Many of us spend at least half the day judging or second-guessing ourselves. We’re simply never worthy, never enough. We somehow think that berating ourselves by correcting our behavior is the key to happiness…or at least being perfect…and therefore acceptable. Where did we learn this? Mostly from our teachers, coaches, churches, and parents. We came to believe that our value was dependent on performance.
I work as a life coach and spiritual director for professionals and executives who tend to be in the mid-life range. Nearly all of them suffer from performance/value anxiety, a very popular tool when they were kids. They judge themselves and feel as if everyone around them is doing the same. And the judgment is rarely, “Wow, that person is amazing.” Rather it sounds more like, “Wow, that person is such a jerk!”
To whom are they comparing themselves? Usually it’s to some idealized figure who has a place in history. Often it’s due to historical inaccuracies as well. So no, George Washington never cut down a cherry tree and then admitted his guilt with a flourish of honesty. No, Columbus did not discover America. No, most of the wars we’ve ever fought in history have not been to liberate anyone, but to enslave.
So let’s quit idolizing people from the past and celebrities from the present and long-dead relatives who in their best moments were not perfect! Instead let’s put the “self” back in to “confidence.” Start with the fact that each of you is an amazing person with unique talents and gifts no one else has had or will ever have. The way in which you live each day is your choice ultimately. Be proud of your good choices, no matter how small!
Self-confidence grows as we divorce performance from value, what we do from who we are. Have you ever had a day like this? You’re feeling great because you’ve been in a ‘groove’ and skating through your tasks with confidence and ease. Then you discover a mistake, or make an error of judgment, and suddenly that great mood crashes and burns. You adopt a different affect, perhaps one of victimhood, anger, shame, or defeat. At that point you’ve made a huge judgment: you didn’t just DO something wrong, you ARE wrong, you ARE incompetent, you have let down your team, you have disappointed yourself. Your value has been determined by your perception of performance.
Too many of us are motivated more by doing well, by ‘not disappointing,’ rather than by a strong sense of who we are, and a positive self-regard no matter what happens. When we cease linking performance with personal value we will be able to take fuller responsibility for our lives. When we celebrate our infinite value and not let it be dependent on how well we do our job, then there’s no need to fulfill anyone else’s expectations. We can feel whole and complete as we are.
The performance/value game also touches our personal relationships. Have you ever used your partner or spouse as a sounding board for your self-worth: “Did you notice the work I just did around the house?” Or sometimes thoughts betray insecurities: “If he loved me enough he’d have picked up his dirty clothes.” “I wonder if I made a mistake marrying a woman who just doesn’t communicate.” “I sometimes wish I had another set of kids.” Now, some of this is totally normal and doesn’t play into how we value ourselves. But repeated often enough, our judgments say more about us than anyone or anything else. They create an affect that is a dead end in personal relationships, sabotaging communication, positive attitudes, and tearing down our sense of self-worth.
So just for today try praising rather than judging. Try gratitude rather than feeling “not enough.” Try appreciating yourself as a unique soul rather than feeling like a cog in the wheel of life. Let go of performing: you are not a circus animal!
© Copyright Michael Parise 2018