I’m in a meeting with a professional colleague/client who doubles as an adviser to me and triples as someone I can talk to like a friend. I might be the same for him. Today we’re in the middle of a business discussion, but then he shifts the topic as he tends to do and is now telling me a story about when he was young and his mom told him he was very hard on himself.
I immediately relate.
I’ve always been hard on myself. I admonish myself for the stupid things I say. I feel guilty when I slip up. I mentally punish myself for . . . almost everything: for not writing more or better or more successful novels, for lack of professional achievement, for not doing what’s on my list, for my parenting and husbanding mistakes, for my personality flaws, for not being a better friend, for putting off or ignoring an unpleasant task. It comes down to berating oneself for not being enough. That’s dangerous territory in terms of self-worth.
And then he shares the rest of what his mom told him: he wasn’t just hard on himself, but as a consequence, he was hard on others too.
I don’t think I turned beet-faced when he said this. I don’t think I gasped or flinched. But he might as well have been talking about me. I’ve been hard on others too. I haven’t always been forgiving or tolerant or understanding. I’ve placed expectations on the people I love the most.
Maybe ten years ago at a social gathering at my house, someone I was just getting to know, in a conversational context I don’t remember, told me I had high expectations of people. It wasn’t a compliment. I quickly replied, “Especially of myself.” But I felt exposed.
On a positive note, I’ve gotten much better about being hard on others or having specific expectations of them. I’ve learned to appreciate differences. I’ve accepted, maybe even celebrated, that my priorities aren’t yours, that my moral compass might have a different true north than yours. I’ve learned we’re all in command of our own lives. It’s about time I got this straight.
I’m still working on not being so hard on myself, although there too I’m trending in the right direction.
Of course, when I heard him talk about being hard on himself and others, I missed the next several minutes of his story. I got swirling around in my thoughts. It was a classic conversational mistake, like when you aren’t really listening closely because you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next.
The good news is I’m trying not to be too hard on myself about it. And I have nothing but appreciation for him sharing a part of himself he’s had to work to improve upon, because it’s been a big part of me too.