I had a drive to be perfect, especially in English class.
In grad school, I ended up in the psych department, stressed to maximum capacity. They suggested that I might be depressed. After several sessions, it was found that the ‘B’ I was receiving in a class on Shakespeare, my passion and subject of my BA, was the cause. My need for perfection in what I thought I had mastered, was making me slide into darkness. Turns out the ‘B’ was a punishment from the Professor – I apparently knew much more than he did.
I was a mess during the time period of figuring this all out, and I was afraid. The thoughts in my head kept reeling- ” you’re not good enough, not smart enough.” I was on a cycle of self-destruction. My adviser, the wise Dr. Diane Kutzer, finally took me aside. She told me that I was causing myself unnecessary suffering. She sat me down and asked me, ” Why are you so critical of yourself ? It’s obvious you have succeeded in your academic journey, but now you need to focus on your motivation.”
I was lost. I didn’t understand. Luckily, I lived in the Adirondack Mountains. There is a trail on the mountain Pocomoonshine, and I know it very well. After our meeting, I took a drive, and then a hike. At the summit I looked out over the lake and I screamed. Loud, long, guttural – from the pit of my belly. First, because I realized that I had lost the trail and scaled the rock face without the proper gear, and second, because I knew then that I would always strive for perfection. I realized I would need to learn to stop being so perfect, so self-critical if I was going to truly succeed. As I climbed down the trail, I tied to leave the worst doubts up on top, bringing a new determination back to my small apartment on the Saranac River.
We all have moments where we criticize ourselves. Have you ever been preparing a cup of coffee, and you spill the milk? You tend to berate yourself, even inside your head. I can drop a spoon and hear my brain saying “What is wrong with you – Butterfingers?” But I know this is just the negative critic in my head. I can be my worst enemy. I have learned that when I was younger, fear of the negative was what motivated me, and I paid a high price. I learned to stop. To just stay present and focus and breathe. I had to learn how to change myself, not to be so critical, not to self-hate or beat myself up. I would never be perfect (I’m only human after all)and why did it matter anyway?
Instead of punishing myself (which is really what all that stress was about) I have learned to motivate myself with little pats on the back. Praising the little things. I am excited when I see a new comment or follower. I am thrilled when I remember my grocery list, even though it is home on the kitchen counter. I feel better about what I actually accomplish and I am calmer and happier. If you need to shift your own self criticism, you need to stop trying so hard. You are not broken and don’t need fixing. Try a little love.
“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, Have brought me to my ideas.”
– Albert Einstein
I want you dear reader to do something for me. (Now I’m becoming interactive) The next time you notice that you are putting yourself into that box of critical self loathing, stop. Push the pretend pause button in your mind and give yourself a little love. Learn to accept yourself with all your failings. Give yourself a me hug. Come on- you know you want to.
Once you start to love yourself with all your faults, shortcomings and inhibitions,you will feel more at peace. Compassion and self-love will shift your actions and your moods. So what if the house isn’t white glove spotless, or dinner came from the take out place. You are happy, at peace and fulfilled. You wrote your article, painted a masterpiece, or even just got up and got dressed. We don’t have to be perfect to be happy on our journey through this world.
I believe that the happiest people are not necessarily the ones with no carry on bags; they have just learnt to stow it safely in the overhead bins, and to enjoy the ride. The more self-love and self-compassion we generate, the easier it is to feel love. This in turn makes it easier to give love, and enjoy the amazing trip on this planet called life.
I don’t hike anymore (well, it’s hard since a mountain in Florida is simply a speed bump), but I remember the day atop Pocomoonshine. It was a game changer for me, and I hope my experience helps you to have a lighter load. I’m far from perfect, but I am happy, (most of the time) and that has spread to others in my life. So tell your clothing piling, dust bunny hoarder, write, painter, crafty self that it is OK to make a few mistakes. A little self love makes it all worthwhile.