Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sometimes Your Best Is Not Good Enough

I’m doing my best, I’m doing my best, I’m doing my best. Sometimes those words reverberate through my head. I have to remind myself because my perfectionistic little brain doesn’t see any of the good things I feel or do. Instead I consistenly focus on what I didn’t get finished, what I’m not feeling or what I didn’t even get started. I drive myself crazy. Imagine, Melissa, driving herself crazy.

I know that I’m my own biggest obstacle. I know that if I can step away from perfectionism I’d probably be a lot happier. I would have a new level of peace. A quieter brain could actually accomplish a lot more. And it’s not like I don’t try. This brain has meditated, been medicated, been through therapy, been through support groups. I’ve tried. I really have. And when I’m really really honest with myself, I remember that I don’t do half bad.

My brain is okay. For me. I sleep through the night, think through my decisions, don’t indulge in too much denial, can think my way through a crossword puzzle, am not overly judgmental, am nice, am smart, can be charming, read a lot, know when not to think too much. I’m doing okay. But as we all do, I still criticize myself. I don’t even think I criticize more than most of us, but I do recognize that sometimes the level of criticism is not what I want to have the life that I want.

So I work on it. A lot.

But recently I had a completely different experience with that phrase. And because of that experience I’ve noticed how much people use that phrase as an excuse. I’m doing my best is not supposed to justify dropping the ball. I’m doing my best is not an excuse. If you’re saying I’m doing my best to get off the hook there’s a problem.

I had a friend, we’ll call her Tara, who would tell me she’d be at dinner with the group, not call, not show and apologize lamely. Never really apologizing.  She’d say she’d show up  at 10, but not really be there till 11:30, with no explanation and looking like she just rolled out of bed. Unfortunately, our friendship turned into a professional relationship. And I know, that was my biggest mistake. But I erroneously assumed that her personal issues wouldn’t leak into her professional life. Because she’s a business owner too and I trusted that she would have professional integrity. 

And we finally talked about it and I told her I wasn’t comfortable doing business with her anymore, she tearfully told me she was doing her best. And I thought, that’s nice, but it doesn’t really matter. Now, I didn’t say that, but I wanted to. I wanted to say you’re best isn’t acceptable. At least not to me.

It sounds harsh and I’ve avoided saying things like that most of my life, but the reality is sometimes your best is not good enough. And in this particular circumstance I felt that I’d waited around for her long enough, made enough excuses for her and been disappointed enough. When she would apologize I’d assume it meant that the behavior wouldn’t repeat itself so I said it was okay. I’d say we all have tough days. Or I understand. Because I do. I understand how hard life can be at times and she seemed to have it very hard. But she apologized and repeated the behaviors over and over and I just had to step away from it.

Rather than acepting that she’d behaved badly, understanding that she’d been hurtful and neglectful of our relationship, she got angry. She attacked and told me all the things that I’d done wrong. And I didn’t deny any of them. I accepted my part and waited for her to accept her part, But she didn’t. She just said I’m doing my best.  And she said it over and over. As if saying it enough would make me change my mind.  As if doing her best made it okay.

It doesn’t. Doing your best doesn’t make it okay. Sometimes I have to recogize that my best isn’t enough. I have to accept that I need new skills or better tools to make my best acceptable. Sometimes it’s just more time. I’m not ready for a new challenge. And so I work on myself. A lot.

I don’t expect other people to do the work I do. I don’t expect other people to be like me. I don’t even judge. I don’t make assessments of who people are based on my experience. I know about my experience and that’s all I know. But I also know that based on my experience I don’t have to accept bad behavior because it’s someone’s best. And I don’t expect other people to accept my best when it’s not up to par.

One of the toughest things I’ve done in life is accept myself the way I am. I struggle with it and work on it all the time. The second toughest thing is accepting other people the way they are. And the third is recognizing that while I accept who they are, I don’t have to accept them in my life.

Cause I’m doing my best, and that’s hard enough by itself.

