Photo Credit: insung yoon,

Written by Mariya Petrenko
December 6, 2019

A recent conversation had me voice my opinion about what purpose and fulfillment meant to me. Struggling to put these big concepts into a concise statement, the thoughts took me back to around a year ago, when the puzzle came together.

All of the pieces I was exploring until now, all of the parts of myself that I was trying to uncover and connect, were assembling into a perfect picture of a transformation of a Good Girl. I knew this person too well—obedient, non-conflicting, helpful to the point of people-pleasing, striving for perfection. She was now working to break out of this mold.

I learned early on that keeping small, quiet, and agreeable was a way to stay out of trouble at home. Giving the right answers and following the rules was a way to get praise and approval of adults at school. Avoiding drama and conflict, being a straight-A student, and exceeding expectations was a good way to advance, and to win the “child with a big potential” game.

In my world, good girls didn’t ride their bikes too fast, were not to play with knives or play cards (much). They were not to play in the mud and should have their hair brushed and tied up before breakfast. 

Learning the Rules

The rules grew with the girl. But also grew the rift between what I really wanted and knew was right for me, and what I actually did, because I was too caught up in the “do-not-hurt-their-feelings” and “what-if-they-don’t-like-me” games.

The image of the person I had to be—to be accepted, successful, and loved—was created, and then reinforced by my ever-growing need to prove myself, to collect approval, praise, respect, and admiration. The critic that forced me to be nice to others, to not seem rude, or selfish, or arrogant, now took a comfortable residence in my mind and ruled the show. 

You see, the process of fitting into this mental mold of what a good girl is and isn’t required giving up, hiding, neglecting, abandoning the parts of myself and the feelings that didn’t fit, were “bad” and were not allowed.

The thing is, my real desires, my real understanding of what was right for me, was always there. My soul always knew that and pushing it away or repressing it looked like when I was trying too hard to get bad grades in 6th grade because “who likes nerds?” (even when I understood all of the classwork). Or hating myself in college for dating the guys I wasn’t necessarily in love with because I couldn’t bear to hurt their feelings. Or going to the party instead of reading or praying because of fear of being boring, and an even bigger fear of disagreeing out loud. Or later, this rift showed up as guilt and being torn between the desire to take time off to stay with the newborn, and all the work and volunteering I should do because I promised or signed up for.

I was pleasing people I barely knew or worked with but neglected the interests of myself and my own children.

My wake-up call came when my third child was born. By then I had a PhD in Science, earned a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship, had a husband and a family I loved, had fantastic job prospects and a great boss at that job. And yet, I was sitting at work, dragging myself off of Facebook, forcing myself to write another piece of code, thinking “what is all this for? Why am I giving away my infants to someone else to watch, only so I could sit here feeling miserable 70% of the time?” 

I talked to my advisor, who said roughly this (not a direct quote):

“Go and find something you want to do. I’d rather have you go and be happy somewhere else than have a miserable postdoc.”

It began—the journey of mending the rift; of letting me be who I really was underneath the layers and inside the mental constructs of being a Good Girl. It turned out that looking for a dream job meant I needed a dream! 

Learning to Test the Rules

This journey took years (and still continues). That third child from the previous paragraph is now a first-grader, and there’s so much I’ve discovered along the way already. Some of my insights I will share here, a lot more I’m putting into my book.  

What started as a desire to find a better job, unleashed a process of getting rid of a whole lot of previous limiting beliefs about the world, myself, and others–and coaching was huge in working through these. 

I had to learn to recognize and accept my emotions and normalize all of my feelings.

I learned:

  • to listen to my body
  • consciously trust my intuition
  • recognize and follow through on my own desires.

I learned to accept the support of my husband, my family, and learn to trust them to fix and solve their own problems. I not only had to grow myself, but I also had to let those around me grow as well–and that included leaving their feelings and reactions to themselves, not assume or worry what someone, let alone those I don’t even know, feels or thinks when I set my boundaries.

Directly communicating my real thoughts and desires was an important lesson to learn. That a “Yes” or a “No” were sufficient in themselves, without excuses or explanations. That “I don’t want to do it” is just as valid as “I can’t do it.” I’m still working on it, but there’s much progress.

I had to let go of the very common belief that keeps Good Girls working non-stop: “My worth is defined by my achievements.”

Only when I realized that my God-given worth is just there—a gift, a birthright—could I let my projects fail, and go with “Okay and done is better than perfect but undone.”

It also allows me to rest and enjoy life. I’m taking bigger risks and being more brave and open about them. 

And finally, the big lesson about purpose. I now realize that our life purpose is to use the unique combination of talents, skills, strengths, interests, and passions we find valuable and interesting for ourselves and others. Let go of what we should be, get back all our parts that were neglected, hidden, and forgotten in the attempt to fit into the Good Girl box and live them. 

And when we live with our entire being, when we act upon what we really feel, think, and value, then we are satisfied.

We are fulfilled.

Photo Credit: insung yoon,