The instruction follower.

“The ability to learn is the most important quality a leader can have.”

Sheryl Sandberg

I have a talent for art. I have always been good at it. It has always come naturally to me. Illustrative mostly. I can look at a picture and draw or paint it quite accurately. However, I did not seriously pursue this talent for most of my life. As a kid, it just never occurred to me that it should be something I should focus on. As a teenager, I transferred that talent into design and pursued graphic design as I thought that was a viable career path.

I met my ex-husband trying to pursue that career path. He hired me as a part time graphic designer. Fitting that our relationship began as he, the employer and me, the employee. He the boss, me the instruction follower. But once his business failed, I needed a job. So. After some exciting career advancing opportunities in telemarketing and retail clothing sales, I became a business administrator.

However, about 15 years into these various administrative jobs, I started to dabble once again with art. I started to do pieces as gifts. And then people started to ask for more. Finally, when he received a job opportunity in a new city, I had to quit my day job. Which incidentally was the first job I had ever had not in administration but in project management. And I LOVED it! It was a turning point in my journey and deserves it own post… later.

Back to this post…

Things were financially comfortable at this point. So I was in a new city with a chance to do something for me. I started to pursue my artwork seriously for the first time in my life. I hit the pavement marketing myself. I met with home designers. I met with art galleries. And I worked at it. Painting almost every day. I was getting good. Really good.

Yet through this all he never once complimented my work. He would tell me if he didn’t like something. Of course. Criticizing seemed to come easy. But not once did he tell me something was good. That I was good. I even showed in a successful art gallery with well known local artists for over a year. And still. Not one word of encouragement.

Eventually the financial comfort was no longer there and I had to go back to work. The art career was over. Yes, I could have still pursued it. But if you are understanding this story, my story, by this point you understand that was not an option. The art took a back seat.

So get to the real point of this post…

Years later, we were hanging out with a neighbor and he told this neighbor a story of how he tried to paint one day when I was at work. He took a small blank canvas and got out my paint and went to work. He confessed to the neighbor that he thought it would be easy. He confessed to the neighbor that it turned out so bad, he buried the canvas in the trash so I wouldn’t see. I never knew because he never told me. And he still didn’t. He told the neighbor. He did not tell me that he could not do what I could do. That I could do something better than him. He could not tell me. But he could tell the neighbor.

What I painfully felt that day is that he would never let me succeed beyond him. It would never be about me. I have done extensive reading into insecure and controlling personalities. Call it self-absorbed. Call it narcissism. Which are not the same by the way. But call it whatever you want. It is not healthy. It is not a partnership. It is lonely and it is heartbreaking. And no matter how much you think you can fix it. You can’t. You will always be the lesser one.

You will always be the instruction follower.


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