They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, so there you have it. Lately, a series of events have forced me to realize that being busy isn’t the same as being productive. The harder realization has been this:

  • My work is not my life.
  • My life is not my work.
  • Who I am has greater value than what I do.
  • My performance does not determine my worth.

It’s funny how one “ah-ha” moment can turn into an avalanche of change. It’s like when you discover a new word that you never heard of before and then suddenly you start seeing it everywhere, and you wonder how you missed it before.

It started a few months ago when I read The Now Habit at Work. I guess you could describe it as a self-help book, but I really expected it to be a book about productivity. Instead, the author starts out diagnosing my problems, and while he called me out on my procrastination, he really told me why I was dysfunctional– because I am a fraud.

Yep, you read that right. I’m not a workaholic at all, I’m just not who everyone thinks I am. I’m not as smart as you think, and I’m not as capable as I once was, and I’m afraid that everyone is about to discover my ineptitude. I should be fired.

See, the truth is, I’m my own worst enemy. If you know me at all, I’ve probably already convinced you by now that I’m a bit of an overachiever, a people-pleaser, and a perfectionist. And the world places a high value on these things, especially because I’m a woman. That’s not the tragedy though. The sad part of the story is that since 9 years old (I remember vividly the very day that this kicked in), I believed that I had to do something to earn love from my parents. I was trained to believe that performance equalled love. And that belief influenced every relationship after.

So while I’ve worked hard to do more, do better, and make everyone happy, in my head, I’m not doing enough, not doing it right, and ultimately not feeling loved.

Now keep in mind that I wasn’t conscious of this before reading The Now Habit, it just was. Then a few weeks ago, a second confirmation came in the form of a random channel selection that brought me to Dr. Brene Brown on PBS. It’s worth noting I do not watch public television, so my stumble on channel 2 was a mistake that I was trying to correct before I heard a few words on perfectionism. So I stopped and listened. And. was. sucked. in. For the next hour and half I stood in my kitchen and watched this program on her book The Gifts of Imperfection. And when Soupy came home, I started rattling off everything I had just learned about myself.

Brown gave me permission to be flawed. In fact, she encouraged it– when you are a perfectionist, you limit yourself because you’re too afraid to do something you might not be perfect at doing.

For the second time in my life, in a span of a few months, I was reminded that I don’t have to do something in order to earn the love of others. “There is no prerequisite for worthiness.”

The Now Habit even has a chapter on me titled “Procrastinators Use Ineffective Self-Talk.” So here comes Brown connecting all of those things I’m telling myself– that I’m a fraud, I’m not good enough or smart enough, yada yada– to that place of shame I’m stuck in.

And she had a better definition of shame than I did:

Shame is really understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, makes me unworthy of connection?

And the other thing that’s striking about her research is that the only difference between people who feel love and accepted and the people who don’t is that the former believe they are worthy.

Belief. That’s all. They have the courage to be imperfect, and they have connection because of their authenticity.

It takes some courage to be vulnerable, to find comfort in the imperfection. To let go of work as the source of your identity, and find connection and belonging because you are worthy of it. There’s a theme unraveling in my life right now, and the pattern will probably get clearer the more that I write about these random insights that are threading together. It’s a little unnerving, but I’m convinced that something within me has been unlocked. One thing’s for certain: I’m closer to the destination than I’ve ever been.

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