Professional Coaching for Intention, Advocacy and Growth

You’re the Best

I have a new life story, and I rewrote it word by word, one experience at a time, day after day. As hard as it is to say out loud in pure vulnerability, it is my authentic truth. I am a recovered achievement and praise addict. Hearing the words “you’re the best” was my drug and those words traveled through my veins via a big needle of perfectionism and extreme over-commitment to others. Like all professional addicts do, I finally hit rock bottom desperate to find my mental and physical health that I spent all 36 years losing. “It can’t be like this, is this what it really is all about, how I did I get here?” Suddenly, I truly opened my eyes for the first time in my life, and I looked around, I mean REALLY looked around and couldn’t believe my eyes.

I call my season of eye opening “my startles” and even after years of recovery it still happens to me now and again, the realization that not all humans are playing the game of life with the same level of loyalty, authenticity and commitment that I am. Sometimes the startle presents like this…. “How am I in a toxic ongoing situation with another adult female, I’m not in middle school anymore?” or “Why am I carrying all the responsibility for an experience when there are multiple other adults involved who are just attaching to my goodwill and benefitting from my free-flowing energy, but not providing me anything in return?” And my favorite “Why does ‘this’ (insert your rut here) keep happening to me?”

My old story sounds like this. I am the first-born daughter to very well-intentioned workaholic parents. High achievement and extreme competitiveness were the name of our family game. This was not only the story in my immediate home, but that of my extended family as well. Self-made millionaires, PHD’s, master’s degrees, multiple highly ranked and decorated military officers, and top-level leaders of international corporations hang from my family tree. When you are the first baby born into a line like this you quickly learn what matters. The faster you get an experience of achievement associated with your name the faster you get the praise. Additionally, with no child performers in front of you to be compared to, you always win the 1st place prize. By some of my earliest age five memories, my dad routinely referred to me as “The Great One”—a nickname he still uses when he talks to me today.

As I grew so did my achievements, I was accumulating a list of all the great things I had done and doing them exactly as I was told to do them, with no margin for error. As a little girl, I absorbed every achievement expectation that was put on me. From as young as I can remember, I was told “you will go to college” and “you will move out when you are 18, no matter what”. “You will get a job at 15 and you will get good grades, you will go to church every Sunday and you will get a masters, and you will get a PHD and you will travel the world, and you will, and you will, and you will.” You get the idea. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in dreaming big for your children, but only as a portal of love that your children feel the world is theirs to do what the deepest and biggest fire in their heart burns for them. At my house the “you will” weren’t gold stars that I was earning for me, I was earning them to add to the achievement chart of my family system, one that my family circle liked to carry with us wherever we went, like a flashing light to blind others with.

Middle and high school years were spent filling my life basket with gold stars of achievement in academics, sports, friends and boyfriends. By the end of my senior year my letter jacket looked like a junked-out resume of my assumed worth. My journey continued, and my addiction became more and more of who I grew into as an adult every day. The endorphin rush because of achievement praise meant that I was doing it all right, and the more I achieved the more I belonged, to my family of origin. Like Brené Brown states in “Braving the Wilderness”, our family of origin is “the most primal and important of all our social groups” in our growth and development. Important was the key word, you must always make sure you are important and doing big things, hoarding every gold star you could along the way.

By college, I was having the time of my life at Arizona State University, during its glory days as the # 1 party school in the nation. I was maintaining a 4.0 GPA, a job, a very colorful social life and all the other things I had a waking minute to do. I think I took more gold stars away from ASU than any other time of my life. Finishing my college career, a dream move to Colorado followed. I would meet my soon to be husband who would coin me “The Ultimate Guys Girl” in our early days of getting know each other. The biggest gold star of my life as far as I was concerned.

Fast forward to age 30, a sweet 2-year-old, a precious newborn, and a new perfect house were my reality. We were lucky enough in our situation that I was able to stay home full time to care for our kids. Another achievement marker of mine-be a full time stay at home mom, a goal I had had since my mid-college years. There was yet to be something that I hadn’t had the chance to accomplish that my ego told me I had to do. By this time, I had reached the end of the family circle achievement list, as I was now running a full family of my own. All things existed in my life on the surface. If I said it out loud I did it, no exceptions, even if the accomplishment wasn’t a representation of my true heart. If what I committed to got a “you’re the best” sticker from anyone I followed through at the highest level of perfectionism I could produce.

