you can be my friend, just don’t help me

I remember very vividly the first time a teacher told our middle school class about the psychology of birth order. They say you remember things with strong emotions attached to them, and I felt oddly exposed and embarrassed. I have this nonconformist bent [I like to think of myself as a cool maverick but I mostly just have an extreme need to feel special], and here I was conforming in every way to a stereotype I hadn’t known existed. My teacher might as well have pulled me up in front of the class and started describing me, not “oldests”. How rude of her to explain all of my inner workings to the entire class!

I know a lot of oldests, and one thing we all have in common is this extreme sense of responsibility. In my case, I almost feel silly about it. I mean, I only have the one brother and he has never been one to let me take over, the way I see some people leading their much-younger siblings around. But it’s there anyway, the sense that people need me to do things for them. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking responsibility for unfinished tasks, unsolved problems, and immature people. Oldests get stuff done.

Today I am working on grant applications for grad school. OK, obviously I’m not, I’m writing a blog post, but I got to A Stopping Point (such a helpful euphemism for “I can’t take this anymore”). It is both a mind-suckingly boring and a nerve-wrackingly anxious task, the paperwork of posturing and competition. But of all the fact-collecting, accolade-listing, statement-writing, and document-procuring I have to do, there is one task I dread more than any other: recommendation-requesting. I hate asking other people, busy, professional people whom I greatly respect, to spend their time telling other people how great I am. I have to restrain myself from apologizing profusely and explaining why that particular person is the best choice for this, as if they’re going to respond with “aww, maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, can’t someone else do this?”

Because they’re not going to say that. First of all, I could probably not greatly respect someone who whined like that. Second of all, these are people I’ve worked for or done favors for, people I like who like me, mostly professors for whom this is part of the job. They want to see me succeed, they’re used to this kind of thing, they can think of things to say about me. But if there were any way for me to complete these applications without imposing on them so, I would do it.

To a large extent, though, this has little to do with my consideration for them, and a lot to do with my pride. I, the oldest, believe myself to be a bestower of gifts, or at least a self-sufficient adult. That, and a certain brand of Republican-ism that incorporates a lot more Ayn Rand than Jesus, makes me feel like a failure when I ask for stuff. As a leader, sure, I can delegate – just part of the job. But as a young, publication-less academic who could use some money to accomplish a pretty WASP-ish “dream” – it stings, needing a hand up. I should work more jobs for the money. I should go to a less pretentious school. If I can’t get to this school on my own, I don’t deserve to be there.

Again, it’s not even all that rational because everyone has to get a recommendation to get into these schools, and in some ways I have earned one. But it’s the literal act of asking that I can barely swallow. “You don’t need my help, but I need yours”. “Now that you’ve educated me, graded my papers, and answered all my barely-related-to-your-lecture, badly-phrased questions, could I ask you for one more thing?” You see. There’s something about it that makes me think less of myself; in my mind, [any dependence at all = annoying child].

It’s better to give than to receive. And I want to keep all the giving to myself. Riddle me that, Keanu.

But really – pretending to be more perfect, self-sufficient, mature, or deserving than I actually am – is just silly. In the end, simple humility is far more mature and gracious than being too prideful to admit of weakness or need.

And no one ever got into Aberdeen for their pride.

[Oh P.S. – the A/C is not fixed, but today I guess I have the adaptability of a Galapagos finch species, along with 7000 refills of ice water]



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  1. Aberdeen?! You’re applying to Edinburgh, too… right? 😉
    [I’m just messing around–Aberdeen is meant to be great.]

    • yes, yes, edinburgh, too. no worries.

      • Phew! You’ll do great, Lynds! And you’re right–your profs love you, care about you, want you to do well, and would be honored to write for you–asking a professor for a recommendation is one of the ways we tell them that we value and respect them. I know you didn’t say all of that… But I think it’s true. To ask for a recommendation is like saying, “I’m applying to this incredible, world-class, brilliant university (oh, and Aberdeen, too) and I think you are one of the right people to have in my corner because *you* are incredible, world-class, and brilliant.”

        See? When you frame it like that, it’s not “[whine] I am weak and I need [snivel] you” it’s “I respect you and I am hoping to take what you’ve invested in me even further–what you gave me was amazing and I want to honor that. You’ve inspired me to go higher and work harder.” It’s something ambitious and strong that not everyone is cut out for–but you are.

        And scholarships and grants are not needy, they are honors bestowed! And “pretentious” is silly (not wrong exactly), but going to one of these universities is you pursuing excellence, which is right (because *you* are gifted here and God has asked you to do excellent things with the strong gifts that He has given you). You are aiming to do the best you can with what you’ve been given and you’re doing it with the help of your Lord and Father and your siblings. This is all absolutely on track… And I am absolutely on some sort of weird encouragement rant… I just noticed that.

        Right–you get what I’m saying–I am proud of you, Lyndsey Janelle. You are a daughter in a family where to need the Other (be it our Father or our siblings) is the modus operandi–it is right for us. So don’t forget that and don’t think that to need your family and to need a team to back you up is the same thing as being needy.

  2. Heidi

     /  July 24, 2012

    I am SO tempted to leave this link on Dr. Melton’s wall and ask him FOR you!

  3. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  July 24, 2012

    We try to be tough and independent, but just as we actually LIKE helping others and get JOY from helping others, so we should not rob others of a chance to help us when they can. And for a strong, talented, independent gal like you, the chance to be a blessing in that way doesn’t roll around very often.

    I love you. –m


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