June 18, 2011

I yelled at my youngest sister yesterday.

I love the girl dearly. She’s smart, much savvier than I was at her age, and has a great talent for seeing through bullshit to the heart of an issue, which in my own not-so-humble opinion is one of the most valuable skills a person can have.

But yesterday she really needed to be yelled at.

My dear little sister feels stuck. She is 20 years old and made the rather gutsy decision after high school to forgo college, which puts her her at the oh-my-god-now-what place that a lot of us (well, me, at least) reach in our mid-twenties a few years early. Specifically, now.

This sister of mine has been teaching dance in some capacity since she was about 12 years old (assisting in the beginning). As the years have gone on she’s learned how to handle classrooms full of 3-year-olds, classrooms full of 13-year-olds, and all of their parents; has established herself as the voice of authority among her peers, and been deemed trustworthy enough to often be in charge of unlocking and locking the studio and generally running the show on days when the owner isn’t around.

Not too bad overall, but the situation still is less than ideal. Just about all of the growth of the eight years has happened organically, linearly, and unofficially. While she’s been open to and seized upon each opportunity as it has arisen, she hasn’t really actively designed and guided the path she’s found herself on — she’s followed as it has unfolded.

Because of this, she’s just not quite where she wants to be. And while she’s theoretically okay with not being where she wants to be right now, she (rightly) feels as though this unfolding path is not even heading to this destination she fantasizes about. The one she’s on is certainly a fine path, but it’s sort of like this path is going to St. Paul when she really wants to go to Minneapolis. Or it’s headed toward LA when she really wants to go to New York.

It’s a perfectly legitimate path; perhaps perfect for someone else. But when your inner eye is on one thing and you’re seeing something else on the horizon… well, you should probably be doing some sort of a course correction.

Baby Sister and I have been discussing said course correction for the last several months. We’ve been trying to define what “success” looks like, what the actual differences are between that scene and the current one, and what real steps can be taken right now to minimize the distance between the two. There have been many hours on Skype, many points bulleted, and one paradigmatic, big-picture shift in what the destination actually is (totally fine).

Which brings us to yesterday.

We had a lovely sister-ly conversation, not initially related to our scheming. Joked a bit, talked about a bizarre dream she’d had the night before (in which I had a baby and named him “Zachary Mack” — I may now have to get a cat so I can use that name), and commiserated over the woes of laundry. Then we got into talking about the studio. Some recent interactions with some key people. Plans for the summer. Thoughts about next year that were quite at odds with many of the goals we’ve been setting. A certain amount of helplessness and frustration (the former worthless, the latter only valuable if steps are taken to fix the situation that causes it) pervaded her side of the exchange.

As her tales wound down I took a little breath and said, “You know I love you, you know I think the world of you and your abilities. But I am about to say some things that will make you very uncomfortable.”

We’ve had this conversation before.”

We have. Multiple times. Same players, same frustrations, and some unsurprising variations in details.

“The goal should be to not have to deal with these same frustrations day after day and year after year. And you and I have been talking about how to fix this for months now. What steps to take, what opportunities to seek out. What will make things better now, what will make things better a year from now, and what will make things better a decade from now. And from where I stand — do correct me if I’m wrong on this one — it doesn’t seem as though you’ve acted on any of it.”

I listed some conversations she needed to have. Research to be done. Contacts to be made. All things we’d previously discussed.

Bless her heart, my generally feisty and quick sister made the somewhat-obligatory attempts at explanations, but didn’t argue when I called her out on what they were: excuses.

“It’s excessively important to think. And talk. And plan. But here’s the thing: that’s the easy part. You can do all the thinking and talking and planning in the world, but if you don’t do the work, go out on a limb, and surrender yourself to the discomfort of pulling your thoughts out of the ether — where they are perfectly content to stay — and into the real, physical world, we’re going to be having this conversation again in four months. And again in December. And again next March. And I just don’t want that.”

“It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s not that I don’t care, it’s not that I don’t value or respect the truth of what you’re going through and feeling. It’s that you are not living up to the standards you have set for yourself.”

“You’re doing a hell of a job of pretending you are for the outside world, but right now I will be the one to call you out on the fact that you are not. backing. it. up.”

“I wouldn’t say any of this if I didn’t absolutely, completely, wholly have faith in your ability to pull that life you want into reality, or if there were any question of your desire to do so. But I do have that faith and you do have the desire, and right at this moment, you are still just looking over at the other path — not actually turning the wheel to move toward it.”


‘…I know you’re right.’


And so on.




We’ll see where that all goes. I’ll keep the whip out and utilize that distinct desire to impress the elder sister that every little sister houses to the situation’s advantage, but at the end of the day it’s up to her. So we’ll see.

But the conversation really set my brain alight, pondering the value of having someone who doesn’t care if they make you uncomfortable. Someone who will look past the surface of an interaction (”Oh things are greeaaat! I’m happy, and busy, and… greeaaat!”), understand what’s going on beneath the presentation, and actually call you out on the crap.

It’s pretty freaking hard to come by, largely because most of us go out of our way throughout our whole damn lives to minimize encounters that make us squirm. (I myself am certainly no exception, having worked quite hard over the last decade or so to establish my identity in my own social circles as one who’s “got it all together” …which doesn’t exactly lend itself particularly well finding someone to occupy the crap-calling position…)

But man-oh-man what I wouldn’t give for someone — an accountability partner of sorts — to do the same for me. To sit down with an outsider’s perspective (just outside my little brain is far enough) and cut to the core of things and give me shit where and when I deserve it. Because I’ll tell you right now, I certainly do deserve it.

I’m pretty positive most of us do.

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