I just began a six week class, offered by Brené Brown and Oprah, on worthiness and vulnerability. It’s based on Brené’s bestselling book, The Gifts of Imperfection and it’s amazing.
I love it when that happens — when the perfect support you need comes right when you need it. Or the right teacher arrives when you are ready to learn. It’s more proof that the universe is always conspiring to help us be our best selves, even when we are not sure what that is.
Brené talks about the shame gremlins that we all have — those voices that try to keep you small. Their two main tactics are “you’re not good enough” and also “who do you think you are?”. Boy, have I heard those both in my head over the years. I’m sure we all have, and her research bears this out.
The cool thing is that we can develop a practice of behaviors that help us embrace our imperfections, combat the shame gremlins and live wholehearted lives. Who wouldn’t want that, right? I sure do.
A big part of living a wholehearted life is treating yourself and others with compassion. To truly embrace the idea that you are worthy of love and belonging no matter what. To believe the phrase, “I am imperfect and I am enough.”
Powerful stuff. Life changing stuff.
I’ve struggled with perfectionism my whole life. I was raised with so many messages that I was NOT good enough — I never did the right thing, or made the right choice, or acted the right way. While I didn’t believe inside that I was a loser, I did believe that I screwed up a lot and that if I only tried a little harder… then I would get it right.
So that set up a lifetime of striving. Working hard. Setting very high standards for myself. And meeting those standards through sheer effort and perseverance. And it paid off. I started getting it right — in college, and graduate school, and my jobs.
Those accomplishments did a lot to heal my inner child but they also set me up to believe that I had to keep striving to be enough. That I couldn’t slip up or back off for fear that I would lose the love and respect I had gained. This wasn’t even conscious — it was just how I moved in the world.
And it was exhausting.
I wish I could tell you that I had some epiphany that changed all that. That I came to some awareness on my own. But no. What ended the cycle was having my daughter at the age of 40. All of a sudden, I had very different priorities and I couldn’t take care of her and continue to be everything to everyone else at the same time.
I had to scale back my ambitions at work. And cut down on the many entertaining events I used to host. I had to pull my energy back to the core of my family.
And it was terrifying.
I remember losing sleep — not because I had a small child (although that happened too) but because I was anxious that people would stop liking or loving me if I didn’t keep delivering the way that I had. But there was nothing to do about it — I didn’t have any more energy to give so I gave less.
And I sat there in the vulnerability of it, waiting for the fallout to come. But you know what? It never did. Surprisingly, people didn’t pull back or judge me for doing less. In fact, they seemed more at ease with this new, imperfect Britt.
It turns out that us perfectionists stress out all the people around us from our co-workers to our loved ones. When we finally chill out, they can too. Who knew?
I learned a valuable lesson back then and it has helped me live a much more balanced and happier life these past 6 years. And now this class with Brené is helping me take it to the next level. To actually own my imperfections and my shame spirals and to truly and deeply love myself.
I am imperfect and I am enough.
You are too.