Imagine with me: An artist you know and admire has a big gallery showing. After a successful opening evening, she laments privately to you, “People see my art and they think I’m great, but in reality I make a LOT more half-hearted doodles than I make masterpieces. Some of them are so terrible I just throw them away! My studio is a mess, I constantly forget to clean my brushes or prep my canvas… Last week I was totally late on delivering an order; I’m just a terrible artist! I present only my best to everyone, and it looks as if I’m always nailing it -I might even make it look easy- but it’s not the truth. If people knew the real me, with all my do-overs and mistakes, they wouldn’t be impressed at all. I’m really just a fraud.”
Would you empathetically nod your head and agree? Would you feel disillusioned and think she’s a fake after hearing this? No way! Most likely you would be completely shocked and say, “WHAT!??”
The idea of having such a lowly view of ourselves and backward expectations like the example of this artist seems ridiculous, yet are you doing this to yourself?
Do you give yourself a Pinterest-perfect standard where you aren’t allowed to leave cups on the table and crumbs on the floor (or books layered with crayons and banana peels, depending on your stage of life)? Does your internal voice seem to be saying, “Better Homes and Gardens could pop over any moment for a photoshoot, and girl they are judging you!” I would love to encourage you to have a more authentic standard where you allow yourself to be imperfect, but if you’ve ever cleared off just one corner of the table to take a clean photo of the cute cupcake you made, at least don’t feel guilty about THAT! Go ahead and celebrate what you accomplished, because life is hard enough without stressing about the details you cropped out of the picture.
Was Thomas Edison defined by the fact that he had 999 failed inventions? No, he was praised for his persistence and admired for his success! Baseball players strike out more than they hit home runs. A radio announcer doesn’t always talk in his radio announcer voice (I would hope) in social situations; he needs to be able to relax his voice and and focus more on what he’s saying, not only how he’s saying it. A therapist can’t be expected to practice dedicated therapy with everyone she interacts with, every moment of every day, carefully balancing empathy with impartiality; that would be emotionally exhausting! Remember, Olympic runners still walk from one place to the other way more often than they run. You have to do that, too.
Good parents are still not perfect parents every minute of their lives. It would be fabulous if we could always be an amazing beacon of patience and wisdom and creative memory-making!! The reality is, sometimes you get distracted or irritated and wish you could be doing something else. Children often fall apart after coming home after a long day of barely holding it together, because they are with their family and they feel safe. Sometimes you need to check out and take a break, too, or you’ll burn out and lose your cool. Keep in mind, when you do lose your cool, it doesn’t undo ALL those other moments when you gave it your whole heart. Earlier I used the analogy of a runner; I believe a runner could permanently lose the use of his legs, but he’s still a world record-breaker and Olympic medalist for the rest of his life.
There is hope in being able to create strategies to get to a high performance level more often or more easily, but as humans, we can’t expect to perform all day all the time, then beat ourselves up over an occasional lapse in judgement or performance. Nobody can run at 100% capacity for 100% of the time.
Look at what you’ve created, you should be proud of it! Consider any mediocre efforts as “practice”. We all need practice. Maybe you make doodles and sketches a lot more often than you have masterpiece moments, but that doesn’t mean those moments don’t count.
From bright ideas to dark days, when you have lifted someone else’s burden, or you’ve needed someone else to lift yours, try to accept all those wonderful, complicated parts of yourself. Your impact, like ripples in the water, echoes on and on, first within your circle of influence, then your community, and continues on through time to people unknowable.
Sometimes you may feel like a fraud, the only one hiding your frail humanity, but you’re not alone. You think you’re struggling against the odds to do any good at all, but don’t define yourself by your doodles! Maybe it’s our nature to characterize ourselves by our most undesirable qualities, but if you could take a step back, I wish you could see; You are more than a work in progress, you’re already a masterpiece.