This time of year can be full of highs and lows. The season itself is hectic, let alone all the end-of-semester/quarter/year work you need to manage. Some of you are hearing from business schools with decisions that impact your future, while others are still grinding on those essays or exams for January application deadlines. There’s anxiety, stress, hope, elation, disappointment, and relief – sometimes all before lunch. It’s exhausting to me just thinking about it, let alone being you.
It’s interesting, though, when you break it all down, to consider what’s fueling the ride. Obligations, for sure, especially around work…but also, expectations. Uncertainty. Self-doubt. Fear of failure. What if I don’t get it done? What if it isn’t perfect? What does that say about me? And of course – even if you won’t consciously admit it – what will people think?
We all have an idea of who we are, especially as far as the way that other people see us. Most of the time, that identity involves consistently being able to deliver on the things that we are good at doing, and being. Whether it’s about work deliverables, semester grades, professional opportunities, perfect holiday moments, or your role in a relationship, we don’t usually feel comfortable coming up short. At a certain point, of course, it stops being about the end result and ends up being more about our need to reiterate our own strengths to ourselves, and our hope of seeing that confirmed in others’ perceptions of us.
Although this mindset can be stressful, and make it really hard to process when we miss the bar and aren’t able to deliver, it can also be really safe. You’ve heard me talk about this before, but when we know what we’re good at, we look for opportunities to play to our strengths and avoid situations that require us to delve into our weaknesses. We tell ourselves that failure in those latter cases was to be expected. We suppress disappointment and go back to our comfort zones, where failure is much less likely.
But my point – today, at least – isn’t about getting you to play it less safe with the actions you take, but more about taking a look at what’s underlying the ups and downs you may be feeling this week, or this season. Are you judging yourself more harshly than you would a good friend or someone you love? If they “failed” to be perfect with something they gave you, or how they showed up for you, or even in achieving a long-held dream they had for themselves, would you care about them less? I’m assuming not, but answer for yourself…no judgment here, just insight.
When you live life to the fullest and push yourself to grow through discomfort, you are going to fail at some point. If you don’t, you didn’t stretch far enough. If you’re lucky, life will give you the chance to try again, or at least to stretch again, even if not in the same direction. If you trip up along the way, catch your breath. Recognize that, yes, you survived it. You aren’t perfect, and that didn’t kill you. In fact, it might actually be the best thing for you.
“Perfection is shallow, unreal, and fatally uninteresting.” – Anne Lamott
“Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
Photo credit: Mihail Ribkin