As someone who has been meticulously conditioned to be “worthy” by “accomplishing” more in the professional fronts, it puts an immense amount of pressure on me to keep achieving things. Sadly, this childhood trait has continued well into adulthood and more than motivating me, it cripples me.
I think as a kid, I was very anxious, but I never realised that it was anxiety. I didn’t know that I was feeling pressured. I was in the race of somehow meeting expectations (often sky high), in order to receive approval and acceptance from my parents and teachers. When I fell into depression in 2019 after I moved out of my first job after college and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, I felt my entire world coming crashing down. If I didn’t work and if I didn’t have a job, then I’m the most worthless person on the planet – I thought. I tortured myself so much to figure out my career and life then that I fell even deeper into the anxiety and depression pit.
I had to get professional help to climb out of that and get going. Years passed and everywhere I worked, I had this silent voice in the back of my head that kept pushing me to achieve.. and then overachieve a bit.. because the voice kept telling me that there are massive expectations from me and that I have to meet them all to be accepted. At this point, it wasn’t my parents or teachers saying these things. I was doing it to myself, unconsciously.
No matter what I achieved, I couldn’t satisfy this voice in my head. I never felt enough, you know? Like nothing could ever make me accept myself.
What it looks like in my head
If I could personify this voice, there would be a number of characters coming out of it!
One of them could be called “Miss Never Enough”. She always has extremely high expectations of me. She doesn’t value the 80% achievement. Unless it is a 95% achievement or above, she won’t be happy with me. She chooses to categorise people based on their accomplishments and she appreciates nothing but “the best”. Whatever ‘the best’ means – only she knows. And these definitions of ‘the best’ keep growing as you keep accomplishing, making it harder for you to achieve every single time. Now if at all you do achieve something, she smiles – momentarily. She is happy for a brief second and then she is quick to point you towards the next achievement you should be working towards. She doesn’t really care about how hard anything is or how you feel. She only cares about the outcome – and only about the best outcome.
Growing up with Miss Never Enough was hard. Continuing to live with her is hard. When you keep striving to achieve her lofty expectations, disappointment and failure are inevitable. Because that is the nature of things!! You can’t do everything greatly at all times!! And then when you feel miserable about your situation, you have two other supporting characters in play. (A couple actually!) – Mr. Motivation Monster and Mrs. All your fault.
Mrs. All your fault tries to fuel your motivation by telling you how inadequate you are. She criticises you and ensures you feel horrible about yourself. She ensures you take your failures personally and feel like an absolute waste on planet earth. Her most powerful tools are blame and shame and she abundantly uses them to dismember your self-worth.
Her husband, the motivation monster comes in to help you then. But he ONLY knows to achieve outcomes through work hard motivation schemas. He is your everyday motivation spitting guru who believes that the only reason you fail is because you haven’t tried enough. So when you face disappointment from Ms. Never Enough, Mrs. All your fault determines that you need to be fixed. You go meet the Motivation monster hoping for some comfort and he just pushes you to somehow solve your problems with HARD WORK. (As if you aren’t already busting your ass).
So you see how this all works don’t you?
Then the funny part is that you actually believe them all. You take Mr. Motivation monster seriously. You pump up yourself with “you can do it”, you beef up that ego and brush up that projected confidence and you take action. And inevitably, at some point, you will hit a roadblock and start beating yourself up because remember? it is your fault.
For long, I was driven to achieve whatever I achieved because of Ms. Never Enough, Mr. Motivation Monster and Mrs. All your fault. The dance to please them all is never-ending. It is the biggest vicious cycle I have fallen prey to in my entire life. And despite all the material success I have had, I feel hollow on the inside. Like I truly do not value myself. That so far, I have my value (self-worth) ONLY to whatever I achieve.
And so… when my professional life is slow, when it isn’t even really that bad, but just going through a trough, I’m quick to assign blame to myself, feel incapable and just beat myself up again and again for NOT BEING ENOUGH.
Breeding ground for anxiety and depression through self-rejection and self-hatred
In my pursuit to do anything in life, I’m constantly feeling bad about myself. I’m not doing it out of love for myself or kindness or compassion. Well sometimes, I do it out of curiosity, but I almost always have this added layer of wanting to ACHIEVE. It isn’t enough for me to enjoy something.. it feels important to achieve on top of liking whatever I do.
When I’m unable to do well in something (say getting rejected from an opportunity or underperforming in an activity), I know that it could be for multiple reasons (other than it being my flaw):
- It’s just a skill and skills can be learned
- I may not really like doing something. It may just not be my natural taste and hence I’m not motivated to work too much towards it.
- External factors may be involved in the decision-making process because of which I didn’t get selected for an opportunity
- I’m probably exhausted mentally/physically and I genuinely couldn’t give it my best effort.
I recognise that not being able to do something doesn’t mean I’m not “good”. But I’ve lived with Mrs. All your fault for so long that she just tries to pin blame on me and make it seem like everything is because I’m fundamentally flawed and inadequate.
