I don’t know about you but I seem to have an almost magical ability to catalog every moment in my life where I fell short.

All those times I was “too much” –  too loud, too enthusiastic, too big, too flashy, too standoffish, too serious, too jokey.

And of course all the times I was “not enough” – not smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough or thin enough. Or plain old just “not good enough”, what ever the hell that means.

I consider this Too Much/NotEnough habit a special subset of the occassional 3 am litany of every wrong I have ever done to another person starting from grade 2 through yesterday.

That’s a different blog post.

The Too Much/NotEnough habit snaps to the front of my mind whenever I accidentally grab the wrong mental yardstick. I have several I reach for out of habit.

The first one was a gift from my mother – “Some people don’t have any legs”. Designed to remind her children that someone else always has it worse, this phrase was deployed to silence complaints big and small, from a skinned knee to a lost job. No whining, suck it up.

I agree that remembering that others have it worse is a valuable exercise to remind us to be grateful for what we have. Sometimes. But not all the time.

Comparison done right can remind you of what’s important. It can refocus gratitude and build resilience. It can even motivate us in a healthy way to get back up, try harder, or emulate those we admire.

But the wrong yard stick leads to dissatisfaction at best, and misery at worst.

My second yard stick is of the “Someone announced a new job/ promotion on Linked-In” variety. My dad always had those “gimme” yard sticks with hardware store names on them, so I picture this one with FOMO written in big red block letters.

That “too much/not enough” refrain starts playing to the tune of “should”, as in ‘I should be at that point in my career!’, ‘I should have that title by now!’, and ‘I should work harder!’ This particular measure highlights what’s missing like the tick marks on the door jamb that showing you are always shorter than your older sister.

The last stick in my mental tool box is the (unreali) stick. Not sure that worked but anyway…

This is where I compare myself to someone famous like like Brené Brown and discover …

“I am a FAILURE!!! We are the same age! Look at all she has accomplished! The books she has written! The people she helps! How brave she is! I never even got the PhD! Why would anyone want to work with me when they can just go hire Cook-Ross or Brené Brown? I should just quit!”

Once I peel that cudgel out of my hand and take a breath, I remember that comparison can also be a “Carrot” as in…

“Wow. Brené Brown’s success proves folks are willing to engage in change and transformation on a personal, vulnerable level. That is so cool. That means I can do DEI workshops and coaching from that same personal, vulnerable place.”

Now before anyone takes offense, know that I do not think I have Brené Brown’s chops, I am not a professor or an LISW, nor do I do the kind of leadership training she does. This isn’t really about Brené, although I do think she’s amazing.

What this is all about is the frequency with which I forget that we can choose how we measure ourselves.

Nobody makes me compare myself to Brené Brown, or a successful colleague, or a person struggling to make ends meet. That’s all straight from my tricky little mind.

Most days, when I beat back the “shoulds” and “too much/not enough” monsters, I work on replacing the carrot & stick with a clear picture of my personal best. Where I am today, how I got here and where I want to go.

So if I compare me today to with me five years ago, I can really appreciate what I’ve learned and how much my skills have improved. I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished and still focus on where I want to go next.

As I expand my consulting and coaching I am keeping this idea of personal best front and center because I want to work with folks interested in meaningful, sustainable change, achieved through self-knowledge and vulnerability.

I know where I want to go,  how I want to get there, and how I will measure success.

And I’m sure hoping you want to come along.

Onward and upward!

The New York Times Social Q’s column sometime in the last couple of months included the line – and I paraphrase – “every time we fail to acknowledge someone we know, civilization crumbles a little bit”. I couldn’t agree more.

I am generally a friendly person. I make eye contact, smile and say hello as I walk through my neighborhood. I chat with receptionists, cashiers and random folks on line at the grocery. But those rules don’t always apply in the neighborhood around where I work.

Walking to meetings its possible to pass a dozen people who know you by name, another dozen who know you by face, and not get a glimmer of a smile, let alone a greeting. Few people make eye contact except African-American folks who, regardless of status, invariably return my smile or nod.

I could understand the lack of interaction (maybe) if we lived in a city where every third person is potentially crazy town banana pants, but this here is a little bitty town so that excuse doesn’t really fly. Most of the time when someone passes without acknowledging me I make up stories –

  • ‘They must be really busy concentrating on their Very Important Thoughts…’
  • “Oh they don’t have their glasses on so they must not have recognized me…’
  • ‘They’re in a hurry (or late for a meeting) and didn’t see me…’ (I do this one so I know its legit).

But some days its hard to ignore the social snub and I think –  ‘They just pretended to not see me because … what? They don’t like me? They can’t remember my name? They’re an asshat?’

Either way every time it happens a bit of Turkish Delight chips off the edge of the world and nothing was done to stop it.

These social snubs happened often enough that I expect to be ignored (especially by people of a higher status), so I don’t initiate any contact and sometimes pre-emptively ignore people who’ve snubbed me in the past. I didn’t realize my part in this weird social norm until I participated in a diversity exercise last week where we looked at our partner and told them what we saw.

I’m trained to facilitate these kind of exercises and have done a lot of this work before, but it’s always worth doing even if just as a refresher. In this exercise your partner described what they saw when they looked at you, and then you told them what you wished people saw when they looked at you. Its meant to demonstrate the layers of self that are not evident in our skin, our gender, or even how we dress.

Like the fact that your class, religion, background and lived experience are not necessarily visible on the surface. What struck me, other than the fact that I was partnered with the most closeted man I have encountered in years, was that I had accepted the idea that people didn’t have to see me if they didn’t want to.

I was complicit in the snubbing because I accepted it as a social norm.

I decided later, as I fiddled around with my thoughts for this post, that I will no longer play this game. Like saying please and thank you for service, making eye contact and greeting folks you know is acknowledging their humanity.

I’ve relied on my personal translation of Namaste – “I see the human in you” – to pull back from vilifying people when I find them too hard to handle. So far I’ve only applied it to non-political, in-person interactions so don’t bother calling me out on past rants about the Koch brothers or other GOP mishegas.

Now I’m thinking I need to expand my translation to “I see the human in you even if you choose to not see me.” A little clumsy for a T-shirt or bumper sticker but it will help shore up my little piece of civilization.