Who You Are, Not What You’ve Done

change, self-reflection

Truth Byte #65

“You are more important than your accomplishments.”

I grew up in an immigrant household where only one parent went to university, and that parent was only around until fifth grade. My under-educated, single-parent, working-class mom knew that the best way to secure our future was to push us to do well in school.

So I did.

I did really well.

Ph.D. well.

And because of that, so much of my early sense of worthiness came from my academic success. Preparing that neatly written report or getting the 100% (plus bonus marks!!) on the math test or knowing the teachers adored me was what gave me a sense of identity, a feeling of value.

But secretly, I envied my brother. He hardly had to work at school at all, and would breeze in with a B+ after barely opening his books. Sure, it wasn’t my A+, but he just seemed to have so much more fun than me, and it seemed to come so effortlessly to him. He was involved in sports, he had loads of friends, and people simply wanted to be around him. The teachers didn’t like him, but all the kids did, and he always came up with the best games. I wished I had his hand-eye coordination and his juice-through-the-nose-I’m-laughing-so-hard sense of humour.

But I didn’t.

All I had was school. And being nice. And striving for perfection.

Last summer, I had a rude awakening. No matter how good I was, how much I tried, or how perfect the outcomes of my efforts, relationships were crumbling around me. My old friends’ husbands were having affairs or falling into addictions. People I kinda knew were dying or getting terminally ill. I was getting left out of parties and events and even family gatherings.

I had to take a breath, take stock, and figure out what the hell was happening.

And it finally occurred to me: I had changed. I had changed, and I had changed profoundly. After eight years of being a mother, I no longer tried to impress the “teachers” in my life. Because I realized that most of the people I looked up to and sought advice from actually didn’t know shit about my life. They only knew about the type of life they wanted for me.

That was a terrifying moment.

Imagine what it feels like when you have spent a lifetime building a safe and secure home where you feel in charge and protected, and in one short season, it completely evaporates. Poof. I was left alone to start again.

And this time, I couldn’t hide behind my accomplishments.

Because for almost a decade, I hadn’t achieved a single thing I could brag about besides becoming a mom. Sure, I was making money as a psychotherapist, but I wasn’t the BEST in the field, and I hadn’t launched my own healing space collaborative yet. Sure, I had a little book of poetry, but no one was buying. Sure, people were asking me to speak, but I hardly ever got paid for it.

I was just average in my career.

And that was enough for me.

And it felt very strange to acknowledge it to myself.

Because all my life, until I had babies, the goal was excellence. And now, average was strangely fulfilling. My kids were not geniuses, my husband was just a regular guy, and my friends worried about the same silly things that I did (does anyone really notice the dust on those baseboards anyway?) I began to see how loosening the reigns on perfection actually gave me a little bit more breathing room. I was laughing more and enjoying being in my body, both at the gym and on the beach. I was being more spontaneous and relaxed, and if the kids missed a bath or had bananas and toast for dinner, no biggie.

And the best part was I started being real with a handful of incredible women who love me exactly as I am today. Yes, it was a summer of many lost relationships, some of which I am still grieving. But the people who have come to replace them are fresher air than I have ever breathed.

They are full of warmth and hope and laughter and just good-old-fashioned-wholesome fun.

They don’t need me to be excellent, or even great, because my good-enough is what they look forward to. I don’t know if we would’ve been friends as kids. They would have probably scared the pants off me, and would have distracted me from the road of this incredible education that I am so grateful for.

But I thank God today that I found them, and they see beyond what I have done to who I am.

So what’s it like for you? Do you still wait for the “Well done!”, or can you feel good even when you haven’t been productive and sparkly? If you are anything like me, sifting through your friends is a great first step. Keep the ones who don’t always need to look up to you or bask in the glow the your accomplishments for starters.

And if you look around at your friends and find you are envious of them, that they have way more than you and you are always feeling small, that’s another sign that it’s time to let them go and start hunting for your tribe: those that will love you for who you are, not what you’ve done.

After all, it’s your life, and only you can live it.