I was all of 23 years old when I met a man who fundamentally changed my life by changing the way I thought about things. Basically, he is the man who taught me how to think.
He challenged me. Constantly. He openly expressed his respect and appreciation when it was earned. He expected more from me than I thought I had to offer. He respected my contrary conclusions as long as they were well-supported by logic. He encouraged me to always delve deeper and go a step further in my analysis of an issue.
And remarkably, even in a conservative setting where gender stereotypes tended to live quietly below the surface of political correctness while traditional men continued much of the status quo, this man cheered on opinions from outspoken and excited students regardless of political beliefs, gender identity, or any other irrelevant issues. Almost thirty years ago, when there was an even greater tendency to reward outspoken men but penalize opinionated women, he invited contributions from any and all interested students. He never held back a desire to tackle a topic or a position, no matter who was on the opposing perspective. In so doing, he made it clear that all minds were worthy of recognition, and that none were deserving of false gentility or patronization.
Frankly, I didn’t realize that I was “smart” until I met him.
My mind and intellectual confidence blossomed under his tutelage. I was a terrible “student” who regularly turned in first drafts as final term papers, yet he allowed me to take every class he offered and indulged me when I begged for more as independent studies.
I am forever grateful to the brilliant, dedicated, and generous Professor Michael Krauss.
When I stopped practicing law, my only sadness was that I might be letting him down. I wanted to make him proud. I wanted to reward his investment in me. But instead of acknowledging and addressing how much I cared about his opinion, respect, and friendship, I avoided him. It wasn’t hard – I had since moved far away – but it caused a void in my life that I ignored. Of course, I was excellent at ignoring all sorts of emotional issues for a long time…
However, I am so grateful that I had the chance to see him recently and catch up. I admit that getting his “blessing” for the work that I do now heals a part of my heart I didn’t realize was still raw. The most amazing part? It never occurred to me that this man might actually personally value our relationship like I did. Hearing his regret that we had lost touch stunned me. I’m still rather in shock that I was significant to someone who meant so much to me; how’s that for an utter lack of confidence? How did I fail to appreciate that our connection was valuable to both of us? Why did I believe that my “taking” as the student in our relationship was “less significant” than what he contributed? Why didn’t I realize that my enthusiastic response to his offerings is what allowed him to enjoy doing what he loved: teaching?
It was a totally symbiotic relationship, yet despite my logical skills, my emotional incompetence made me feel parasitic and unworthy of contribution to his life. I’d love to say this was unusual for me, but I’d be lying. To this day, I struggle to accept that others value connection with me as much as I do with them. My first response is to be surprised and overly grateful when someone appreciates who I am, or what I do. This has been a pattern in all of my relationships with family, friends, lovers and colleagues/clients.
(Personal Note: Professor Krauss – I am sorry that I was so caught up in my own insecurities that I walked away and didn’t think you’d notice or care. It was disrespectful to the person you’d shown yourself to be throughout the years and dismissive of your feelings. I regret my loss and yours. We both deserved more. I wish I had been more emotionally aware and confident for both our sakes. However, even now, because you were brave enough to be vulnerable and honest about your truth, I continue to learn from you and am grateful. I am pleased that I added value to your life in the past, and I hope I will have the chance to do so in the future. Thank you for continuing to challenge me and encourage my growth. Not many people love law school, let alone think it was one of the best times of their life – but, because of you, I do. There is no way to truly express my gratitude, but thank you again.)
These days, I preach self acceptance, self confidence, and recognition of worthiness. I speak loudly because I’m trying to force myself to pay attention.
In order to participate in relationships (romantic or otherwise), we need to be cognizant of our “power”- the value we bring to others. We need to appreciate that the other person wants what we offer, or they wouldn’t continue with us. I think the goal is to be humble and appreciative of others while still acknowledging fully our own contributions to a relationship – even when it takes a different form than what others bring.
This has caused me to take a bit of an inventory/analysis of my relationships – if any of this resonates with you, I’d encourage you to do the same.
Here are the questions I’m asking myself routinely these days:
Do you recognize how important you are to each of your relationships- personally, romantically and professionally?
Do you maintain relationships, in any area, that you (even subconsciously) or others feel are unevenly balanced? I.e. that one person gives more than they take or is more “important” than the other (on a regular basis, not simply during times of need).
Wishing you healthy, happy and well balanced relationships –