Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Art of Being Secretly Incredible.

And so 2012 slips away and 2013 is ushered in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll prefer to make qualitative rather than quantitative resolutions. Quantitative good intentions - such as eating less chocolate, eating more fruit, going to the gym regularly, refraining from buying unnecessary shoes, remembering to polish already purchased unnecessary shoes so that they last longer and one is not mistaken for a tramp when wearing them, getting more sleep – very easily fall into either the pass or fail category. Usually the latter in my experience. With qualitative good intentions – being more patient, being less judgemental, seeking out good in all situations – your success is less immediately measurable, making it far easier to tell yourself at the end of the year that you have accomplished what you set out to do. Technically, it doesn’t make keeping them any easier though, and caution should continue to be exercised when making New Year’s resolutions. Here is the story behind my resolution for 2013…

A while back I was chivvying one of the little girls out of the door of the boarding house. As she was putting her coat on, she stopped and looked at me before asking, ‘Excuse me Matron, what are you going to do as your job?’
‘I have a job, don’t I, Lovely? I’m your matron. I look after you and all the others.’
‘But don’t you want a proper, interesting, important job?’


Well, yes, actually, yes I do. I, like most people on this earth, would quite like to think that what I’m doing is important. Even if this child doesn’t think so, I see the time I’m spending with them this year as very important. Yet the catch is, how much do I want others to recognise the importance of what I do? How much do I do because I know it’s important for it to be done, and how much do I do because I want others to recognise that not only my work, but also that I as a person, am important?

On the night of the boarders’ Christmas dinner I had a little personal meltdown in this area. The Christmas dinner is one of the highlights of the year for the children. They bring in special, smart outfits from home and there is much excitement in the days leading up to the occasion. The girls in particular had been practicing their different hairstyles and trying on their dresses for weeks beforehand. On the day itself, I began curling hair at around 4.30 in order for them all to be ready on time, whilst attempting to prevent the boys, who had naturally got ready in around three minutes and thirty-seven seconds, from strangling each other with their bow ties. When we finally arrived in the dining room, I made my way over to my house’s table in order to take my seat for the meal. There was, however, no seat for me with my house. Confused, I looked around and made some enquiries. I eventually realised that I had been moved due to lack of space and relocated to sit with the older boys’ house. And so I did what any sensible, rational woman does in that situation. I burst into tears. The boys looked with unconcealed horror at this demonstration of womanhood at her most unstable, whilst I tried to disguise my snivelling as a bizarre and unconvincing coughey-sneeze. This was not the way I had intended to end my first term at the school, by revealing to all and sundry my deep-seated inability to cope with life.

In my defence, I’d been up two nights running at around 3am with a little girl who had earache and thus the thought of trying to make conversation with pre-teen males whom I’d never spoken with before was completely overwhelming. I’m sure many of my fellow females can sympathise with those times when tiredness, emotion and, I suspect, a generous helping of misplaced hormones conspire against you and cause you to appear like a completely unbalanced loon. In fact, these moments occur not infrequently in my life, being the mercurial character that I am, but if I am being truly honest with both myself and you, there was also a little bit of me that felt hard done by. After all, who had spent hours helping the children get ready for this special evening? Who was the one who had herded them about, ensuring they arrived at the right place at the right time, in the right outfits? Who was the one who had mopped up the tears of the little girl who was worried that her dress wasn’t pretty enough? Indeed, where did my insanity-inducing fatigue come from if not from being up in the night with ill children?

As these thoughts rushed through my head, I realised that I had lost perspective on the situation. It both amazes and horrifies me how quickly my sense of self-importance can inflate and inflate until it threatens to engulf and smother me. I didn’t apply for this job as I wanted to be recognised as the all-important patron saint of hair curling and ill children. I did it because I wanted to make sure that these important things were done for the children to the best of my ability.

As I reflected on this over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reminded of a blog I once read by the writer Donald Miller. In it, he talks about being ‘secretly incredible’, living in such a way that you continue to serve others and work tirelessly for their good even when there is no audience to admire and congratulate you. As you can see from the incident recounted above, I am still a long way from achieving this, but it can’t hurt to try.

And so I find myself at the beginning of 2013 making the resolution that this year is the year that I will seek to be ‘secretly incredible’. That, and get a proper, interesting, important job, of course!

* * *

Her full nature…spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.’
-George Eliot, Middlemarch

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