I grew up feeling like I was always treated differently to my siblings and step-siblings. I was sent to a different school, not allowed out until I’d done my homework, had to repay any money I borrowed with interest (even if it was 50p for the bus!). I resented this and always felt bitter about that fact that I felt like I was held up to a completely different standard than the others. I didn’t have the courage to challenge this and ask why. Instead I made assumptions and jumped to conclusions that it was because the others were favoured above me. That they were loved more than me.
My dad was, and still is, a bit of a distant figure in my life, even though he lives less than 5 mile away from me. He was a ‘hands off’ kind of father, parenting was left to my mum. My memories are of him coming home from work, sitting in his armchair, watching the six o’clock news during which I mustn’t speak or make a sound (especially sniffing, I was frequently ordered to ‘stop sniffing’) and his dinner would be delivered to his lap. My mum would scurry around and usher me out of the way to give dad a bit of peace and quiet as he had had a hard day at work.
I was taught that money doesn’t grow on trees, I must work hard for a living, get a mortgage and get on the property ladder early (ultimately, all of which I dutifully did). I was a bright kid and I knew it. I won the ‘high achiever’ award as I left primary school. I cruised through high school, knowing I could ace my GCSE’s without too much effort. The expectation of me was high, and I felt that – enormously. However, I really didn’t care too much for it. All I wanted was to independently get out into the world. I was desperate to prove that I didn’t need anyone, or anything. I got my first job as a doctors receptionist aged 16. It was 1995 and I was earning £10K a year, to this day I’ve never felt so ‘rich’. As to be expected, my dad insisted I pay my way and hand over ‘rent’ each month for my keep (something that my siblings were never asked to do).
My mission in life was to ‘show him’ that I could hit the expectation… and then some! I remember learning to drive. I had just four instructor lessons before being involved in a car accident with a boyfriend in which I broke my both arms (amongst other injuries). As soon as I was able, I was back at it. Still with one wrist in plaster. My grandad, who was my biggest fan and believed in me like no other, bought me a banger and allowed me to self teach under his supervision. Within weeks I booked myself in for my test to which my dad scoffed “You haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of passing”. “You just watch me!” were the words I muttered to myself under my breath. Naturally, I passed first time with flying colours, only two minor faults. I had my freedom and my mantra for life became “Tell me I can’t and I’ll do it twice over and take pictures!”
By the age of 18, I had bought a new car, my first home and a great career well under way. Not long after I’d settled in, the phone rang one Saturday afternoon. I answered and it was my dad. He had called to tell me that my younger sister was pregnant. He went on to lecture me that we only get one life and that “this is not a dress rehearsal, you know”. I wanted to scream down the phone “What are you telling me for??” But I didn’t.
I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to ‘showcase’ my achievements to my dad. When I see him, I tend to reel off the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, the clients I’ve secured, the improvements we’ve made to the house, the holiday’s we’ve got booked, the lovely things that we’ve bought. When he’s gone, my husband often questions why I do this. He comments on how different I am when dad is around.
I turned 40 in the last year and something changed for me. I lost a huge chunk of confidence and I have begun to have therapy to support me with that. My relationship with my dad has shown up a lot. The lessons my dad taught me as I’ve grown up have served me well. They’ve meant I’ve achieved a lot and I’m proud of that. However, what’s showing up for me now is that I’m crippled by high expectation and the need to perform at a high level in whatever I do. My quest for independence in an aversion of feeling equal and loved has shrouded me with a “just get on with it” attitude which has finally caught up with me in the guise of emotional burnout.
However, the lesson still rings in my ears daily of that phone call…. “Life is not a dress rehearsal you know” and it’s true. It’s the best lesson my dad could ever have given me. Because it’s time for me to let go of that narrative.Time to let go of the high expectation, of the performance anxiety, of the constant need to chase the next big thing and actually LIVE my life in the present moment, free to enjoy the world around me with no expectation at all. To just BE, rather than DO…. and to love and be loved.