As a child, I remember being told by certain relatives when exasperated, “You are useless, a good-for-nothing!”
I can’t remember the context anymore. Perhaps I had been clumsy around the house (I was).
Or a little slow in reacting when asked to hurry up (I don’t respond well to other people’s agitation; it makes me flustered).
Over the past 8+ years, I have done enough personal development and coaching work that memories like these rarely resurface, and when they do, they don’t have the same emotive force they used to, because I have grown. I can detach myself from others’ perceptions much more readily, and recognize when someone is projecting their own insecurities on me.
I write this because I’m currently reading Paulo Coelho’s Manuscript Found in Accra (strikingly similar in style to Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet – this is the version I have on my bookshelf – I love the illustrations so much!), and it triggered some old memories.
In Manuscript, a wise man (the Copt) answers questions from the people of Jerusalem on the eve of its invasion in 1099.
When a boy said that he felt useless because he was deemed too young to fight, the Copt replies,
“Nothing in this world is useless in the eyes of God. Not a leaf from a tree falls, not a hair from your head, not even an insect dies because it was of no use. Everything has a reason to exist.
Even you, the person asking the question. “I’m useless” is the answer you give yourself.
Soon that answer will poison you and you will die while still alive, even though you still walk, eat, sleep, and try to have a little fun whenever possible.
Don’t try to be useful. Try to be yourself; that is enough, and that makes all the difference.“
Well, well. Why didn’t someone tell me this earlier?
I was always told to make myself useful, which I interpreted to mean being a “good” whatever – child, student, person, worker, parent, etc. I have spent a lot of my life trying to be useful.
A useful parent – drive the kids to where they need to be, check how they are tracking academically, socially, and emotionally, provide the resources and support they need (mostly successful).
A useful worker – be reliable and proactive, have a strong work ethic, never say no to requests (generally successful, and am learning to say no sometimes).
A good influence online and offline: I do my best to say and write things that are useful and inspiring (moderately successful).
Useful around the house (much less successful). I am that one who gets diverted while prepping dinner and ends up burning something, or plants veggies with good intentions and forgets to water them.
So is it enough to (just) be myself?
Am I not meant to keep improving and keep striving to be the best version of myself?