At various times over the years, I’ve been bullied, belittled, undervalued, underestimated, and just plain done wrong. But there’s one person who knows my weaknesses better than anyone else, who never fails to find the chink in my armor with a cutting word, whom I can count on through thick and thin to consistently do the very best job of being my harshest critic, of inflicting wounds, knocking me down, and showing no mercy.
That person would be me.
When it comes to scrutinizing me and finding every flaw, of attacking the things I’ve said and the things left unsaid, of questioning my abilities, of assaulting my every decision and handing out punishment for every misstep, I win first prize every time. And by such a wide margin that it’s not even a fair contest for any other possible opponents.
I wasn’t born with this particular trophy, but I’ve had it for so long that I can’t even remember when it was first awarded. All I know is it’s taking up way too much space in my trophy case. It’s past time for spring cleaning, and I’m ready to get rid of the Own Worst Enemy award, to drop it off at the Goodwill after hours (because it’s got to be on the list of things they won’t accept, worse than a used mattress or a computer monitor from the 90s), speed off, and never look back.
I’ve tried dumping it before, but this stubborn thing keeps following me around. Every time I think I’ve unloaded it, I turn around and there it is, like a black shadow permanently tethered to me.
I had an idea though, and it was inspired by puppies, so I can tell it’s a winner.
Everyone knows that puppies make more than their share of mistakes. They barrel through life, grabbing it in their jaws, leaving a trail of slobber and destruction and dog fur wherever they go. But their mischief comes from a place of innocence, over-exuberance, curiosity, and ignorance—not malice—and whatever anger and frustration you feel toward them evaporates when you look into their big, brown puppy eyes. You want to be stern, but you end up laughing and hugging them. You clean up the mess, and you tell the tale of the pilfered trash can or the chewed-up couch cushion to your friends, and they laugh, and the story becomes a legend that gets told and retold with a smile, long after the puppy has turned into a well-behaved gent, and when all is said and done, the sum total of joy brought into the universe by the incident outweighs the damage.
So I decided that whenever I mess up and let myself down, all I have to do is remember to treat myself as if I were a puppy.
In the last week, I’ve practiced this strategy twice, first when I had an epic eyeliner mishap and second when some of my numbers at work didn’t match up. Both times, my knee-jerk response was, naturally, to be flooded with feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, and self-loathing. Then I remembered the puppy.
I mean, come on. What puppy has ever been able to give herself a decent cat-eye? Compared to the unspeakable disaster that would result if your average pup ever got into the liquid eyeliner, the uneven, crooked mess I made on my poor eyelids was practically a work of art.
And if you asked a puppy for the number of records in a spreadsheet that fell below 90% of the median, and he gave you two different counts because of a rounding error, you wouldn’t fire him or call him an unqualified, stupid English major who never should’ve Peter Principled himself up to a job he’s not smart enough to do. No, you’d be amazed that he was able to sit upright in a rolling office chair and operate a mouse, and you’d cut him some damn slack.
So that’s what I did. I busted out the eye makeup remover and the whiteout, I erased my mistakes, and I tried again, with as little self-berating as I could manage. It felt unnatural, but nice.
I have officially put the Own Worst Enemy award on the ground and am baby-step backing away from it, trying to practice forgiving myself and being a friend of my own mind, remembering to love and honor my inner puppy on both good days and bad.
I think it’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not sure how my cats are going to feel about it.