NOTE: This post is dealing with similar themes, though a different aspect of my life-long struggles with feelings of inadequacy. You can read the companion post here.
This spring, there was a seminar held at my workplace in which we were expected to dig deep within ourselves to discover what our biggest roadblocks were to peace of mind, joy and satisfaction personally and professionally.
It was going to be 16 hours of who-knows-what, and I had no idea what to expect, and what I could possibly get out of it.
There were a lot of wise platitudes uttered which proved to be a bit of a mindfuck for me: “We’re only our perception and our experiences. And the way we perceive others doesn’t make it true–it’s just our experiences.”
Furthermore, we were introduced to the concept that “What you see is what you anticipate seeing, what you’ve always decided things were. How do you ever see anything new?”
Basically by the end of session three, I was convinced it was entirely probable we were living in The Matrix.
But then, we were asked to write down the biggest issues we had at work, and in our lives in general, that kept us from experiencing joy.
Most people listed issues with coworkers or protocols or family.
But all of mine came from internal forces.
I was worried I was a fraud professionally. I have so many “blind spots” in my knowledge, and I’m scared to ask questions for fear of being perceived as an idiot.
I was worried that who I am now is disappointing to my family, who knew me as a goody-two-shoes, mission-trip attending homeschooled perfect Christian angel.
All of my issues revolved around my worries of being inadequate.
But where did it come from?
How far back did I have to dig to discover the source of this series of lies that have plagued me most of my life?
Did it start in my early romantic relationships, when I was told that I could never give enough to be a good girlfriend?
No. The seed has been planted long before.
Was it growing up homeschooled in a conservative household, in a conservative part of the country?
No. I always held myself to a higher standard than even my parents did. It wasn’t that, quite.
And then, in the dark recesses of my mind, dusty and forgotten, I found myself back in my old Sunday School room. I must have been three or four years old, and it’s much like shadows taking form as I recall them.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.–Romans 3:23,” the Sunday School teacher read. “It’s only through Christ that we can go to Heaven. We’re never going to be good enough on our own. It’s only through Him.”
That’s some heavy shit for a three year old.
I’m never going to be good enough was the phrase that kept echoing in my head. And, I’ve discovered, it still does, nearly thirty years later, albeit in a different context.
I know, the rest of that chapter teaches about hope and redemption, but my brain latched on to that concept and has subconsciously never let it go.
And so my life has been constantly colored by these feelings of inadequacy in all facets.
My default mode is inadequacy.
I have felt inadequate as a daughter, granddaughter, niece, sister, friend, girlfriend, wife, and cat mom.
I have felt inadequate in whatever my religious beliefs even are these days.
I have felt inadequate as an artist.
I have felt inadequate in my job.
I have felt inadequate in pretty much all of the ways one can feel inadequate, and I have traced it back to Sunday School. Be it from a partly-understood Bible verse or overzealous teacher, who can say?
“We live inside myths and superstitions that aren’t true that cost us satisfaction and joy,” I was told during this workshop.
That’s all my inadequacies are. Myths and superstitions that cost me joy, and have cost me joy my entire life.
But he continued, “Some of you are more interested in proving you’re damaged goods than just living a good life. If you’re keeping your damage, it must be useful to you somehow.”
Why would I be clinging on to these feelings that have tortured me my whole life? Why would I choose to “keep my damage?” How was it useful to me?
An excuse? Because I wanted pity? From whom?
Because I wanted to illustrate to others that I wasn’t satisfied with how things were, and I was always striving for self-improvement?
No. That’s much too self-important.
I don’t really know why I have clung to my damage. These myths and superstitions that have cost me so much happiness, relationships, my own mental and physicial health, personal and professional advancement.
Now I had pinpointed the issue, and its genesis. So now what?
He pulled up a YouTube video, projected onto the screen in front of my room full of coworkers.
The video was from a 2002 episode of the sketch comedy show Mad TV, featuring Bob Newhart.
Bob plays a therapist who is meeting with a woman who has a paralyzing fear of being buried alive in a box.
“Has anyone ever tried to bury you alive in a box?” He asks.
“Well, no,” she admits, “but thinking about it makes my life horrible.”
“I’m going to say two words to you right now and I want you to listen to them very carefully:
“So…I should just stop it?”
“There you go. I mean, you don’t want to go through life being scared of being buried alive in a box, do you? I mean, that sounds frightening.”
“Then stop it.”
“I can’t, I mean, it’s been with me since childhood…”
“No, we don’t go there. Just stop it.”
“So I should just stop being afraid of being buried alive in a box.”
“You got it. Good girl.”
They continue to talk about her other issues and she makes excuses for why she feels the way she does and he continues to tell her to stop it and her excuses don’t matter.
She gets frustrated, and yells that she doesn’t like this therapy at all.
He says “well, then I have ten more words for you:
Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!”
In all of its ridiculousness, this comedy sketch from when I was in high school was exactly what I needed.
My feelings of inadequacy I have experienced my entire life were generally unfounded. I was always my harshest critic. I had no real basis for my self-inflicted tortuous mindset.
What if I just…
Surely it couldn’t be that easy?
I tried it out. When feelings of anxiety came bubbling up as I prepared for my first summer in a new higher position at my job, I acknowledged that I was given this job because I was QUALIFIED, dammit! So I told myself to stop it.
When I found myself comparing myself and my skill set to my coworkers, worrying if I fell short, I told myself to stop it.
When I looked at my body at the end of the summer, disappointed I let the Little Debbies in my workplace “Snack Cave” get the better of me, instead of beating myself up about it, I told myself to stop it.
Thanks to Bob Newhart, I now do my best to call myself out on my harmful and irrational thinking, and instead look for actionable solutions to better myself.
I’m stopping it.
And it’s working out pretty well.