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Inadequacy, Self-Doubt, and Professional Jealousy

Monday, November 24, 2008

A couple of weeks ago at church, a lady got up and played the violin along with the choir special. She’s apparently new to the church, but several people in my Sunday school class have met her, and they raved about what a wonderful musician she is—how she majored in violin (has a master’s degree in it!), all the different philharmonics and symphony orchestras she’s played with, whom she’s done session work with since moving to Nashville, etc. Just hearing all that about her made me feel rather untalented and ordinary. Then when I heard her play, I knew I was untalented and ordinary, and that she’d been given an amazing gift from God.

Then yesterday, before my Weight Watchers meeting, I started chatting with one of the other ladies who’s been coming for a few weeks now. When I mentioned that I have a book coming out soon, she started going on and on about how she is so jealous of me and wishes she could do that but knows she’d never be able to write (but loves to read) and it finally dawned on me: she might have felt the same way about me that I felt about that violinist at church.

Why is it so easy to look at someone else’s talents/gifts and think that they’re so much better than our own? Why is it so easy to doubt ourselves and the gifts God has given us—to believe that they’re not as important or special as someone else’s?

Here’s one reason: because some people’s talents are more easily showcased than others. The girl I was talking to yesterday is an accountant. She’s talented with numbers. But that’s not something that is going to get her up on stage in front of hundreds of people and win her applause. But it sure will make the company she works for happy. When someone’s talent is easily visible to everyone—and wins accolades for them—it’s really easy to become envious, to begin to compare ourselves negatively because we don’t feel like we have a talent that will win us any kind of appreciation or applause.

Another reason: we may not be using all of the gifts God gave us. Several times over the last fifteen or so years, I’ve taught lessons on spiritual gifts—from Sunday school with youth and singles, to the S.H.A.P.E. study. Through these studies, I’ve learned that (a) everyone is given spiritual gifts and talents (which are separate things) from God (I Corinthians 12:29–30); (b) if we don’t use them, God may take them away (see the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14–30); and (c) everyone’s gifts and talents are vital to the function of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4–8, I Corinthians 12:14–27).

Because most of us are raised to put others before ourselves, to praise others’ accomplishments and not our own, I think we develop an unhealthy sense of self-doubt and inadequacy that seeing others’ accomplishments and achievements only tends to exacerbate. Sure, it’ll spur us on to do better most of the time, but do we ever take a chance to really look at our own gifts and talents to see how God is using us in the world and in the lives of people around us?

I’m the first to admit that I suffer from professional jealousy. When I see someone in an “cushy” editorial job who’s ten years younger than me, right out of college, doing what it is that I wanted to do for so long, it makes me envious—and it makes me negative toward myself; after all, if I hadn’t dropped out of college, if I hadn’t waited so long to go back, if only I’d done this, that, or the other, I might have been way ahead of that much younger person on the career ladder. But then I have to stop and take inventory of my life and where it’s led me—and the life experiences I’ve had that have made me who I am today. And I like who I am right now. Yes, there are things I want to change about myself—and I’m working on many of them (see my Fabulous by Forty blog for starters!). But I can have a healthy sense of self-confidence in knowing that right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

I also have to admit that when I found out I’m getting a four-star review in Romantic Times next month, the first thing I did was read the rest of the list to find out who else had gotten four stars—and who had done better and worse than me. Because part of that sense of inadequacy I still have brings out quite a bit of competitiveness in me—in an almost unhealthy way. If I’m not going to be at the top of a list, I want to make sure I’m not at the bottom, either. Isn’t that awful? As it says in I Corinthians 12:26: “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” But when that professional jealousy strikes, when it raises up that competitive spirit, it’s hard to remember to rejoice with the other members of my spiritual family.

No one wants to be picked last (or not picked at all)—especially those of us who have quite a lot of experience with being in that situation (wasn’t it barbaric in P.E. in elementary school when the athletic kids were always made team captains and they always chose us last?). And a lot of us carry scars around from experiences in the distant and not-so-distant past that make us either so envious of others’ success that we can’t abide to be around them, or turn it inwards and become so negative toward ourselves that we’re never going to be able to see our own talents, achievements, and accomplishments.

So before things get too crazy this Thanksgiving week, I would challenge you to come up with five things about yourself that you love, that make you proud, that make you feel blessed—whether it’s something you’re talented at, something you’ve accomplished, or something you just like about yourself—and write them down (post them here!) to remind yourself of them whenever you start feeling inadequate or comparing yourself negatively to someone else with a more visible talent or accomplishment than your own.

Here are mine:
1. I love it when my own stories make me smile/laugh.
2. I’m blessed that God gave me a singing voice that I can use to bless others with music that praises and glorifies Him.
3. I’m very proud that I went back to school and completed not just a Bachelor’s but also a Master’s degree.
4. I’m humbled and pleased that, even if it was just one person, someone has gotten enough out of what I do here on the blog as well as at the MTCW monthly meeting to nominate me for the mentor of the year award at ACFW for the past two years.
5. I am extremely proud of my accomplishment of having lost 44 pounds in the past year.

  1. Monday, November 24, 2008 9:26 am

    Excellent list, Kaye!

    My hubby and I just finished leading two gifts adult education hour sessions at our church. It’s a great way to help you discover your own gifts and encourage others to do so too. But one of the biggest things we expressed in our sessions is that knowing what gifts you have is worth nothing unless you make use of them to His glory. We must share our gifts and talents, for God to use them as He sees fit and needed.

    So keep singing, writing, sharing your weight loss journey, and keep mentoring, Kaye, knowing that God’s using your gifts to bestow grace upon others.


  2. Monday, November 24, 2008 4:23 pm

    What a wonderful idea, Kaye! This is something I really struggle with. I’m definitely going to have to work on this!


  3. Lori permalink
    Monday, November 24, 2008 4:54 pm

    You already know this, but I am going to tell you again. I admire you. Not for what you have accomplished (which is a lot and wonderful in its own right), but that you know who you are and what you want to accomplish for yourself (and no one is pulling your strings). You ooze God from every word you speak, write and smile you give to those of us so blessed to know you. You move people….by simply being YOU!
    Often times I think I have no talents or gifts. That God put me here to simply be empathetic and then I realize that is IT! That is my gift. I feel for peole good and bad and in a world where that is often times lost it is a gift from God. I am so excited for you and your book(S)! MOstly I am so thankful to know you for YOU not the author, celbrity, instructor, BUT my friend…my BEST friend.


  4. Monday, November 24, 2008 11:01 pm

    Thanks for your transparency (and for being such a good friend!). 🙂


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