Lifelong Patterns in Awkward

We were asked to bring in an old Halloween photo of ourselves, for our coworkers to guess, but I forgot. Putting away another book, tonight, I grabbed the album I meant to grab all week.

Two things are happening at once: 1) I am already reviewing old files, and 2) now I am reviewing old pictures. Suddenly, a theme of lack of confidence emerges.

Let’s begin with the pictures. What an interesting life for a little girl to lead – navigating domestic instability, loss, grief, horror, eye surgery, and eventually domestic stability. Amidst the domestic stability, this little girl struggled with finding her place. There are forced smiling photos, a photo where others are smiling, and she is crying (not unlike my 6-year-old might). There are photos of genuine happiness. There are photos of athleticism and surprised affectionate attention. A girl, growing up, not sure what to make of it all. Trying, quitting, trying again, two-step backs, one step forward.

One of those tries was tennis. Being a college bound girl, she heard, often, that one must not appear lazy to the admissions people. One must stay involved, and better to be involved with things you like. One must be well-rounded. So, school, before, after, in between were all thins one must try to do. (Ironically, this is one without assessing how much one can handle.) A sport was decided upon, after some training during the summer. This was an individual sport, it was readily understood, and it was one that required practice. That is, this girl found, there were fewer people “gifted” to this sport unlike basketball, volleyball, or softball. You had to try. It was as if the sport was found. The existing coach had a system where the players were graduated from the junior varsity team to the varsity team, not on merit, but on age. She was “pro-seniority” if you will. This methodology served the girl well because it would show improvement on those college admissions applications.

Unfortunately, after her 10th grade year in high school, the beloved tennis coach decided to retire. A new coach was hired with, naturally, different ideas of how to manage the team and the success of the team. This coach was pro-merits. That is, one had to test or compete to be on the varsity team. Well, this girl’s idea of tennis had reached its plateau. She wasn’t getting any better, and she was then relegated, by merit, to the JV team, and not even good enough for singles. Though, she and her partner succeeded well in first placement in doubles.

In this small town fish bowl, their place was near the bottom. During the year, it didn’t matter. They did well with what they had, and they won nearly every match played. They learned to communicate, and were great partners.

But, the girl was loathe to be a JV in her senior year. How embarrassing to be a junior varsity player when in 12th grade. So, she capped her tennis career and opted for stage production in drama, after school sales for newspaper, her church, and a few other things.

She got into college, but the same pattern revealed itself. The awkwardness of finding one’s way. The inability to find a group where she fit. The difficulty in assessing who to trust, what people wanted of her, what she wanted, and how to get what she wanted from others. In this awkwardness, she had to stop, and she took a two-year break from school. During that break, she took on a few jobs. Never being one to be satisfied with the rote role initially given, she used her ability to learn quickly to climb as high as the organization would allow: and eventually, she was assistant manager. But, she couldn’t deal, again, with the bickering, the awkwardness, the inability of herself and others to cope with change – so she quit, again, and returned to the safety of school with renewed appreciation for the academic rigor.

This time, she took an apartment by herself, lest other’s drama infect her need to focus. The learning continued, and continues.

Now, 15 years later, she finds herself admits a new coach, changing requirements and expectations, and she is unsure of how to navigate. Given the various influences, this girl is slow to trust and highly skeptical. She is unclear of the others intent and how they desire to measure success. And, while this other is clamoring to prove her own worth, this girl finds herself having to do the same thing.

And, the awkward disconnect ensues.