Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Dealing With Worthiness

"Held in Compassion," watercolor, Ruth Elizabeth Hays. Posted by Hello

Last week I had a slight freakout. (The editor part of me wants to see if "freakout" should be hyphenated, but I'm going to try to ignore the editor part of me for a few minutes.) I had/have eight projects, most of which involved clients who needed the work either RIGHT NOW or PRETTY SOON. This is not a negative statement about the clients. I love my clients. I love that I get to tell people I have clients. My clients make me feel like I'm doing something of importance. They make me feel just swell.

[The part of me that has spent the past umpteen years associating with shrinks on a social and professional level wants to change "make me feel" because, as we all know, no one can make you feel anything or any way. But you know what? If someone ever changes the lyrics to Aretha's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," then come and talk to me. Maybe she shoulda said, "When I'm around you, I feel like a natural woman, and I accept complete responsibility for this." Heh. I'd like to see someone take this up with The Queen of Soul. Oh my, the ass-kicking that would occur. But I digress...]

So I had some projects staring me in the face, and a few lurking in the corner, waiting to leap out and yell, "Booga-booga!" the minute I might try to relax. The phone was ringing, I was screening the calls, I was trying to work and take care of my son, and some people were wondering why I hadn't returned their calls yet. Oh, and I was feeling very guilty about all of it.

What the f*** is it with guilt? Why are we so hard on ourselves? Okay, I don't mean to bring you into this. Maybe you don't have this problem. Why am I so hard on myself?

Anyway, there was one client in particular who'd called me about five times. After the first one or two calls I missed, I started to feel guilty. I started to avoid him. I started to feel like maybe he was mad at me. How grade-school is that? (See, there I go being hard on myself!) Really, though, let's go with this. I felt stupid and incompetent and hassled and harried and tried to finish up his project Real Quick before he called me again, because that way maybe he wouldn't be mad at me, if he was indeed mad at me, the way I was imagining. My imagination was getting the better of me. Then he called about two or three more times, and each time his number appeared on my cell phone, I cringed. (I also wondered why he didn't call my home number like everyone else, and wondered how he'd gotten my cell phone number in the first place. Anyway...)

I should mention that this client had never given me any reason to think he was mad at me, or that he hated me (yes, I'm imaginative) or wished he'd never hired me (really imaginative). He's a minister -- a man who's dedicated his life to loving people and copping to his own stuff. His book is great, and brought up all sorts of emotional flotsam for me. Seriously, I cried most of the way through the book. He probably wouldn't want to know that, I suppose, since he would prefer to have positive energy behind his project. The crying wasn't necessarily a negative thing, though. I was crying because the stuff he was saying was very powerful and got me in all the right places. I had this experience when I edited another Religious Science book a couple of months ago. That stuff is powerful, and I definitely intend to look into it.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes: neurotic editor, totally nice client. Okay.

I worked my ass off on Thursday to get the project finished, and was proud of the way it turned out -- the project, not my ass. After I gave it another once-over, I emailed it to him, went downstairs to play with my son, and eventually crashed on the couch.

The next day, he called while I was in the shower, and left a voicemail. His message was upbeat, and he sounded pleased with the way the book had turned out, and had even forwarded it to the designer already. Still, I was reluctant to call him and face whatever it was I needed to face.

On Saturday night, when the house was calm and my son was asleep, I finally called him. How did you like the book, it was great, blah-blah-blah. I told him I wanted to apologize for not having called him all week, and he said, "You don't have to do that." I told him I wanted to, though.

I could hear him take a breath and it was as if I could hear him just being present with me. He kindly said, "Okay, then I will listen."

I just about burst into tears right then and there, feeling his compassion float through the phone line. I told him about how stressed out I'd been, and that I had all these concurrent projects. I said, "One thing that stood out to me in your book was the part where you say, 'Be careful what you ask for.' "

He kindly corrected me: "I said 'Be ready for what you ask for.' "

"True," I said. "The thing is, I asked for work, and I guess I wasn't ready."

I told him a little about being a single mom and trying to work and take care of my son, and the reasons behind my needing to work at home, and he was very supportive. He spoke a bit about having to prioritize, and how that meant some things would have to be put aside. I told him the past week had been all about working and building train layouts with my son, and that everything else had been put aside. "Right on," he said.

Then he reminded me of another thing he'd mentioned in his book -- the importance of naming five things for which we are thankful every night before we go to sleep, and the significance of everything that comes our way. "We're all getting what we need, all the time," he said.

We wrapped up our conversation, and I was a bit weepy after I hung up -- partly because I was so relieved by our talk, partly because I was dog-tired, and partly because I felt like I had so much work to do. I'm not even talking about editing work; it's self-work that I have to do. It's time to take things to the next level.

As I sat there in the glow of the TV, I named five things for which I am thankful. One was my son, sleeping soundly beside me. One was my ability to do the work I have before me. One was the roof over my head. One was my family, who love me despite my quirks. And one was my clients, who often surprise me with their compassion and humanity.