Enough is never enough. If you were raised by a narcissist, a perfectionist or some version of a “tiger mom/dad,” then you probably live a life dedicated to achieving, achieving more and then achieving even more and more. And more. You’re always trying to be a better person. Always trying to be a more accomplished person. You set yourself new challenges and then judge yourself by your success or failure in achieving them.Your identity as a failure or success as a person rides on your newest self-assigned challenge. It’s never “an ever fixed mark” set in stone. Believe me…I know about this from experience.
Let me tell you a little story from my own life that perfectly illustrates this dynamic.
In 2013, my Country Boy husband and I, a City Girl through and through, moved from the Twin Cities to a tiny hamlet in the Northern Minnesota. My husband was so excited to reinvent a life like his beloved grandparents had lived — growing our own food, etc. I was heart and soul committed to making his dreams come true. After all, I loved growing the odd tomato plant on my deck!
Shortly after moving up here, we met a couple who did all-of-the-above. Their garden was amazing, their cellar shelves gleaming with hundreds of jars of home grown, home canned fruits, vegetables, jams and meats. They made their own cottage cheese, yogurt and ricotta. They fished, hunted, gathered eggs from their chickens and slaughtered (and often smoked) their own beef, pork, bacon and venison. Yearly trips to the wilds of Montana to hunt elk and mule deer resulted in their freezer bulging with wild game (costing more per pound than Wagyu beef)!
They encouraged us to buy fruit and cheese in bulk. Make our own laundry soap. Hunt morel mushrooms in Spring (dodging the odd fresh bear turd on the forest floor!). Forage for wild onions. Make our own breakfast sausage as they did. The list goes on and on and frickin’ on! They didn’t need to make their own things. They had plenty of money! No, they chose to do everything from scratch because, because, well I’m not sure why. It was just how their cult did things, I guess. Their “encouragement” to do everything just the way they did felt more like a pressure laced with judgment.
There was definitely a superior, condescending and triumphant tone when they told us exactly why our garden wasn’t as verdant as theirs. And when they weren’t troubleshooting our inferiority, they were encouraging us to buy this powder or swallow that supplement. There was a distinct if-you-would-only-do-what-we-tell-you-all-your-health-problems-would-vanish attitude to their recommendations. Years later I finally figured out that narcissism had a lot to do with their attitude.
And I, poor-sap-who-never-saw-a-challenge-I-didn’t-judge-myself-by, fell for all of it. After all, they did the best. Their food was the best. Why wouldn’t I also aspire to be The Best in my never ceasing need to prove myself to be a Good Person?
I tried. I really tried and usually ended up exhausted, swearing and regretful from trying to do so much to prove I was a “better” person like them. The food was good but “what price glory?”
Then the final straw came. “You should make your own pasta like we do, Lenora,” they crowed. “It’s sooooo much better than store bought pasta.”
Suddenly, something snapped. I, who had never said “no” to any challenge flung in my path, hit the end of my rope. “No!” I said. “I will absolutely not be making my own pasta.”
“But it’s so much better than dried pasta,” they insisted, surprised at my vehemence. “It’s easy to make.”
For perhaps only the fifth time in my life, I put my foot down flat. As Gene Stratton Porter wrote in 1913 in Laddie: A True Blue Story, ” If a woman is going to live…there are times when she’s got to put her foot down—flat—most unmercifully flat!” I put my food down “unmercifully flat.” And felt damn good about it.
Two years later, the friendship fell apart. Frankly, it was kind-of a relief. No more pressure to live exactly like them. No more having rows and rows of homemade pies, loaves, sausages, jams, sauces proudly shown off to me with the implied “you should do this too.” No longer was a gauntlet thrown down challenging me to be a Good, Better, Best person like them. (I felt more like I was a going, going, gone person!)
Several years passed. Then one day I looked down at the floury rolling pin in my hands and shrieked, “Oh my word, Michael! I’m making pasta!” I’d had a yen for ravioli so, by George, I made some. Not because someone was pressuring me. Not because I wanted to prove something to myself or others. No, I simply had a yen for ravioli! After saying “NO” to making homemade pasta on their terms…I was making homemade pasta on my terms! Authentically. Happily. For no other reason than to eat it. Full stop. Not to prove anything.
Here’s the crux of this article:
Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing something they do
merely because it’s cool, impressive or “better.”
Only do things you want to do for their own sake…not to prove a point.
In time, you might naturally, organically and authentically find yourself doing the very thing you felt pressured and guilted into doing. But it should be only because you want to do it. Not because you have a point to prove. Not because you need to impress yourself nor someone else who may very well be a narcissist who’s trying to impress you. I made pasta because I wanted to eat pasta.
So it was that this Summer I also found myself making breakfast sausage from scratch. I wasn’t “trying to keep up with the Joneses.” I just like breakfast sausage, especially if it has fennel in it.
I suppose we human beings are hard wired to admire other human beings a little too much. Because watching a magnificent dancer or violinist, chef or painter makes us feel a certain wonderful way, we assume they feel that same way about themselves while they’re performing. So, we assume, if we do the same thing, we can feel that “wonderful feeling” about ourselves. That’s not true at all. As Julia Child said in My Life in France, “Only paths of thorns lead to glory.” You don’t see the suffering of those who appear so impressive and how they are probably never satisfied with their own performance. There’s a famous story about a violinist, perhaps Jascha Heifetz, who took a hiatus from playing professionally because he was making so many mistakes!
And some of these “impressive” people are just imposters, as I wrote about last week
Now, after recovering from “The Joneses” and their constant pressure, my creativity is roaring back. I still garden, but in my own way. While they crawl on the ground each week, perfectionistically pulling out every weed, I have a raised no-bending-required pallet garden. I plant what I like to eat instead of just mimicking the plants in their “superior” garden. I still bake my own bread, as they do, but I prefer to try a new recipe each week while they make the same tired old recipe over and over again. When you stop rising to the challenge set by others, your own creativity has room to soar!!!
Don’t do (non-essential) things merely to feel good about yourself. Don’t do something to impress yourself or impress others. Merely do them because you want to do them. Because the process brings you joy. Because you will enjoy the product of your labor. You are already a Good Person. It’s set in stone. You have nothing to prove.