Leaving Inadequacy Behind

“Use what talents you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best” (Henry Van Dyke).

When I was twelve, my family moved to Bryn Athyn. I was excited to move to a congregation with other church people my age who cared about the things I loved so much. I was disappointed. I found few kindred spirits, but at the time I mostly felt mocked for my strong convictions. In the spring of that year, we had dance classes. With 27 girls and far fewer boys, it did not bode well. The rule was that once the first batch of girls were asked, it was assumed the boys would ask the “leftover” girls for the next dance. Then once all the girls had been chosen, they could re-ask the other more popular girls.

One day when I was standing in the reject corner (like I did every week), all the other “second class” girls were picked before me. I watched as one boy took one look at me, chose to ignore the rule, and went back to the popular corner. I wanted to cry. Instead, I just walked over to join the other girls who were not dancing. It left me wondering what I had done wrong to deserve such treatment. Was I not good enough? I repeated this question to myself over and over, feeling like I was inferior to everyone else.

Looking back, I can clearly see that I was not the problem in that equation. Perhaps the boy who snubbed me was just thoughtless. Perhaps he was dealing with his own inadequacies. Either way, I did not need to take it personally, but I did of course. I was an insecure girl and it hurt.

This was just one experience that left me feeling inadequate, but it has stuck with me. I think we all go through times of feeling inadequate, but while feeling like we are not good enough can help motivate us, it can also leave us crippled and unable to move forward.

One day, when I was feeling crippled and doing one of those useless comparisons of myself to other people, an idea popped into my head: “Just because someone is better at something than I am does not mean I am not good at it.”

It was simple and obvious, but for some reason it was a totally new and exciting idea that began to take root. Yes, there are people who play ukulele and sing better than I do. There are people who paint so much better than I do. There are people who write way better than I do! So what? Comparisons are odious!

Instead of letting myself be crippled by other people’s success, I decided to embrace different forms of creativity despite the fact that I did not excel at any of them! For 2017, in order to commit to learning ukulele, I decided I would share a song cover at least once a month. For September, I decided to paint every day. In the summer, I started a blog.

Opening up to the vulnerability of creativity and sharing my art invites people to take one look and walk right past just as that boy did all those years ago. As an adult I continue to be hit by this feeling of inadequacy again and again. I am that 13 year old girl standing alone in the reject corner of the dance floor. However, through writing and painting, I have developed thicker skin and opened myself up to the critiques that life invariably gives.

I have discovered a confidence in myself that I did not know existed and a willingness to accept my talents for what they are. I have found the ability to embrace and hone the gifts that the Lord has given me. It does not matter if I am not the best dancer, the best singer, or the best painter; I am still supposed to share my talents, not hide them — even if they are not perfect.

“So let your light shine in front of men, so that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in the heavens” (Matthew 5:16).

About Alison Cole

Alison Cole likes to describe herself as “a freelance useful person”. There are all kinds of people and jobs out there, but she likes the freedom to drop everything when someone is in need and go off on adventures to help out with new babies or anything, especially when it's supporting marriages and family! When Alison is not off nannying, she likes to occupy her time with drawing, painting and writing!

13 thoughts on “Leaving Inadequacy Behind

  1. I love this, Alison! I relate to it, very much. I have battled (and continue to battle) with perfectionism and comparisons that have crippled my creative output from the time I was a small child with talented siblings and parents with high expectations. It is freeing to see role models, such as yourself, dispelling the myth of perfection and sharing the unique gifts the Lord gives you.

  2. I relate to this, Alison. Perfectionism (and the feelings of inadequacy it produces) is crippling. How wonderful that you have found the strength to reach out and share the unique gifts the Lord gives you. When you share your imperfect work, it gives others the strength to do the same–how freeing!

  3. Love this piece and even more the fact that you are following this path with courage AND humility. It’s inspiring. And one of the brightest tools with which to combat the lies of the hells. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Every. Single. Day. do I struggle with this. If I ask myself how I would talk with a friend who was going through the same (or a sibling, etc) I’d never talk to them the way my inner dialogue is. Never.

    It’s been my whole life. With talented cousins, talented siblings, talented community, I never felt really like I was going to be good-enough at anything. There has been alot of strange, misplaced Shame about it (Shame?!)
    Someone told me last night, an acronym that made me laugh in appreciation, that she uses when she gets all perfectionist-y about her life and feels shame about not being good enough: SHAME stand for Should HAve Mastered Everything. Why do I feel I should have? That’s ridiculous. I actually love process.

    I’ve been working on this alot lately, seeing some slight progress. I love your honesty and your attitude, Alison-dear. And your artwork.

    ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ said FDR. I’d also add ‘Comparison is the thief of use’ as in, sharing with others your talents from the Lord.

    Thanks for this timely piece.

    1. Oh, apparently it was Teddy Roosevelt who may (or may not) have said that quote, (wrong Roosevelt).

    2. Thank you for your comment, Annina! This is beautifully written!

      I particularly resonate with this phrase: “I’d never talk to them the way my inner dialogue is. Never.”

      I have a friend who will say to my face “Don’t talk to my friend Alison like that.” Defending me from myself. I always appreciate that. We are always there for each other, but I think we are very afraid of being there for ourselves because it seems selfish.

      I guess that’s why the Lord put lots of us here. So that we could love and encourage our neighbors!

      And that quote my Teddy Roosevelt just reminded me of something I heard a church person say: Use is love in action, not guilt in action.

      It’s not quite the same thing, but anything that makes us feel like we’re not good enough to serve the Lord and be useful isn’t helping!

      Thank you so much for your comment, Annina!

  5. YES. THIS. Oh Alison, you hit the nail so squarely on the head. I admire your creative challenges for yourself and hope to emulate you, especially in the ukulele department. I have got to find a way to really get better and not be “the best” at that and so many other things. Thank you for this. I might need to print this article out and stick it on my closet door or something. Thank you!!!!!

    1. Wow! Thanks Justine. It’s not great and sadly not surprising to find that so many others struggle with these feelings. I am super glad if this is helpful to you!

      A story from the Word that is right on theme but didn’t really fit into my article is the parable of the talents. Seeing what others have been given so often leads us to feeling inadequate rather than inspired. And that’s not how the Lord wants us to feel. He wants us to just do the best with what we are given because He has given it to us. And that is super powerful to me! To remember that the Lord created me for a specific use. He didn’t create me to be another person. He created me to be me.

      “Enter into the joy of the Lord!”

  6. Yessss! (-I see I’m not the only one for whom this resonated! Are you surprised, and/or comforted, to see that you aren’t alone!?) Thank you so much for this article, Alison. Thanks for sharing and baring, and for identifying those hells which bring us down so! You’ve got such a good point, that we don’t need to be PERFECT at something in order for it to be worth doing, or worth sharing! Wow; that’s huge. Thanks for the encouragement; I’ve been meaning to move forward with my own art – I keep saying, “This is the year, this is the year!” (That began @ New Year’s 2016; meanwhile, 1.75yrs later,….) I need to just do it. I’ve known that, of course, and this is another GREAT reminder!

    And, yes, I’m thrilled that you’ve discovered this for yourself, too!! 🙂 *So* liberating. I hope you’re enjoying yourself! xx

    1. Thanks for your comment!

      I have found that month long goals have really helped me. September has often been a great time to do art! November is national novel writing month, so that’s been a useful tool for me!

      I am terrible at staying motivated so sometimes just taking away any other option has worked for me. So if I say that I will paint every day in September, that might mean a 30 second painting, but I can spend 30 seconds. And the trick is that once I sit down I often find I can spend longer, but I don’t have to.

      The same is true for me of reading the Word. If I make a goal of reading every day, that’s more important to me than how much I read. If I don’t read a verse first thing in the morning I will set my Word on my pillow so that I remember to just open it for a few seconds before I sleep.

      Anyhow, I don’t mean to preach. I know you weren’t asking for any of these specifics, but I thought I’d share some of my strategies for motivating myself when it all feels too daunting to me. <3

  7. To the Mysterious “Erik” who attempted to comment on this article, and didn’t give an email address so I could follow up with him privately:

    We do have a comment policy here that prohibits men from posting comments, so I’m assuming your name is not short for “Erika”, and have not published it. But I did send your words on to Alison so she can hear your kind thoughts.

    Thanks for Understanding,
    The Admin

  8. Alison, I love this post so much. This year I took up two creative endeavors I was sure I would not be able to do well, and I’m having so much fun. There is something so freeing about not worrying about whether I’m good at something or not — but it took me a long time to get here. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, and blessings on all your endeavors.

  9. Thanks for this reflection, Alison. It resonates! At the risk of being thought sacrilegious, I’ll share that I realized several years ago that I had to come up with an 11th Commandment for myself — Thou Shalt Not Compare — because just about nothing else put me in hell faster or deeper than comparing myself to somebody else, in either an inferior or superior way. It has been a handy little “handle” on the whole issue — a quick prayer/mantra to dispel those particular hells. There’s also the line I learned from dear Aubrey Odhner — “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Yes!!! Lastly, wouldn’t it be lovely if we could freely play with our creativity without having to judge it at all as “good” or “better” — but just for the joy and delight of doing something we love! Thanks for writing.

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