During our adoption home study, a social worker came out to our house and interviewed Tamara and me – a standard part of the adoption process. It was a little nerve-wracking, somewhat awkward, but overall we knew what to expect and it went okay.
Except for this – this one question the social worker asked. For this question, we were sitting together on our couch.
“What do you think Tamara’s greatest weakness is?” she asked.
Now, in job interviews and in adoption home studies, there are rules for this particular question. The rule is – you don’t give a real weakness. You don’t tell a potential employer at a job interview, “I sometimes have trouble getting my paperwork in on time.” (Even if it’s true!) No, you give a weakness that is ACTUALLY A STRENGTH IN DISGUISE. You say, “Sometimes I am too much of a perfectionist.” TRANSLATION: I will do excellent work if hired.
So, when I answered, I gave an honest answer that displayed one of Tamara’s strengths. “She is one of the hardest workers I know,” I told the social worker. “Sometimes I have to remind her to take breaks and to take care of herself!”
The social worker nodded, smiled, and then asked Tamara the same question.
Tamara answered thoughtfully and honestly. “Kerriann can be defensive sometimes.”
SCREECH. STOP. PAUSE. SOCIAL WORKER LADY, PLEASE GO HOME SO I CAN GIVE MY WIFE ALL THE DIRTY LOOKS IN THE WORLD.
Defensive?! That is not a secret strength disguised as a weakness! It is just a weakness – an absolutely 100% accurate weakness of mine. I do get defensive, which is evident every single time I tell this story. There is literally no way to tell someone who calls your defensive that you are not defensive. CANNOT BE DONE. Because if you weren’t so defensive – and believe me, I AM DEFENSIVE – then you wouldn’t feel the compulsion to, ahem, defend yourself.
As soon as the social worker left, I calmly explained to Tamara the principle of the “strength disguised as weakness” answer. (Yes, calmly. We were able to laugh about this that same day.)
Now, one of the reasons this story is on my mind today is – I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘character defects.’ This is something that’s talked about often in recovery circles. They can be called character defects, flaws, or shortcomings. They’re sometimes given other names, too, but my favorite is shortcomings. These are things we struggle with – areas where we come up short – in brief, our weaknesses. We talk about them in recovery because we want to be aware of the things that get in our way.
Needless to say, defensiveness is a big one for me, as is perfectionism, numbing, over-sensitivity, self-centeredness, and insecurity.
These shortcomings are on my mind recently because they keep popping up. My theory is this: I’ve been so stressed and overwhelmed for the past year that I’ve barely noticed any of my shortcomings. I was sort of drowning in self-pity and constantly seeking a new job, so my day-to-day inventory of who I am and how I’m leading my life was periodically lost in the shuffle.
Now that I have space and time to breathe, I am noticing times when my shortcomings rise up – times when I am faced with a situation and I fall short of the version of myself I’d like to be.
I’m not writing any of this to make myself feel bad. Sometimes, thinking about the areas where I fall short actually helps me to feel GOOD about myself. I am not a horrible mess; I’m a complex person who does awesome in some areas, average in others, and below average in some. I’m real.
I think the shortcoming that has been bothering me the most in recent history is my tendency to numb. When I get stressed, I become UNmindful. I distract myself, I drink lots of caffeine, I eat lots of candy. None of this helps me to deal with the things that are stressing me out.
I’m trying to go easy on myself this week. Yes, I’m drinking too much coffee and eating too many Cadbury Mini Eggs – but I’m also caring for an infant and have had the most emotionally up-and-down 19 days of my life.
So, instead of beating myself up further, I’m making a few mini-resolutions for myself:
1. Seek out joy and lightness every day. There is always something to laugh at and something to be thankful for.
2. Remember that you are enough. Believing that you don’t have enough of what you need does not serve you well.
3. Be gentle with and accepting of others. I sometimes want to *fix* family and friends instead of just being there for them.
4. Treat everyone like a toddler. I am way more patient with y two-year-old than I am with adults. And doesn’t everyone deserve to be treated with patience and compassion?
5. Let go and let God. Have a little faith. Not everything is on your shoulders. In fact, almost nothing is.