Confession: I am one of those people who likes to be good at everything she does. Not only everything she does, but everything she tries. This is a bit unrealistic, seeing as people are rarely good at something they’ve only just tried. It is the perfectionist in me. The performer.
Since I was a young girl, I have set high standards for just about anything I put time and attention to. In most ways, this has benefited me. It is the reason I was student body president in high school. It is the reason I married an incredible man. It is the reason I have my dream job. Yet, the line between “high” and “impossible” can become gray. Right before my eyes, my identity can become wrapped up in what I bring to the table.
In a desire to perform well and get desired results, this person, me, can get lost. All of a sudden, who I am rises and falls on my successes and failures. When does setting high standards actually become expecting perfection? How do we go about seeing ourselves apart from our results? And at what point should we stop allowing performance to define who we are?
Now. The answer is now. It’s time for performance and identity to break up.
You see, you are not what you do. What you do matters, but it does not sum you up. If our lives center around simply our performance, then we will never stop striving. I don’t know about you, but I want my life to be defined by being, not striving. The opposite sounds exhausting.
I don’t know about you, but I want my life to be defined by being, not striving. The opposite sounds exhausting.
I met for lunch with a good friend one afternoon, and she informed me of her failed relationship. She poured over every detail of the breakup, obsessing over what she could have done wrong. Endlessly, I heard these words: “I just did not do ______ enough.” There, I saw the problem. Her security and identity had become directly tied to how well she handled the relationship. She no longer saw herself as a beautiful, smart and kind individual who cared about the world. She saw herself in her perceived failure. The relationship did not turn out as planned, and she had trouble accepting herself because of it.
The rest of the lunch consisted of me trying to persuade her of her worth apart from the guy, the breakup, and the mess. It broke my heart, but in this conversation, I also saw myself. I realized how many times I had minimized my value to simply a moment of good or bad performance. I learned that I can care about my work, while also caring for myself. Results can add value without defining me, and failures are just lessons — not who I am.
As 2017 carries on, we need to sharpen our awareness of how we associate our identity with our work. When we do this, our lives become more about who we are than what job we have. We can step out of an office after a performance review, confidence and self-love intact, even if we heard things that hurt. Because words like, “Improve this” are different than “You are this.” Ultimately, we are human beings who care about ourselves; we deserve to. The workplace, relationships, and our surroundings can often change like shifting sand. This can make us white-knuckled with fear, or it can remind us that the one thing that does not have to change is how we love ourselves. May we do our very best and let that be enough. May we see ourselves as enough. Let’s balance saying things like, “You did well” with, “You are good.” Let’s take on each success and failure as turns, not finish lines.
Because words like, ‘Improve this’ are different than ‘You are this.’
This year holds unending opportunities. Perhaps you will land that job you’ve been dreaming of. Maybe a friendship is at a crossroads and you feel it ending. Or, maybe you are just really tired from trying so hard. Wherever you land, I encourage you to set yourself free. Not off the hook from caring, but free from being perfect. Free from caring about your performance more than you care about yourself. Don’t get so lost in what you do or what is ahead that you lose who you are in the process. Because when all’s said and done, you drive home from work and lay your head on your pillow, self-doubt only has a voice if you give it one.
I am learning this every day. I look myself in the mirror and choose to not be defined by results, but to embrace the beauty of the process. This has unlocked unmatched security, peace, and self-acceptance in my life.
Performing well is a worthy cause. But doing our best is enough. And you are a worthy cause, too.