It’s that time of year when many of my students get a wild look in their eyes. The look suggests they’re almost having an out-of-body experience as, although they physically sit in my class, their brain has floated off to focus on all the things they must do before the end of semester. Being present and in the moment is almost impossible for some of them.
It’s this inability to be present coupled with an immense pressure to do well that can make life really difficult. These students will be extra hard on themselves, procrastinate (because starting an assignment is often scary because…what if they don’t do well) or totally mess up their submission because they’ve over-thought the whole thing and made it far more complicated than it needs to be.
As a former student with a strong perfectionist streak, I look at these students and can totally relate to their experience. But with the benefit of hindsight and yes, a couple of decades, I know that seeking perfection is a complete waste of time. As I said to one stressed teenager the other day, ‘Perfection doesn’t exist in nature so how could it possibly exist in humans?’
It’s a recurring theme and I feel like a lot of people keep trying to be perfect when they should just be themselves and know that’s enough. I mean, doing well at university is important because it will help you with your job prospects. But punishing yourself because you did your best but your marks aren’t as high as you would like is a pointless exercise. Far better to learn from what you did wrong and then apply that knowledge the next time – because you’re not perfect.
Similarly, worrying about all the things you haven’t done yet or will have to do at some point, is also a waste of energy. These types of thoughts will fry your brain with negativity and stress so that, when you finally sit down to do the work, you’ll already be exhausted and definitely not at your best.
Of course, this drive to be perfect and to constantly worry about or plan for the future is wholeheartedly supported and propagated by much of our mainstream media. Its focus on physical forms that are out of reach for the average person (um, supermodels are genetically wired to look like that) and the sentiment of needing to push for success and live the capitalist dream are everywhere. To be successful is to have money, have a high profile, look as physically perfect as possible and always be on the look out for the next best thing.
The voices advocating for looking within for your answers, accepting who you are as you are, doing your best and doing what is right for you, are frequently murmurs in the background rather than heard from the loudspeakers in our contemporary cultural conversations.
So, as I look at my students (who are frequently merely reflections of a much younger me), I just want them to know that if they do their best it will be enough. I want them to know that, if they can just be present in every moment as much as possible, it will help them to do better at their studies and at life. And above all, I want them to know that the pursuit of perfection is a journey without end. It is the pursuit of a mirage that will never take a tangible form.
So for all my fabulous students and every other student struggling with the pressures of end of semester, my advice is this: be present, be yourself, do your best, and know that is enough.
The brick wall was coated with Teflon
It stood there staring back
Everything she threw at it
It just kept sliding back
So she walked around the side
To see what she could see
But all she could see was more Teflon
As far as the eye could see
Eventually she lay down
And stared up at the sky
The Teflon shadow stretching over her
There was nothing else that she could try
To shift the weight
It pinned her down
She was gasping her last breath
Or so she thought
Then something moved
And she got up instead
She knew there were cracks
Not far inside
That Teflon-covered wall
But it wasn’t up to her to budge it
It wasn’t up to her at all
She put on her hat
She put on her shoes
And left her calling card
Well actually truth be told
She left more than several cards
She stuck her cards
With super glue
All over that God-damn wall
Those cards they stuck
Didn’t even move in the breeze
They weren’t going anywhere at all
And every time
She passed by
She simply stuck on another
That God-damn wall would have to collapse
She wasn’t giving up
No she wasn’t, my brother
But that wall
Was fucking determined
It liked the safety of Teflon
But she didn’t care
About any of that
She didn’t care about the Teflon
She’d keep leaving
Her calling card
It was printed in colours of light
That wall it didn’t stand a chance
Against all that beautiful light
Eventually the Teflon would be consumed
By the light of those sweet cards
The black would fade
To leave all the cracks
All the indelible scars
She would run her fingers through them
All those faulty lines
She would reach deep within
Or maybe not
Who could surmise
What would happen
When the Teflon left
And revealed all that was hidden
So much love
So hidden from normal vision
Perhaps she would just know it was there
As days turned weeks turned months
Her life expanding
And then contracting
Seeking always love
But walls are harsh
So very hard
Wiser ones would say
But it’s the cracks that lie deep within
I love them she would say
Life is full of faults and pain
And some use that Teflon
To repel all other advances
They prefer to keep it on
And that is fine
To be sure
There’s nothing wrong with that
Although perhaps there is actually
Something profoundly wrong with that
Imagine if they moved the black
Moved that dark Teflon
And instead they let the light flood in
All the darkness could be gone
What did she know
About anything, any of that
All the plain eye could see
Was Teflon staring back
But she would keep leaving her calling cards
That glue was really strong
Was the Teflon stronger
As she kept on, keeping on
She didn’t know
Maybe she was wrong
To believe in any of that
Maybe she was wrong
The darkness was merely an act
Circling her brain
They flew straight to her heart
She was happy right then
To let them fly
The light still filled her heart
Our ability to keep ourselves small and negate our achievements is something that constantly surprises me. Comments like, ‘I don’t think I’ve done any interesting stuff’ or the rejection of a genuine compliment with a dismissive ‘Oh, this is just an old skirt’ or ‘I need to lose 5kgs’ are just some of the examples that have recently popped up in conversations with people I care about.
