Some people think they don’t have very interesting lives. They have a fairly mundane job where nothing much unusual happens, they go to the gym, occasionally get out walking up hills with the dog, watch TV, have friends round, go out for dinner or make a trip to the cinema. They don’t have any particular health problems apart from a slightly dodgy knee, they don’t have any particular special talents, and nothing remarkable or exciting ever seems to happen to them. Because they don’t feel that they’re inspirational or special in any way, they sometimes don’t feel they have much to offer others, they have moments of self-doubt and feelings of inferiority in the face of people who either endure obvious hardships and suffering, or just people who are incredibly good at something.
I’m not one of those people, because for various reasons, my life is far from dull. However, i often worry that I don’t contribute anything positive, but instead am a burden on other members of a group or team. It’s the classic impostor syndrome, which is well known in the world of work, where people think they don’t really deserve to have the job they do, and are terrified of being “found out” as not being capable. It’s the feeling that you’re a fraud and an idiot, and everyone else could do your job better than you. Ironically, people who really are frauds and idiots rarely suffer from impostor syndrome.
But the thing about being part of a group, no matter whether it’s a trekking holiday with other like-minded people, the opening batsman for your cricket team, or a member of a choir, is that everyone has something to offer, and it might not be the obvious thing. Disabled people often have such issues, because they frequently have to rely on other people for help. On my recent holiday trekking in Mallorca, I needed help finding my way in the dark (and sometimes in the daylight too) due to my sight loss, I struggled with some minor scrambling sections on the rocks because of my shoulder injuries, I forced the group to stop a couple of times when my blood sugar was low and I had to deal with it, I caused extra work for the two leaders because I can’t eat bread and they had to figure some alternative lunch for me every day, and I managed to break both my sunglasses and my waterproof trousers. I felt like I was constantly causing problems for people. Plus I snored at night and never stopped talking. Why on earth would anyone want me on a trip with them?
There’s another way to look at it though. If other people have issues and need help, it doesn’t bother me unless it’s really something they could have avoided and didn’t. Helping other people is a great feeling. I like nothing better on a trip than to be able to contribute something to make other people happier, whether it’s offering them a cereal bar when they’re out of energy, making up their bed for them as a surprise when they’re tired and arrive late in the hostel, making them giggle with a silly song or entertaining story, taking their mind off the pain of a never-ending hill by distracting them with thought-provoking discussion, giving them advice about a topic I’m an expert in, or just buying them a glass of wine or a coffee. There are so many ways you can contribute to someone’s happiness, and it often doesn’t take much. Sometimes the thing you do for someone else might seem minor to you, but just happens to come at the right time for them and means more than you would have ever guessed, totally changing their outlook. Everyone on the trip also contributed back: offering me a chocolate bar when my blood sugar was low and I was fed up with jelly beans, helping me sew up the faulty zip on my trousers and the hole in my jacket, fixing my broken sunglasses with duck tape, lending me a spare pair of trousers when my full-length zip had broken, getting me a coffee in the morning when I was still half asleep and not properly functioning, googling something for me on their phone, buying me glasses of wine, swapping their breakfast with me, helping me through the dark tunnels when I couldn’t see, encouraging me when I had moments of self-doubt, and making me laugh when the going was tough.
I’ve posted before about the fact that weaknesses can be strengths, and that everyone has something to offer. I’ve also posted before about the double-edged sword of disability which can be both a benefit and a burden. It’s sometimes hard to find the positives when you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, but I’m going to return for my final word once more to the wisdom of my friend Jerry Gore, who has a brilliant philosophy on life. These are my words, not his, but they’re based on Jerry’s entire attitude to life. If you think of your problems as a burden, they will constantly make your life a misery. If you think of the positives, they will only serve to make you stronger. And that, my friends, is my key to dealing with challenge.