Back to de-constructing shame for a bit.
“… that core belief that we are enough comes only when we live inside our story. We either own our stories (even the messy ones), or we stand outside of them – denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness. Perfectionism is exhausting, because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance.”
from Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, pp132-133
Perfectionism and performance. Ouch. The effort to ‘look good’ continued far beyond my adolescent years of hustling for appearance-based acceptance and approval. Long past the drive to ‘look right’ physically, I was caught up in a trap of questioning: ‘What should I be doing? Is this how I should behave?’ Frequently feeling like a failure, but worse than that, an empty failure. Questioning why I was doing this or that and if I really wanted to be doing it. Failing at the doing and at the same time not really having my heart in the doing.
What am I trying to get at here? Is that hollow feeling actually resentment rattling around inside my head, asking ‘Why am I doing this?” And how does this relate to the Brené Brown quote above? The part that resonated for me was ‘owning [my] story’. I want to do that. All of it. I want to feel that I am enough. I want to know, to find out if I can be enough without hustling and performing and meeting the needs and expectations of others, or more accurately, what I believe they expect or need from me.
In some ways, that’s what is at the root of my messy stories: the deeply ingrained habit of ‘reading’ and responding to the emotions of others. Hustling to meet the needs of others, to ‘make’ others happy, has set me up for a lot of misery and manipulation. Feeling used and resentful, but at the same time, blaming myself, knowing that I’m the one making the choices. Each time I do this, (and there is/has been too much of it) it feels as if I’ve again stepped away from my path, my story. My needs and desires and dreams. Or am I? Is this my path? Service? Service with a smile?
A therapist once asked me, astounded, “Are you really only as good as the last good meal you cooked?” Yes. This is still very often the truth. If I write something that feels honest and expressive, that is another good feeling, which gives me a flickering sense of self worth. But meals I have to cook every day. Writing, I don’t have to; because cooking is for other people and writing is for me, the cooking has greater value?.
I’m able to feel pride and self-acceptance in terms of cooking. I have confidence in my ability to make a meal. I find value & self-worth in feeding others. (So frigging retro.) A corollary to the question “Are you only as good as…?” is that if I make a meal that’s imperfect, sub-par or even one that I like, but others don’t, I can serve it. I do serve it. I may feel twinges of shame, but they are survivable because I have a reservoir of feeling worthy as a cook. The shame does not win in those situations. I do not crumble when I fail to reach perfection.
Here’s another quote in Daring Greatly, from an interview Brown did with Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project). She says, (cribbed from Voltaire) “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” What a concept: doing something imperfectly is better than not doing the perfect thing at all. Two examples that hit home for me are “The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of take-out Chinese is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.” Hmm. I obviously have more thinking to do about this…
In closing, here’s a political cartoon from today’s paper. (see 2/15 blog post)