Many times in life we are too hard on ourselves. Thinking we should be the perfect student, perfect worker, perfect friend, and perfect mate. In a recent course I took on the Foundations of Positive Psychology the lecturer Professor Tal Ben-Shahar numerous times repeated the phrase, “give yourself permission to be human.” What does that mean? I thought back to a student who had almost a nervous breakdown over a poor grade. It turned out the student had started out the first semester with all A’s and then one class the next term started to slip which caused a spiral down in other classes. Why? Because the thinking that all A’s was the way to be. There is nothing wrong with all A’s but to hold oneself to that standard can cause inner turmoil and suffering. That is the tragedy of perfectionist thinking.
We ignore our humanness to our detriment when we pile up should and musts on ourselves in a unrealistic manner. I must have this job to be happy. I must have this person as my friend to be happy. I should get all A’s to prove I am a good student. When I discuss more on the issue of goals I will share how I believe we should dream big and aim for big goals to accomplish possibilities in our lives. Yet on the human side we should not beat ourselves up if we don’t fully reach our dreams or goals. But more on that later.
Accepting our humanness can be capsulated in this quote by Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can change, and the wisdom to know the difference." Being human is being content in areas that we cannot change. I cannot make someone like me. I can try to be more likeable. I cannot make someone hire me for a particular job. I can do my best in the job search and try to be creative in a competitive era of finding work. So on this journey in life understanding what we can change and what we cannot helps with the anxieties of the musts and regrets of should’ve and could’ve thinking that overtakes us. How much wasted potential is there when we dwell on the regrets of what we think could have been if we had that person as a friend or that job or whatever…? As a Christian minded person I do agree with Niebuhr that in prayer we need to seek for wisdom to think critically over these issues in our lives for the right choices.
As the acceptance of things brings contentment and a life regret free; also the things we can change; we need to take the risk to change them. If meeting new people is important to you than trying out new venues of meeting new people such as volunteering for a social cause, taking continuing education classes, being involved in church or synagogue may be a new helpful change . If looking for a new career is an option then seek out a career counselor, polish up your resume, or start networking.
Accepting and understanding the need for change are things with we can do in our humanness. What makes these effective in our lives is taking responsibility. As I stated earlier I cannot change those who work with me. I cannot change my family members. I can only change me and that is my responsibility and choice. In Victor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, (must reading), he says, “In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees responsibleness the very essence of human existence.” So acceptance of our humanness is being responsible in our relation to God, ourselves and others.
What areas of your life are things you cannot change? What areas of your life can you change to improve the journey you are on? What does it mean to be human to you?