“Be kinder to yourself; You are exactly where you should be,” one of my co-workers replied when I asked for feedback on my latte-making skills. Comparing my 4-month skills to a 3-year partner’s skills is an unfair comparison, especially if I internally berate myself for being slow.
Her words hit deeper than just an encouragement, stirring in my soul and agitating the ugliness in my heart. It’s almost a daily habit of mentally listing off my shortcomings, rattling off unchecked tasks or reminding myself I’m paying for a gym I use twice a month.
I want to start each morning with yoga, a cup of coffee, and a solid hour reading my Bible and journaling. Instead, I wake up in time to get dressed for an early morning shift, drive to Starbucks early so I can chug my free iced triple shot something, and work.
There is a difference between striving to be better and judging yourself for not meeting your expectations. I have definitely been harshly judging myself, adding unneeded pressure to perform and kicking in two of my defense mechanisms: posturing up and running away.
When I feel pushed into a corner and trapped there, I transform into someone else… kind of like the Hulk. It isn’t a physical transformation, but my soul takes on the persona of a bully. With my back against the wall, I straighten up and say, “Oh? You wanna play this game? Watch out.” This is posturing up – posturing yourself to become a different person.
It’s exhausting trying to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting pretending everything is ok when you’re counting down the days until your next paycheck. It’s exhausting telling people half-truths so they don’t see how much you’re internally struggling. It’s exhausting to give 110% of your energy and mental capacity 100% of the time.
For me, posturing up is a means to an end; I posture up to bulldoze myself out of a situation and run away… far, far away from whatever situation or person I deem at fault. When I was little, I tried running away – packed suitcase and all – but when I got to the end of the street I realized I had nowhere to go. After standing at that corner for what felt like a long time, I returned home and tried to sneak in the front door.
Instead of literally running away, I learned to run away from imperfection. My 7-year-old theory was if I could reach perfection then I would be out of reach from criticism. Growing up with an inconsistent standard of success, I thought I had to create a standard so high it would make me untouchable. My ideal is a collage of things seen on tv, pieces of various conversations, and personal goals and desires.
Despite how many times I run this impossible race, I am always surprised at how exhausted I become and how far away I am from those childhood dreams of perfectionism. My soul starts to carry the weight of this burden, allowing me to think maybe this time I’ll do it – reach perfection nirvana. But each day of pretending and striving in an unhealthy manner is another weight added, until I’m sleeping for 10 hours and wondering why I am always tired.
So when my co-worker said, “Be kinder to yourself,” it reverberated in my spirit. The words are still ringing in my ears like an echo in a cavern, knocking loose wrong beliefs that have clung to my heart all these years. It’s a process, and I’m re-learning how to be ok with my process.