People tell you who they are

People tell you who they are. Most people have patterns of behavior, repetitive habits that they usually tell us about. People tell us stories about how other people have done them wrong. How, other people didn’t understand. How other people behaved badly. They so rarely tell us about their part, though. Except, they do.

By telling us about the patterns in their relationships they tell us about their own behaviors. That girlfriend who always ends up with guys who cheat? The best  friend who always dates guys that can’t commit and break his heart? The uncle who makes bad business deal after bad business deal? Those aren’t accidents. We have patterns too. We have habits. We just don’t like to talk about ours. We talk about other people and we always complain that we didn’t see it coming. Which is really ridiculous. First of all we knew it was coming because they’re our patterns. Unless we make a conscious effort we’re bringing the same people into our lives over and over. If I’m attracted to someone new for the same reasons I was attracted to the last person chances are this situation is going to end much the same as the last. But more importantly we saw it coming because people tell us who they are.

A good college friend told me that a long time ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn the lesson then. I couldn’t just hear it and believe it. I had to learn the hard way. Of course. I wouldn’t be Melissa if I just learned things the easy way.

This year I was given two opportunities to learn to listen to people when they tell me who they are. And of course, this is all written in hindsight, so I didn’t get it when the opportunities arrived. To be honest I’ve probably been given opportunities to learn this one my whole life.

So, I had to work on it AGAIN. I had some drama.  And in the middle of the first drama with (let’s call her) Tracy,  I heard a new friend say it. Carrie said it in a group of friends and we all nodded and acted like we knew what she was saying. “People really always tell you who they are. Most of them aren’t even sneaky about it. They just right out and tell you. And we don’t listen.” And I thought she was so wise and I thought,  “Wow, that’s so true.” People tell us who they are.

But I actually didn’t hear Carrie when she said it, because I didn’t recognize that I was in the middle of a situation where I had been told exactly what I was dealing with. And I didn’t remember my old college friend saying the exact same thing 20 years earlier. So how well could I have been listening?

There seems to be a pattern, huh?

See,  I trusted, but I shouldn’t have because Tracy had a pattern and I knew about the pattern, but I wanted to believe that this time was different, that I was different, that our relationship was different. And of course, it wasn’t. Because people tell you who they are. Tracy had very few old friends, mostly new friends and she’d only been in town a short while. That should have been a big red flag. And especially for me because I really value my old friends. I have friendships that span 20-30 years and friendships that are only 5 years old, but having that history is important to me. So being friends with someone who only had new friends probably wasn’t going to work for me. And believing that her pattern was going to change was ridiculous. Because not only do people change less than I’d like to believe, but she believed her patterns were working for her. She had no reason to change. And she certainly wasn’t going to change because I wanted her to.

Luckily I got fed up before things got too messy. I admit it, I lost my cool. I don’t yell easily. Not unless you are very very close and few people fit into that category. Close enough for me to yell at is very rare unless we share DNA or our lives are intertwined. If we’re related, I have very little problem yelling. Okay, but that’s a different topic.

So, I yelled and I walked away from the relationship. Too late I recognized crazy and I don’t do crazy anymore. And then to top it off two people told me that they knew Tracy was crazy and had never liked her. WHAT?!? And then two more people told me they weren’t surprised and I should let go of my guilt for yelling. I’d apologized to Tracy. I’d walked away. It was over. WHAT?!?!

Now, I think I’m a pretty good judge of people. I think I’m good at reading people. Part of my job is being able to judge and assess. And somehow I’d ignored everything I was being shown. So I licked my wounds and I assessed where I’d gone wrong and I questioned me and although I’d let go of the relationship I couldn’t forgive myself. Was I such a bad judge of character? I felt I’d been tricked when really I just hadn’t listened.

Finally, months later I got a phone call. A mutual acquaintance who had had the exact same experience with Tracy called to tell me and shared that while she was sorry it had happened to me hearing about my experience with Tracy had helped her to let go of her experience with Tracy. Well, I guess that’s something. I’d known about her experience, but I hadn’t heard it in that way. See, cause I’d heard it from crazy Tracy and she hadn’t told the whole story. But the mutual friend could tell me details of her experience and they mirrored parts of my experience that I hadn’t told anyone. Holy Shit!

