It’s been a rough week. Ok fine, month. Well, really a year.
Nothing is really clicking and I seem to be falling down on most, if not every front, in my life.
Take this blog for instance. I love this blog. I love writing this blog. Each week I fully intend to write the blog. And then it doesn’t happen. Other work pops up. (Also there is reality TV and Friends re-runs). Or I have projects to get done around the house. (Also, there is Internet shopping and playing Angry Birds) Whatever it is, it doesn’t happen. Result: I feel like I am failing at work.
Take my kids. I love my kids. I love watching them grow into the interesting people that they are. Each week I plan to make and eat dinner with them each night, then help them with their homework, ending the evening with nice conversations. And then it doesn’t happen. Take out is more appealing…yes, sometimes even in front of the TV. And homework? Well it could be said that I am worse than they are in procrastinating on schoolwork. Meaningful conversation? I fell asleep in front of the Friends re-run before they had a chance to finish their homework. Whatever it is, it doesn’t happen. Result: I feel like am failing as a parent.
Take my friendships. I love my best friend. I adore talking (or not talking) with her and work hard to support her goals (as she does mine), like working out consistently. And then it doesn’t happen. I get caught up in my own needs and emotions. I forget to listen, and I over step boundaries. I confuse my goals with hers. I jump in with an opinion or a way to make things better before I was asked to. I’m too tired to drive to the gym. Or there is too much traffic. Or I just don’t want to. Whatever it is, it doesn’t happen. Result: I feel like I am failing as a friend.
The perfectionist in me often wants to run away when periods like this occur. Clearly I am not cut out to be a writer, parent or friend because I am making all sorts of mistakes and missing all sorts of deadlines.
But when I take a step back (preferably after an excellent night’s sleep, a nice long day at the spa and with a cool, crisp glass of white wine), and evaluate the “big picture,” overlooking the minutiae to focus on what the big objective is, I am a little kinder to myself and can even quiet that inner perfectionist. (Well, at least turn down her volume.)
Take this blog for instance. It’s purpose is two fold: one, to help educate, inspire and stimulate ideas regarding life, but specifically parenting and even more specifically parenting gymnasts. And, two, to get me into a habit of writing. Through that lens, I am not doing so badly. While it isn’t always through the blog, I do almost daily interact with people professionally in ways that involve education, inspiration and the exchange of ideas. Plus, while my blog posts have been few and far between recently (and by few and far between, I mean non-existent), I still have written more over this past year than I have in the past decade. Finally, I know that at least some people (okay, fine one that I know of– thanks, Jenny!) like the blog, find meaning in it and encourage me to write more.
Take my kids for instance. My goal in parenting is to raise healthy, happy, good kids who are passionate about life, not afraid to take risks, are accountable and have loving relationships. Through that lens, they are on their way. One is off in NYC studying her passion: acting. Two others have faced personal difficulties and being different with bravery, grace and integrity that I can only hope to have one day. And still another went off to Africa for a month to help build a school and is eagerly planning her next charitable endeavor to Cambodia. But most importantly, they are growing into thoughtful and interesting people—they are growing into exactly who they are supposed to be: themselves. Truth is, we do have dinner together quite often and sometimes it even comes with meaningful conversation. And yes, while they are still teenagers who act, well like teenagers, they are better than I could ever have willed them to be.
Take my best friend. My objective is to enjoy fun and frivolity, support her goals and dreams, be there for her through good and bad, to be thoughtful and be willing to be honest, open and even vulnerable. In short, nurturing what can only be described as a life long friendship, the sister I never had and grow old driving our motorized wheelchairs on our girls-only cruise. And, by and large, it is so. We have fun. We can be incredibly stupid together and also deadly serious. We understand and are supportive of each other. Do we bump up against each other’s tender spots, occasionally irritating or disappointing the other? Of course we do just as anyone does with his or her close friends and family. But we owe it to each other to say “ouch,” forgive each other and know that just because we made a mistake it doesn’t mean that it is catastrophic to the friendship.
In short, the big picture often looks far better than any individual day.
This is an important reminder in judging our own efficacy as a professional, parent or friend. It is also a good reminder to teach our gymnasts this valuable lesson.
Not every practice, series of practices or even entire seasons are going to look great. There will be frustrations with new skills, irritations with teammates and coaches, fears, slumps and injuries. There will be moments, even periods, when she will wonder why she is even doing this (as will you). The important thing to remember in this moment is the big picture: overall, how is the sport affecting her and what is it contributing to her life?
In answering that question, levity arrives almost immediately. Remembering the pride in working hard, the self-esteem that comes from over coming a fear or reaching a goal, the people skills that come with negotiating with teammates and coaches, the ability to cope with frustration and work when work is not appealing, the friendships, the village that is part of being at a gym—these are the big picture reasons.
Does that not mean that these negative cues are not useful? Of course not. They are important in giving information that may in fact need to be attended to. I do need to write more. I could seek other ways to spend time with my kids. I know there are behaviors that drive my best friend insane that I need to curb. And, yes, occasionally a protracted slump is a sign to take a break or move on to a different sport. But, quite often these blips are just the outlier moments that we falsely attribute to being the norm.
If that is the case then, why so often do I default to feeling like a global failure? Does it mean I am inherently pessimistic when I judge myself by my worst behaviors? Maybe. But more likely evolution is to blame. Our brains are hard-wired to look for danger, to recall negativity and to be on guard for signs that things are not going well. It makes sense. Those who survived were the ones who were on the lookout for tigers, paid attention when others died from eating certain berries and were vigilant even when all appeared calm.
It also means that these activities and relationships matter. The things that we worry about most, for which we are most vulnerable and for which we most beat ourselves up, are the things that are most precious to us. It is natural that we are most reflective and constantly seeking feedback to assess how we are doing. Yes, we need to get out of our own way so as not to become neurotic or to over analyze so much that we ruin the thing before us, but being kinder about having big feelings is also okay too.
It’s like when a gymnast cries after a poor performance at a meet. This is not a behavior as a coach that I want to encourage but, at the same time, I get it: we cry over the things that are important to us, that are close to our hearts. Those tears signal to me that this athlete cares, expects more from herself and, most likely, is open to working on improving.
So I will continue to worry, be judgmental of my performance (or lack thereof) regarding the things that are important to me. At the same time, I also will learn to take a step back and look at the big picture keeping my eye on the larger goal and judging myself on how my progress is toward that goal. Well, at least I will try. And if share this affliction, I hope you will too.