For the last few weeks I’ve suffered from a condition I can't quite name but seems to flare up from time to time, especially when a new year approaches. It impairs my ability to get words from my mind onto the actual page, to get my yoga pant-clad bottom to the place where the yoga actually happens.
You see, it’s not an issue of intention, it’s one of execution.
There’s fortunately nothing physically wrong with me—my right (write) hand isn’t paralyzed and I’m thankful to have the ability to exercise my body. I can’t claim writer’s block because the ideas are there, just as I can’t blame my procrastination around exercising on not knowing how to do it…it’s just that I come up with every excuse in the world to NOT ACTUALLY DO IT.
And this is where the shame comes in.
Because what kind of person is fortunate enough to have the health and ability to move her body, to be provided with people actually willing to read the things she writes, yet actively chooses to get in her own way? What kind of person actively participates in the sabotaging of her own forward progress?
The answer to that is, in my mind, a failure. Perhaps you think I’m being too harsh, but let me plead my case.
One of the distractions I’ve used lately to stall forward progress (unintentionally but still...) is the suddenly very urgent need to clean and declutter my house from top to bottom—something I’ve decided must come first before all other things. As I cleaned out from under my bed, I found the large Rubbermaid container I’ve used as a keepsake box over the years. I opened the lid for the first time in a long while and rummaged through, finding some old vision boards and journals. On the pages I found goals from four years ago and made a grim discovery: my goals then were no different than the ones I’m still chasing after today.
I haven’t written the book.
I haven’t lost the extra ten pounds (well, I have here and there, but seem to gain it back).
I haven’t gone all organic or sugar-free.
I still have debt.
It’s not to say I’ve made no forward progress--I’ve gone after those things and, for periods of time, been successful. I’ve started a blog and gained some readers, I’ve cut back on sweets at times, and I’ve made a good dent in my debt…but it hasn’t been ONE year folks, it’s been FOUR.
1,460 days wasn’t enough time to achieve my dreams?
I can try defending my inching, rather than sprinting, forward with the fact that I’m a full-time working mother of a young child, but at what point does that fact become an excuse? And, if it’s indeed a valid excuse, it raises the question:
is it a worthwhile endeavor then to dream at all?
The optimist in me says “of course—keep the hope!” but there’s another voice that says “if it hasn’t happened by now…will it ever?” I considered this question head-on as I tucked the vision boards and goal lists safely away. I decided it was time to face whether these goals were really coming to fruition—if my progress was indeed moving forward or just circular.
I checked my blog stats and the scale for the first time in months, numbers I normally try not to look at but I also know represent reality. Despite my efforts to clean up my diet lately, the number on the scale was exactly the same as where I was last year. And, as could be expected, my blog numbers were down from my procrastination around writing. Ahhh yes…confirmation, not in emotions or belief but in actual numbers, that I was indeed failing to meet goals I'd set long ago.
I didn’t do what you might expect--internalize that sense of failure and go eat a bunch of garbage or run up my credit card or sabotage myself by going after the things I’d been actively fighting against. But I did, on some level, check out. For the first time, I didn't see the point in trying to make forward progress if I would only eventually backslide. I decided this year I wouldn't sabotage or strive...just be, well, goalless.
For three days I continued to pour myself into the cleaning of every inch of my house, a pile of items to purge getting bigger by the front door. I wasn’t necessarily feeling depressed or hopeless, but a bit weary, like my heart was hardened a bit.
I needed something to listen to as I continued to sort through and scrub my house and stumbled upon a YouTube video of a speech given by the author Cheryl Strayed. She talked about how she had once sat down to write the “great American novel” but found every excuse not to do so—and that when she was finally given the perfect setting and opportunity to actually DO what she’d always dreamed she would, she ended up binge watching reality shows instead.
After much procrastination, she finally had to face the idea that she was failing at achieving her dream. She had to reckon with her own mediocrity and consider the idea that maybe her dreams weren’t a worthwhile pursuit after all.
What she realized after giving it some thought was that her dream of writing was TRUE and REAL—it was just that the goal of writing the “great American novel” had been too big and felt too heavy. So, rather than completely give up or swing in the other direction and try to achieve GREATness, she decided to do something in between: to surrender to her mediocrity and simply make good on her intentions.
She said, “when you surrender to your own mediocrity, what you’re doing is humbly acknowledging that the very best thing you have to give us is only what YOU have to offer.”
I wouldn’t go so far as to say her words changed my life, but, again, things don’t have to be so darn BIG. What her words did do was get me to open my laptop.
And, look, here I am writing again.
Friends, I don’t have the circumstances in place to try and write a book right now and I don’t know how to turn 1,000 followers into the 100,000 that book agents are looking for, but what I can do is share some words that speak to my heart when I’m willing to let it crack open a little. That’s all I have to offer right now.
