Oct 19 14 Comments

The search for significance. Looking all the wrong places.

Today I lost it. The world is for sure joining its forces against me. I was denied the grant to help fund my new book. And get this, this happened a day after I got a crappy grade on my exam in human rights and advocacy. As if this is not enough to ruin my day I can add a list of strikes against me:

A good friend nominated me for a women’s prize, but my name must have gotten lost in the pile of other names because I never even made the list of the people the committee recommended. (Or perhaps the nominating committee just held their stomachs, pointed to my name and laughed through the whole meeting).

I called, emailed, texted and wrote to a dozen people about Partners, and they never even bothered replying to me.

I wrote articles that I personally thought were masterpieces and got polite replies back from a long list of magazines and newspapers saying that they are sorry they cannot publish my piece this time, but good luck to you.

My blog is not gaining any followers.

My Instagram pictures have fewer likes than my children’s.

My husband got a better grade on his exam than I did, and that despite the fact that his writing is crap, and he spent two hours on it.

The new government in our country sucks so bad I am starting to feel like hiding the fact that I am Norwegian. I feel that even this could be a reason for me to fail in life.

And now the sheets I hang out to dry got rained on.

My daughter gave me a makeover some days ago. It was fun and it made me feel beautiful. But, strangely, it didn't make me more popular. It also didn't turn me into a better person. But, did you know how to put on bronzer?

My daughter gave me a makeover some days ago. It was fun and it made me feel beautiful. But, strangely, it didn’t make me more popular. It also didn’t turn me into a better person. But, did you know how to put on bronzer?

All around me I see people who succeed at everything they do. In fact, some of them have succeeded even before they start. Pieces are published in magazines, newspapers and online that get shared and commented on, and I read it and think that my stuff is so much better. Books get published and become bestsellers, and I think: Who likes this stuff? People wake up pretty. Others seem to have all the time in the world to go for runs, hikes, bike rides and exotic trips with their backpacks and tent. Me, I am feeling lucky the days I have time to take the dog for a walk for 30 minutes.

Everybody else seems to have the coolest friends and they are always getting together in the evenings wearing their nice clothes and perfectly manicured nails and drink wine from pretty glasses while they laugh at each other’s jokes and encourage each other. Me, I am often so tired that I spend the evenings at home, watching TV and eating potato chips.

Okey, we may not hang with the people with the crystal glasses. And quite frankly, when I think about it, I would rather hang out with the ones who will sit by the fire with me, drinking wine from paper cups.

Okey, we may not hang with the people with the crystal glasses. And quite frankly, when I think about it, I would rather hang out with the ones who will sit by the fire with me, drinking wine from paper cups.

The list could go on, but I feel that if I keep writing, I will put myself into depression and all the dishes piled up on my kitchen counter may never get done.

As I looked at the denial letter I got in the mail today, I honestly thought: Of course they would not grant me the money I applied for. What do they care? Plus, when will I get it? I am not very good at writing, or much else for that matter.

But then, after a while wallowing in self-pity I asked myself a question that needs to be asked. Who are you trying to impress?

I have been trying to teach my children this their whole life, but it seems I need to learn it myself to: What you do and what people think about you don’t determine your worth. It simply can’t. So often I set my own value based on my successes and failures. Obviously that means that some days I am super valuable, and other days I am completely worthless. The last week I haven’t been worth much more than the broken trashcan I use for composting.

We could say I have been feeling the way I look here.

We could say I have been feeling the way I look here.

What I have told others, and believe is true for them, is that their true worth is who they are when they take away all the exterior stuff. Our true value is not how we look, how much money we make, how many articles we get published, how many prizes we receive, or how many friends we have. Our true value is in the core of who we are.

Once Steve asked me, and I have been pondering this: “What would your worth be if you were paralyzed from the neck down, lost your hearing and your vision? Would that change my value as a human being?” If the answer is yes, then we do live in a world that places people’s value on their ability to perform, as well as on their performance. And to be totally honest, that is kind of the world we do live in.

But is it right? Of course not. A person has his or her value because of the fact that he or she is a human being, created in the image of God. Nothing can take that truth away. If I can just start believing that, and act as if it is true, then a denial letter or a bad grade won’t throw me into the sump of self-pity and depressive thoughts. It will just be a bump in the road, on the road called life.

So, here I am, on a rainy day, determined to keep striving to get better, and to aim for excellence. But at the same time as I am doing this, I will also keep reminding myself that the outcomes don’t determine my value. My value has already been set and it won’t change. In the words of Winston Churchill: Success consists of going from failure to failure without the loss of enthusiasm.


  • burntwords says:

    Totally feel the same! Maybe I could pitch my tent next to yours!
    A couple of corrections: your writing is very good and crystal glass are very over-rated!
    Hang in there…

    • oddnygumaer says:

      So glad to have a kindred spirit! Thanks. And, you are welcome to pitch your tent next to mine, and we will have wine from my wooden wine glasses!

  • Michelle Simpson says:

    Thanks for writing this. I understand, Oddny. I was brought up by a very ambitious father who didn’t fulfil all his own ambitions, but raised us to believe so much in ‘doing well’, performance and success in education. I have no degree (firstly because I left our broken home so young; secondly, no time once had a family; thirdly, then had no money for study); I spent my younger years raising a family; then once they were grown found I lacked confidence and skills developed enough to do anything that felt significant to me.

