When I pick up my kids from daycare, it always goes the same way. In the car on the ride home I ask my oldest (he’s almost 4) if he had a good day. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get a yes. More often I get a blank stare or a “hrmph”! and a kick on the back of my seat. If I push it further he will say “I don’t want to talk”. I don’t blame him, he probably is inundated with questions and stimulation all day and just really wants to quietly digest it all. So, on one particularly awful day I decided to mix it up. As we pulled out of the lot, I flipped the script on him. “I had a really bad day today, Jonah”. He instantly looked concerned and interested. He asked why. I said “I made a mistake at work.” He looked confused. “But it was an accident?” “Yes.” He looked unimpressed. “What else happened?” he asked. “I feel like I didn’t do a good job at work today.” “What else?” This next one was hard to explain, but it was the last straw that almost brought me to tears. The icing on the cake of my bad day. “I forgot to bring an umbrella for us and that nice man had to give me one.” It was pouring. Jonah didn’t want to get too wet, so I was in the process of taking off my hoodie (while holding his little brother) to give to him. My plan was to run to the car and get the baby in, then let Jonah use my hoodie to stay a little dry as he got in. As I was doing this one of the Dad’s picking up his daughter at got out of his car with an umbrella. He asked if I needed one. I embarrassingly said yes, but stammered that I’d be fine, we just needed to go a short way. “No,” he said “take this, we get them all the time at work. Keep it.” I thanked him and promised I’d give it to him the next time I saw him. He reassured me it wasn’t necessary, and hurriedly got back in his car to leave. I felt not gratitude, but embarrassment, shame, and a lot of anger at myself for being unprepared. After I told Jonah the third reason why I was having a bad day he looked at me with a lot of confusion. “Why is that bad?” I couldn’t explain, so I said after thinking a few seconds, “I guess it’s not, honey, is it?”
As I was listening to the audiobook of The Gifts Of Imperfection the next day, something Brene Brown said hit me like a ton of bricks. “Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” Now, that’s an ugly truth if I ever heard one. No one wants to admit that they don’t give with an open heart… I thought I did that? I take pride in being the fixer, the helper, the go-to for any crisis. Could I be judging everyone I helped as harshly as I judged myself for needing help? I don’t think I do this consciously, but rather unconsciously in the process of developing self-worth in the way Brown explains:
“I understand how I derived self-worth from never needing help and always offering it. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help’. The truth is that we are both.”
When someone needs advice, direction, or assistance I put them in the “those who need help” category. No one always wants to be in this category, right? I certainly wanted to be in this category as little as possible. I prided myself in being in the “those who offer help” category. I wanted to be one of those people who have their shit on lock so well that they always have time, energy, and ability to help. When I was offered the umbrella by the Dad at preschool, I was forced to look at myself as smack dab in the middle of the “those who need help” group. I needed help in more ways than one, too. I was (am!) in need of help in other areas too, since I was so overwhelmed with work and family that I was making stupid mistakes and thinking that I was existing on 4 hours of sleep a night just fine. I was not only a member of the “those who need help” group, I could be the exhausted, harried mayor.
Brene Brown suggests that the way to find your happy place in each group is to embrace connection. To give yourself permission to be imperfect, to fall apart, to need advice or assistance.
“If connection is the energy that surges between people, we have to remember that those surges must travel in both directions.”
Easier said than done, though, right? I found the rest of The Gifts of Imperfection incredibly helpful in making progress in this area and overall in striving to embrace my authentic self and live a more wholehearted life.
How do you receive? With an open heart or with judgment (on yourself or others)? I, for one, am going to start practicing giving and receiving from a more honest, open place.