In her delightful (and PG-13 rated) book, Why Not Me?, the wonderful Mindy Kaling had some excellent points to make about confidence. She described winning an award at basketball camp for “best clothes” because she was clearly not any good at basketball.
The award was initially something she was quite proud of, until her mother calmly explained that it was only given to make her feel better, and not really earned.
Fortunately, this gave her the drive to earn a real award through hard work. And while this story certainly had a good moral, I found my thoughts to be running in the opposite direction.
I had been forced into basketball camp myself in middle school, by my well-meaning parents, and had won the “J.O.Y Award,” which meant that I had put “Jesus first, then Others, then Myself,” throughout the course of camp. And while I was at first pleased to be recognized for something, I soon realized that looking back, I couldn’t remember any particularly important moment of being selfless, and that if anything, I had been withdrawn, introverted, and passive on the court. “Terrified of being given the ball” would have actually been a better description.
As I got older, I started to disdain the award on my wall, next to the awards I had actually earned in academic pursuits. Not because I hadn’t really earned it like I had the others (and I hadn’t), but because it mocked me. What did academic awards mean if I wasn’t actually selfless?
I am a chronic, tortured, debilitated perfectionist. Academic awards give me life. I have always been academically confident, and I always had the drive to earn awards, unlike Kaling. And I commend her pursuit of rightful deserts for the awards she earns, but in my own life, I have to stop earning my worth.
The truth is, I am a confident woman. I have never felt overly insecure about my body, my opinions, and my skills. In the hindsight stemming from the approach of my third decade, I see that maybe I should have been a little less confident, and perhaps checked a mirror at least once in awhile to see if my hair was a wild mess, but all of the awards have become a god to me. My confidence in my salvation was (and sometimes still is) that of a contemporary of Martin Luther who didn’t get why Luther had to keep going back into confession and beating himself afterward, because good grief, you’re not nearly as bad a person as you think you are. Give it a rest, Luther; you’re making the rest of us look bad.
But what is a woman confident in her identity as an academic to do when she turns in her last exam for her master’s degree with no particular plans to pursue the Ph.D anytime especially soon, but to have a quarter life crisis? Who am I now? Where’s my report card for being a good wife, employee, friend, and keeper of my house? When is God going to mail me my spiritual report card so I can breathe again?
Can I have my J.O.Y. award back so I can have something to aspire to?
The truth is something I am well aware of, but struggling to admit to myself. There is no A or B or C- to God. There is only pass/fail, and I have passed and pass daily, thanks to the One who stands in the throne room and checks my answers and rewrites them for me before they get handed to the judge. As it were.
But the journey from this point to that of a woman confident for all the right reasons, not in herself but in Christ, is punctuated by daily finding delight in accolades, successfully meeting deadlines, smiles, thank-yous, encouragement, acknowledgement, and all the other ways I think I have earned my own worth. Tangible achievements are my present idol, and I know it. I am aware of it in the back of my mind every day as yet another failure I cannot be proud of defeating yet because I still haven’t (which is horribly ironic, but the honest truth at this point in my life).
Yet as we approach a new year, and a year in which I have nothing particularly tangible for measuring my success as a human being (except perhaps my annual review at work), I hope and pray that this is the year I really do earn a J.O.Y award and don’t get the slightest bit of recognition for it.