Looking from the outside in

Sometimes I can get in what I like to call “what are you doing with your life?” modes. It usually starts with my good old friend comparison. I see someone doing so many things. Maybe they are killing it at their job and juggling two or three side projects, maybe they are decorated with various awards and accomplishments at a much younger age than me, maybe they are overflowing with fulfillment in their personal life, or maybe they are all these things. Rather than feeling happy for them, I often take the selfish route. I turn an accusing finger back to myself. The voices start squawking.

What are you doing, missy? You know, you could be doing those things. You could be doing those things if you wasted less time on Instagram. You could be doing those things if you stopped cooking and baking all the time and started networking more instead. If you were motivated to work harder and focus yourself on the biz-ness of making money, if you toiled with a keep-your-head-down sense of discipline you so often hear about in success stories. If you read more books. If you stopped wasting.so.much.time.

When those voices come-a-shouting, sometimes I half-heartedly try out phrases like, “be kind to yourself”, or “comparison is never a good idea”, “your definition of success is not their definition of success”. But no matter what I say, it all sounds like a lame excuse. And let’s be real, on some level, it is. The truth is, of course I could be doing more. Of course, I could be wasting less time. Of course, I could be softening areas within that could use some softening. Of course, I could get out of my head and think of others more. Of course, I could address the problems in my life with more honesty. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But when the real talk ends, I’m left in that swampy stage where the reality sits and the change should, in theory, begin. But when you’re knee deep in your own shit, it’s hard not to tear yourself apart with criticism and should haves. It’s hard to find a fruitful way forward.

So, lately, rather than allowing myself to wallow for long, I’ve been trying to step back and let myself be a conduit for these emotions instead. As if I’m the stationary pole on the back of a bumper car, just seeing where the driver takes me. If I am overwhelmed by jealousy for someone in my field, I try to see what that’s saying about what I need to do. Maybe it means I need to take stock of how I’m currently doing things and try a different approach. And maybe it doesn’t have to mean that I’m a complete failure and that they are clearly much better than me, maybe I can simply let them inspire and drive me forward. It’s not a novel concept, I know, but the trick is in detaching myself from “attack mode”, which is not always simple, especially when it’s become something like a reflex. But now, when I feel it creeping in, I at least take solace that when the dust settles, I will be able to find some insight, however small, within my perceived failure or shortcoming. When I meet someone who is so much further ahead than where I am now, rather than beating myself up for not being where they are, I try to see what about their story could apply to my life and what is simply their path and not a good fit for mine. It may sound obvious, but it’s a practice I must remind myself of again and again when my default is typically not good enough.

And what not good enough is really saying is: I’m not where I want to be. While that’s important to recognize, I also know that that voice will probably always be there, although its tone and wording may become gentler over time, because there is never a point when I’m done. It feels cliche to say, but I’m never done growing and tending to the job of living a life. Every day sets me back to zero, starts me over again. Some days that means just getting dressed and feeding myself feels like a major accomplishment. While my first tendency is to diminish that, maybe the act of growing is saying “yeah, it is an accomplishment” because the mere act of existing in this world is difficult enough. It’s also about recognizing that saying that doesn’t equate to settling for less. It doesn’t mean I have given up on trying, that I’m somehow going to backslide from a lack of ambition. But it does, in a tiny way, say that I’m okay with where I am right now. I’m okay with all of the parts of myself I’m not so fond of and would like to change, those parts that always seem to jump to the surface when I compare myself to others, and in fact those parts are actually serving a helpful purpose. They are there to nettle and prick me from time to time, to wake me up to the fact that there is always somewhere else to go and something else to do. The pricks are there to make me respond, and if I can do that, then I’m still here. I’m still paying attention. And sometimes, that can be enough. I can let the here just be what it is. I can let it be a place that directs me forward.

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