A Prescription for Plain

Last month, I wrote about the legacy our society and parents have given us called “the burden of greatness.” This month, I’d like to share with you a plan for lightening your load.

On the outside, many of us are successful and smart. But inside we have doubts about the future. We compete with our friends over who is the busiest and whose day was the craziest. Our stress becomes a badge of honor. Then we complain of an endless list of physical ailments. We have headaches and backaches, and we are exhausted at night when we finally stop running with our goals, chores, and to-do lists. One of my clients told me with embarrassment that she often pictures herself in a hospital bed, the only place where she might find relief.

So how do we break our addiction to success?

First, we have to summon the courage to look inside and see who is really living in our bodies, to allow our limitations to show themselves. To feel complete, we have to accept where we are ordinary in addition to where we are great. We have to be less than perfect and more of a messy, silly, clumsy, and blissfully plain person in an imperfect body.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who would I be if I were to stop everything and give voice to my heart?
  • Would I cease to exist if I did not define myself by my success?
  • Would I lose control and drift away?
  • Would I be vulnerable to a drug, or love, addiction?
  • Would I become invisible, like my mother?
  • Would I become terribly “ordinary?”

These questions, and others like them, have initiated powerful discussions with my coaching clients as well as for myself. It feels wonderful to finally drop the armor, to see how easy life can be when we are free from the needs to be liked, praised, and adored.

Next, I suggest you write your thoughts daily in a journal as a mirror into your self. Each day find a moment, maybe even an hour, to ask yourself, “When did I laugh today? What made me feel pleasure? Did I do anything, or avoid something, that betrayed myself?”

Also acknowledge the times you tried to be perfect, when you acted out of old habits, and when you tried to rationalize and blame others for your limitations. You should do this not to punish yourself, but to bring more awareness and freedom to shape your life.

Visioning is also a helpful technique for becoming a stronger master of the future. Yet you should not only picture what you want to have in your life. You need to consider HOW you want to feel as you move forward. How do you choose to spend your days? Include the texture and quality of the tapestry. Set goals for achieving emotions as well as accomplishments.

Success should come to mean something new. In addition to the merits of excellence, we can come to honor contentment, calmness, and the enjoyment of spending time with family, friends, and in nature. In addition to realizing our potential, we need to learn how to set limits, say no, and to value our mental and physical health above the vitality of our careers. We should be able to enjoy the fruits of our labors at the time we earn them.

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