When I was young I felt like I always needed to be right. I felt like I was a failure if I didn’t know something. My already battered pride couldn’t accept that there were things I just hadn’t learned yet.
I remember one day walking on a paved trail with my mother and sister. I was about the age my children are now. It wasn’t a particularly nice area as it ran next to the highway, but I thought it was fun nonetheless because we’d never been on this path. Each end was marked only by a post in the middle of the concrete to prevent vehicles from entering.
But I didn’t know that’s what this marker was for. When we got to the end of the trail my mother paused to rest. I got impatient and told her we still have a long way to go (whining might be a better description). I said this looking past the post at what I thought was more of the trail, but was actually a road that appeared to go on forever.
My mother corrected me and told me we were at the end and pointed to the marker. I can still recall the feeling from that very moment, my blood running cold. I felt that somehow I should have known this. I felt humiliated and ashamed, even though there was absolutely no reason I should have known that we were at the end of the trail.
So to hide this I told her I knew this was the end, but that we had to walk all the way back. I’m certain she realized I was bluffing but she let it pass.
Growing up, I felt validated by my intelligence and knowledge. I may have been poor, teased and ridiculed but my peers couldn’t deny I was smart. I didn’t work harder than they worked. I just understood things, remembered things. I consistently got straight A’s in school while my Guess-wearing fellow students worked twice as hard and could only get B’s.
To admit I was wrong, or that there was something I didn’t know, would be to reveal a crack in my armor. A weakness that others could exploit.
I carried this mentality with me through most of my life. It wasn’t until my divorce that I was willing to swallow my pride and admit there were things I just didn’t know. In the beginning it was a blow to my already low self-esteem as the things I didn’t know I felt I should.
But just as the little girl walking a trail for the first time wouldn’t know where the end was, a single mother on her own for the first time can’t possibly know all she needs to know.
I couldn’t have known how to find a lawyer – I’d never needed one.
I couldn’t have known how to fix a running toilet – that had never been my job.
I couldn’t have known who to turn to when my air conditioner stopped working – I was new in town.
I couldn’t have known how to handle the lonely days and nights when my kids were with their dad – I had never had to share kids before.
I couldn’t have known what to do when my kids started coming home repeating the things their dad told them – I had never had to leave them alone with their dad so long before.
I couldn’t have known who to ask for help when my ex threatened to take away my kids – I had never envisioned this possibility.
It felt like I was reminded every day of how limited my knowledge was in these areas. I felt beaten up and bruised. But it was because the things I needed to know were so far beyond what I already knew, that I had to learn to swallow my pride. I was forced to admit that there were things I hadn’t encountered yet. I had no choice but to start asking people for help and looking for ways to start teaching myself what I needed to know.
It was because of this that I started on a journey of learning and self-discovery that has awakened in me a desire to constantly grow, take risks and push myself.
It is because of this that I remind my girls that no one knows everything; that it’s okay to be wrong; that pride limits our ability to learn and that learning can open far more doors for you than your pride ever will.
It is because of this that I encourage my children to ask questions and look for answers, instead of simply telling them how smart they already are.
This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Swallow