A few weeks ago, date night ended with a stroll through the cemetery next to the St. Boniface Cathedral. It was peaceful, quiet, and super green. We walked up and down the rows, reading the inscriptions, and marveling (in a sad and heartbroken kind of way) at how many parents buried children and how short many people’s lives were just a few generations ago.
Things were really different then.
One headstone stood out, a woman who lived from the late 1800’s into the late 1900’s. She would have watched a new century begin, and the changes in the world during her long life would have been astounding. I can hardly keep up with a couple social media accounts, and still haven’t figured out how to use Snapchat – I can only imagine that she’d have been overwhelmed at the contrast of how much the world changed during her lifetime.
All these changes really highlighted for me how humans are infinitely wondrous creatures.
We are capable of such amazing things in so many arenas. Art. Science. Farming. Technological advances. Architecture. The list is endless. The world has moved forward in some magnificent (and not so magnificent) ways because of our capacity for innovation and growth.
We are inherently capable beings.
And this is often a good thing.
Often, but not always.
I think that sometimes, our capacity – this very thing that enables us to push forward, grow, challenge, and take the world into new and exciting arenas – can also be our biggest stumbling block, and that it has a hand in keeping many of us mired in shame.
What I find is that lots of us get a bit hung up on this concept, and instead of capacity pointing to that which we are able to do or achieve – we operate as though it is something we must achieve, or else we’re somehow failing.
Let me give an example.
I like school. Like, a lot. And when I consider the data of my performance over my years of education – it is evident that I am capable of getting all A’s.
For a long time, anything less than an A felt like failure. Because I knew I was capable of such grades, I was operating with the notion that I must perform at maximum capacity all the time.
But then I took courses while working full time, raising a toddler, and growing a baby. I loved what I was learning, but time, energy, and frankly – oxygen, felt like it was spread thin, and I was forced to confront the narrative I held around being capable of something, and feeling like just because I could that meant I had to. In order for me to fulfill my maximum student capacity, I would have had to shirk on other responsibilities and things in my life. And even though I like an A, it wasn’t a trade off I wanted to make.
I came to realize during that stretch of time that capacity does not equal necessity. Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I have to.
This. Was. Profound.
All of a sudden, I could get a B+ and still be a good student. I could say no to a volunteering opportunity that I was capable of doing, but didn’t really have the time, energy, or interest for – and still be a good enough human.
Permission to not perform at max capacity all the time meant that I could have better boundaries around what I said yes or no to, and I no longer felt roped in to acquiesce to every request made on the merit that I could so I should.
What was also interesting is that this new found freedom didn’t actually mean I stopped trying to do well.
Lots of clients in therapy fear that if they give up the shame narratives, they will no longer be driven to work hard. Funny. Because my experience was that I was actually free to work hard without the extra pressure of shame. I still enjoyed trying my best, and giving things my all – but it was no longer fearful to not reach peak performance, and not reaching max potential in every situation was no longer failure.
I could say no easier. Say yes wholeheartedly when I did choose to invest in something. And could hear more from myself, listening more carefully what I actually wanted or didn’t want to do.
The notion that capacity does not equal necessity has changed my life. Perhaps it could change yours, too?