Recently, as a small part of my big effort to grow my life, dream it big, to ask for what I want and see what happens, I signed up for a newsletter from Everyday Bright. Jennifer Gresham is a career change counselor extraordinaire, utterly generous with her advice. As part of a subscription to her newsletter, readers get “The Everyday Courage Email Challenge Series – 8 challenges over 8 weeks to boost your confidence and success.” This week’s challenge was to ask for help. Last night, a friend of mine did just that, posted a status update on Facebook that said “Tell me something happy, please.” I do this all the time with my husband as well, asking him to “tell me something good.”
Asking for help, for cheering up or encouragement, probably seems easy to some of you, no challenge there. As a people pleaser, perfectionist, self-hater in recovery, it is difficult for me. I am quick to offer help. In fact, I love nothing more than being able to help. This is what gives my life meaning, it’s what makes it matter, what makes me matter—and that’s exactly where it can go dangerously off course, spin out of control. If I am good enough, I will earn the right to happiness, I will earn love. I think I have to be good enough first, fix what is broken about myself, rather than believing that I am loveable, I am enough, I am good—just as I am.
I am too attached to being liked, needing to please and take care of others before I do the same for myself, putting myself last and sometimes not even getting around to me. I also think I need to be perfect, because that’s a good way to be liked and cared for and appreciated. I watch people very closely, feel what they are feeling (actually, as someone who is intuitive and feeling, an INFJ, I can’t help this, couldn’t stop even if I wanted to), and judge from that what they need from me without them even asking. What do I need to do to make them happy? Make them love me? I try to get the combination right so that the response is attention and affection, and I punish myself, blame myself when it doesn’t work.
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This awareness of how hard I make it for myself inspires how I treat other people. I assume that they don’t need my criticism, don’t need me to point out their mistakes, don’t need me to point it out when they fail, that they are most likely doing enough of that for themselves and what they need from me is encouragement. They need to know that no matter what, they are loved, and that even if no one is okay, everyone is fine. They need to know that we all are simply doing the best that we can, and when we know better and can do better, we will. In the meantime, we are here to support each other, to make each other laugh in the face of IT–the thing with the big teeth that lives in the dark.
In my Mondo Beyondo class, we were given a secret mission this week: write out an affirmation and leave it somewhere for someone to find. This is not a new idea to me, in fact, I do it quite often. Just last week, I was leaving work, and a good friend’s car was parked right next to mine. CSU is a large campus, with 26,000+ students and about 5000+ employees, so it’s a surprise that you would end up parked right next to someone you knew well enough to recognize their car. I couldn’t pass up the chance. I found some paper in my car and left a note on her windshield.
Another time not long ago, walking down the hall in my building at CSU, I saw a folded piece of paper on one of the tables. There was writing on it. As a fan of Found Magazine, I can no longer simply walk by when I see such a thing. I picked it up, took it with me into the bathroom and unfolded it.
This person had used a black gel ink pen and the writing was slightly messy, hard to read and smudged in a few places. Both sides were completely full of horrible statements the author made about themselves—what a phony I am, what a terrible writer, what a terrible partner to my spouse, what a terrible parent. There were enough personal details that the author’s identity was clear to me. It made me so sad, to think that this person felt this way. Even if it was just one of those things you wrote to vent, to make yourself feel better by getting it out, something where you blew everything up beyond it’s real size, where you presented your life and yourself in the worst possible light—how sad that we do that to ourselves, even if it’s just for a moment.
I decided that somehow this letter, this two page self-hating diatribe, needed to be returned to the author, but there needed to be the additional message that everything was okay. I found a picture; I think it had maybe been a post card sent to Post Secret at one point, of a beautiful blue lake with a snow covered mountain range rising up behind it, and a blue sky that was impossibly both daytime sunny and night time stars. Across the center, neon letters spelled out “Everything Is Going To Be Alright.” I printed the picture, glued it onto some heavy card stock, and placed that and the letter in an envelope, wrote the person’s initials on the front and put it in their mailbox.
I hope they found it, were happy to have it back if they’d worried about what had happened to it, feel like someone heard what they had to say, as ugly and bad as it was, and still felt moved to respond that everything is okay. There isn’t any need to beat yourself up. All of what you said can be absolutely true, and it’s still all okay.
We all need a little encouragement from time to time, and some of us need it more often than others.
It’s okay. Cheer up. You’re perfect.
- What secret missions of hope and help have you completed? What are some ideas for offering help and love that we could try? What can you do to encourage someone today? What help do you need and who will you ask?