Over the last year, we've been privy to some spectacular athletic feats on the track, on the field, in the pool, and on the court. Usain Bolt, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Serena. Inarguably holding in their respective fields, the coveted, "Greatest Of All Time".
The amount of time and energy (emotional, physical and mental) sacrificed at the altar of winning can be brutal. To be within the league of the elite, one must live with an intensely hyper focused drive to endure the training regimen these Olympic and World Champions put their mind and bodies through. Why? Why not retire after your 5th gold medal or 3rd Super Bowl ring? Most will never know the feeling of standing on the top podium representing your country, let alone having done it 28 times.
In an interview, Vincent Kartheiser, actor on Mad Men, captures the answer to the continued pursuit to be on top, "With success comes a level of sadness. You think, "I'll reach this goal and then I'll feel a sense of completeness, of wholeness. I'll feel that I have accomplished something. I will see myself as a worthy man." And it doesn't really exist."
Expounding on Kartheiser's sobering reflection, Tony Schwartz, writes in a New York Times article, entitled, "The Enduring Hunt for Personal Value", "Once our basic needs are met, we human beings arguably crave value above all else. We each want desperately to matter, to feel a sense of worthiness."
No matter our profession or economic bracket this desire to be valued is the great equalizer. Inherently, we all want to know that we are worthy. That's why shame is so incredibly toxic. Shame tells us that we are inherently defective. To combat this feeling, we continue our vain attempts at proving shame wrong through perfectionism, being the best.
Shame researcher, Brene Brown, writes, “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” She talks about the antidote to shame: “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” This is the definition of vulnerability. In order to grow an unshakable sense of value and worth, we must decide to offer our truest stories to safe people who will receive us with unconditional empathy. This suffocates shame.
As we do this over time, the pull towards success and perfectionism becomes less strong. The desire to be wholly seen, warts and all, while still scary, is not as threatening as it once was, so we live with a courageous invitation to be known, first and foremost to ourselves. This posture spurs us toward an openness in relationship. And we come upon a redefined experience of value that has nothing to do with output and everything to do with the source.