I was born into a very loving family. Starting at the earliest age I can remember, I was reminded of how much I was loved. On a regular basis, I heard things like, “You’re so smart,” “You’re so pretty,” “You’re so nice,” “You’re so special,” and “You’re going to be so successful one day.” I rarely needed to be disciplined because I was such an easy kid (you’re welcome, Mom!).
When I was old enough to start school, the praise only continued. If kids weren’t arguing to sit next to me in class, they were fighting to be in my arts and crafts group. I was the first girl picked in gym class. Teachers always gave me special jobs, and I was always selected to be a kindergarten helper. I was in the High Enrichment Program all throughout grade school. I always had special out-of-class assignments to keep me occupied because I was “gifted and talented.” I received all the “good student” awards at the end of the school year.
The purpose of this post is not to toot my own horn.
In fact, it’s the opposite.
What I’d really like to share in this post is my own personal anecdote of how consistent praise can actually have the opposite effect on the person receiving it.
How even when done non-maliciously and with good intentions, being made into “the girl who has it all” can actually instill an immense amount of pressure on that girl to live up to a picture of “perfect” that has been painted of her. A need (not even a desire) to maintain a role of the smartest, prettiest, fittest, nicest, most well-liked, etc…when in probability, none of those things were true in the first place.
After my almost-27 years of life, I’ve learned that there will always be someone smarter, prettier, nicer, more well-liked, etc. But back at 14, 19 or even 24, I couldn’t come to terms with that. I still felt an obligation to be the “best” because I truly felt that that’s what people expected of me. That my worth was defined by how “perfect” I could be in all aspects of my life: school, my social life, my career, my financial situation, my level of intelligence; name it.
Today, I can admit that I’m a perfectionist, but TBH, I’m still not comfortable with the fact that I can’t be perfect. Over the course of my life, I’ve trained myself to constantly strive to be better and better, and to think that anything less than the “best” is just a result of me being lazy, or even worse, failing. I’ve had to drill into my head that I can’t control people or situations; that I can only do the best I can with tools currently at hand. It’s still an internal battle I fight on an almost daily basis.
The inspiration for me sharing this was a recent comment by one of my very closest girlfriends since…well, forever. I was explaining to her some of my struggles over the years, and after I was done ranting, she said to me, “Wow, I never thought you had any hardships at all. Everything always came so easy for you. You always had your $hit together.”
Not only are there are discrepancies between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves, but there are also discrepancies between how we intend for words to come out and how they’re heard. What’s showing on the outside doesn’t necessarily match what’s happening on the inside. Be aware of this, and recognize that you can never be totally sure of how your actions and words may affect others. Be gentle, be kind, and always seek to understand.