At the beginning of this week a series of events occurred and, like a black cloud, bad luck descended. Everything that I’ve worked so hard for – both personally and professionally – seemed to be falling apart at the seams. And while this may sound rather ordinary, it didn’t feel that way to me: I’ve fought tooth and nail to create from beauty ashes, particularly over the last year and a half, and to feel that it might fall apart regardless of those efforts shocked and saddened me.
“Haven't I paid my dues?” I thought. “Surely I don’t deserve this!”
I considered what I had put in and what I might get out, and the thought that I am a failure – that nothing I do will ever be good enough – enveloped me. I could not imagine having nothing show for all I’ve been through. I despaired at the thought of ending up empty-handed.
So, I cried. For one entire afternoon and evening, I cried. To anyone who would listen, really, but mostly to my mother and my best friend. I was hysterical, and while I could not believe it, I felt as though my only option was to pack up, end my relationship, quit my job and start again. In a new town. In the Midwest. Somewhere I have never been.
My mother tried to talk me through this, and my best friend just listened. But another of my “besties” – who has three kids and who suffered through her husband’s two-year bout of debilitating depression – was harsher: “You are getting upset over things you have no control over.” And this was the message from my dad: “You are so special. And I know you learned this from me, but I’m not proud of it. So please, listen to me when I say this – don’t run away from your problems.”
The message was startling. It wasn’t so much that I was getting upset about things I had no control over; it was that my self-worth and identity revolved around things I have no control over. In my mind, if I lost my job and my relationship – even if it was no fault of my own, as a person I was a total failure.
I cannot explain to you how freeing this understanding was. I felt and still feel liberated. I have sobbed over and again this week, but not out of sadness. I have cried tears of joy, because I now truly comprehend all of the lessons that I learned in theory over the last year and a half. Namely: I can choose not to suffer; I must learn to love myself; and I must not allow the actions and feelings of others to determine my success or failure as a person. This comprehension has radically changed the way I have approached everything this week – including those same “problematic” issues in the personal and professional arenas.
Here’s how it was different: I signed up for a dance class, which I’ve been scared to do for over ten years. I baked my first dessert from scratch. I spent lunch with a friend on Wednesday really listening (and learning). I decided to spend my working hours thinking it is more important to love who I am and to stretch myself in ways that I deem matter, rather than spending them trying to conform to what others deem matters or to live up to the world’s idea of success. And when I spent the evening with Mr. Wonderful on Wednesday evening, I wasn’t happy because I had something to do or because I was excited about what we did; I focused on being with him completely – learning more about him, savoring the little things I love about him – and discovered it was a rousing and enjoyable success for me and for him.
I know this experiment is only three days old, but these three days have been revolutionary. Things haven’t gone perfectly (imagine that: my problems didn’t suddenly disappear!), but my outlook on them has changed in radical ways. As a result, I have found myself happier with who I am – not what is happening to me or my position in life at this moment. It turns out that I like myself a lot, too, and when I learn to love myself as I have truly loved others, I am both happier and less blown about by the changing winds.
As such, the lessons I’ve learned are as follows:
Lesson 38, reason 488: Don’t run away from your problems. Learn to love yourself in the midst of them.
Lesson 39, reason 489: Learn to brush off the ugly, destructive and unfair actions of others. In the most recent episode of the beautiful new Lifetime show The Conversation,** Christina Applegate discusses this. She says she learned to do this in the wake of the tremendous loss she experienced (i.e. a close friend, a pet and her favorite body part post-breast cancer diagnosis), and she and Amanda de Cadenet, who hosts the show, termed this understanding of what really matters one of the few “gifts” of illness. I cried when she shared this.
Lesson 40, reason 490: Stretch, love, take care of and learn to be compassionate toward yourself. It is when we are fullest and most content that we are able to take care of others. I cannot fully express just how important this one is.
I'm still so happy that you're accompanying me on the end of this journey.
**Please, please go see this amazing show, which I cannot get enough of. The women de Cadenet interviews share so many powerful and humbling insights that I cannot relay all of them. So, go now – you’ll thank me after you watch it. And then come back and share what you love about it.**