I’m not a paragon of virtue in this area either. I can be just as dismissive of my own strengths, talents and attributes. It’s an unhealthy habit and one I’m trying to break.
Australians have long been taught that we shouldn’t get too ‘big for our britches’. The tall poppy syndrome, where we try to keep others ‘in their place’, has long been part of our culture. Our capacity for self-deprecation is also very common indeed. But when I hear people bring themselves down I wonder, is it really healthy to make ourselves small when there are enough reasons to be pulled down in this world?
I often find myself repeating in my head, anything is possible if you believe. It’s become a bit of a personal mantra for me. But this habit of keeping ourselves small works in direct opposition to that. So I have this internal struggle of believing I can achieve what I long for, while being undermined by the fear of pushing myself forward. It’s a bit of a challenge to negotiate this conflict.
Unfortunately, other people often play a role in supporting this idea that we should not stand out too much. One friend was recently told that she should tone down her resume after she reached a certain level in a recruitment process because she’d (in a nutshell) ‘already stood out to get to that stage anyway and didn’t need to do that anymore’.
Hmm. I say a big fat ‘no’ to that one. Standing out and being who you are is a good thing. Being truly yourself, being authentic and going for what you want is absolutely what you should be doing. Living the essence of you, your purpose, is what you’re here to do. It’s not about ramming how great you are down everyone’s throats. Instead it’s about claiming the fabulousness that is you. But you can’t do that if you don’t acknowledge that you have unique gifts and skills no one else has. Because there is no one else on this planet who can do exactly what you do in the way you do it.
So the next time you think, ‘I haven’t done anything that great’ step back and give yourself a little credit. And the next time someone gives you a compliment say, ‘thank you’ and know you deserve it.
You don’t have to make yourself small to keep other people comfortable. That’s not what you’re here to do. You’re here to shine. So gather your courage, step into the light and say, ‘Here I am Universe and I’m going for it!’
Last weekend, my friend Susan* discovered she had lost some of her friends. Somehow, over the past 12 months, as she became absorbed more and more in her purpose and life in general, her friends began to pull away. Then over the weekend, Susan experienced a ‘friend break-up’.
‘It would be great if you could write a blog about how to deal with that!’ she said. So here it is.
Susan has done a lot over the past year or so. She’s had a baby, established a not-for-profit and organised fundraising events that delivered valuable and much-needed outcomes for those in need. Put simply, she’s been following her heart and purpose to make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, some friends have decided not to support Susan’s journey. For whatever reason, they never ask what she’s up to, they don’t support her fundraising events and they don’t care about the path she has chosen. They don’t get it and now deliberately isolate her at social events. The situation felt like schoolyard bullying and, as she felt hurt by their behaviour, Susan decided to ask them what was going on.
Their reaction wasn’t positive and included statements like ‘All you ever talk about is you’, ‘You’re never free when we want to see you’ and ‘You didn’t come to my party.’
Some of her friends’ complaints stretched back to August last year. But when Susan asked, ‘Why didn’t you say something back then?’ they had no response.
Now, while Susan has been engrossed in various activities and could probably do with more ‘balance ‘in her life generally, she definitely hasn’t been making it all about her. She’s been juggling a baby, work and trying to make the world a better place in the only way she knows how. Susan has been busy but also made an effort to stay in touch with her friends. However, her commitments meant she wasn’t as available as she used to be. Meanwhile, her friends aren’t interested in what she’s doing and want her to be the way she was before.
But Susan isn’t that person anymore and she can’t go back.
‘What do I do?’ she asked with tears in her eyes. ‘I’m doing my best but they’re not interested. They don’t want to know.’
Breaking up with friends is hard but we can’t stay in one place just to make other people comfortable. In life there will be moments when you realise you must leave some people behind. Life is like that. Some people will always be in our lives, others will stay only for a certain period of time before going their own way. Then there are others who will leave and return when the time is right. That’s just how our soul contracts with each other work. We support and learn from each other, then move on when the contract is done (read Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss if you’d like to know more about this).
