You know that woman who is basically a walking, talking airbrushed fitness ad? As you reflect on the message of strong, independent females throughout your life preaching, “the women in those magazines aren’t real; it’s photoshop and camera angles,” she struts past the pool with flawless muscles flexing in the sun (no stretch-marks, cellulite or jiggle to be found). She is always full of energy and encouragement as she shares her gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, FLAVOR-free recipes with her girlfriends after finishing her seven-mile run and before hitting the gym. You run into her at lunch while you scarf down a burger before rushing back to work, and she kindly invites you to join her for yoga while calmly consuming her perfectly proportioned rabbit food. The worst part of knowing this woman is realizing she has birthed multiple children and is five years older than you are, shooting bullet holes all in your book of excuses for being a mediocre looking woman of a certain age. I am certainly not this Miss Fitness perfection package described. I am admittedly more the person who finally accomplishes a one-mile run after talking about it for three weeks and celebrates by binge eating health food and soaking in self-loathing because I am just so mediocre and disappointing. Though I am not the Miss Fitness perfection package we all know and adore, I know something about her. She has the same “I’m never enough” struggle I do because we are all struggling with feeling mediocre when the reality is we are just normal.
It’s one thing to know that there is no such thing as perfection. It’s another thing to tell your friends or children to accept their mistakes and move on because there’s no such thing as perfection. It’s a whole different ballgame to accept your own flaws and missteps because, “I meant YOU can’t be perfect, not ME.” Our culture focuses so one-dimensionally on achievement that we often forget to appreciate life’s lessons and the journey to self-awareness while we’re watching a post-game-film of our lives criticizing any step that didn’t result in numbers on the “life goals” scoreboard. Education and career are common areas of life where mediocre people like myself feel inadequate.
I was the kind of kid who would punish myself for B’s while my parents stared at me blankly and confused over my emotional response to an above average mark. While we’re on the subject of parents, let’s talk about my problem with authority. When we hear someone has a problem with authority, we assume they don’t like following rules. I have this other problem with authority; I’m a bit of a parent-pleasing teacher’s pet. Whether I was working hard for straight A’s, serving as an honor society officer, focusing on achieving the highest honor among my graduate class or aiming to meet the highest production standards at work, I have always aimed for academic and professional perfection. I am consistently kind, empathetic, helpful and efficient in a professional setting. I get the job done, help others and steer clear of workplace drama. Even so, my first wake-up call about my professional imperfection existed in the form of not one, but two administrators of the facility looking me in the eye with disapproval. One facility administrator who I barely knew stated, “There’s been a complaint about you by a client who claims you triggered her and made her want to kill herself.” I was dumbfounded. Not only did I barely know this administrator, I had not worked with the client described in nearly a year, but when I did work with this person, we had an excellent rapport. I had simply referred this individual to more intensive mental health services due to an increase of symptoms and a request to be seen more frequently than I could offer as an outpatient clinician. The administrator reminded me of a detailed event in the previous week when my previous-client (standing beside the current clinician) greeted me loudly in a crowded lobby in the community. I politely responded with a casual, “oh hey, how are you?” to which she responded, “I’m suicidal.” As over a dozen pairs of eyes glared in our direction in shock at such a candid yet heavy response, I awkwardly said, “Oh man, life…,” lost the words to use, made eye contact with the current clinician and swiftly escaped the searing awkward of the lobby. The not one, but two administrators explained how I had failed to show proper empathy in the situation and continued to explain that they expect more from me as an excellent clinician and employee. Though I knew that the situation described was unique, and my reaction was far from malicious, I left the meeting with not one, but two administrators with the words, “you’re never enough,” ringing almost audibly in my head while I moped in my mediocrity. My career has continued down a path filled with obstacles and learning opportunities, as well as achievements, because being the best professional I can be is not textbook. Sometimes making mistakes shapes us into better versions of ourselves. While I’ve come to understand and accept that I will never reach physical or professional perfection, the area of perfection-striving I struggle with most is my relationships.
My greatest strength in my relationships is synonymous with my greatest flaw (life hack: accept that this is most likely true of you as well). Confession time: I love unbelievably hard. This means if I have ever loved you, I still do. This means if you have ever hurt me, all that is needed of you is an acknowledgment of hurt with regret, and our bond is instantaneously stronger than before. This means if you disappear from my life with no warning then call me asking for a favor two years later, I will grant your request without hesitation. Even with all this grace and love for my people, I still lose friends just as any other mediocre individual does. I still disappoint my children in one way or another every single day. I still know acquaintances who describe me as cold and apathetic. Sometimes living a perfection-driven life as a perfection-driven person in a perfection-driven world, I grow so exhausted with my own mediocrity that I feel like breaking.
One rainy morning, I lied in bed feeling small and mediocre over the stress of my upcoming career change, falling behind on family responsibilities, an argument with a friend and my child’s emotional distress. It was a rare moment where I let my emotions consume my being, and I just froze with tears trailing down my face and feelings of loneliness overwhelming my existence. My care-free little bit of a four-year-old climbed up my bed, kissed my head, rubbed her nose gently on mine and whispered “we will have a happy day.” Through my tears, I responded, “Mommy just doesn’t feel happy right now.” My baby smiled softly and said, “it’s okay Mommy, you’ll get over it.” Friends, she was right; I did get over it. I drug myself out of bed and kept working hard and loving hard. I continued to accomplish goals and face my mistakes with courage and regret, and I continue to grow a little less mediocre in each of my life roles day after day. Even when I feel the weight of my imperfections physically, professionally and relationally, I am enough. Friends, don’t let the voice in your head labeling you a failure grow louder than the voice of your entire being which isn’t a failure at all, rather a survivor of all of life’s chaos and pain. When you fall short of perfection, don’t be afraid to try again or try an entirely new endeavor. Success and “good enough” cannot be measured and kept in a box in your attic. Don’t be afraid to get to know even the least glamorous parts of yourself. Don’t be afraid of the journey to self-awareness. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.