Each week for the past year, I have taken a virtual class in advanced therapeutic techniques called T.E.A.M. therapy through the Feeling Good Institute in Mountain View, CA with Dr. Jill Levitt, Ph.D. adjunct clinical professor at Stanford.
And each week I continue to fail, and I’m really, really happy about that. In fact, I’m over the moon with relief.
I stumble, stammer and stutter. I feel incredibly anxious. I must get the right answer. I should, after almost 15 years as a therapist and an excellent education, be able to nail it, and get a blue ribbon for my 10 performance. I must prove I’m worthy enough to work with this world-class therapist and prove my competence to the other therapists facing me on my laptop screen: “I’m not a fraud!” But my haunting voice from childhood whispers, “Your worthiness depends on your achievement.”
And this is how I can beat myself up because my performance sometimes doesn’t match my high expectations for myself. Sometimes I think I should just give up because the anxiety of not being my personal best is hard to bear.
I gotta be perfect, and sometimes I fail. Why? Because I’m human, that’s why.
Jill admires us when we make mistakes because we’re taking the risk to learn. We’re stepping up to the plate and learning to make mistakes and discovering nothing catastrophic erupts. She will unconditionally accept us, and in fact admires and encourages us. She wants us to make mistakes and fail — as quickly as we can — so we can strive for excellence rather than “perfection” — an illusion held exclusively by the most neurotic among us, including myself.
So that’s what I’ve learned this year. And guess what? I’m signed up for another year, and will participate as often as I can in FGI workshops, conferences in CA and across the country. Heck, I’m off to London this month with a colleague to help Dr. David Burns, M.D., author of the blockbuster Feeling Good, at his first European conference. He’s the one who created this nurturing environment allowing us to fail as quickly as we can. I’ve learned from years of trial and error in this business to to reassure myself when taking on challenges. My mantra, “Progress not perfection. we’re only human,” comforts me and quickly gets me back on track when I’m feeling wobbly.
Wow, now I’m worried I’ll some how trip up and blunder in London. My worst nightmare would be unknowingly embarrassing one of the three founding fathers of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Maybe he will even be angry — and no oneshould be angry with me or I’m, shamefully, not good enough. My feared fantasy is that he would expel me. I would be the worst colleague ever to help at an important event like this. I’ll be shunned. I will live in a world of nothing versus all that I aspire.
And then the much more confident me reminds the doubting Thomas within: “Don’t worry, I got this. The world will not come to an end if I trip up. You’re catastrophizing. Relax and enjoy the ride.”