Two days ago I had a long and powerful chat to a dear friend of mine. You see I have been feeling deflated, uninspired, exhausted and world-weary for many reasons of late. None of them have anything to do with anything that has happened to me, only perhaps in providing triggers to my own mental gun. Triggers around competition with others, the fast and cacophonous nature of the lives we lead, the fear of missing out (an old friend of mine), and a general sense of "I can't be bothered".
For a while now, I have been contemplating a few big issues without really dealing with them. It's been like having massive neon signs in capital letters being switched on and off in the cavernous, gloomy, sometimes foggy space that was my mind. Signs like "BE AUTHENTIC", "BOUNDARIES", "SELF-CARE", "COMMUNICATE YOUR NEEDS"... I'm sure there was a long-winded one in there blazing in bright red along the lines of "I am so sick of this self-defeatist pouting!!!" The neon signs in my head were trying to switch my mental state to something brighter, but just adding to the overload and overwhelm.
The chat with my friend helped me to solidify a very important breakthrough (one that I suspect I've had before at some point, but not quite fully integrated into how I live): I can't get energised about anything because there is very little in my to do list that is actually mine (or for reasons that are exclusively mine). Wow. I'm in my early forties and there's very little of me in my life. How the f*** did that happen?
For most of my life I have operated under the "carrot programme" - I only get to treat myself once I've completed all the tasks that need to be done. Who gets to decide what these are? Parents, school, uni, bosses, and myself (always looking to fulfil an externally-driven expectation, whether explicit or implied). This is a very effective software for becoming an A-type ambitious and achieving personality, which is exactly what I became. But in the process, those proverbial carrots kept dangling further and further from me, and - what's worse - they started to lose their contours, to become see-through, to disintegrate. They turned from real carrots to paper-thin cut-outs with very little substance or appeal to them. I was too occupied being an achiever to stop and realise those achievements were not in fact feeding all of me (just my ego). Finding that out isn't easy when you're young and a pleaser. It's like an addiction to doing, to completing, to achieving, to perfecting... in the aching hope that it will all mean something one day (and the day-to-day mistaken belief that it is the only way to be appreciated). Then it becomes one's identity - I am a finisher, I am a perfectionist, I am an achiever. Yeah, but what are you achieving? Is it really what you want?
Talking to my friend, I realised I don't do the things I want to (like meditate, or do yoga, or write) and I hold back on bigger projects (like really pushing forward on my coaching business) because they come last in my to do list. After a whole bunch of stuff that has much lower priority for me. I am not allowing myself to do what I want to do. Why? Because deep down I have a belief that my needs are to be met last, after everyone else's. It goes even further: I actually believe that others' needs (including my family, the house, the garden, my friends, and the world at large) are part and parcel of my own needs. This is wrong. This is insidious. This is really mightily difficult to change:
- because I care too much about what others think
- because I want to fit in
- because I don't want to miss out
- because I like to please (I derive self-worth from it)
- because I have made mine values, beliefs and rules that no longer get me to where I want to be
- because of fear (of failure, of "getting it wrong", of rejection - the usual culprits)
All these are also excuses for not trying, for not leaving the comfort zone. It's nice to be able to tick things off a to do list, even if you realise these activities take up your time and deplete you instead of lifting you up and giving a sense of fulfilment to your day. It's a false economy. Of course, there is a purpose to everything we occupy ourselves with, even the most menial and insignificant of tasks. There is an opportunity for practising mindfulness and self-knowledge in everything we do.
But I reached a new level of awareness yesterday whilst talking to my friend. An awareness about honouring myself by nourishing me with activities and endeavours that truly resonate with me at this point in my life. By letting go of old motivational frameworks that no longer serve me. By freeing myself from the straightjacket of conventional success so that I can explore what my contribution means in my own way. By fully living the question: how can I nourish myself so that I can serve others?
She suggested a very playful way of implementing a "meeting my needs" moment every single day: to put folded pieces of paper in a bowl by the entrance hall and pick one up whenever I come back from dropping off my son at school. On them I can write anything that nourishes me and a suggested time: yoga (30 min.), meditation (20 min.), go for a walk (30 min.), write (60 min.), read (45 min.), do whatever the hell you want to do right this minute (for however long), etc. The random nature of doing it this way may be a good way to force myself to really take the time when I have it to do the things I want, before other demands creep into my day.
Is your life mostly yours? Are the choices you've recently made truly yours? Or the natural extension of past expectations, belief systems and others' norms that no longer serve you? How can you nourish yourself day in and day out with whatever time, energy, and space is available to you? Have you any practical ideas to really integrate infusing more YOU into your life? Please share them below!