Nine writers recount their search — and what they found
’m a teacher, and mothers often complain that to me that their talented daughters are falling between the cracks, not getting a chance to shine. They argue that it’s always the same girls being chosen. While I sympathize with their frustration, I also assure them that things aren’t always so glitzy on the shiny side.
Winning approval is addictive and heady; it becomes an endless cycle. You need to continue exceeding expectations at every test and production. There’s always one more person to impress, one more mountain to climb.
I still remember overhearing a conversation my mother had with a neighbor before a relative’s wedding. “Yes, my daughter is extremely talented, but if only she’d lose five pounds before the wedding,” she said.
I was young. Too young to lose five pounds on my own the healthy way. But everyone was so confident in my abilities; I couldn’t let them down. So what if my plan for losing weight involved sticking a finger down my throat?
That was the beginning of a long, long battle with unhealthy eating patterns. But when the wedding came, I was five pounds skinnier.
For my grandmother, five pounds wasn’t enough. She liked the ten-pounds-skinnier version even better. As usual, I exceeded expectations. She got 20 pounds. She got her dream-figure granddaughter. But her granddaughter lost herself in the battle of searching for approval.
I eventually overcame my eating disorder, though there, too, I was driven by the desire for approval. I knew it wouldn’t look good on any résumé, real or imagined. The Search didn’t end there. Earning approval in the world of shidduchim, jobs, and marriage was a juggling act I was determined to master. I took a job I hated so much I still gag when thinking of the oppressive conditions and endless hours. But I kept at it, telling everyone how rewarding the job was because I was expected to love it and excel at it.
And then came married life. Hashem was good to me. He blessed me with the husband and family of my dreams. I wasn’t good to myself. I wasn’t true to myself and my needs, becoming a washed-out version of my inner core. I denied myself so many little pleasures that would’ve made life beautiful instead of the drudgery it became, all because I was consumed with the need to keep up the image I’d created for myself.
I earned more money than we needed, spent less than I needed, bought at a lower standard than I was used to, and cried inside. I blamed all those around me on my unhappiness, but it wasn’t true. I brought my misery on myself; I was a slave to my endless need for approval.
“You can’t please all of them all the time,” is an oldie but goodie. Even pleasing some of them some of the time doesn’t always work. I still remember physically shaking after someone called me to criticize something I’d written for publication. My pieces were written for approval.
And then it kept on happening. That’s the life of a writer. One person liked happy endings, others liked realistic endings — and I couldn’t please them all.
Slowly I realized that if it was impossible to earn absolute approval, it was time to make my life easier. I wasn’t willing to be a wife, mother, and grandmother who worked so hard for… nothing.
Surprisingly, I found that on some fronts, it was so, so easy. Those who really love me liked me way more when I was my true, vulnerable self. My immediate family embraced the new me that was often lazy, sometimes quirky, and occasionally in the mood of an unheard of treat. The new me laughed more, cried more, maybe even got angry more. But at least she got more real, too.
I found that people dislike perfection. They like human. They like you more if you have five pounds to lose, if you’re too nauseous to write, if you sometimes have a pimple or two, yell at your kids, and leave unwashed dishes in the sink.
The new me is less driven to achieve. This is actually the first piece I’ve written in many, many months. I’ve been busy with my family and work and fighting nausea. Typical, happy, and exhausting months that left me too busy for writing leisurely fiction or personal essays.
And I survived. So my name wasn’t in print this entire winter, even with the double Adar. Nothing happened. Story supplements were printed, special editions published, and nothing. After weeks of being asked, “So what did you write this week?” and replying “Nothing,” people stopped asking.
Am I still a writer? I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t care anymore.
Okay, I care. But not that much — and it’s getting easier with each passing day.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)
Oops! We could not locate your form.