouldn’t be bringing in any money for at least 6 months, and when I did, the program would take a cut of it. The time commitment was heavy. Lots of deadlines, working mostly in teams – stuff that’s very stressful for me.

But most of all, it was only slightly related to what I was already doing – essentially, I’d be taking a whole new step away from what I actually wanted to be doing, in yet another direction. I never put that kind of energy into seeing if there was a way to earn a living doing what I DO want to do. Maybe I should. Maybe I gave up too soon. Maybe there are mentors out there somewhere for THAT.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered a great opportunity – for someone else. It took me a couple of weeks to figure that out, but now I’m fairly confident I made the right decision. As confident as I get, anyway, which is more confident than I used to be. I think.

I’m still fighting that voice that tells me I’m lazy and neurotic, and in no position to walk away from any opportunity that would enable me to pay my own way in the world. It’s not that I’ve managed to shut it up – no such luck. But my life is one long proof that I can’t succeed that way, no matter how hard or how many times I try. It just doesn’t make sense to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

It’s not only that I don’t WANT to go back to the stressful, exhausting, demoralizing work I did before. Skills aside, I’m not temperamentally qualified for it. I can’t give 99% of the jobs I held in that line of work as a reference. I got fired multiple times. Surely that’s enough said?

Argh, Critical Parent, get out of my head!! What if I could roll up all the energy (on both sides) I spend on fighting myself, and direct it instead towards my actual goals?

That might be something to see.
A small plant pushes its way up, breaking through asphalt

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