One of my clients says that she “always has to work twice as hard for half as much.” Do you know this feeling? Or, maybe you even feel like you work really hard for no pay-off at all. This is such a frustrating piece of Learned Distress, the feeling we absorbed early in life that there’s something wrong with us being exactly the way we are. It’s something I’ve dealt with quite a lot, myself.

This negative dynamic often contains an odd mix of three factors. The first is feeling that one has to do things perfectly. People who feel this pressure often work hard do very well at tasks, such as school work or achieving a high level at some musical or artistic pursuit. You look at this person’s resume and you might see Ivy League schools or equivalent training grounds, and they usually did quite well at these very high-level pursuits. So, how could they work so hard, be so good at doing things, so smart, and yet not have this all end in the result they were looking for, such as a prestigious job, recognition, or fulfillment of their ultimate goal?

It’s because the second factor in our odd mix is the feeling that no matter how hard they work, they can never achieve what really matters to them. It’s bizarre, right? We believe that people who are really good at something always are recognized and rewarded for what they do. But, when the feeling at someone’s core about their ability to achieve is that “it will never work,” no matter how good they are at doing something, it doesn’t result in the hoped for goal.

The third factor also works against people with this pattern. It’s the feeling that it isn’t safe to win at anything. So, when it comes to achieving something that has a competition aspect to it, like a job or recognition of some sort, people who feel that it isn’t safe to win keep themselves hidden and on the sidelines. Even when they try to step out into the spotlight, some force often hides them, squelches their voice, or in some other way sabotages their attempt to share themselves and their talents with the world.

Even the first factor, needing to be perfect, works against these folks, especially when you factor in the other two things. When their dreams don’t pan out, they go back to the drawing board, which usually comes back to feeling like they need to be more perfect, so they just keep beating themselves up for not doing things well enough. Other people look at them like they’re crazy, because often, they’re the most meticulous or talented person in the room.

So, why couldn’t they just realize that they really are extremely smart, talented, and accomplished, and begin to realize their goals? It’s because that would be working on this problem at the rational, thinking level, and this problem is stored more deeply in us than our thinking brain can access. It’s stored in our sense of self, which contains how we feel about being human. The sense of self automatically generates every moment of our lives based on the feelings it stores. So, when we feel, “I have to be perfect, but I can never win at achieving my goals,” the brain just keeps generating moments that feel exactly like that. The ultimate frustration is that because the thinking brain can’t access and change the sense of self at this deep, feeling level, understanding it alone doesn’t help us change it. Ugh.

But, when my clients do access the deeper feeling level and begin to unlearn layers of this crazy combination of Learned Distress, they see things shift in a really new way. First, they often start to feel (much to their surprise) that they actually are good enough, that they need not try and be more perfect, that their unique contribution is just right. Second, they begin to feel that their uniqueness contributes to others’ well-being, so that it’s a win-win situation when they achieve their goals. And, as they start to feel different in these ways, the sense of self starts to generate situations based on these newly uncovered good feelings. Client successes in this realm range from being recognized by respected authorities for their unique contributions to finally winning a hoped for job to connecting with the high-level support they need to grow their vision and release it into the world.

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Do you know the frustration of working and working and working without really reaching the goal you were hoping for? Of being highly skilled at something, but never getting the pay-off that should come with that level of achievement? I know how you feel, and I hope that you also get to know the experience of more successfully sharing your gifts with the world.