What I Learned at Aldermarsh.

This week on Whidbey Island, I’ve spent my days writing, running, sharing words in a circle of wonderful women, and getting to know them more fully as we spent evenings before a fire with a bottle of wine or a cup of tea, depending on our moods. It’s been a wonderful week.

The week didn’t go quite as I expected or hoped, but I’m winding down and preparing to head home with two very important insights.IMG_6419

First, I’ve been reminded of how hard it is to put words together on the page in a meaningful way. I’ve written each day. I’ve written in my journal. I’ve written on the computer. I’ve written in a spiral bound notebook. Each bit of writing has been helpful to me in some way, but each bit has been hard. Some of it has been hard because of the subject matter. Some of it has been hard because words don’t just come out of me on demand, though I wish they did. Some of it has been hard because the words sometimes pour out but do so in a jumbled and filthy mess, and it’s hard to know which messes are worth pursuing and which are better just left alone. Writing is just hard.

I came here hoping to leave with one completed essay that I could submit for publication. I haven’t met that goal, and I won’t on this trip. Yesterday, I did find the beginnings of an essay. Today, my friend Gretchen spent some time reading it for me and asking the sorts of questions that are helpful in guiding me towards fleshing it out and making it better. I’m leaving with a project in hand, but not a completed one. And I need to be okay with that. I need to see that as progress, accept it with gratitude, and go home and continue to plug away at it. That leads me to the second thing I learned.

The biggest realization I’ve had on this trip is that I tend to value myself based on what I do. On the days when the words were not coming as I wanted them to, and I was stuck, I felt worthless, like I had nothing to offer this community of writers. Did I even belong here? And then the words came, and my mood lifted tremendously.  That was wonderful, but I caught myself in a mistaken way of thought.

I can’t be valuing myself based on what I do. I can’t be telling myself that if I produce – if I write, if I work, if I train – then I’m worthwhile. I need to get to a place where I value myself the same way I value others – for being who they are. I need to be comfortable with myself and be of a mindset that anything I do that’s an accomplishment of some kind – whether it be writing something beautiful, completing a challenging race, or climbing a mountain in Africa –  is just extra. I should do those things because I enjoy them, not because I need them to feel worthy in my own mind.

It’s been a good week. I’m grateful for the company of old friends, the beginnings of new friendships, the start of what could be a good essay, and the way my eyes have been opened that I think will allow me to unclench a bit. This week – and this year – I’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing to do, to see, and to achieve. I think life is about to change in a big way. I think it’s about to slow down. And I’m excited.

10 thoughts on “What I Learned at Aldermarsh.

  1. Thank you, Alice. I so appreciate your sweet words. It’s been a year of learning for me, for sure. I might need to be reminded of this particular lesson at times, but hopefully not too often!

  2. This is a wonderful insight, Taline! I’ve been thinking about a closely related topic: setting an intention, versus having an agenda. Thanks for this!

  3. Wow, this is an amazing and inspiring post. Your second, big realization is something I’ve been mulling over for months consciously and maybe even years subconsciously. The question whether it’s enough to just “be” (see Winnie-the-Pooh/A.A. Milne), or whether we must do things in order for our lives to have meaning. I think you summed up beautifully the same conclusion I’ve come to so far – that our worth as human beings is not ultimately measured by material accomplishments, though we should certainly strive to achieve things – especially for the greater good. Otherwise, how do we avoid continually judging ourselves and others negatively based on external factors? Thank you for posting this thought, because most achievers rarely seem to believe that it is enough to just be. You are that exceptionally rare person who is both a doer and a philosopher when it comes to the true meaning of your accomplishments.

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  6. Dear Talin,
    Loved your piece. I just couldn’t resist putting in my two cents as I and many many more people have had the same struggles; way more than we can imagine!!!!! It is a demon that many high achievers have had to contend with. I have thought about the cause of it and read many things on it, but none answered it better than the last book I came across which I will recommend to any “to be mother or fathaer” or any one in charge of teaching youngsters. I use the concepts in parent workshops and meeting with parents. The name of the book is “Self-Theories” by Carol S. Dweck. On Chapter3, titled Achievement Goals: Looking smart versus learning, she talks about how well intentioned praises by parents and caregivers inadvertently instills this “I’m worthy if I achieve and not worthy If I don’t.” I won’t be abe to to do justice to the article here, but the jest of the article is that when we praise their achievements by saying something like “wow, you got an A, I knew you are my smart girl,” or “wow you did it, see I told you you are so intelligent” the child feels really good about herself/himself then, but as soon as he does not get that A or does not produce a desired product then the reverse thought creeps in. This in turn discourages many children from attemtping tasks that they find to be hard and potentially unsuccessful and in turn attempting tasks that are rather easy, perhaps unrevarding yet potentially “fakely” self-afferming. So she recommends praising effort rather than the product and attributing success to effort rather than innate constructs such as intelligence. So for a student who brings home an A it would go as ” wow you got an A, see all your hard work and studying paid off.” Anyway, sorry if I sound a bit preachy here, but I feel so strongly this about as I have struggled with the same issues.
    Happy New Year my fantastic cousin.

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