I don’t have the budget this year to completely pay off my student loans AND mortgage AND credit cards, but I can make my payments just a little bigger than the minimum and pay them on time every. single. month. That is what I can afford to do right now.
I can’t speak for how I’ll navigate my tricky relationship with sugar next month or next week or even tomorrow, but I can make choices that feel good for my body today, one breath and bite at a time. And I can move in some way each day, not for a number on the scale, but for my health and because I just feel better when I do. All I can commit to is the next right choice for my body, on this day.
I guess it’s no longer true that I don’t have goals for 2019 because I do have one: this year, I won’t try and make myself or my life over. I won’t commit to things that feel too big or too heavy. Instead, my goal this year is to surrender to my own mediocrity...
to give only what I have to offer...
to make good on my intentions.
That I can do.
And, to answer my previous question, yes…I do believe dreaming is a worthwhile endeavor—it keeps us growing and retains our sense of hope. But the scope and scale of those dreams is going to change year to year depending on our circumstances. If your career, love life, and financial circumstances are thriving, you might be in a position to pursue big, shiny, sparkly kinds of goals, and that’s terrific. That's the juice we get during the up times of life that serves as fuel to keep going during the down times, with hope that they'll come around again.
But I also know this: that if everything was stripped from you this year and you could give a hoot about big, sparkly dreams and you’re just trying to SURVIVE with the few things you’ve got left—the types of things that can’t be taken from you when all else is
like your will,
and your tenacious love for those weathering the storm alongside you...
real, gritty, salt of the earth kinds of dreams rather than sparkly ones...
well, here’s the good news I’d like to whisper into your heart, reminding you of what you already know:
in this year ahead, you'll be okay...because these are the only things you ever really need anyway.
"You're so sensitive."
Three little words I've heard over and over again throughout my life. In Kindergarten I cried every time the teacher reprimanded the class because I thought she was surely talking directly to me. Kids in school said I didn't know how to take a joke. Boyfriends accused me of being overly sensitive when we fought. Believe me, I've been told on way more than one occasion that I need to lighten up or toughen up.
Do something to stop being "too much"--too sensitive, too anxious, too nice.
I spent thirty-some years being ashamed of my sensitive nature, trying to put on a front that things didn't really bother me when they did, acting as if I had a thick skin when I didn't, pretending jokes rolled off my back when they stuck to me like glue.
Then, as I approached my mid-thirties, I had a child. And my sensitive self was so overwhelmed with it all--the love, the stress, the complete upside down flip of my life that it wasn't even possible to pretend I wasn't feeling all that I was. I called it postpartum anxiety just to give it a name, but really I wasn't quite sure how to name what I was feeling--I just felt oversaturated with and overwhelmed by the love. I wondered, is it possible to love something so much that it doesn't feel, well...good?
Then one day, when he was a couple months old, I brought him in to introduce him to my coworkers and one of them said something I'll never forget--she put words to exactly what I'd been feeling. She said, "doesn't having a child feel like you're walking around with your heart outside your body?"
OMG. Yes! That's exactly what it feels like.
And then, three years later, I began to fall in love like that all over again, except this time it couldn't last. And that heartbreak felt equally overwhelming, but different. This time I was able to put words to how I was feeling: if having a baby felt like walking around with my heart outside my body, losing one felt like walking around completely inside out, every nerve raw and exposed.
People's well-intentioned but poorly delivered words didn't just fail to "roll off", they felt like knives cutting an already open wound. Edgy and irritable became my default on a good day but most days my patience felt so paper thin, you could say the wrong thing and break it clean in half. Grief took up residence as an ever-present lump in my throat, a dam holding back a flood of tears just waiting for the slightest trigger to release it.
There's no use trying to put on fronts or a thick skin living inside out--I didn't care to and, even if I did, they wouldn't have stuck. So I had no choice but to start owning living inside out. And that's where I am now, as I close out my 30's.
Those of us living life inside out--we may be overly sensitive, we may overreact, but with that comes great passion for the things we do and people we love.
We may take things harder, but at least we're not hardened.
We're far from carefree but we're not care-free...our empathy is something the world desperately needs.
We're sometimes perceived as the Black Sheep or the Oddballs, but we're really just, as Glennon Doyle says, "not a mess, but a deeply feeling person living in a messy world."
Living life inside out means I might not be the social butterfly at the party but I can write a piece like this. It means I have boxes of journals because I've always written stuff like this.
But owning living inside out means that now you're reading it.
Because living life inside out is no longer something I'm ashamed of--it simply means I'm no longer pretending not to feel deeply when the reality is that I do. It means I'm finally making my outsides match my insides.
I may be "too much" of something, maybe everything...but you can never be too REAL.