Failing Ourselves and Others with Compassion, Grace and Connection

unnamedI recently moved into a new place that has truly owned its promise as a “fixer upper” with absolute gusto. A few months ago an acquaintance dropped by and shared some resources of local connections who could help with various projects. One guy in particular, she truly raved about.

“Dave, yep – the absolute best! A head’s up – he’s a 90-percenter, but he will get the job done!”

My husband and I cracked up for days after she left. 90-percenter?! We totally got it. Dave gets the job done, but don’t count on it being perfect – and definitely don’t look too close! We’ve continued to use the term lightly as we joke about quality of performance with work, house projects, relationships, and beyond.

I have been thinking about my life as a woman and the idea of 90-percenting. I don’t like the idea of a contractor coming over and 90-percenting his way through a flooring project. I’m bummed when my hairdresser 90-percents my cut and color. I think people, in general, are disappointed when we can’t give 100% of our capacity in every type of relationship. And, yet the idea of being at top performance for every person and in every interaction is impractical and unsustainable. We are humans – we’re fallible, tired, and prone to error. And because 90-percenting is considered “bad”, I think we end up failing people. All the time.

I also think we fail ourselves. We create the standard of “best practice” to actually mean “no mistakes”. We lose sleep, we foster shame and pity, we snap at our loved ones. Here are some reported consequences I have heard from personal connections and private practice clients who expect flawless performance from themselves and others:

Anxiety. Many shared that horrifically uncomfortable and visceral discomfort that something bad is about to happen. Obviously, this feeling can take root within us for a variety of reasons, but for the purpose of this topic, when we dig deep we find that this anxiety is often connected to our critical voice saying “not good enough, not an A+”. We manifest this unreasonable message into panic, heart pressure, and overwhelm.

Resentment. Unspoken disappointment inevitably leads to built up layers (time) of not getting needs met to our standard. We resent our partners, our bosses, and I’ve even heard that we can resent the world. Ultimately, we are really just resenting ourselves. We hate the fact that others fail us, and that our own humanness disallows us to speak to this in a way that is objective and fair. We feel upset and angry, and we are not really certain why.

Shame. This is my go-to – that selfish and deeply innate assumption that the world’s shortcomings are because of me. Us women truly are terrible with this! We refuse to settle in to the “good enough” and invite, rather propel our emotional experience into a place of self-hatred and punishment. Shame feels heavy and hot. It weighs on the heart as a mixture of embarrassment and utter disdain. And we mistakenly train ourselves that the only way to climb out of this discomfort is to “do more” and “be better”.

Avoidance. Ultimately, we realize that disappointing others and ourselves feels bad. We’re not sure how to lean in toward others while readjusting to 90-percent, so instead, we lean out. We feel safe (rather, less provoked) by our aloneness and choose lonely perfection over flawed relational connection.

As women with an endless list of roles, I don’t know that the answer here is to hedge our position into the 90-percent. It feels strange to determine with our bosses that we won’t give it our all, and counterintuitive to find comfort in our inevitable #parentfails. So, settling into the 90-percent may not be the answer.

Instead, I wonder about ideas around self-compassion and grace. I wonder if we can live out peace from within while knowing we walk alongside others who will invariably hurt or disappoint us. I wonder about forgiveness, true forgiveness – the kind where you run into your ex-boyfriend from five years ago and hope within your heart of hearts that he is absolutely thriving. I wonder about self-love, what that really even means and how to whole-heartedly experience that. And, I wonder about leaning in. Leaning into connection with others and talking about how we have failed one another in a way that is loving and reparative.

I want to talk more about how to experience this. Let’s talk together!

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