(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means you think about things deeply and try to figure things out,” Mom replied.
Her reply was the answer to my question, “What is one word that describes me?” It was posed as part of a ninth grade Home Economics class assignment to ask someone who knew me well to describe me in one word. Who knew me better than dear old Mom, I thought.
Being such a sensitive girl, insecure and with exceedingly low self-esteem, I was initially horrified at the mere prospect of asking the question, not knowing what kind of answer to expect. Would it be complementary? Insulting? Revelatory?
I didn’t expect my reaction would be stymied. “I’m what?” And even after she explained the word, I was confused. I supposed that it was accurate, but I’d never thought of myself in that way. Was analytical a good thing to be? Kind-hearted, creative, loving, patient, intelligent, sweet, quick-witted, hard-working, curious, tenacious, honest, funny, interesting, cooperative, introverted…hell, even awkward would have been apt descriptors and something I could have immediately recognized about myself. Wouldn’t you know – just like the quirky kid I was, I couldn’t be described, even by my mom, in simple, straightforward terminology.
Of course, being the analytical person I was/am, I ran to the nearest dictionary and looked up ‘analytical’ to gain some further insight into the one word that Mom thought described me. I’m sure I read something like what Vocabulary.com says today: “If you are analytical, you are good at taking a problem or task and breaking it down into smaller elements in order to solve the problem or complete the task.” So, b-o-r-i-n-g… even my mom thinks so.” That was how my 15 year old self interpreted the word. I was all up in my head. It was my mind that ruled my being.
I never questioned the accuracy of Mom’s assessment of me. Indeed, I believed that she had recognized something that she herself admired in me. Because she wasn’t the type who frequently offered feedback in such a direct, verbal way, it made a deep impression on my psyche. In fact, I embraced it as a badge of honor. I incorporated it into my self-concept: “Analytical Girl” whose superpower was figuring things out. Able to leap tall problems in a single (or several) thought(s)! She’s Analytical Girl!
In my teen years as hormonal-induced emotionality surged, feelings of “out of controllness” frightened me. Another lesson learned from Mom, less directly but no less potently, is that sensitivity is the enemy. Crying is a sign of weakness. When emotions crop up, stomp them down and carry on. Wisdom is thought, not felt. And so I went on for years, ignoring, kicking away my emotional being, as if it were a pesky child, clawing at my heels, impeding my progress through life. I became quite adept at squashing any emotional component that may have had the audacity to try to poke its nose into my modus operandi. I could think myself into or out of most anything.
Until I couldn’t.
An interesting thing about having taken an analytical approach to life is that it has served me well…up to a point. Then came the reckoning. Decades of emotions unwelcome, unacknowledged, unheeded. Their wisdom untapped; their intuition ignored. The realization that I’d been missing some crucial input was gradual at first; little nudges of awareness that feelings and the emotions they illicit are another side of me. In recent years, emotions have done more than nudge – they’ve taken me by the shoulders and shook me vigorously. Longing to be heard, they assure me of their validity and value.
I found it amazing that the Vocabulary.com definition of analytical continued with the following: “The opposite type of problem-solving is called the intuitive approach in which a person senses the correct action to take without proof or reasoning.” Nowhere in that description does it say that an intuitive approach is invalid or ineffective. It’s simply another way of looking at things that deserves my attention. My non-analytical self has been here all along, waiting for me to notice and appreciate the treasure it contains. As I learn its language and its many manifestations, I trust that it is differently wise and I am more fully me when she is incorporated into my psyche.
I am doing a better job of listening to my emotions, my intuition, lately – figuring them into the equation of my life. It’s becoming more of a habit with every passing day – to tune in to the emotional channel to see what’s playing. Usually it’s something I want to hear – often some golden oldies I haven’t heard in a very long time.