Have you been told that you’re too hard on yourself? Do you believe that if you accepted your less-than-desirable traits, then you’d never change? Well, scientific research seems to indicate that self-acceptance and compassion can make you both more moral and more motivated. The results of the experiment suggest that,
“…when we’re more accepting of our regret, we can face it more fully and learn from it rather than being in denial. If we don’t acknowledge mistakes in the first place, after all, how are we supposed to avoid repeating them?”
Let me give you an example from my own life. I had been drawn to working in Africa since I was a teenager. In college, I majored in international studies, anthropology, and drama, exploring how participatory theater could increase women’s participation in development projects. I went to the continent twice, once to Kenya and once to Tanzania. I learned Swahili. When I graduated from college, I went back home to Seattle, got a job in a healthcare non-profit, and didn’t return to Africa for over 10 years. I basically started from scratch in the international development world. I remember meeting an anthropologist who did her PhD work with women in Tanzania and was conducting research for the United Nations. I felt a tremendous wave of sadness as I talked with her more: “That could have been me.”
It was terrifyingly easy to sink into self-flagellation. Why didn’t I immediately go to grad school, stick with it, and power through all my doubts? I could be somebody doing important work rather than sitting at a desk and writing reports about someone else’s important work. I felt like I have wasted my life and was ashamed of what I hadn’t accomplished.
However, when I later looked at my history from a perspective of self-compassion, I saw a young woman who was confused about what she wanted to do but wise enough to see that her confusion could taint the work that she so passionately believed in. After all, when she was in Tanzania, she saw plenty of development projects cause harm to the people they were supposed to help, often because the American implementers were angry, bitter, or wounded in some way. She decided that she should work on her issues first before subjecting people who were less powerful, privileged, or protected to them. And if she did stay in anthropology, she would have never ended up in career consulting, which is a much better fit for her personality and life goals. Now she’s serving people who are then going out to serve others, touching more lives than she could have done by herself. Not bad!
Without self-compassion, I slip into despair. With self-compassion, I’m proud of my journey and my work, determined to find better ways to get people into their perfect-fit career.
How can self-compassion work for you? Try this exercise. Think of a regret that you have and then write about it with self-compassion and understanding. Write like you are taking notes for a friend that you care deeply about and highly respect. Think about the circumstances and intentions. What benefits have happened that wouldn’t have happened otherwise? Once you’ve finished writing, check in a see how you feel now? What’s different? Do you feel lighter? Do you have more energy now?
And self-compassion isn’t just for you! As you let go of regrets, you can be more present and empathetic with others. Good for you, good for the world.
If you’re figuring out what career path you want to travel, I’ll help you explore your options. If you need help with resume writing or interviewing, I’ll work with you on those skills. Become the designer of your own career with Be the Change Career Consulting. Contact me today for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.