All of my life I had a grand vision of who I was supposed to be. Well, maybe not grand, but if I’m completely honest: perfect.
My whole life I believed that if I could just be a little bit better than what I was, I could avoid all the painful situations I found myself in time and again. I mistakenly assumed that everything was my fault. I believed that all the trials, troubles and relational problems I had experienced were brought on myself and if I could just be more perfect, then those things wouldn’t happen. I believed if I were perfect, I could avoid pain.
My quest for perfection made it a very long pathway to peace. But I guess if I could do it all over again I’d probably do it exactly the same way. Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” At some level I think I had to do things my way; there were far too many lessons God had for me to learn that could only come through pain. Lessons that could only come through change.
“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” -Max DePree
This is a truth I have walked out over the last decade of my life. A truth I continue to press toward, one difficult step after another learning that who I thought I was supposed to be – perfect – is an empty goal. It’s not someone I have anything in common with or, quite honestly, even want to know. Imagine my surprise after decades of longing to become her, to find that I don’t even like her.
I’m finding that not only do we have to work and grow and change to become who we want to become, but we have to lose our ideas of who we think we’re supposed to be. Quite honestly, I think that’s the hardest part.
Here are 5 ways I’ve been practicing letting go of who I thought I was supposed to be:
1. Discover who you are
I remember reading a quote once that said, “Not all who wander are lost.” It’s been life changing for me. A girl who was once terribly afraid to be alone, I now relish any opportunity to wander. To travel, explore or sit in the comforting silence of my own soul. There are many ways I have practiced this art: travel, writing, journaling, and prayer. Only when we are comfortable in our own skin and with our own voice can we be of any help to ourselves and others. We want people in our lives who add to our life. The only way to bring value to others and relationships is by knowing and liking who you are first. Once I started to discover who I was, I realized how many things I was holding on to that just weren’t meant for me.
2. Embrace imperfection
For a struggling perfectionist I can tell you this is hard. But you know what? The best things are. It’s amazing that through this community I have learned the power of embracing imperfection and the incredible power of story. For the last two years, when faced with my own imperfection, instead of hiding it and letting it punish me in the silence of my own head, I’ve summoned myself to find the courage to share it. Every single time I have been met with grace, empathy and compassion. Why? Because it’s the human story. Not one of us is perfect and if we think we are we will be reminded again, very soon, that we’re not. I’ll admit, I don’t love my mistakes but I do love what they teach me. Their power to keep me humble, grounded, and exceedingly thankful for a God of mercy and grace.
3. Stop comparing
One of the most difficult tasks we face as women is the lure to compare ourselves with other women. Whether we compare ourselves to women we work with, are in community with, or women we don’t even know – one thing is true: it will try to defeat us. It’s not the other woman who will defeat us, but the voice of our own inner critic, the voice in our head telling us how and where and why we fall short. Every one of us has our own journey to walk through and we have to do it our own way. We have to make the mistakes we need to make to be ready when the time is right. When you compare your journey with someone else’s you will judge and misunderstand her choices, what she is going through, or what she has suffered, and you will hand over your power to be your best you.
4. Understand your struggle
I’m convinced that different people awaken different monsters in us. I’m even more convinced that we have some kind of internal radar for the monster that is most alive in our flesh. For years, I would gravitate toward a certain personality type just begging for punishment. It was a pattern I was familiar with, and something in me subconsciously needed it to feel normal. But when I finally got tired of feeling worn out and tired I decided to do the work I needed to do to figure out why. I needed to understand why I sought out relationships that would hurt me. Why I kept repeating old patterns of relationships believing I could change the outcome. It wasn’t about another person doing me harm, it was about ME doing myself harm because I didn’t know. I didn’t understand. Several years and a thousand tears later, I get it. I understand my story and why I have struggled. Now I know better, so I can do better.
5. Use your struggle to build your strength
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that we need our struggle to find our strength. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without facing rejection, divorce, heartbreak and pain. My husband always quotes a line from Star Trek: “I need my pain!” He is not a Trekkie (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) but it has infused much of his story and mine too. We need to give ourselves permission to feel our pain, and sift through our story, but not to stay there. We cannot change our past but we get to decide how far it will propel us forward to the life we were created to live. Only through the depth of my heartache did I find a passion to run; only through rejection did I learn to love myself; only through failure did I find the will to try again.
No matter who we are, no matter where we grew up, we all were raised with a belief system about who we were and who we should become. Whether that idea came from our parents, our siblings or our childhood friends, we knew who we were supposed to be and whether we were measuring up or not. I challenge you to start changing your mind and where you focus, to find and harness the power you already have, and dare to live free from who you thought you were supposed to be and design the life you want.