In a celebrity obsessed world and where people’s lives play out on social media, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can have it all, and then put enormous pressure on yourself trying to get it. The effort to lead the perfect life can be exhausting and overwhelming.
Logically, we know that no one gets everything they want – all the time. There’s a plethora of evidence which shows that many social media images are manufactured and stylised to remove any hint of imperfection. Despite that, the myth of the ‘perfect life’ still haunts us – leading to comparisons and many of us feeling like we are falling short. At the same time as we are placing expectations on ourselves, we have expectations placed upon us by others. Once again, if we fail to meet some pre-conceived standard we are often judged and founding wanting.
My husband and I wanted to have children, but it was one of the things in our life that we couldn’t have. It just never worked out. It wasn’t something I talked publicly about at work, except with people I knew well. The assumption for some work colleagues who were unaware of my infertility was that because I was career focused, I had chosen to not have children. These were comments that were lathered in judgement and tinged with condemnation. I was somehow less of a person, because in their mind I had chosen to not have children.
From my perspective, whether it was my choice or one foisted on me it shouldn’t have mattered. I never saw not being able to have children as something that defined me. For my partner and I, it was something that we couldn’t control. What was our choice was whether we let it define us and ultimately damage us. We chose to reframe our vision of our life. When we got the news, we went out and bought a bottle of French champagne and wrote a list of everything we could do because we didn’t have children. We knew we still had choices. This didn’t mean we weren’t sad at times, but it helped us refocus and move on positively.
As for the harsh assumptions of others, I learned to ignore it because their views on me didn’t matter. There’s no doubt that life throws us curve-balls now and then, and we have choices about how we respond. In making those choices and responding, it is so much easier when we have people around us who give us space, acceptance, compassion and understanding, rather than assumptions and judgement.
In its quest to build the perfect team Google found that one of the key ingredients was psychological safety. To me that concept matters in all aspects of our life. For our mental wellbeing we need to be OK telling people when we don’t feel OK, and for that to happen, we need to be liberated from assumptions and judgements. Of course, the latter isn’t easy to do, as we all fall into the trap of making snap assessments.
So rather than being quick to assess, be curious about what might be going on for the other person. No one has it all, and we are all amazingly complex and imperfect human beings. When you dig beneath the surface you’ll be amazed at what you uncover.
Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and ‘Career Leap: How to Reinvent and Liberate your Career’. For more information visit www.michellegibbings.com.