I feel like I’ve been learning so much lately. In many ways, the learning makes me feel like a failure. I feel that if I’m not hitting a bullseye every time I should just pack up and go home – but I know there is growth in the learning, without learning we can’t grow and, it seems to me, in this untidy life we all live, a lack of growth quickly spirals into death.
So, I am learning, hungry to learn more – my ego suffering every step of the way.
I am learning that a little progress is better than no progress at all – if the bar is set too high, then the desire to jump it will shy away.
When I set a task for myself, I demand 100% success in order to feel a sense of fulfilment, but what about a 50% or 80% success rate? Why isn’t that worth applauding too? If I’m doing no exercise and I decide to exercise every day but I only manage three days out of the first seven, that’s still a 42% increase in my exercise – a huge increase for one week – yet, in my nature, I would see that as a failure and I’d abandon the entire thing on the basis of it not working – rather than nurturing my 42% into 60% and then 80% and then finally 100%.
When you think about it, expecting yourself to be able to master a skill instantly, to be able to have a complete personality transformation over one decision, to leap from zero to hero from one moment to the next is pretty much insane. But that’s what I do – I set myself up to fail over and over again because I believe that a little progress is worthless and equals no progress at all.
I’m learning to stop confusing gratitude with acceptance.
I understand the power of gratitude and I know that ‘gratitude turns what we have into enough’ – it’s incredible, but I think I believe that if I express gratitude towards something I’m accepting it in its current state – If I say I am grateful for the amount of money I currently make, a part of me feels like I’m saying I’m happy to stay here, I’ve expressed that I’m content and now I’m locked in.
I logically know that’s not the case but when I ask myself why I don’t express gratitude more often I believe that’s the reason…I believe that if I am thankful, I’m not giving my circumstances permission to change.
I’m learning to take people at their word and let them be grown-ups.
I can’t count how many times I’ve obsessed over the things people have not said. Like all the times I’ve asked if someone needs help, and they say ‘no thanks’ and then I find myself wondering if they’re angry at me for not helping – or if I ask someone for a favour and they say ‘sure’ and then I wonder if they’re doing it out of obligation or if they really wanted to help me…
It drives me insane.
So now I’m learning to just take people at their word – if they say ‘no’ then I trust they mean ‘no’ and if they say ‘yes’ I trust they mean ‘yes’ – these are grown adults, if they can’t clearly communicate their thoughts and feelings then that’s on them – it’s not my responsibility to try to decipher it for them.
It’s simple but I’ve found it to be so freeing.
I’m learning that anxiety – like most things in life, will let me think I’m in control long enough for me to exhale and then it will capsize that little boat I live in and watch me swirl around in a blind panic.
Having a problem, especially one I thought I had under control, revisit me doesn’t mean I’ve failed – I just sometimes need to readjust my measure for success.
I like to think about emotions and mental health like weather – and I am a tree – when it rains I drink it in and draw strength, when the sun shines I tilt my leaves and swallow it whole, when the wind wraps around me I dig in my roots and grow deeper, when everything is still I become a place for tiny birds to build their nests – the weather is what makes me who I am – and a tree in a storm is no less a tree.
I’m learning to stop catastrophising – because, as Brene Brown says, rehearsing tragedy doesn’t protect us from pain.
I have been homeless, bankrupt, held hostage in terrorist attacks, planned my entire family’s funerals, widowed, childless and encountered more car, airplane and train crashes that I can even recall…. all in my mind…all within my fear.
And I know, I know through experience, that no matter how many times I map a route for myself through those catastrophes, nothing will ever prepare me for that knock at the door or that sinking feeling in the doctor’s office.
It feels productive but in truth – it’s just unhelpful and keeps me living in fear rather than releasing me into gratitude and joy.
So, I’m learning to stop – to walk away – I don’t answer the knocking door in my mind anymore, I refuse to play out the conversations. I don’t indulge my own fear. Instead I remind myself to enjoy, enjoy what I have today and be grateful. Simple, uncomplicated gratitude.
So that’s what I’m learning today.
[Art by Morgan Harper Nichols]