Authenticity is the name of the game this week in the Gifts of Imperfection course. And I had lots of time to reflect on the drive home from DC today. I kept coming back to a time when much of my sense of value hung on the achievement and praise of others, and not just on who I was as a person with my own mix of gifts and talents.
The words would run on a loop in my mind … ‘great job,’ ‘smart,’ ‘talented.’ Compliments and praise for a job well done would have me feeling great, and the soundtrack of good opinions and success would replay again and again. And it didn’t serve me well.
Great to celebrate and feel good in the moment, but holding onto it and then measuring your success and worth by when it happens again is a pretty precarious place to spend your days. If we find our worth in praise and achievement, we can fall into a pattern where we are only as good as the last (or next) success or recognition of a job well done.
The same is true in reverse – and maybe more so. If achievement and praise was translating into value and worth, then anything negative gets in the way of that achievement and praise and threatens our sense of value. Like the positive soundtrack, this one can also run on a loop – playing back negative comments and affecting our sense of self and growing a fear of failure.
Well, some years ago, I remember reading something from the Four Agreements about not taking anything personally. We all know that’s best, but it can be hard to live out. One line from the book resonated and stayed with me over the years. Paraphrasing, it basically said that we should hold others opinions of us lightly in our hand … observe them, learn from them, then RELEASE them. Let go of the good opinions just as much as the bad ones so that you are not their prisoner. We need to travel lightly through life and need not carry this baggage with us.
And that visual has really stayed with me over the years. Now when people share their opinions and observations with me I try to see them in the palm of my hand – and try to let them go. No matter how tempting it is to close my fist around them and hold on. Over the years this becomes more natural, even automatic. But now and then, if we are feeling more vulnerable, we may find ourselves holding on again. And you have to know that if you are being authentically you, and doing your very best, that this is enough regardless of other people’s opinions.
And its not a lesson we learn once and are done with. To live authentically each day, we have to be willing to show up as our very best version of ourselves, imperfect though it may be, and turn off the soundtrack.