Sometimes pressure and stress come from outside of our being, but sometimes it come from within. We have our own standards and our own expectations to meet. In fact, we may be convinced that no one can do things the right way like we can. So, when and if failure comes, we are devastated. Devastation may lead to depression. Depression may lead to other health issues. We may feel it necessary to double our efforts rather than ask others for help. Sometimes we feel like we just can’t get a break. The question I have is: where should the break come from, within us or outside of ourselves?
Self-reflection has been critical to finding and loving my true self. For years, I spent so much of my time trying to please others – trying to make them proud of me, love me, recognize my skill set, or approve my methodology. This started in my childhood and continued on throughout a portion of my adult life. I actually used to repeat to myself this mantra: “Everyone else can do 100%, but you must do 200%.” I felt the burden of being the first in several areas of my life, as well as being a role model for those who would follow – the unknown others. My standards, my goals, and my drive had an audience mostly created by my imagination. I never would have believed it back then, but now I see it so clearly. I never gave myself a break, therefore I never truly enjoyed or celebrated my own achievements.
I can’t necessarily take all the credit for this type of thinking. The comments or criticisms of those we love and/or respect can be a catalyst. Perhaps a parent, or grandparent, or a coach, or a boss questioned our efforts when we had given our all. Perhaps an authoritative person compared us to other scholars, workers, or volunteers causing us to reevaluate or double our efforts. Competition may also be a source for such obsessions with accomplishment and determination to reach a certain status. When your work is good, but someone else gets the recognition for their work or receives accolades, you may receive this news as a challenge to be the best next time. Self-doubt and low self-esteem can have the same effects as narcissism. All three of these characteristics are self-centered preoccupations on what others think whether perceived or real.
Now you all know I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, I’m just a writer trying to use my craft to keep positive conversations going through stories and poetry. So today, I’m sharing a wakeup call from my life. One day, I realized I was miserable when I should have been happy. I had accomplished many of my dreams. I had many successes under my belt academically and in my career. My family life was great. Religiously and spiritually, I was growing. I (we) had property and savings. I had traveled all over the U.S. and abroad. So why was I miserable? Who could I point the finger at or blame? Who put the target on my back that would never let me take a break. After some introspection during a personal retreat, the answer was clearly ME. Yes, me.
So many people in my family, even my husband, saw me as driven. They thought I was driven by my own desires and dreams. Each time I reinvented myself, they thought I had a plan and was going for it, but some of those times I was just quitting before potential failure could manifest. Sometimes I was competing with persons younger than myself, but of course they didn’t know that because the competition was in my head. Other times, I was hiding my weirdness, aka giftedness, because I hated when people saw them as an unfair advantage. (This usually had something to do with my ability to write or my discerning interaction with children.) I couldn’t, and I didn’t ever give myself a break or take the time to really celebrate my successes. While it was true that I was the first in many cases, no one was pushing me to be better than good. No one was creating the challenges in my mind but me. I invented my own “rat race.”
Over the years I have developed two favorite retreat locations: Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. and Hendersonville, TN right outside of Nashville. I try to spend two or three days in these places to reset my spirit and my goals a couple of times each year. (If I only have a day, then any place with water works i.e. the lake at the monastery or Stone Mountain Park, or West Lake in LaGrange. Rivers are great too like the Oconaluftee.) It’s important to take the time to get in touch with yourself. What are you feeling? What is going on with you? What are your short term and long-term goals? What brings you joy? What causes you stress or sadness? How are you balancing your time between work and family? What are your real priorities? What will you do about failures? How will you celebrate victories? Who do you want to share your life with? (By the way, these are journaling events.)
As I was watching Serena Williams on ESPN she said something that triggered this train of thought after winning her match. “For years I had a target on my back . . . but today I don’t have anything to prove, I don’t have anything to win, and I absolutely have nothing to lose. I’m just Serena, you know . . .” I took it to mean she could simply enjoy her last days playing tennis. She could play her game to her standard. Win or lose, she was doing what she set out to do. Needless to say, everybody has an opinion of what she should do, how she should do it, and whether retirement is the right move for her, but what matters most is her own opinion, her own decisions. That’s personal growth. Others may indeed try to place stress on your life, but you can give yourself a break. You can play the game of life your way.
There are many events that may require you to give yourself a break: a newborn baby, being a care provider for an elderly relative, a bad medical diagnosis, changing positions in your place of employment, airline travel canceled by weather or other things out of your control, broken appliances, auto accidents, a national pandemic, social distancing, menopause, arthritis, death of a loved one. I could go on, but you get my point. Any number of things can change or upset your plans, but none of it makes you less than. Give yourself a break. So, what if it takes two more hours, two more days or two more weeks to get a thing done. So, what if it didn’t turn out the way you planned at all. It may be time to reevaluate. It may be time to come up with a new plan. It may be time to say the magic words: “I need help.” It may be time to take a walk or go to the spa, but it’s not time to beat yourself up. You do have a choice. Like Serena, you can raise the bar or lower the bar according to your own standards.
There’s enough going on in our world to keep us on alert and in the battle, but we don’t have to give the outside things permission to take control of what’s inside of us. Rest, relax, enjoy leisure, surround yourself with people who fill your bucket when it’s empty. Take a vacation, or a stay-cation. Read a good book, play a board game with your children, enjoy a romantic evening with your spouse, but don’t miss life’s joys because you won’t give yourself a break. You are your own score keeper. Noone else can determine whether you have given your all. Allow yourself to retreat and reflect and be honest with yourself. (See my blog: Self-Care, a Non-Negotiable.) Are you enjoying your life or are you the one making your life miserable?
I hope this blog entry is relatable. I can tell you now, I am enjoying my life so much more than I use to. I’m smiling more, laughing more. and doing more of the things that bring me peace and joy. How about you? What’s your story? Feel free to share your thoughts with me.
Stay safe, stay free, stay engage in the joys of living!