Taking Credit for All or Nothing

Last week my book club got together to discuss “Be Frank With Me” by Julia Claiborne Johnson. As often is the case, the book was a jumping off point for candid conversation and comical discourse, from our host’s rock star past to another members “swipe-right” dating future.

But amid our own stories, one line from the book stood out as the epitome of being 20-something.

The book follows 20-something Alice from NYC to LA to assist MM Banning — a reclusive author who catapulted to fame at age 20 with the great novel of her generation (think female Salinger / Catcher in the Rye)  —  while she writes her long awaited second novel. Alice’s vision of typing the manuscript and impressing the author did not last long. Instead her role is to leave lunch outside a closed office door and take care of the author’s eccentric and accident prone 9 year old son. Unlikely friendships and secrets emerge. You can check out the book out here. The group gave it a 3.5 out of 5…myself a bit higher. But we all found the book stuck with us. I miss the kooky Frank and the escapades in the glass castle hidden behind a barbed wire fence in BelAir.

Now to the line. It was a comment to the 20-something narrator by her boss, and in many ways, mentor:

“What I love about you Alice is the way you simultaneously give yourself too much credit for everything that happens and not enough. Listening to you makes me feel young again.”

It all struck us as reflective of 20-something’s today…as much as our 20-something selves. We can do it anything. The world is ours. But then…the world on our shoulders, when something at work goes wrong, it is all our fault. We can’t see ourselves for what were are. We are surprised, like good old Sally Field, that you like us.

In this case, Alice takes credit or responsibility for all the emotional drama and ensuing physical trauma that occurs…and then blaming herself that all is not resolved with a pretty bow. She can’t see that through it all she developed a special relationship and nurtured the one that mattered most. She did good.

It reminded me of Lena Dunham’s Hannah in the first episode of Girls.

“I don’t want to freak you out but I think that I might be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice of a generation” she proclaims to her parents.

At the end of this episode Lena D talks about how her generation has great self confidence but doesn’t have self worth. Hannah can think she will write the next great novel but simultaneously not think she is worth a guy treating respectfully. It’s the same thing as Alice in many ways.

And I am sure it is the same conundrum that kept MM Banding from writing that second novel for so long. She had to write the next next great thing… and the fear of failing that was too much. She couldn’t take credit for being an excellent writer and find her voice because the cost of failure was too much. Self worth comes from going through failure and hardship and coming out the other side. If all its rosy — you don’t know what you are capable of doing. You don’t know your strength. Don’t let the desire to do “Everything” perfectly keep you from finding and doing your thing.

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