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It’s always been easier for me to be harsh on myself rather than being gentle. There have been several occasions when close friends told me that I should treat myself with the same kindness that I show them. And, while I understand what they mean in theory, it seems to stop making sense the moment I try to put it into practice.
What comes naturally to me is being hard on myself. Every time I fall short of my own expectations, I become mean to myself.
But life, far too often, is hard enough. And, instead of punishing myself just for being human, I’d rather treat myself in a way that uplifts me and makes me feel stronger. I want to experience the same gentleness that loved ones receive when they come to me seeking comfort, to hear the same things that they would hear from me when they seek empathy and understanding.
Here’s how I’ve been learning to translate that kindness toward others into kindness toward myself.
Sometimes, ‘Good Enough’ is Good Enough
I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. I tend to think that nothing I do is good enough unless I work myself to the bone and it meets my highest standards. Otherwise, I’d see it as a failure.
Entertaining thoughts like this rarely serves me. I would stay up and work until the wee hours of the morning, even during the weekends, just to feel any satisfaction about my output. I would justify this by thinking that my clients deserve no less than the best, and the tiniest error could somehow destroy them. I would painstakingly double check and triple check every last detail of my deliverables until I was absolutely sure they were perfect.
Of course, the reality would be that no one would even notice any of the hard work I put in. I was literally the only person who would.
As a result, I have had superiors ask me to take it down a notch because I was wasting resources. I have felt demoralized for working harder than I was being compensated for. I have even gotten sick because I would be so consumed by work that I’d forget to take care of my well-being.
I wouldn’t want to see any of my friends working so hard that they get sick. Why should it be okay if it happens to me? If a friend was being hard on themselves for not achieving perfection, I would tell them that just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it’s a failure.
Now, I’m making it a habit to tell myself the same thing. It isn’t fair for anyone to be subjected to all-or-nothing standards, myself included. Every ounce of effort I put into anything counts, and I deserve to give myself credit for that.
If It’s Actually a Failure, Then So What?
Everyone fails sooner or later. We all make mistakes. It can’t be avoided.
And yet, I have always been terrified of failure. Somewhere along the line, I learned to equate my self-worth with my accomplishments. And so, the second that I found myself not being good at something that I cared about, I quickly hit rock bottom.
During my very brief stint in advertising, I quickly discovered that I wasn’t good at copywriting. Never mind that a) no one taught me how to write copy, and b) copywriting isn’t equivalent to all kinds of writing — it made me believe that I must not have been a good writer in the first place. This was even though I had a degree in creative writing and was a published writer.
Six years later, when I was in a much less stressful environment, I had several chances to prove to myself that I could, in fact, write copy.
But before then, I did fail. There were many factors at play in that situation, but it certainly didn’t help that I had the attitude that I did toward failure. My circumstances were already unkind, and instead of showing myself the kindness of allowing this failure, I beat myself up for it.
Someone told me recently that failure is just an attempt that didn’t go as planned, and that it only brings us closer to our goal. It might even be just an inevitable step along the way. And that’s exactly what many of my past failures have turned out to be.
I’m still working on unlearning this bad habit, but these days, I’m trying to be more okay with failing. After all, I would be so quick to tell a friend that they did the best they could with the resources that they had, or that it was only a mistake and everyone makes them. I should be able to tell myself the exact same things.
Strengthen, Not Destroy
It’s just as exhausting to be mean to yourself as it is to be on the receiving end of your own meanness. It takes energy to be mean, just as it does to be kind, except that kindness renews that energy while being mean just fuels negativity, sucking out energy instead. It destroys rather than strengthens.
Viewing something that doesn’t seem to be “good enough” as a failure does nothing but invalidate my efforts and make me feel bad for even trying. Instead, I’m choosing to recognize those efforts and celebrate them so that I’ll feel encouraged to try some more.
And, when I try some more and end up stumbling and falling, instead of kicking myself while I’m on the ground, I’m choosing to pick myself up, dust myself off, and carry myself the rest of the way.
Life can be harsh enough without us being hard on ourselves. Rather than further destroying our spirit when we fall short of our expectations, we have to choose kindness and make it stronger instead.