As we all know, some days are better than others. Some days flow smoothly, with everything going according to plan, and leaving us feeling competent and content. Other days are much more trying, hitting us with one unexpected problem after another, each one more urgent and dire than the one before. We scramble to keep up, to fix everything as quickly as we can, but it feels as if we are trying to bail out a leaking, sinking canoe with nothing more than a thimble. And just when we think we’ve pulled it off, just when we think we’ve solved all the problems and fixed all the issues, someone is kind enough to point out the one thing we missed, or the one thing we did wrong. I don’t know about you, but when that happens to me, I don’t handle it well.
My initial reaction is rarely to thank them for pointing out what I missed, or where I messed up. I’m too busy feeling hurt, angry and defensive. Don’t they know that I was doing my best? Don’t they know how hard I was trying to do all that was asked of me, and to make everybody happy? Why can’t they just say, “Thanks for all you did,” and leave it at that? Because, darn it all, I really was trying! And so I rage for a while, thinking of sharp retorts, perhaps venting to a friend or relative, or even (when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable), having a good cry.
Later, when I’ve calmed down, I often wonder why I let myself get so upset by a bit of criticism, especially when I know that it wasn’t intended to be hurtful. It’s taken more than half of my life, but I think I’ve finally figured out the answer. I don’t get upset because I think I’m a perfect person who never makes mistakes. I’m well aware of my lousy memory, how often I make mistakes, and all my other shortcomings. The reason I get so upset is because I was trying so very hard to please other people, and one of them took the trouble to let me know that I failed.
Which means the real problem isn’t that I make mistakes, or that I can’t fix everything all the time, or that I don’t always reach my goals. The real problem is that I am putting too much value on what other people think of me and my efforts. In other words, I’m not focusing on fixing the problems; I’m focusing on pleasing the people who are telling me about the problems instead. And all too often, that attitude just sets me up for failure. Seeking validation from others almost always does.
Slowly, very slowly, I’m learning to judge my accomplishments according to my own values, and to stop seeking the constant approval of other people. Of course it’s nice when someone takes the time to tell me that I’ve done a good job, or to let me know they appreciated my efforts, even when the result was less than what we had hoped for. But that has got to stop being the measuring stick I use when I determine my own self-worth.
When I know that I have done my best, in any given situation, I need to let that be good enough and be satisfied with my efforts, even when someone else thinks I should have done better. I am never going to live up to everyone else’s standards, all the time, any more than they are always going to live up to mine. And in the end, it’s what I think of myself that matters the most.