In my years as a human resources leader trudging through different corporate environments, I met hundreds and hundreds of people from all backgrounds. In recruitment, I had opportunities to engage with people from college age to near retirement. Everyone had a story, had goals and if I was lucky, I heard about their hobbies, trips and families. My decade of interviewing left me with the desire to get to know people in the landscape outside of their career: How did they get here? What do they truly desire? and most importantly, How can I help in a way I cannot help as a hired employee?
When I left the HR field I was terrified. I had built up substantial skills through the years helping people negotiate the stressful corporate world but helping people on my own was different. Venturing into my own practice meant more was on the line and it was just me, my reputation, and my delivery of expectations that would be measured. So, I started with what I knew: working with busy, over-achieving, perfectionist, highly ambitious professionals and students. People who were like me, or, like I used to be (still a work in progress). My Type A peers were my perfect client because I understood them; and it worked. I had an arsenal of tools to help them identify stressors and combat the on-going struggles of life. They in turn felt less pressure, less anxiety, planned less and lived more in the present.
But here's the thing: I then started to get clients I could not identify with. People with backgrounds, ailments and concerns that I had no history in. Not being able to rely on commonalities related to Type Aisms, I developed a Cycle of Stress model that could be used with anyone. We talked about stressors, thought patterns, common emotions and their habitual reactions when life got tough. What I found surprised me. No matter what someone came in with, every single person had the same underlying thought:
"I am not enough".
The one debilitating, scary, threatening thought that everyone has and no one talks about. Such a thought and the subsequent, "How can I do better?", "What more can I do?", "I should have done ___ differently", "I am a failure", "People will judge me"... and so on, all circle around the idea of inadequacy. This is pretty commonplace with those of us who are on the perfectionist scale, but I was seeing this show up in a large demographic.
And what does this teach us? It sure tells me that we all ought to be a bit more compassionate. We all ought to understand that everyone is a little scared, a little bit full of self-doubt and a big bit vulnerable. That even the most high-powered executives (I've encountered many) have thoughts that circle around insecurity. Although I can certainly teach clients how to negotiate with those thoughts to remove them from the internal narrative, what's more profound is if we can truly understand the human in all of us.
Life is hard. We are all struggling in some way. We all could be a little nicer to ourselves and others. And we could all certainly give ourselves a pat on the back.