I had a conversation with a friend recently and we discussed what we expect in a relationship. She’s hoping to find someone, but not having much luck. I asked what she expected and what I got in response was a list most would agree is a bare minimum for a relationship that isn’t toxic. We ended up discussing the matter for a time afterward, but it reminded me of how I used to approach relationships, job prospects, and even shopping for clothing!
I was really awful about underselling myself, even to myself.
It took a ton of therapy to get me to a point where I could begin to stop settling for the bare minimum or less. Settling for anything is underselling yourself. It says “I’m not capable/deserving/intelligent/pretty/skilled/etc enough.” But the reality is, you are.
I’ll expand on the shopping first. I used to go shopping for new clothes and if I tried something on, I said to myself, “Eh, it doesn’t look bad.” All a new garment had to do was skip merrily over that excessively low bar. This was how I approached everything in life.
“This guy is alright to date, he doesn’t hate x about me.”
“That job will do. It pays enough and I don’t think they’d let me have a better position.”
“These people rarely hang out with me, but at least I have friends to talk to once in a while.”
Is it any wonder I felt discontent with my life?
I worked with my therapist on the relationship questions for several months. At the time I was evaluating the relationship I was in, trying to resolve issues from a lost relationship in my past, and seeking a way to look forward and find more fulfillment in my relationships.
Let me make this clear. It doesn’t matter what your gender, you will NEVER be happy in a relationship where you accept the bare minimum. It doesn’t matter if it’s a professional relationship, familial, friendship, or even your relationship with yourself. It’s like wanting chicken parmesan and settling for a slice of lunch meat and a piece of cheese.
But how do you change it? Well, remember that it took me a few months of seeing my therapist weekly to start making changes. With that in mind, here’s a starting point.
Back to the shopping example! Instead of deciding I needed a new shirt and just grabbing something that didn’t look terrible on me, I had to stop and think, “What kind of shirt am I looking for?”
Specifics might include the style (T-shirt, blouse, business wear) and the overall fit (Loose, tight, in-between). Also, what about color? Am I looking to match a specific skirt or pair of pants?
Instead of “doesn’t make me look like a bridge troll” my expectations rose to include a specific sort of shirt and that it look good on me. I didn’t care if it brought out my eyes, raised the color in my face, or made me look graceful… it had to do something to enhance my appearance while meeting the need that sent me shopping in the first place.
The same process helps to evaluate relationships, whether current, past, or potential. Why settle for “someone who doesn’t tear me down” when you can expect “someone who actively encourages me to grow.” It’s a subtle shift in wording, and maybe you meant the second when you said the first, but it leaves you open to such a reduced standard when you phrase things based on what it doesn’t do.
An example of this applying in a professional sense comes from years ago. I was preparing to move from Kentucky to New Mexico. Part of that preparation was to get my resume ready to send out so I wouldn’t be left without work when I moved. I wrote it up and took it to my boss to review. (ALWAYS have someone who is above you review your resume when you write it or change it!)
He expressed surprise and said it read like a resume written by a man. Why? I claimed my accomplishments, skills, and awards. I did so because someone sat me down and taught me how to write a resume, but that instant was when I realized, I had been missing opportunities because I wasn’t claiming my successes. It would be over a decade later when I’d have a therapist who could teach me not to undersell myself in other areas of life.
The next time you’re evaluating something, be it a relationship, a new car, or a simple shopping trip for a new shirt, look at the way you’re talking to yourself about it. Don’t let yourself be trapped in a world of minimum expectations. Don’t undersell yourself. Be clear about what you need, what you expect, and what you’re not willing to compromise on. Raise that bar and make your life better!