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What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you a year (or five, or ten…) ago? Or 50 years ago?

“You don’t have to be perfect.” People who know me might be laughing at this point (as well as my husband), because I’m pretty far from perfect. But I end up being disappointed with myself a lot of the time — I didn’t devote enough time to this or that, I could have done better, if something goes wrong it must be my fault, I should have studied harder, I should have known better, and so on.

For  most of my life, though not always aware of it, I have been fighting an uphill battle because I’ll never be as good as I think I should be. I stopped this trip to nowhere several years ago when I sought psychological counseling. One of my initial comments was that “I didn’t know what joy feels like.” I had everything I needed or wanted, and plenty to thank God for (which I do), but it didn’t translate into happiness, or happiness without guilt (that I could have done better).

This also played a big part in my alcoholic drinking (stopped 20 years ago). I just never felt that I was loveable as I was, warts and all. I was always a disappointment. In fact, I thought no one would ever love me enough to marry me — so I think I felt I had to please my husband, to justify his loving me.

This started when I was a child (I’ve discovered), because I didn’t experience unconditional love. Nor did my sister. We’re both lucky to have had our grandparents who were able to give us more of what we needed. Without a whole lot of constructive parenting, I often tell people that my mother was lucky — I was a good child (so was my sister). And it’s true. I set high goals for myself and tried my hardest. Doing “wrong” stuff just didn’t occur to me (except speeding in my car). Even in college in Ohio, friends would ask me to come out drinking, and I wouldn’t do it because I was too young and unwilling to take their advice (and directions) and get a fake ID.

I am a much better adjusted person now, but some feelings of inadequacy still linger. While I still question some of my decisions and motivations, I have gotten much more comfortable in my skin. Being me is okay — I am unable (as is everyone) of being perfect, or of pleasing everyone. I no longer try to please people at my expense. For a while I felt resentment toward my mother especially, because I recognized in my adulthood that she hadn’t been a very good mother. (My father died when I was 14.) But resentment isn’t healthy, and instead I learned to find acceptance — you can’t change other people, and you certainly can’t change the past, so all that’s left is to change one’s own attitude.

I would like to have had the advice “Learn to love yourself first so that you can unconditionally love others.”

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