I have spent most of my life trying to be good. I could think of nothing worse than being bad and getting in trouble. In my quest to be good I became a people-pleaser of the highest order, especially when the people in question were in some sort of a position of authority. I wanted them to like me and I wanted to be praised, so did whatever it took to be considered praise-worthy.
One day, I realized that my desire to be good wasn’t serving me. There are some major pitfalls that come with behaving. The biggest one, in my experience, is a life lived for other people rather than yourself. As I sought after praise, I spent my time doing the things that I thought that other people wanted me to do. This is all well and good when other people’s perceived expectations line up with your own desires, but when they don’t it leads to you playing a supporting role in your own life, rather than embracing your place in the spotlight. If there’s any place where you can be the star, it’s the story of your own life.
As I came to realize that in my pursuit of perfect good-ness wasn’t serving me, I decided to make a change. I poked my little toe outside of the box I had built so carefully for myself and dared to ask what it was that I really wanted out of my life. For the first time in decades I allowed myself the freedom to question and imagine and dream. It was freeing. It was exhilarating. I kind of loved it, even as it scared me senseless. Slowly, oh-so-slowly, I moved a little further outside the box by taking small actions for myself. It only upped the ante of freeing-exhilarating-terrifying, but for the first time in my adult life I felt really truly alive and present in my own skin.
I decided that rather than trying to be good, I would try to be good enough. The truly observant may point out that they’re pretty much the same thing, but it felt like a leap to me. This is where I sat for two years or so – trying hard to be good enough. But then my fabulous friend Amanda left a comment on my blog suggesting that we should strive to be bad enough. It really hit a chord with me, and smashed what was left of my box.
Throughout my journey towards a more authentic life I’ve lamented the fact that I didn’t listen to my heart when I was younger. I can see now that I actually had far more freedom to act on my impulses and follow my passions when I was 20 and single than I do as a 35-year-old mother of two. The truth is that I didn’t mis-spend my youth at all. Instead, I spent it trying to be very, very good. In the process I crafted a very socially-acceptable life that was outwardly great, but that never really fit. If I’d listened to my heart and used my youth to write and explore and play I could have built a very different career that was more in line with my own interests and passions.
In short, I wasn’t bad enough when I had the chance to be. And yet, it still didn’t occur to me that I could be bad enough now.
Amanda gave me a gift, by showing me that it’s really not too late to stop trying to be good enough and start trying to be bad enough. We’ve all read that lovely poem about the woman who will one day wear purple. She outlines all of the ways that she will be bad enough when she is old, pausing to suggest that perhaps she should practice a little now, just to get people used to the idea. As I reflect on that I think it isn’t other people who need to get used to the idea the most, but the woman herself. Our own insecurities are usually the biggest obstacle we face in our search for meaning. After all, other people are too busy dwelling in their own insecurities to worry about us.
Practice makes perfect, and practice takes time. This is why the best time to start something is always in the past. But the second-best time to start something is today. If I want to learn how to be bad enough, I need to start now. Of course, I have responsibilities, and of course I will respect those (mostly). I’m not about to leave my kids in the car outside the casino while I spend my afternoon playing the slots. But who’s to say that I can’t give myself a mental health day every now and again? Who’s to say that I can’t dance with abandon, write with passion, eat more chocolate than is advisable, or opt out of commitments that don’t enhance my life?
Thanks to Amanda, I have a new goal – I am going to be bad enough that I know I have lived my life well and fully. I am going to be bad enough that my children can see what it means to follow your heart and take care of yourself. And I am going to be bad enough that I don’t look back on this time in another 15 years and lament how very good I was.
Who’s with me?