Conceptualized self: Are we perfect the way we are?

We are perfect the way we are. This is a mantra I hear and read very often, yet I fail to implement it in my way of thinking. Where is the catch? Why is it so easy to feel imperfect? Can we become perfect again, and if so, how?

I feel flawed

I am flawed. All of my friends are imperfect. Even my sons are very much imperfect. The only person I know who feels perfect is my daughter, possibly because she still believes in fairytales.  A couple of years from now, I think she will feel as imperfect as the rest of us.

This is not what I want to feel. Everybody in my close circle works very hard to improve. We constantly learn new things, acquire new skills, fix small cosmetic defects. Yet it is like trying to close a hole in a dam with a finger. Small imperfection aggregate.

What can I do?

Coward’s choice

It is so easy to say “I wish I was more like XYZ”, and it does not really matter which name I insert. Like I am flawed, and that person is perfect because it is his birthright. This is a coward’s choice. Avoiding the issues instead of dealing with them.

When I was a kid I was a small Jewish kid in the same class with huge Ukranian boys and girls. How huge? They were descendants of Vikings, blonde and beautiful. I could not beat that. They could beat me, but I definitely could outsmart them.

I am 47 years old now. I look 35, but this is just a result of my lifestyle: vitamins, sunset walks, a loving family, and a low-stress job. I live in Israel, and I do not feel smarter than my peers. If they are physically stronger, that is just because I got lazy. I had enough time and enough chances to be anything I wanted to be.

So if I ended up the way I am, this basically means I am just the person I wanted to be. The coward’s choice will not work.

Conceptualized self

The questions of identity, acceptance, and commitment, are at the core of the ACT psychological framework.  I will be releasing a course about it soon (something like teamwork and leadership), and I was just reviewing the edited videos of the first sections. In ACT terminology this is called conceptualized self. I did not acquire new skills because I thought they did not fit my identity.

“I am not a physical type. Why should I spend more time in a gym?”. “I am not a marketing guru.  Why should I fine-tune my message and create promotional materials?”.  “I am not a hedge fund manager. 10% annual returns are just fine.” “I am not a charismatic leader. Why should I babysit a larger team?”. This is beyond lazy or procrastination, it is an identity limiting choices. That does not even feel limiting, since there are not enough hours in a lifetime to achieve what I already committed to.

But then I evaluate myself, and compare my progress with the progress of my peers. I could definitely do better. Over the decades I let my conceptualized self limit my personal growth.

Stepping out of the comfort zone

To be honest, I stepped out of my comfort zone several times. My biggest failures, but also my biggest successes can be attributed to those rare occasions. If I had a good mentor I was often successful. If I tried to do it without mentoring, or the mentor did not deliver, I was less successful.

When I started this blog, I had no mentorship, no time, and no role model. Somehow things improved. I hate to see and hear myself on video. Yet I recorded thousands of instructional videos. I would not be able to succeed with videos without a very short session with Jonathan Levy: I would simply be too critical with respect to my outputs. I consider this entire line of products a success, as in “my legacy”.

Among my biggest failures, I can cite my attempts to build a startup. Either I am not a great entrepreneur or it is very very hard. Possibly both. I do not have great intuition in finance, and I achieve better financial results when I listen to what other people tend to say. Rather than try to introduce my own vision. I was also not a very accomplished poet (I published 2 books and a disk, but only hundreds of copies were sold) and not a great patent editor. Probably because I have a different natural inclination.

So I am naturally afraid to make a fool of myself once again. It is so easy not to try things outside the comfort zone… Unless someone pushes me into it…

The guardian’s regrets

One of my friends is a concierge in the office building where I work. After work, we have daily 10 min discussions, about steel (he was a mechanical engineer), life (he is ~20 years older than me), and leadership (he used to manage hundreds of employees).

Recently he told me this: “I always thought I should do more. I should write a book, create an invention, educate the masses, date a super-beautiful lady. If not me, then who? It was like a huge heavy stressful weight on my shoulders. Then I accepted I will never do that and the weight got smaller. Like a kitbag. If this is not something important, then what is?”

My own response surprised me. “That’s all crap. I achieved most of these things and did not feel any different. Your priorities are misplaced. When you were young you were a lifeguard and actually saved nine lives. Then you had a family and were a good father. And now you sit here taking care of the needs of people work in this building.  You should really be proud of yourself. Simply your priorities and expectations are misplaced.”

But then I thought… Wait… The same speech applies to me too…

By helping others we help ourselves

When I help others, in many ways, I help myself. My kids especially, but also other people put a mirror for us. Sometimes it is a flattering image, other times less so.

People my age should already accept that the reality is imperfect, we are imperfect, and any attempt to improve will be imperfect. We can strive for something we can live with. In ACT terminology it is called “workable”.

Why is it so easy for me to tell this to other people, yet so hard to accept it myself? What is the emotional barrier I did not quite figure out?

Possibly it is hope. Unlike others, I have actually seen how people can change. I have seen how much I changed. So I have more hope than others.

You have so many beautiful qualities, why do you make me so angry?

I work with many people. One of the people I have to work with is occasionally hostile towards me. Much more than he is towards others. Since the business constellation does not allow us to move apart, we try to solve the situation by talking. Recently he told me: “You have so many wonderful qualities. Each time you fail it drives me crazy. When someone stupid fails, I do not mind. But if you fail, I take it very personally”.

Now, my success rate is around 80%. I succeed more often than not.  But I also fail. I like those hard challenges where my success rate drops, and my eustress levels max, because I love to be in the flow state.  And this tends to make many other people uncomfortable. So what?

What really makes others angry: they do not expect me to fail. It feels to them that I fail almost on purpose. Honestly, I enjoy proper failing almost as much as I enjoy winning because it is a part of the game. I know the odds. But some people don’t. And for that part, I see zero tolerance.

Failing when we have high hopes is very annoying

I am committed to most of the things I do. I honestly try my best not to give up, work hard, try things, be creative. Occasionally my commitment misfires, and I get stuck in the wrong paradigm. I feel that I almost solved the issue, and yet with each step, I discover a new limitation. Eventually, I do not understand what to do next, and try to find more data.

This is the most annoying kind of failure. To feel that the solution is simple, it is near, and yet it is elusively unavailable. To make things worse, this usually happens in very simple situations. Somebody else with a complementary skillset often easily solves the issue. Just as I solve someone else’s issues.

When this happens, I feel more flawed than ever. How could I miss the simple solution? How come I did not implement it?

This applies to problems at work, at home, and in life in general.

What next?

The common sense and ACT paradigm offers a simple solution.

  1. Accept that some issues cannot be dealt with. Workable situations are good enough.
  2. Commit to improving the things that you can improve.
  3. Focus on your strengths and values.
  4. No singular success or failure defines you as a person or as an expert

Now, the thing is, we need to repeat the process constantly. The brain often fails to transfer the learning from one area to another. And the process continues…

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