“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.” ~ Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
I was sitting in therapy today, talking about all the things I needed to fix within myself, when my counselor said it.
“I’d just like to reflect something back to you, okay?” she said.
“Sure,” I said.
“I want you to consider that your real work in therapy might just be that you don’t need to work so hard. That you’re already where you need to be, and you don’t need to be so tough on yourself, or constantly strive to improve yourself.”
I sat for a moment, trying to absorb her words.
Part of me—the deeper, wiser part—recognized the truth in her words. But the rest of me balked. What would life even be like if I stopped trying to fix myself? If I could trust that I’m enough in this moment? The concept is quite foreign to me.
I’m a perfectionist, but one of the traits of perfectionists is that sometimes, we don’t even know that our perfectionism is getting in our way. We buy into the voice that tells us to keep pushing harder and harder, whether we’re racing to make more money, be more enlightened, or improve our physical surroundings.
January seems to be a particularly intense time for those of us with perfectionism issues. With the changing of the year, we are finally going to get it all right! This is our time! For resolutions, for shifting, for morphing into the best possible version of ourselves.
Of course, in doing so, we usually set ourselves up for failure, and we’re too hard on ourselves when we can’t meet our unreasonably high expectations.
Because here’s the thing that’s the hardest to accept, the thing my therapist was trying to tell me today: We are already good enough.
We are already hard enough workers.
We’re good enough parents, partners, workers, and friends.
Are there areas of our lives where we’re struggling?
Are we speckled with flaws? Of course we are. Welcome to the human condition.
But can it also be possible that, even in our chronic imperfection, we’re also good enough?
What if this were the last day of our lives? It’s outrageously uncomfortable for me to admit that if I were to die today, my life would be have to be, by definition, complete. Even though I haven’t written all the books I wanted to write. Even though I haven’t been as patient with my kids as I aspire to be. Or been as mindful as I wanted to be, or figured out how to get myself even partway into crow pose, or mastered my relationship with cheese, or figured out how to not create a cloud of clutter everywhere I roam.
Even though I haven’t checked all those accomplishments off my to-do list, if my life were to be over right now, I would’ve still, somehow, done enough.
We are all living imperfect, yet complete, lives. It’s agitating to realize that there’s no finish line. Or maybe there are thousands of little finish lines, and we’re crossing the sh*t out of them all the time.
Either way, we are whole—without any adjustments—right in this moment.
It feels awkward as hell, but I’m trying to sit in the sunlight of my therapist’s words: maybe your real work right now is to realize that you work hard enough.
I’m not saying we should give up our goals. Our ambition. Our dreams. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive and tweak and improve. I’m just saying that I realize I need to learn how to acknowledge that I’m already complete. I need to give up the addiction of believing I’m broken. Half-formed. In need of constant, chronic repair.
I’m saying this because I need to hear it, and maybe you do too: we work hard enough. We’re trustworthy. We are complete. We are, already, where we need to be.
An Affirmation for the Hardest Days.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Disney ABC/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton
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