Mr. Motivation monster then assumes that everything will be fine if I just worked harder. But the truth is that working harder only works in some situations. Say when I’m mentally weak or exhausted – working hard just makes me more tired, leading to poorer results and the continuation of this negative cycle. Likewise, taking responsibility for not getting selected for an opportunity is just pressuring myself by discounting other factors at play. It is expecting me to manage factors that are not even in my control such as who else applies to a job opportunity.
And then Miss. Never Enough’s constant expectations that I should be right and successful in every situation in life is just exorbitant! How is that even humanly possible?
High expectations --> Anxiety about the outcome --> Desire to control the future to ensure high expectations are met --> Pressuring myself to work hard and somehow attain the desired outcome --> Inability to meet these high expectations --> Rejecting myself --> Feeling bad about myself (self-hatred)
When this cycle repeats enough number of times and I find myself constantly challenged by my professional pursuits and also other life circumstances, I get cornered into a deep dark pit. Where all I see are my flaws and all I hear about is my inability to just make things better. This just pushes me further into anxiety and depression. With constant chest pain on a daily basis, I struggle to keep moving forward in life or find any real hope for myself. Although my conscious self knows that I’m actually in an okay spot, that this is all just a play of the monsters, I cannot help but to give in to them.
Living with the monsters
Understanding these monsters in your head is one thing. But it is entirely another thing to be able to work with them. They aren’t going away that easily and I know it is quite hard for me to live with them in my head. I also know that they mean well, you know? Ultimately, they want me to do well for myself. But their ways just worsen my condition and that makes it hard to live with them.
Fortunately, I’m aware of this cycle now. It pains me to see myself suffer like this, and that is the voice of self-compassion reminding me that enough is enough. It’s time for prison break. However, it isn’t all that easy. These monsters visit me every single day and I fall prey to the vicious conditioning I’ve gone through for years. In fact, I’m not used to being kind to myself or loving myself. It is only recently that I have started seeing my own suffering. That I started acknowledging that I need to be kind to myself.
I now try hard (ironically!) to rest, or take care of myself. But even in that, these devils pop up and make me feel like there is perhaps a right way to take care of myself and I’m not doing it properly. (LOL!)
Transcending the monsters
I think I know that this is a process. Every single day is an attempt to be 1% better than my limiting beliefs and anxiety. It is hard to sit with myself and feel love for myself. There are days when I cry so hard because I finally see my suffering and all I want is to just hug the little girl inside me who is being haunted. Perhaps these are all bright signs that I’m starting to live life a bit differently?
I think these things never really go away because they’re so deeply engrained in us humans unless we attain the pinnacle of enlightenment, of course. But for everyone else who is in the spectrum of awareness – sometimes a bit more aware and compassionate than other times, I think it is a matter of accepting to ourselves that these monsters will hang around and that is okay. That there is no black and white or good and bad or right and wrong. That everything is just grey. There is no right way or right outcome to attain. And most of all, there is no point in killing yourself in the name of “striving for a better life” everyday.
I think I finally have started aspiring to just me human. To embrace all aspects of the human experience – including those that don’t look that pretty (like my monsters). It feels like this is all that makes me who I am.
Embracing myself with all the good and bad and living my truth, is in fact the most authentic way to live. That life needn’t be measured on scales of material success and that these moments of awareness, self-love and self-acceptance are milestones.
There’s greater appreciation now for other aspects of life – including health, mental health, relationships, hobbies and creative exploration. What used to earlier feel like time away from pursuit of “success”, now feels like necessary parts of this life that I must explore to live the full experience.
I’m realising now that I CAN GIVE MYSELF THE PERMISSION TO DO WHATEVER MAKES ME FEEL OKAY. I can give myself the permission to relax, to not hurry and to not get it all right in any particular timeline.
The answer is not that I do not aspire anything anymore or that I do not dream big. But just that I do so with warmth and compassion for myself. That I listen to myself, acknowledge how I feel and work with those feelings rather than against them. Because somewhere these feelings are giving me some hidden message. Perhaps I’m not really interested in pursuing this goal, or perhaps there is a mental block or insecurity which holds me back. And I’ve found that it is helpful to not reject these difficult feelings of shame, guilt, fear or sadness. That if I just show the courage to sit with them and listen to what they have to say, I might get past them. They might disappear and make way for me to do what I really must. But when I fight these, I suffer a lot more.
I hope that with time, I grow more comfortable with these difficult emotions that arise when navigating uncertainties and challenges. I hope that my awareness expands and that I’m able to love myself at most moments if not all. I hope that I grow compassion towards myself so much that these giant monsters today seem like tiny ants. And I hope that I’m able to give myself the permission to fully embrace myself.
With love to you and to myself,
PS: I was inspired to characterise and externalise these thoughts by the blogs at waitbutwhy.com – trust me, the creative process of just taking it all out and putting it in front of you is cathartic.
I think I wrote this blog more for myself than anyone else. It has been written with utmost vulnerability. If you’re reading it, I hope you can appreciate that.