    I know some of what I feel is reasonable, at least to me in my situation. I also know that I tend to forget the amazing things God has done in and through my life. I never imagined I would spend so many years in China or Thailand, live in Canada, speak two other languages (at least a little), have the privilege of meeting and working with people of so many cultures and languages. I also never imagined we would go through a period of homelessness, financial failure, moving so many times, and bouts of depression and anxiety inspite of what I know from the word of God.

    While God has given me the opportunity to do so many interesting things, and help people, these ‘failures’ and even my own doubts and questions in the midst of the ‘successes’ have caused me to question my own worth and significance so many times, not just my own ability to succeed, but God’s care and love for me too. Increasingly I realise the brokenness and damage within my own soul.

    In more lucid moments, I wonder, ‘If this is how I feel with the clothes on my back, an element of choice in life, an education, a good husband and three godly children, a level of safety and security, the wonderful and varied experiences I have had, a bank account, and food to eat daily, how must a woman feel who does not have these, struggles for them, or has had them stolen from her? I remind myself to be thankful for what I have. In more difficult moments which seem far too frequent, I do not think like this, and self-pity gets the better of me.

    As the years go by, it seems like age tries to threaten us more often with the weapon of ‘insignificance’. It is a battle. My prayer is that over time I will learn to sift through the voices and doubts and expectations and pressures and mature (yes, I said ‘mature’) into a woman who knows who she is in God and what He has called her to; that I will find my confidence and significance solely in that, allowing this understanding to cause me to walk tall with my head high, my heart full, my face happy, and my hands busy passing God’s love on to others.

    My prayer is that I will be able, in the increasing understanding of my own tendencies towards self-doubt, draw closer to Him for help, and closer to that woman I so want to be, for myself, for God, and for others.

    Thank you for sharing and being the godly and significant woman you are; for writing the significant things you write. It helps to know I am not alone. Knowing we are not alone as women in our feelings makes a significant difference.


    • oddnygumaer says:

      Wow, thank you Michelle for that honest and wonderful reflection. It is so nice to know that I am not the only one, and that there are kindred spirits out there. You and your family are an example to me, and I would have never thought you ever felt anything but fulfilled and successful. Thank you again for sharing so honestly. One of these days we will meet again. Still think about the ballet rehearsals, the kitten you guys fostered, and even piano recitals in Chiang Mai. Seems like a lifetime ago.

    • Allan Brown says:

      Excellent Michelle. Very insightful & helpful.

  • Elizabeth Wright says:

    Beautiful… and if I had any money, I’d give you a grant…and I wish I was 1/4 as talented as you…and, you don’t need a makeover-I’ve always envied your natural beauty. Would love to see you…. Elizabeth Wright (who will always look up to the Gumaers with awe!)

  • gsargeant says:

    Fantastic post, thank you, thank you Oddny. I need reminders go these truths more regularly than I’d like, why do I forget?

  • stevegumaer says:

    Reblogged this on Normal Is Over. and commented:
    Basically, if you don’t read this you are a sad and normal person and will likely slip on ice and break your nose. Seriously: Read this!

  • Lyn Jackson says:

    Did he REALLY only spend two hours on it? The wretch!
    I got all excited about Asaph, the writer of Psalm 82. He also wrote Psalm 73 – the “my feet had almost slipped” psalm. Your blog reminds me of it. Actually, my life reminds me of it.

    • oddnygumaer says:

      It may have been a little more than two hours, but he started one morning and was done before lunch. I spent hours and hours on it, and still he got a better score. The world is an unfair place. Hmmm, I am going to have to re-read Psalm 73 now. 🙂

  • Cindy Polk says:

    The world is often on video while the God is on audio. We hear His voice yet it is dimmed by all we see around us. We all struggle finding our footing. I read this early this morning. Tim Keller writes, “…he is our bridegroom, then if you give yourself to Jesus in faith, it means he must really delight in us. Every time God chooses an image for himself, he is saying something about us. Do you know what a bride looks like to the bridegroom as she walks down the aisle? She wears the most beautiful garments and jewels, and when he lays his eyes on her, he is absolutely delighted in her. And he wants to give her the world. How dare Jesus Christ use a metaphor like this, evoking this powerful human experience? Could it be that he loves his own like that? That he delights in you like that? Yes, he does. How different would life be of you lived in moment-by-moment existential awareness of that? Thought you might enjoy this. I am not clever with words so I find others that do a good job. I am sure I will be quoting yours someday:)

  • Allan Brown says:

    Oddny, as I read this all the way through it reminded me so much of the thing I’ve been struggling through this past year. Regardless of how many people admire, cheer me on or express how they wished they could live the life I do, there is always this gnawing need for significance as defined by my own inner drives. This creates a sense of gap that at times makes it all mean almost nothing. Considering how I really look up to you and Steve in terms of accomplishment and significance, it really reinforces to me this very new personal awareness that meaning must be found in something more solid than my own interpretation of significance by accomplishment. It also reinforces to me that this can be an unquenchable thirst. Thanks for expressing what others of us feel and struggle without publicly acknowledging or in some cases, fail to even recognize before it’s too late. It really helps to know that there are others who share in this ongoing challenge. You certainly are not alone!

    • oddnygumaer says:

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment, Allan. It is so nice to know that you are a lot similar to me. See, we are over here thinking you are the super hero. Yay for transparency!