Sunday, April 19, 2009


This weekend, as my wife and I were driving to Atlanta, we were having a discussion about the parenting book we've both been reading. Being the introspective (some might self-absorbed) person that I am, I commented on what I saw in the book about my own childhood.

And I had an epiphany. Before I explain, I want to be clear: I am not trying to pass judgment on my parents for what I'm writing. I simply realized that one of the ways my mother responded to my efforts had a profound influence on my entire character. I was, and in many still am, insatiable. One reason this book would suggest as to why was the way my mother was never complimentary to my grades. If I got a 93, she would ask, "Do you understand what you missed?" If I got a 100, she asked, "Was that the highest score possible." These were neither preceded or followed by any form of of the phrase "job well done."

I have no sour grapes over what she helped make me. I became a child who wanted to always do my best and even then I wasn't necessarily pleased. I was a very successful student as a result. I looked for new and better ways to improve myself and my outputs. I was able to use what I learned and what I became to pay my way through my Bachelor's on scholarships, and then get paid to get a Masters and now to get a Ph.D. I see no reason to complain about my psyche in this regard. I would say I did teach myself to deal with doing less than my best, but it still involved coping rather than being satisfied. I have never liked grades below A for myself. At least not in subjects I care about. So yes, I am grateful that the desire she instilled helped make me a success.

The problem is, my insatiable nature was not limited to school. I am overweight. One reason I am overweight is I do not have something in me that says "I am no longer hungry." I wonder if one reason for that is the fact that I was treated as a disposal by various family members (not always my mother) as a child. If there was just a little left of something, I was expected to eat it quite often. If I had not broken my leg at four and been more involved in sports in my early years, then it might not have resulted in my becoming overweight. Still, I can see how some elements of my weight stem from the same insatiable personality. If I had learned to stop myself, I might not be so big. It's something I will struggle with for the rest of my life, I am sure.

So what am I saying? No, I am not saying "it's all my parents' fault." What would I be blaming them for, exactly? I have a wonderful family, I am generally successful in life, I am a happy person most of the time, and I am about to pursue a lifelong dream with the support of a wonderful wife who has urged me to do it. So maybe it is my parents' "fault" that I love education, and their "fault" I am so successful. They certainly deserve a lot of credit for the good in me, so this is not a negative post. It was just something that I've thought about many times in the past - how I was raised - and I realized a lot of who I am could be tied to that one word. I'm not sure I'd change it, either. I just need to be aware of it, and manage it wisely in the places where it can hurt me. As for it helping me in my career... I can't say I will try to rein it in at all.

-- Robert


Melissa said...

Hmmm. Interesting thought. Basically saying that you never learned when something is finished, in any aspect of your life. And that is an important skill in and of itself.

Robert said...

Yes, it is an important skill. And that's a keen insight in how to look at it that I hadn't exactly thought of. If I never had deadlines in high school, I doubt I'd've graduated. I used those to tell me to get things done. I remember writing grand beginnings to stories in elementary school, only to finish it in a paragraph when the deadline came up.

I have learned some coping mechanisms for that problem, but I am still not good at it. I think identifying the problem will help me, though. Maybe that's just wishful thinking, though...