Without my family of origin as my achievement markers, I turned to the outside world and anyone that I deemed a giver of worth and recognition in my daily living patterns. Anything you asked me to do at this phase of my life, I did it. Anywhere you asked me to be, there I was, and any task you asked me to do, or hired me for, I did it all out with no boundaries and 110% in. When you praised me for my over-achievement, I took it another 5 steps up. There was no stopping my expectations of perfection and loyalty completion that I placed on myself in effort to get praise from those around me. Key words…” that I placed on myself”.

Until that one day.

That day I found myself in a heaping, crying pile on my closet floor at age 36 repeating the words “how did I get here?” and “What’s wrong with me?”. And, then that day repeated itself, too many times. Then I started to notice things like inability to concentrate, headaches, body aches. My days were filled with shortness of breath and chest pains from stress and constantly trying to keep up with my schedule and with all the over-committing I was doing to feed my addiction. I believed I had no choice. I decided that I had to keep up the constant expectations of follow through like I always had, and to always say yes like I always had, to always be there like I always had, with my eyes wide shut.

I’ll never forget the moment, the one where I opened my eyes. I was standing in a café in the fitness gym where I was very popular group fitness instructor. I was having a surface conversation with a patron who was developing into a friend. For some reason that day I tested out a new layer of vulnerability. She asked me where I was headed for the rest of the day, I gave her full honesty and said I was on my way to fill a prescription for the anti-depressants I had been prescribed by a family practitioner for extreme exhaustion and sadness I had been feeling for the past months. She looked me deep in the eyes and with all authenticity said, “don’t fill it”. Having struggled with medical issues and depression in her past, she shared that combatting the side effects of her past anti-depressants were one of the hardest things she had to do. She asked me why I was so physically and emotionally depleted. I told her that I just couldn’t keep up anymore, that I was just pulled in every direction and that I was desperate to feel better. This was a total shock to her as all she knew me as was her overly motivating, positive fitness instructor who she drew great energy from every week.

She said something to me that I have never let go of, “You can say NO” to all these people and requests. I resisted with “there’s no way, impossible”. She went on to say, it will be one of the hardest things you do, but each time you do it, it will get easier and easier and you will get a life back. She didn’t know it then, but in that talk, she granted me permission that I didn’t have the mental clarity to give myself to start my personal rehab, the reclaiming of my soul and the pure design of my authenticity. I never did fill the prescription.

Today I proudly work non-stop on my personal recovery and authenticity every day. Saying no is one of my favorite words and the greatest ACHIEVEMENT of my life. Like many new experiences, I started out so small, believing that I could only tell you no and advocate for myself and my needs by giving you a big long, drawn out explanation of why I couldn’t commit to something or someone. This idea that my saying no was so critical to a person’s emotional functioning and that the hurting of feelings was going to be a sure consequence kept me in growth paralysis for a few years. My friend was right, it got easier and easier every time and I dropped the need to explain myself to others. Today, I use "NO is a complete sentence" as one of my favorite mantras (Anne Lamott).

With this NO strength under my belt, I no longer need to hear "you're the best" to make it through an experience. I now bring daily intent and awareness of the following things to everything I do.

  1. The people around me and the energy they bring to the space.
  2. How my mind and body feel during a commitment that I have chosen to do.
  3. The amount of increased time and energy that I must have to be clear in the present moment

This awareness has given me the opportunity to literally reinvent myself and my life. My “you’re the best” addiction is gone, replaced instead with a thriving life of freedom, joy and clarity. I know this to be my authentic truth because now I have the time to live with my eyes WIDE open.

Audra Byrne is a Professional Advocacy Coach and Founder of Serenity Solutions: Professional Coaching for Intention, Advocacy and Growth. She helps her clients self-advocate, identify their gifts and intentionally communicate their personal and professional needs. The results are a daily life of reduced mental clutter and transformative, permanent growth. You can learn more about Audra’s coaching practice at www.serenity-coaching.com.

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