As a college senior, I made the decision to resign from a leadership position I held the previous year. I loved the work we were doing and loved the group of women I got to work with, but the time commitment was only growing. I recognized what I really wanted out of my last year of college: to finish my classes really well, more free time to spend with my friends, and in particular, I didn’t want to keep missing my Monday night Bible study for other meetings. So, I resigned.
A few months later, my organization’s advisor was introducing me to someone at an event when she said, “This is Lindsey. She used to be our organization’s president, but now she’s just Joe Schmoe Senior.”
Joe Schmoe senior? I’ve never felt more unimpressive in my life. From that moment forward, I regretted resigning from that position, believing it made my college experience less valuable. I didn’t realize it until years later, but that was the moment I internalized the idea that my accomplishments define my identity and value in the eyes of others.
It’s possible my advisor did, in fact, think I devalued my college experience by stepping down. Maybe she didn’t think I was contributing to our campus in significant way. Maybe. It’s also quite possible that she meant absolutely nothing whatsoever by that comment.
Either way, I allowed it to alter how I viewed my college experience, my value, and my agenda moving forward. I wish I knew then what I’ve since learned from reading Brené Brown’s books:
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…” —Theodore Roosevelt
I changed arenas that year, and that particular individual was no longer in the arena with me. Her opinion of my work, contributions, and calling in that season was no longer the most important opinion.
Brown says we need to carefully evaluate who is in the arena with us. Whose opinions are most important? It should be the opinions of those who have earned our trust and therefore our vulnerability, who understand our values and vision.
In Rising Strong, Brown explains that she has a few names written down on an index card, which she keeps in her wallet at all times. Any time she feels tossed by the waves of public opinion or unsure of her next move, she looks at her list. She asks whose opinion matters in times like these. I made my own little list. And it’s a good list; I look at those names and immediately feel a little more at peace, a little more confident, a little more assured of my place in the world. I trust those people to encourage me, challenge me, and point me back home when I stray.
At times, my perfectionism manifests itself as a fierce battle with people-pleasing tendencies (as I explained when I talked about saying “I’m sorry.”) Many times, I find myself unable to make decisions (or making decisions I don’t feel 100% happy with) because I am too worried about the opinions and perceptions of anyone and everyone who might be involved. Lately, I’ve noticied this especially when parenting in public; as I respond to my kids’ needs, I wonder about the opinions of every other adult in the vicinity.
In those moments, the fastest way to get out of my people-pleasing rut is to ask, “Who is in the arena with me?” None of the strangers in the room are invested in my family or my children; they don’t love my boys, and they are not familiar with the values Evan and I are hoping to instill.
“When we stop caring what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. But when we are defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. The solution is getting totally clear on the people whose opinions actually matter.” —Brené Brown
So, I need to send those opinions back to the cheap seats from whence they came and learn to accept wisdom from those in my corner.
All month long, I’m sharing 31 ways to fight perfectionism, as part of the Write 31 Days challenge. You can find all my posts in this series here (or by clicking the “31 Days” button at the top of this page). Tomorrow, I’ll share what accepting compliments as taught me about the state of my heart.