In previous writings I’ve identified characteristics that existed in earlier versions of myself – Hill affectionately refers to the guy she married 17 years ago as Nate 1.0. It’s difficult to say where I currently am, or that I don’t occasionally revert to previous versions, but overall I’m happy with my progress! 

Many positive qualities that I’ve always had helped me to build what I consider to be a rewarding and fulfilling life. Unfortunately, most of those years were filled with the expectation of perfection in all aspects of my life. The negative effects of this approach led me to be judgmental of myself and others, and produced a significant number of dark days where life seemed just too heavy. There were too many moments of depression caused by not living up to an unreachable standard.

As I think back, one of the early cracks in this foundation of perfection occured while sitting in a church meeting, hearing about one more thing I needed to add to an ever growing list of items to do. As I listened to the speaker, I had a revelation (probably not the one he was hoping for) – I was going to start a new list. And his topic of discussion was the first item on this list of things I just wasn’t going to worry about. At all. 

And it became the first step for me in moving away from guilt and shame as a strategy for motivation. That strategy was failing me and was unsustainable for my mental health. Over the years I have added other things to that list, and I can’t tell you what a blessing it has been. If you don’t have a list of “important” things you don’t worry about, I invite you to make one!!

I love the work of author and researcher, Brene Brown. In her lecture entitled The Power of Vulnerability (definitely worth your time) she states:

“We live in a culture of deep scarcity, defined by this: Never Enough. You can fill in the blanks – Never good enough, rich enough, powerful enough, safe enough, certain enough, perfect enough, extraordinary enough… not relevant enough….

We have a shame based fear of being ordinary.”

Unfortunately that declaration rang all too true to me. I was a man of scarcity. When I encountered some aspect of “moral failing,” my only approach was to berate myself for failure, and browbeat myself into a better effort. 

But with a lot of personal work and meaningful conversations with Hill and some great friends, I arrived at the following conclusions:

1- I will no longer be controlled by feelings of guilt and shame – from myself or anyone else.

2- I have value and worth as a human being because I am alive. It has nothing to do with anything I have or haven’t done or become.

I cannot even begin to describe how liberating this new framework has been. And it led to something even more profound. Once I let go of accepting only perfection in everything, I started to finally make improvement in the important things – kindness, generosity, forgiveness, compassion, empathy.

I recently listened to a meditation on the Calm App called “Aiming for Generosity.” In it, the teacher discusses the pursuit of important virtues. The teacher stated:

“When I identify with needing to be a particular way, even a really good way, I set myself up for a lot of suffering. Because I’m human, and there will always be times when I’ll fall short. A more realistic and compassionate approach is to think of values to aim for.”

When perfection is our only acceptable outcome we will inevitably fail. In doing so, what we lack becomes our focus and that negativity actually impedes future progress. Shame never offers a path for genuine, permanent improvement. Alternatively, when we accept our effort, free from judgement, virtuous acts actually happen more often and more easily. We become the people we want to become by focusing on what we’ve done well. It’s self-compassion that offers the path to success and the virtues we seek.

Some might interpret this as a call for complacency, an acceptance of any effort no matter how inadequate it is. I don’t see it like that at all. I see it as the first step in pushing back against the idea that we just aren’t enough.

  • Adam
    1 year ago
    Nate I love that vignette of the church speaker. I took up that approach many years ago. Too many things to add to a growing list of what to be and do. I love that idea of focus and striving. Thanks for sharing!
    • Nate
      1 year ago
      I would say that that experience happened about 4-5 years ago. I only wish it had happened sooner! So liberating.
  • Hillory
    1 year ago
    This is my favorite face! I love you Nate, keep up the inspiring work❤️
    • Nate
      1 year ago
  • Sandy Pippin
    1 year ago
    Nate this is profound! Thank you for sharing these insights. Just what I needed today!
    • Nate
      1 year ago
      Sandy, I'm happy you liked it! Thanks for your comment 😊.