an antidote to feeling ineffectual

As you’ll see if you look at my Books I’m Reading page, one of my books on the go is John Cleese’s autobiography So…Anyway. The opening chapter introduces us to his eight year old self whom he describes as uncoordinated, awkward and delicate. In the specific brief incident he describes, boys at his school chant ‘Chee-ese’ and ask him a rude question. The overarching impression of his childhood self is that he was wet and pathetic and he immerses the reader in that self-perception immediately. He then asks a question which sets the dry and humorous self-depreciating tone of the story of his youth…

“Why was I so… ineffectual?”

This question has stayed in my mind ever since I first read it. A fascinating question to ask of oneself, especially in relation to one’s childhood. Also a rather humble question to begin your autobiography with! Part of the childish innocence of very small children is that they don’t generally give a hoot about achieving much or being a certain way. They just… Are. The freedom they know we can only look upon with envy and try to remember what it was like to not care about who we are or what we do with our lives. I looked up the definition of the word ineffectual, and here it is:

  1. not producing any significant or desired effect.
    “an ineffectual campaign”
    synonyms: inefficient, ineffective, inefficacious, unsuccessful, powerless
    • (of a person) lacking the ability or qualities to fulfil a role or handle a situation.
      “she was neglectful and ineffectual as a parent”

Truth be told, I think many of us ask that question of ourselves constantly in some form or other. Either about our personality, capacity to relate well to others, and our accomplishments (or lack thereof). Dreams are potent and essential in life but what I’ve noticed is that I can hold an ideal in my head and along the road to reach it there is a constant comparison of where I am at to where I want to be. Instead of seeing progress I can easily just see that where I am at is not where I want to be and that is bad. It is ironic how that constant comparison renders me more ineffectual than ever and it is a vicious circle. I also found myself wondering, where do those dreams or ideals come from? What made John Cleese decide that being sensitive, tall, lanky and naive made him an ineffectual person and were attributes to feel scornful about? Is that an American teen movie legacy? Or a deep-rooted western value that has us believe weakness and lack is always going to be a problem in every setting?

I’ve often daydreamed about the idea of being really passionate about something and that passion resulting in great skill and achievements in that area. I was good at sport as a child but never pursued it. I was good at Art but did not finish my degree. I got to a certain level with playing piano but quit before I could call myself an accomplished pianist. I can crochet, knit, sew to a certain level but half the time don’t fancy doing it and find being motivated to finish projects difficult. Amongst other reasons for not pursuing these things, I think I’ve always been impatient; having an end goal in my head that always felt too far off for me to go the distance required in commitment and practise.

I saw this quote on Facebook recently…


It dawned on me that once again it comes down to a choice. A choice to think differently; to enjoy the process of learning, practising, reworking, changing, taking it a bit at a time and delighting in each step of progress made. This is the way to avoid that constant feeling of failure and not only that, but actually promotes the progress I long for. In addition, at times I need to sit and ponder why and for whom I am attempting to be or do certain things. Sometimes, when I realise that I have absorbed some expectation or false sense of what constitutes ‘achievement’, the feeling of failure fades away.

A small example… Our kids have been unwell last few days. My son has been quite poorly with a combination of croup and the aftermath of his MMR vaccine. We have been housebound and took the opportunity to purge and sort and tidy. You know, the kind of sorting and tidying that leaves a big, overwhelming mess of crap… EVERYWHERE. Well, in our hall mainly. This bag needs to go to charity, someone is collecting this, I need to drop this to a friend, this is for the tip. I felt the temptation to hold how I want a perfectly de-cluttered house right this instant, right in the forefront of my mind as I looked at the mess. But what does that achieve? A flood of tiredness as I feel overwhelmed by the hugest of tasks that results in me doing nothing whatsoever towards that goal. Instead I thought, it’s not that difficult to drop all these bits off. That’s all I need to accomplish today, and what an accomplishment that would be! To clear the hall. Yes, the lounge and dining room still feel crammed with tat and clutter and are messy but I’m chipping away and trying to enjoy each step towards success.

When I got quite into crafty stuff a couple of years ago I agreed to do a craft fair and tried to set up a business. I realised after, that I didn’t give myself a chance to really enjoy the process of making these things. I didn’t make things for myself, my home or my kids. I made things for the next birthday or for a sale and even now, I struggle to not feel under pressure and so lack motivation to make anything at all. I now have a new passion to write and thankfully, I think I’ve got to a stage of knowing the best way to approach it. To not set myself intense targets, to not immediately try and enter competitions or ‘achieve’ anything, to not immediately seek out feedback, to not even study and have the pressure of deadlines and writing about things I don’t necessarily want to write about. I am just going to write. Whatever I want, when I want. I have finished my short story and immediately had to resist the urge to feel disheartened by it being a pile of excrement. Of course it is, it’s actually a first draft not a finished piece and the minute I chose to ignore the voice that told me it should be really good right away or it’s not worth bothering with, I actually looked forward to the process of rewriting and editing… and rewriting and editing some more, no doubt.

If I can apply this to all areas of my life I know I would live a more joyful, peaceful, fulfilled existence. Like revelling in the progress I make towards being the parent I want to be instead of noting all the ways in which I fall short of my ideal… Sitting down at the piano and just playing without having to ‘master’ a piece… doing a ten minute walk without feeling rubbish for not running 10k (because usually, that pressure to do more leads me to do NOTHING – mental huh?)… and even, choosing to count my blessings and the positive ways I am managing to live and change for the better whilst travelling another painful journey of loss.

Another version of the quote above is this…

happiness is

Can anyone relate to this? Would love to hear your thoughts and anything that helps you to enjoy the journey toward achieving your dreams.

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