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Merritt Benz, LCSW

When you read this fortune- how does the statement make you feel? This was a fortune I got in a fortune cookie (big surprise, right) and it stuck with me for some reason. I kept it and it’s been on my refrigerator for months and I couldn’t figure out why it I kept it, why it bothered me. It didn’t make me laugh but it also didn’t make me feel hopeful or that good fortune was coming my way, it made me feel…. blah. Average.

Then it hit me this morning why it stuck with me. We all want to feel extraordinary. We all want to feel special and that what we are doing or what is going to happen in our lives will be great. The idea that “our expectations are reasonable and will be met” is actually disappointing to us. This reality leaves us wanting more and to be “better than” meeting reasonable expectations.

I have a suspicion that I’m not the only one who feels this way and the danger in this line of thinking is not that it’s wrong to want more and to want to be special and extraordinary but that we have made being “better than” what is the normal expectation. Comparison and “high” self-esteem have become our foundation of self-worth and that’s a brutal game to play and we all play it. It’s a human condition to want to be and feel special and the truth is no matter how hard we try to not look around us and compare, we cannot unwire that part of us.

But that’s ok. There is a solid foundation that builds and grows over time that makes a substantial difference in our lives.

Self-compassion. Opting out of the self-esteem game for our self-worth.

If I gave a presentation and afterwards people said to me, “That was average and I had reasonable expectations and they were met” I would feel as though I didn’t do a great job. I would be disappointed because what I have been conditioned to hear to feel good about myself to have “high self-esteem” is, “Wow Merritt, that was amazing. It exceeded my expectations. Fantastic job.”

We are setting ourselves up for feeling as though we failed when we are not told we are extraordinary. Kristen Neff’s research on self-compassion, presents compelling research and practical steps one can take to opt of the self-esteem and comparison game being the basis of our self-worth.

So…. what’s the alternative script we should run instead?

1. Reminding ourselves that we are doing the best we can and speaking kindly to ourselves as we would a dear friend (Self-kindness).

2. Allowing ourselves to feel emotion in the present moment and then let it go (Mindfulness).

3. Knowing that we are all in this thing together and I am not alone in my thoughts, feelings and experiences (Common Humanity).

So today, strive for excellence in all that you do and when you don’t feel special and instead feel “just average” simply remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and that’s enough…. always.