You don’t have to be perfect to be useful

As I was preparing for my first paid art therapy workshops I felt intense anxiety. Who was I to be doing these? What did I know about homelessness? How could I be anything other than a middle class no-idea snooty well-meaning do gooder? Teenagers?? I never liked them even when I was one. These kids will eat me alive, I fretted. And rather than prepare heaps to feel better, I dragged my heels and avoided preparing at all. The weeks drew on. The first week loomed closer and closer and rather than having all my gear neatly organized and workshops planned I still had a brewing sense of unease and a guilty item on my to do list saying ‘design workshops’. As I began to put pen to paper to do the task all my fears bubbled up:

  • ‘You’re not good enough’ – ok thanks for that
  • ‘You’re not experienced enough’ – everyone has to start somewhere
  • ‘You will FAIL and make a fool of yourself, you wont cope, you will cry in a little bundle and everyone will know they made a huge mistake hiring you because you are just a FRAUD’ – ok jeez, lets look on the bright side huh

And the most insidious completely untrusting of myself message that bubbled up like toxic waste was:

  • ‘ You are a mess yourself! How on earth can you be the therapist when you have issues, and don’t deal well with stress, and have your own myriad of emotional problems – who said you were well adjusted enough to be a role model? You are messy and disorganized. You don’t drink kale smoothies. You are more like them then you want to admit. You are probably setting a bad example.’

This was not a fun place to be. To get to a position where I could prepare for and deliver the workshops I had to cross the bridge of my own perfectionism and self doubt. But what I had to remind myself was that you don’t actually have to be perfect to be useful; and realistically there is no perfect. To be a therapist, or a coach, one doesn’t have to be living some flawless, radiant, white toothed magazine-ad life. Of course you need to be generally well, and grounded, and have self-care practices in place. Of course it is better if you have joy and calm and self love to share. But do we need to be without shadows, without niggles, without doubt? Of course not. Barbara Sher in her coaching training, often says ‘the best coaches are the ones that have had the same problem you are dealing with’. If you want to tackle an issue, you are more likely to learn form someone who has had that same issue, tried different solutions, and eventually overcome it. Someone who has never struggled with it is unlikely to have many strategies or perhaps even empathy for you in this situation they haven’t had. So as we bring the witness to our fear, and self doubt, as we name it, and we hold it gently and don’t succumb to panic, as we practice owning and tolerating our shadow, we step into the place where we can be of help to others. Not as perfect beings, but as good enough.

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