Our relationships, platonic, familial and romantic, do require work and commitment. However, sometimes you are simply moving in a different direction and must let go. And that’s okay.
My advice to Susan was to seek out those friends who support her journey; the ones who ‘get’ what she’s trying to do.
‘Seek out the ones who help you feel lightness in your soul and encourage you to live the life your dream of,’ I said. ‘What would that feel like?’ Susan’s smile was all the answer I needed and I felt her spirit lift at the thought.
Some people are only in our lives for a season. Others will remain connected over long periods to teach us lessons or support only certain parts of our lives. And then others will return when we believe the connection is broken, because that too is what’s needed. The challenge is to protect our hearts and know it’s okay to let go when the contract is done.
*Names changed and story published with Susan’s approval.
If you’d like to me to respond to one of your questions, please comment on my blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s January and for most graduates that means it’s time to get serious and get that first job out there in the ‘real world’. As a university tutor I see a lot of students struggle with the transition. Competition can be fierce and often graduates find it hard to stand out from the crowd.
My top five tips for graduates are as follows.
Identify which segment of your profession/industry interests you and focus your attention on applying for jobs in that area. For example, if you’re a public relations graduate and you’re interested in the not-for-profit sector, don’t apply for roles in fashion (unless it’s a fashion-related organisation that has a great corporate social responsibility program).
Think laterally. It’s not always possible to work for your ‘ideal organisation’ as soon as you leave university. Consider organisations that undertake similar types of projects and look for jobs there.
Be prepared to start at the bottom rung and work your way up. The best thing you can do is get your foot in the door and then, as one of my former mentors said, ‘be a sponge.’ If there’s an administration role available in an area you’d love to work in (and you have the skills to do the job), apply for it. My first PR job was a personal assistant in a PR section. Within four years I’d been promoted twice because I was already there and always put my hand up to learn and do more.
Leverage the the skills you’ve gained through your part-time jobs. For example, if you’re been providing customer service then that shows you can build and maintain positive relationships with key stakeholders/clients. Put that in your resume.
Be professional – don’t lie, don’t undersell yourself and make sure your presentation is appropriate.
If you lie on your resume you will eventually be caught out and your credibility will be lost with your employer.
Get help to identify your strengths and include these in your resume. Most of my clients (from graduates through to executives) undersell themselves and don’t highlight their expertise effectively.
Ask someone to read through your resume for errors and things that don’t make sense. Use spell check (it’s there for a reason!).
Happy job hunting!
Can I help you to get your career off to a great start? If you need professional resume services then check out my Resume Revamp service or, if you need help to get clear on where you’d like to go in your career, maybe my Personal Branding program is for you.
As a humble human being, I still get frustrated when things don’t go my way. I’m at Point A and I want to get to Point B. Should be straightforward, right? But in life I find it rarely is.
The older I get and the more self-awareness I develop, the more I realise just how circular our life path is. There is nothing linear about it.
Consider Exhibit A, the entrepreneur. By their very nature this creature is a creative thinker. They are not working in a straight line. They are looking here, over there, under there and seeing patterns and connections where others only see structures and what has been before. Their creations are not born of a linear path.
Consider your own life in the same way; it is not a straight line from birth to death. There are twists and turns, and ups and downs. Connections are formed and broken, then sometimes formed again in seemingly random patterns. Our experiences form layer upon layer in our psyche, stacking up, collapsing and reforming; circles upon circles.
Is it any wonder my lovely rational brain (with its many fine qualities) feels frustrated? My brain is trained to want the linear. Straight lines and clear outcomes. A + B = C not X – 2 +B + TxT – Y= Q/N x 2Z. My mind craves the linear like an alcoholic craves liquor at dawn.
But life isn’t like that. It gets less like that every day.
Life is circular and interconnected with layers and side streets, blind alleys and roundabouts. Linear is a non-existent channel to nowhere.
Far better (as I frequently urge my brain) to accept this journey as the wonderfully circular and unexpected travail it surely is. What was so great about the ‘expected’ anyway?
Better to accept I have no clue what will happen tomorrow let alone next year. I must accept the Universe has its own timetable and a roadmap written in a language I have never heard of and cannot pronounce. I simply need to fit into the Universe’s master plan (without knowing what it is) and attempt as much non-resistance as I can to achieve a semblance of sustainable peace.
The circular patterns of life must be embraced and I must abandon my plans for the linear. Linear life is a construct destined for extinction. Linear life doesn’t really exist.
Are you interested in expanding your self-awareness and exploring the non-linear path? If so, check out my intuitive mentoring services at Lucretia’s Words