How Your Amazingness Is Getting You in Trouble
Life is a double-edged sword sometimes, isn’t it?
I have been thinking of late about how our good qualities can also get us in trouble. About how too much of a good thing can become unhelpful.
I see it in myself, and others.
Knowing the difference between “good” and “not serving us” is sometimes a fine line that requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness to navigate.
Do you have strengths that can also become weaknesses?
I know I do. For example: I am pretty patient. It came mighty in handy as a teacher. (Ok, ok, an imperfect patience. Even patient teachers have impatient moments.) But I can also be too patient. I can be too bending, too forgiving of people or situations I ought walk away from, too nice to hold a boundary and say, “That’s not ok with me.”
A few thoughts on some of those dangerous fine lines.
Tenacity: perseverance or clinging to a sinking raft?
Tenacity can be an incredible quality for getting shit done. Sometimes you need a bit of bull-headed stubbornness to make things happen, see things through. Tenacity serves goals that are anything but easy. Tenacity holds a vision. Tenacity knows what is important, and won’t back down. It is loyalty to the people who matter.
Tenacity is also holding onto things long past their expiration. It is clinging to the past when we need to let go and move on. Tenacity is stubbornness when it only ends up self-harming. It is martyrdom in the name of good causes, driving ourselves to exhaustion, pain, or a breaking point, when we would be much more useful if we were happy and thriving. It is banging one’s head against the wall over and over, when what we need to do is turn around and find a different door. Tenacity’s other name is insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
The two faces of giving: devotion or desperation?
Some of you will identify as “givers.”
(All of us would like to think of ourselves that way. And all of us are certainly giving at one time or another. Adam Grant’s book Give & Take sheds some fascinating light on the difference between givers, takers, and matchers. Hint: they’re all out there.)
Giving is a beautiful and selfless act. It is kindness, do unto others, devotion, and generosity. It is an overflow of love that doesn’t demand in return. It is pay it forward. It is joy that comes from seeing someone else’s joy. It is an unshakeable part of the goodness of our humanity.
But what about over-giving? Giving can also mean losing oneself. It can mean ignoring one’s own needs. It can mean watering, watering, watering a desert that never blooms, only to find yourself spent and dangerously dehydrated. It can mean a desperate grip on someone/something else to try and fill up what we cannot give ourselves. It can say, “Look how much I can give, how indispensable I can make myself, so you will like me/won’t leave me.”
“The Work” (aka Life): working through/releasing shit vs. holding onto shit
This one is a close cousin of tenacity. The line here is very, very fine. The truth is, we all come into this world with baggage and karma and childhood experiences that need healing and work to be done. I believe it’s kind of the point of life.
Working through that stuff takes an incredible amount of courage. It takes a lot of clarity and self-awareness to even know you have stuff to work on. Then it takes bravery to dig in and muck around in the uncomfortable. Because change often requires a certain level of discomfort. It requires showing up: every week to therapy; or every day/week to journal; or every day on the meditation pillow or yoga mat; or consistently to the tough conversations in our relationships; or to keep searching for those books, videos, podcasts, and resources that will take you where you want to go and help you become a better version of yourself. It takes humility and bravely showing up. Again and again.
But then there is a subtle difference in making the work more tortured than it needs to be, deriving some sort of worth or satisfaction out of how hard we can possibly make it. There is a fine dance between doing the work and prolonging the work. There is also a point where we must decide: I choose to be done with this. I choose to see, process, feel, and release. Sometimes the releasing means we have mountains to move or tears to cry or people to grieve. But there is something on the other side of that. We can cling to making it long and hard (or make it go on forever), or we can internally decide and set the intention to be on the other side.
Patience: a gift or a curse?
Patience, at its best, is a gift that holds space for others’ troubles, imperfections, or growth. It is required around children. It is non-reactive. It is equanimity, it is care that doesn’t waver or ebb and flow with our whims. It is calm. It knows that good things are coming, so it doesn’t have to clench or hustle.
But patience can also be passive. It can mean we think no action is needed, that we just are content to sit back and wait. It is sometimes a nice mask for a contended lack of deserving. It can also be a boundary bender. What is tolerant and giving on the one hand, can very easily slip past the boundary of what is standing in our strength. Suddenly we are just a tiny bit too patient with someone or something that is putting us down, eroding our worth, or making us small. Not that we need to go through life as an ax-wielder, hacking about at anyone and anything that is the tiniest bit flawed. But as something of an expert in this slippery territory, I can say: there is a way to be both patient and know our strength and what we need & deserve. It is a tightrope that can require some practice to walk.
Confidence vs. the ego needing attention:
Confidence is a quiet strength. It radiates. It knows it is deserving and capable. It knows these things fiercely, sometimes in the face of terrible odds or tremendous doubt. But it is not a stiff, towering, impressively immovable oak, but the soft strength of a willow that can bend with the wind.
Confidence is being able to walk into a room and be yourself. It comes with the humility to listen more than it speaks. It knows its own beauty, therefore it can see and celebrate it in others. It is a strength that can sit back and forgo the spotlight, but also stand there comfortably if the occasion calls.
Ego is words, not actions. Ego needs validation. Ego needs you to know how amazing it is. Ego has a roster of impressive stories or statements to trot out when it meets new people. Ego, underneath, needs to prove something. Ego needs to bolster, because underneath ego has vulnerabilities it doesn’t want to look at.
As with most things, there are often at least two sides to the situation, and sometimes myriad grey ones. Dancing in the grey areas is part of life. I am both perfect and imperfect. Complete, and desiring greater fulfillment. Comfortable alone, yet deserving of love. Working on myself, and yet completely and utterly worthy. Each of us has many faces.