“If I’m great, it might make you feel bad”
Is that it? Is that the thought that runs through so many of our minds? Is it conditioning, or is it hard wired into us as a species?
All I know is that I’ve spent most of my life trying to blend in–trying to be as “normal” as possible. People would compliment me on the talents I’ve been blessed with, and I’d back-peddle, running for the cover of humor and self-deprecation as fast as I could. In essence, begging them to stop “outing” my greatness, “please just leave me under my rock of mediocrity” I would plead.
I guess the problem is that I believed it. I truly thought I was of no special import, refused to believe that I could be of any value to anyone. My wife told me she loved me because that was her “job”, she was keeping the peace and trying to build an eternal relationship. And, in fact, after fifteen years of being a full-time freelance artist, I honestly believed that the clients were coming to me because they kind of felt sorry for me. I know, right? People paid me freelance rates for fifteen years, and I refused to believe I was giving them an excellent product…
You see, I was defining myself by what I wasn’t. I could name a hundred other artists that did things “better” than me. They were, therefore, great. I was not.
I met Kari a hundred internet-years ago on a photography web site. It’s a wonderful site where you submit your photo to a “challenge” and lots of amateur photographers you don’t know from around the world tell you what’s wrong with it. At least they do it harshly. I noticed that Kari was taking some heat and reached out to her to let her know that I appreciated the heart in her work.
I found out she was 15. A precocious kid with a camera producing work far beyond her age. She was sensitive to the harsh critiques, but she loved photography. It’s part of her soul.
Fast-forward five years to last Tuesday and I’m talking to Kari for the first time face-to-face in a parking lot off of the Benjamin, Utah exit of I-15. We’ve talked off and on over the years, moreso now with the advent of Facebook, lately we’ve talked a lot about business since she’s started her own photography business. I’ve seen her express herself in text and in her photography, I feel like I’ve come to know her. But of course, in person, she’s different than I imagined.
I knew she was smart, but what surprised me were her eyes. They crackle with intelligence. She’s not just smart, she is SMART. She’s very funny and quick to laugh, and it’s a terrific laugh too. It starts way down in her soul, and starts to bubble up… she tries to temper it, tries to keep it under control but it’s a force that cannot be stopped and it finally erupts from her–cascading forth–her remarkable personality rippling outward in a expression of happiness.
And she does it a lot.
Her photography is equally an expression of who she is. It’s a beautiful thing when someone can reveal what is in their heart through pointing a lens and clicking a button. I’m very aware that it is so much more than that… but to hold up a cold piece of metal and glass and electronics and create images that make the world feel – that’s a gift. A rare and precious thing in my book.
I’m a fan of Kari. This remarkable creative talent comes in a wonderful package full of fun and laughter and…
She defines herself as a janitor.
Yeah. I was stunned too.
So many of my compliments have bounced off the rock of “not bad for a janitor” that she hides behind. When flushed out from behind that rock she runs for the cover of “dork” and “geek”. Pinning her down to take a direct compliment is exhausting work, I almost ran out of ammo.
We talk late into the evening, Kari and I. While we feed the entire mosquito population of Benjamin, Utah we talk about the term “stand in your power” and how it relates to life. I talk about my journey, hoping she can see at her young age how special her talent makes her. How great she truly is…
…how the fact that she is different is exactly how it’s supposed to be.
And I hope she can see just how desperately the world needs the greatness of Kari.
“Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– Marianne Williamson, co-leader of the United States Department of Peace movement
I’m coming to understand there is a way to be gracious in your greatness. I have seen many people who are quietly great, willing to share greatness with the world. No chest-thumping bravado necessary, they just elevate the world around them by embracing who they are, what they are great at, and how different that makes them.
If I stand in my strengths, and you stand in yours, and we all share and lift and encourage… those are pieces to a puzzle that comes together to create something pretty amazing. Let’s try it. Let’s stand in our power, and lift others to their individual greatness.