When I was a kid, I got pulled out of soccer games a lot.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough.
It was because of the way I talked to myself when things went wrong.
If I missed scoring a goal, I would get really mad at myself.
And the negative self-talk would begin.
“Why do I always do that? I can’t believe it. That was so bad. I’m terrible.”
I didn’t have the self-awareness when I was a little kid playing soccer, but when I got older, my parents told me that the abrupt change in my body language was apparent.
It was blatantly obvious when I started to fixate on my failures.
My shoulders slumped. I muttered to myself. It was clear that my head was no longer in the game. So my coach would pull me out.
What’s interesting is that the negative self-talk was worse if I barely missed the goal than if I missed it by a mile.
Because I was searching for perfection.
And the near-miss crushed me.
Now I know that perfectionism is a self-inflicted wound. It never leads anywhere good.
But sometimes I still look for it.
When I was younger, I thought perfectionism is what I should strive for. I thought it would make me happy. I thought that by doing things the right way, all of the time, I could control my life.
More importantly, I thought I could control what people thought of me. I thought that my parents being happy with me would mean that I was happy with me.
I thought good feelings were objects that could be presented to me in recognition of my good deeds — like they were something that could be purchased at the store.
Now I know the truth is not so simple.
Good feelings — the kind of feelings that are enriching and enduring — can only come from within. These feelings are harder to create, but they are more worthwhile and meaningful.
The truth is, even though I know that only I am responsible for my life and happiness, I still talk to myself with words that would appall me if I used them on someone else.
I’m still my harshest critic.
And I don’t know why.
I’m a nice person. I care about people. I’m pursuing a career of service — of selflessness, of empathizing with all my heart.
Yet, there is a shred of my soul that feels it is not worthy — that I am an impostor living a life I do not belong to.
I have come a long way. I know how to cope with the self-imposed mental torment in ways I was not privy to when I was a child.
I’ve learned the hard way that how I talk to myself is not who I am, nor is it, someone, I would ever wish to be.
The way I talk to myself is fiction, but I find fiction tends to be more powerful than reality. The lies that I tell myself, the rebukes and reprimands — all for what?
More and more, I talk to honor myself. I allow myself the space to accept how far I’ve come. Years ago, I wouldn’t have given myself any credit in my journey. It would have been a mistake.
Now, I’m seeing the power in my words, in my story of how to make a life.
Most days I talk to myself as a friend.
One day, I will talk to myself as a brother who, after being gone for so long, is now welcome home.
Jordan Brown is a social worker making mental health accessible and he coaches click here to learn more