I can sum up the past two months (maybe even this year so far), I think, through the realization that I don’t have enough eggs to go into all the baskets I’ve been trying to fill lately. But, it’s ok, because a lot of those baskets don’t need to be filled. And I wonder: how many of us work ourselves into a tailspin, trying to hold ourselves up to impossible standards, do things we think will be the golden ticket to a happy life?
Let me explain (otherwise, this would be a lousy blog post).
Through my ongoing quest for self-improvement, self-awareness, and growth, I have been soaking up articles and Facebook posts and podcasts and blogs, all about how to “live the life I want” or to “be the x I’ve always wanted to be (where x = lover, manager, employee, runner, friend, daughter, sister, woman, human. It took three sentences for me to get an equation into this post. #nerdalert). Every day, I would have “inspiring” emails delivered to my inbox and posts to my Facebook wall. I would read them with gusto, hoping for tidbits to motivate me, to flip the switch on whatever aspect of my life I saw in need of improvement. I created all these baskets to describe the person I wanted to be, and if only I could fill them with even one little egg, even a quail’s egg, I’d feel fulfilled and whole and could check that box.
About a month ago, it occurred to me that, although my intentions were good, I had somehow started subconsciously judging myself anytime I couldn’t find an egg, get that egg into a basket, or lost eggs. If I read about a way to better manage my time, and I couldn’t immediately implement it, I had failed. If I read about how to have better mental fortitude as an athlete and didn’t immediately see a change, I had failed. Through all my sources, I discovered that, in order to be happy and connected with myself and a good human being, I have to get up early, do morning yoga, meditate, drink lemon water, journal, not check my phone first thing in the morning, get eight hours of sleep (but – don’t worry – there are examples of very successful people throughout history who basically don’t sleep), nap (anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours), write down what I’m grateful for, make goals, don’t use the word “should,” not sit all day, take breaks every hour, spend an hour every day focusing on my team and not my own work, network, have coffee and lunch with people, don’t eat lunch at my desk, spend time every day “thinking and synthesizing”, not check email constantly all day, don’t bring work home with me, spend the first and last ten minutes of every work day scheduling and making to-do lists, not rely on to-do lists, eat vegan, eat vegetarian, eat local, eat organic, avoid sugar, avoid alcohol, drink one glass of wine every day (maybe even two is ok), drink tea, drink coffee (but not too much), exercise every day, take rest days, run a lot, cross train a lot, do core, strength train, foam roll, get massages, write, blog, play piano, listen to music, listen to podcasts, tell those close to me absolutely everything that’s on my mind, give those close to me space, put my legs up a wall for ten minutes every night, never go to bed with a dirty kitchen, never go to bed with a dirty apartment, always make the bed, set aside 10%, no 15%, of my salary for retirement (is that enough?!), go away on the weekends, stay in and get things done on the weekends, prioritize friend and boyfriend time, prioritize alone time, do what I love, love what I do.
I had so many good suggestions for how to live a better life. None of those suggestions were “just live happy.”
About a month ago, I had a thought (and I remember exactly where I was in GGP during a run, which is pretty amazing, because every time I pass that point, I think about this): what if I’m actually doing ok? What if I am “living the life I want?” What if I am the person I want to be? What if the struggle, then, is letting go of the picture that obtaining x will mean I’m done working or done growing or finished? That there actually isn’t a checkbox for me to say, “Ok, I am done being the best x I can be.” This realization was equally freeing and a tough pill to swallow. It means my work is never done, but it also means that I don’t have to hold myself to an impossible standard of being “finished.” The perfectionist in me hadn’t been serving me well, and it was a moment of actually believing the sentiment that life is about the journey, not the destination. I don’t have to solve everything. I don’t have to *gasp* be perfect. But “just live happy” seems to be a much better mantra than “just live by doing [all those things I listed above]” – it certainly rolls off the tongue a lot better.
I unsubscribed from about 90% of all those “helpful” websites and posts and inputs. I have not missed them one bit. Most of them actually were filled with good advice; I just was tired of feeling like shit after reading them. The remaining inputs are truly healing and productive and the beginning of a conversation with myself, not a “do this or else you’re a failure” sort of a thing. I’m good enough at deciding I’m a failure (oh, therapy, how I love you, but you have a lot of work to do) – I don’t need it from complete strangers who don’t even know me.
On a different, but related, note: over the last two months, I’ve also felt like I’m teetering on the edge of physical wellness. (This is the TMI portion of the post). My left knee started acting up; thinking it was bursitis, I went to the doctor, and it turns out I have an enthesophyte, which is a fancy word for bone spur. That doesn’t itself cause pain, but my imbalances (I’m a runner, I have a stupid left glute) means my quad pulls on it and gets irritated. My left hamstring and piriformis then decided to revolt, and it took a very large man to dig his elbow into my hip socket to get rid of that pain. I also spent a few weeks convinced I had celiac/lactose intolerance/pregnancy/ulcers/cancer/aliens (I should know better than to consult Dr. Google), because I would get waves of crampy, bloated, distended “situation” in my abdomen. I was also sleeping an inordinate amount of time – I mean, I like my eight hours but I spent a week sleeping 9-10 hours each night and feeling the proverbial bed magnet like I never have before – making it hard to actually get stuff done. Something was obviously not right. And if something isn’t right with my body, I know. Even if a doctor tells me to take Gas-X and give it a few weeks (!!), even if I’m not feeling acutely stressed, even if my heart rate and blood pressure and blood panels are fine.
Somehow, even just realizing that helped. But I knew I was searching for eggs for a million different baskets, and even searching for eggs for baskets I didn’t even need to be filled, and something had to give. I can’t prioritize absolutely everything. Realizing that my physical health was suffering from all the pressure I was putting on myself to do it all was a great and humbling sign for me to step back and re-evaluate. February and March are incredibly busy times at work, I am trying to prioritize time with Josh to build and rebuild, and I was trying to force training when my heart wasn’t really in it and my body was revolting. So I made the conscious decision to back off of training (not running, but I am running fewer miles) – it wasn’t fun to “have” to run when I got so busy and focused on other things. And you know what? Hiking 12 miles with Josh and a friend without worrying about whether I was going to run before or after… a 12-mile hike is a fucking workout.
This, of course, isn’t to say I’m suddenly just going to coast and not want to improve myself. It just means I want to start doing things because I want to, not because I “have” to. In reading my previous blog post, I know that I have some really important things I want to improve at, and it won’t take a moment, but I’m not a failure if it doesn’t happen right away. It’s a good reminder of what is important, and a good reminder that it will take time.
Getting out of my own way and letting myself chase what I want (and not what I think I want, or what I want because I think others want that of me) will always, I think, be a struggle for me. I always feel like I have to explain myself, if not to anyone but me, for any decision – big or small – I make. And this is an exhausting, complicated, way to go through life. Life is not so fucking complicated.
My friends, if any of you struggles with this and/or has any words of insight (just don’t say, “just do x and you’ll be cured,” otherwise I’ll know you didn’t read any word I wrote), I’d love to hear your thoughts. Much love xoxo.