When I was a child, I learned that I had to be perfect to be loved by my mother. I had to do everything perfectly, in the way that she defined perfect.
The big problem with that, is that the bar of perfection was always raised and therefore was never achievable. And of course, “perfect” is subjective. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m a very achievement-oriented person.
I don’t remember much of my childhood, but what I do remember is rapid-fire snippets of criticism and rejection. “You could have done better.” “You need to lose weight.” “You are a horrible person.”
“YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!” was my internalization.
I made it my story.
I didn’t even have to hear it anymore; I had produced my own voice to it. Echoes of “you’re not good enough” followed me throughout my life. Everything I did, everyone I met and everywhere I went, it echoed through my head.
So what did I do? I overachieved professionally. I dove headfirst into a life filled with career in order to avoid the pain of constant failure. In order to define me, I wanted to achieve. If I could somehow do enough or be enough, then my internal critic would stop.
But I followed me everywhere I went, and my very loud pain-in-the-butt inner critic did too. No matter how high I strived, it was never enough, and always left me feeling like a failure.
I internalized the lessons of my childhood. What I didn’t understand at the time, is that it’s nearly impossible to be loved by someone who doesn’t love themselves. But my child brain translated this as an opportunity to do better, and by trying to improve, I might get that love that I wanted.
Not that I achieved perfection, but that was my lofty goal. When I’d receive accolades, I would be outwardly thankful, but inside was calculating what I could have done better and what I would aspire to the next time.
My quest for perfection was exhausting, and kept me from enjoying so many wonderful things in my life. It also kept me from taking a lot of chances and risks, because if I didn’t think I could achieve perfection, or at least do really well, then I wouldn’t do it.
I saw a presentation by Don Miller and he introduced this graphic along with the suggestion, “What if we are not the identities we project? What happens when we operate out of our false selves?…We are not our failures; we are also not our successes… Sometimes fear is expressed as being careful.”
He then posed three questions:
- Who are we?
- What do we want to do?
- What’s the first step?
We have the power to write our own story. “What if our life is a memoir about to be written?”
It’s empowering to consider where I want my life to go from here, and it’s really scary as well. My goal in the coming weeks is to consider the questions posed by Don and to engage techniques discussed by another presenter at the World Domination Summit to write my own story; I’m not seeking perfection, though, but “good enough.” As Don said, “no masterpiece is perfect.”
I aspire to be delightfully imperfect.