My mother started our recent conversation with these words – I am so disappointed in Tiger Woods.
I’m hearing that a lot these days and while I understand where the sentiment is coming from, I don’t feel it at all. As I explained to her, I’ve never met Tiger Woods and so I’ve never projected my hopes and expectations on to him. Unless you count my hope and expectation that he kicks some butt every time he graces a golf course because I happen to love when people recognize their gifts and take them to the point of mastery.
Perhaps I’m unfazed because I began my post-college career as the public relations director for Babe Ruth League national headquarters. While on the road I heard Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Lefty Gomez tell stories about “The Babe” that were so racy they made Woods’ alleged exploits seem like a trip to Disneyland.
Last weekend, I caught an exhibit called Diana: A Celebration at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. I so enjoyed seeing some of Princess Diana’s exquisite fashion pieces and reading about her as I wandered through. But it also brought to mind the comments people made when she died, calling her a dilettante, a slut, nothing but a pretty face. Or the polar opposite, projecting fantasy onto her because she happened to marry royalty. In truth, Diana was a woman who was just coming into her own, just realizing how to use her power and fanatical press following to bring positive attention to wonderful causes, and searching for true love just like the rest of us.
Also last weekend, I laughed uproariously at Robin Williams’ latest standup special on HBO when he riffed on his rehab stint. The man is no less funny because he showed his flaws; in fact, the more real, the more humorous. He’s just one example on a long and distinguished list of people who represent the full package of exceptional talent and human failings.
So many of us are big fans of plastering inspiring quotes on our desk or our Facebook pages, but really in our quest to find them we’re trolling through archives of highly flawed people. Duh. In most cases, it’s the full context that makes their brilliance so noteworthy.
I can’t help but wonder anymore, who is the imaginary perfect person we’re all trying to live up to? Who are we trying to impress with our wagging finger? Our high and mighty friends or family members? The Puritanical set? What would we see if we directed the spotlight on them?
Human flaws, that’s what.
It would be so liberating to go into 2010 with a profound shift in thinking, wouldn’t it? An awareness of what we are projecting onto others and what it says about us. For example, if you were buying a Buick because you thought Tiger Woods was a loyal husband, what does that say about you?
Truly, we all project our stuff on to people and situations. I’m right in there. In my world view, Woods may be just another person who followed the tired societal norm of getting married and having a family whether he was ready to or not. Maybe it’s a question of emotional strength to be able to stay single and enjoy all that comes with that until you meet someone who so knocks your socks off that you know it’s your time to make a commitment. Or not. Ever.
Years ago a very wise woman said to me when I met a guy I really liked: Why do you already have yourself married to him in your head? You don’t even know him.
Truth be told, I was too immature to handle that wisdom then, but now I know it’s spot on.
In her forthcoming book called Committed, ultra-successful Eat, Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert tells Lucy Kaylin in the January issue of “O, The Oprah Magazine” that she is grateful her success came with her fourth book and when she was in her 30s and not her 20s.
“I’m really fortunate that this happened … after I had already gone through a depression, a divorce, years of therapy, a lot of self-reckoning, a spiritual journey,” Gilbert says. “I was in the lucky situation of knowing who I was … I’m not what’s being said about me, either in the highest praise or the highest criticism. I know I’m not a self-indulgent idiot; I also know I’m not the second coming of Deepak Chopra.”
Let’s keep it real, folks. Maybe the best thing we can do is try not to disappoint ourselves.