So, I was able to let it go. I was able to say to myself, you know what? This is not about me at all. She’s stuck in her own repetitve patterns, but I don’t have to be. I can learn from this experience and move on.

So, I did. I stayed away from crazy. I moved forward. I let it go and moved on. Or so I thought.

Then the universe smacked me again. I’m still not sure why the universe wants me to learn this so badly. It’s probably mirroring my own behavior in some way I don’t want to look at too closely.

This time I didn’t have to look for patterns or hidden messages or anything. This friend literally told me. Shannon literally told me that she wasn’t doing what she said she’d do. Apologized for it and then turned around and did it again. And I let her. I believed her every time she told me it was going to change. Every time I was hopeful. Every time I thought I was being helpful and understanding and a good friend and every time I ended up making excuses for her. I felt bad for her. She was struggling and I thought she just needed understanding. Ha!

And again I proabably should have recognized that she wasn’t going to change because she had no reason to change. It was working for her. She could tell me anything, I’d believe her and then she could behave however she wanted. There was no accountability.

Again, I didn’t listen. Shannon told me and I didn’t listen. I wasn’t the only place in her life she was dropping the ball. I wasn’t the only person she was letting down and I wasn’t the only person she took for granted.

I didn’t hear it, I didn’t see it, I didn’t do anything about it. Until I did. Finally, I wouldn’t let her do it to me anymore. And I was nice about it. I protected myself from her behavior. I made provisions so I wouldn’t get stuck cleaning up after her again. I created reasonable boundaries. (A rare thing for me, but I did it.) But this time when I wouldn’t let her start down the path to her excuses she wanted to talk. Oh, shit.

Cause I knew what that meant. I have kids. They only want to talk when they want to negotiate. And Shannon was no exception. I stuck to my guns though. I felt I’d been understanding long enough and I needed some boundaries. And I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t need to hash it all out. I didn’t need to worry about who was at fault or who did what. I just wanted to move on. I have my own stuff and finally I was being a little selfish with my time and energy. Someone who continually disappoints me doesn’t deserve a lot of my time. Wow, more boundaries.

As soon as I had boundaries, though, she disengaged. She made excuses about why my boundaries didn’t work for her. She wanted me to recognize that I had created this situation by setting boundaries. I actually laughed at that. Because here’s the thing about boundaries. If people are acting honorably they will respect your boundaries. They will accept who you are and they will respect you for having boundaries. The other people? They’ll argue, cajole, belittle, whine, yell and blame.

Eventually we did talk. She needed to know why I felt the way that I did. She wanted me to tell her what she wanted to hear and when I didn’t respond the way she wanted me to she was angry. She was accusatory and full of blame. Except for where her own behavior was concerned. When she asked me why I hadn’t told her how I was feeling I told her that since she was apologizing for her behavior I didn’t feel the need to point it out. I thought it was obvious. And around and around it went. And she was frustrated because I wouldn’t give her the answers she wanted. I didn’t have them in me. I didn’t feel the way she wanted me to feel. And she couldn’t accept that. She couldn’t accept Melissa. She wanted me to behave in a way unnatural to me and in a way that I wasn’t willing to behave. And so it ended.

And I’m okay with that. I don’t do crazy anymore, remember? I had to remind myself of that quite a bit as the conversation played over and over in my head.

So, the lesson has been learned. People tell you who they are. The growth is that I can fully accept it and not judge myself, but just take a look at my part and be okay with it. And I think that’s real growth for me. I don’t have to think of all the ways I could have done things differently or how I should have handled it. I handled it honestly and authentically. I was Melissa through and through. I didn’t dwell, plot or plan. I wasn’t manipulative or dishonest. I dealt with every aspect of it as it came up and I have a clean conscience.

So here’s to hoping that I’ve really truly learned the lesson. I know who I am. I can only be Melissa. I can only do things the way that I know how to do them. I’m okay with that. The people in my life who are okay with it too are keepers.

Now, the trick is to just listen when other people tell me who they are.