I have always wanted to be a good girl. It started before I can remember, and it’s still going on today, as I edge ever closer to 40. As a child I wanted to please my parents, my brothers and my friends. At school I wanted to make my teachers happy, and I figured out quickly that the way to do that was by getting good grades and doing as I was told. At dance class it wasn’t enough to enjoy the music and dance for the fun of it – I learned that I could earn approval by auditioning for a competitive dance company, and then winning awards and becoming a dance teacher assistant and choreographer. If something was good, it could always be better. More was better. More was great.
More was never enough.
There were shadow sides to all the good things I tried to do. As I tried to please my parents, brothers and friends, inevitably I’d alienate someone I was trying to get closer to. In trying to get good grades, I’d be labeled the “brain” and the “brown-noser.” At my dance studio I made the advanced dance company only to be labelled a “show off,” never quite fitting in. It seemed as hard as I tried, I could never be it all.
I never felt good enough at any one thing. I wasn’t the star on the soccer team, so I quit. I didn’t think I could learn the classical pieces my piano teacher assigned me so I slacked off until my mom found me a new teacher, ultimately quitting that teacher as well. The stories go on and on.
If I thought trying to be a good girl when I was literally a child was difficult, I sure had a surprise in store for me as I got older. Things didn’t get easier and fall magically into place simply because I was a straight A student who had followed everyone’s rules and cleared my dinner plate as I was told. In college, I still tried to be a good girl, but this time I was trying to impress my peers. I tried to be the spirited 10:00 a.m. tailgater, the study group leader, the ideal sorority sister, and a hot chick for the boy that might someday want me as his wife.
All that striving and living for perfection, the reaching for more and trying so hard to be better – to be great – to be everything for everybody …. I’d love to say it worked. I’d love to say it brought me happiness, or at the very least brought people around me happiness. But again, I found myself lonely and exhausted and disillusioned. If I was doing everything right, why wasn’t I happy? When would I be good enough for my teachers, my parents, my friends, myself?
The ways in which I tried to excel throughout my life are mind-boggling. I’ve tried to be good at everything I’ve ever done, big and small. I’ve strived to be good at friendships, romantic relationships, school, work, play, hobbies, parenting, exercise, diet, volunteering, following a budget, applying eyeliner, making delicious dinners, keeping my car clean, color-coding my office, scrubbing the bathroom sink, keeping up with fashion trends, following pop culture, understanding politics, attending church, striving for mindfulness, planning for retirement, ensuring I have health insurance and “not sweating the small stuff.” I’ve tried, and tried, and tried. I’ve stressed and worried and planned and I’ve also gone through periods where I’ve given up completely, too discouraged by my failures to want to try any longer. Then I’ve dusted myself off and pulled myself up from my ballet-flat-straps and tried again.
I’ve always wanted to be a good girl.
But I’ve never really felt good enough.
I don’t think I’m alone. I see my closest friends and the biggest Hollywood superstars struggle with the same things. We’re taught that if we get a spouse, a kid or two, maybe a dog, a house and a stable job, we should be happy. In reality, those things are never enough. There’s always a bigger house or a better-paying job to aspire to. There are always skinny jeans that we save in the back of our closets for the day we weigh what we think is acceptable.
Have you ever felt this way? Maybe it wasn’t about being a good girl for you. Maybe you wanted to be a cool guy, or a prima ballerina. Maybe you wanted to be a millionaire or a Top Chef. Maybe you think we should always try harder, do better, go faster, earn more money and lose more weight. After all, they say that you can never be too rich or too thin, right? But does all that getting ever make you feel truly good?
If we are always striving to be flawless, we are never content with being who we are. It’s time to stop berating ourselves for not being perfect and start allowing ourselves to be good enough. It’s time to accept ourselves, warts and all, and give ourselves the freedom to live our lives without the shackles of self-doubt, anxiety and fear. It’s time to show ourselves the compassion we deserve.
There’s an important and unfortunate side effect of striving for perfection which I need to address. In my quest to be a good person, I’ve naturally looked at my environment for clues as to how I’m doing. I’ve turned into quite a judgmental person, weighing what others around me are doing just so I can see how I measure up. I’ve told myself I’m not as bad as people that do any number of inconsequential things, and I’ve said (many times, I’m afraid), “Well, at least I’m not like that person. At least I didn’t do that thing.”
What makes me any better than any other person on this planet? Truthfully, not a single thing. We are each here for a reason, and we each have unique qualities, opinions, talents and interests that no one else can replicate. I am no better than any other person … and no other person is better than me.
What would happen if I stopped judging and comparing? According to Buddhist thoughts, when we show compassion for ourselves, compassion for others will naturally flow. I’d like to see if that’s true. On my quest to show myself acceptance, I am also attempting to show it to those around me.
This blog is my exploration of self-acceptance and an experiment of sorts, in which I’d like to see what happens when I extend compassion and grace to the people around me. I am accepting myself and everyone around me as good enough. My family, kids, friends, community and – yes, even my husband – all deserve to be accepted for who they are. I don’t know how easy it will be to give those around me permission to be good enough, but I want to find out.
Are we being good enough to each other? Are we being good enough to ourselves?
Maybe not. But we can be.