There are times in everyone's lives when the bad stuff hits.
Sometimes the bad stuff hits all at once. Sometimes the bad stuff hits gradually over time. Sometimes the hits are so bad that you don't feel like getting out of bed, leaving your house or answering your phone. Sometimes the bad stuff makes you turn inward. Sometimes it makes you implode on yourself. Sometimes it makes you explode on others. No matter how you react to the bad stuff, one thing is shared - the bad stuff exists for all of us at some point in our lives.
As I have been reflecting on our shared experiences with the bad stuff lately, I have been considering them within the context of this time of year. All around us, school years are coming to an end. Young adults everywhere are marking the end of their college and high school experiences in commencement and graduation exercises and even little children are participating in preschool graduation ceremonies. This is a time of reflection and goal setting.
With all of this around me, I can't help but think back 20 years ago to my own high school graduation. While I cannot recall the specifics of my commencement speech, I do recall the quote I referenced throughout the speech. As the class Valedictorian, I wanted to inspire my class to action and success. The tenets of the quote I referenced have been kicking around in the back of my head recently, begging to be let out. So, I am sharing the quote again; this time not to inspire people to individual greatness or to action but to normalize our shared experience of the bad stuff in life:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
For the 17 year old version of me, this quote was all about being your best, striving for greatness and setting up the best future possible for yourself, knowing that it would take fight, courage and, sometimes, even failure. But, today I look at this quote in a much different way. To me, it is a quote filled with questions:
- Are you stumbling these days?
- Are you reflecting on how you could have done things better?
- Is someone else pointing out your shortcomings?
- Are you failing?
- Are you finding yourself totally spent but spent for a worthy cause?
- Are you tired of the fight?
At some point in our lives, we all can answer at least one of these questions with a resounding "YES!"
For me, as I look at this quote all these years later, I see that it truly doesn't really matter whether you succeed or fail. What matters is that you are out there - you are in the arena. You are trying. You are doing. You are living. And, until we know failure, loss and sacrifice, we cannot truly appreciate the sweetness of success and all the beauty life has to offer us.
So, to the person in the arena, with the face marred by "dust and sweat and blood", look around. If you take a moment to pause your battle and take stock of where you are right now, you will see that you are not alone. There are lots of us in the same arena and while we all are fighting versions of our own battles, our own bad stuff, some of us are here to help fight each other's battles as well. This arena can be a scary, dangerous place but it isn't a vast empty space.
The arena isn't a space in which we all fight our own battles; instead, the arena is a place where we can gain strength from each other and from knowing that we are not alone. Reach out to those around you in your arena right now and let them help you fight your battles and your bad stuff. The real living in life, after all, takes place in that space between failure and success. It takes place in the arena.
Now that I am Getting "Me" Back, I have been much more mindful of the concept of balance in my life. For many years, I have grappled with the age old question "Can we really have it all?" While I tend to believe that we can, in fact, have it all, I don't necessarily think we can have it all in total balance all the time. In other words, sometimes something has to be focused on a little less so that our other needs can be addressed. Recently I was reminded via Timehop of how important tracking my macros used to be to me from a physical standpoint and I realized that macros are a great metaphor to how to balance life.
So, what are macros?
I'm sure there is a scientific explanation for macros but you won't find it here. In my experience, macros are components of nutrition - namely carbs, proteins and fats. They are elements that make up the food we eat. Our body needs carbs, proteins and fats each day to help it function at its best. When I was working out 12+ hours/week, my body always functioned best when my average daily intake of food was 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein. Other people's ideal macros may be different. It took some trial and error and experimentation to determine what was best for me. Was I perfect every day? Hell, no. But, it sure felt good when my pretty little macro pie chart was perfect. There was no denying that everything just clicked when those three elements were balanced in the way that worked for me.
So, how does this relate to life? Easy. What are your life macros? What are the components of your life that each are good in their own way but need to be balanced in order for you to function at your best? In other words, what makes up YOU?
My macros include my various roles in life: psychotherapist, clinical supervisor, professor, mother, wife, friend, healthy woman and pet owner (perhaps pet collector?). Are all of my roles equally balanced each day? Hell, no! Are there areas which need to take more of my attention or fill my life more than others in order for me to feel whole? Absolutely!
Are you ready for a small homework assignment? (Sorry, sometimes my CBT and professor sides start to show). Grab a writing utensil and piece of paper. Or, open up a new document on your computer.
1. Make a list of your life macros. Who are you? What is important to you? What are your various roles? What makes you YOU? Write those down.
2. Assign a percentage to each of your life macros. How much of your attention and focus each week gets directed at each macro? Be honest. This should be how things get distributed on average each week, not how you want them to be distributed. Don't forget about your elementary math skills - these percentages need to add up to 100%
3. Are there things that are missing from your list? Things that make you YOU but you are not giving attention to right now? Add those to your list and write "0%" beside them.
4. Draw a pretty little pie chart of your life macros so that it reflects the assigned percentages.
5. Take some time to reflect on your chart. How does it feel? Is it accurate? Are you proud of it? Do you wish it were different? If your pie chart is perfect and you feel totally balanced, bravo! Store that chart somewhere handy and refer to it regularly to make sure you are keeping your life macros in balance. If not, read on...
6. After you have spent some real time reflecting on your macro distribution and chart, make a new one - one that reflects your ideal life macros. What would your ideal life macros be and how much attention would they receive?
7. Now it's time to create an action plan. What would it take to be able to shift your current life macro chart to your ideal one? What small things can you do today to help get your macros moving in a way that works better for you?
Spend some time evaluating your life macros and seeing how making some adjustments might move your life to a more balanced and satisfying state.
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We are in yet another time of transition in our lives as winter begins to give way to spring. The sun is rising earlier and setting later. Those birds outside my bedroom window are getting chirpier each morning. I am feeling less guilty when my boys walk out of the house in shorts (in case you didn’t know - pants are apparently a torture device for boys over the age of 8). Pretty soon the headache-inducing sounds of basketball (shoes squeaking on courts, countless balls being dribbled simultaneously and multiple whistles being blown) are starting to be replaced by the early sights and sounds of another sport. Cleats are getting tried on, bats are being sized up with practice swings and athletic cups are starting to reappear on my dining room table. Yes, baseball season is near.
As I was listening to my sons tell me all about their impromptu practice session at the field the other day, critiquing each other’s stance, swing and follow through, I realized that life is a lot like getting up to bat in baseball.
Think about it.
Each day is a bit like getting up to bat. Behind you are your friends. They are the people in the crowd who are there for you and want you to do your best. They know when you need to be cheered on and when you need them to be quiet. They get you. Behind you may also be some people who are not your friends. They wouldn’t mind seeing you strike out because they are there to root for someone else. Then there are the people that are just acquaintances. They are the people behind you who are totally uninterested in what you are doing - they are taking selfies on their phones and carrying on about something totally unrelated to your at-bat. Even though they are neutral, you still might not want to make an error in front of them. Then there are your role models. They are your coaches. You look to them for guidance and advice. They motivate and push you. Let’s not forget about the authority figures in your life. Perhaps they are bosses or others who are quick to judge you. They are the Umps, ready to call you “out.” But, as you make your way to the plate, you also feel the presence of your team. Your success is their success. Your failure will also be felt by them. Maybe they are cheering you on, chanting your name, reminding you that they believe in you. Then there is the other team. Waiting in the outfield, watching your every move. Willing you to strike out and send them a nice pop fly.
Does any of that seem a bit like how real life goes? It does for me. I can identify people in each of those roles: fans for my team, fans for the other team, neutral acquaintances, people quick to judge or point out my errors and also my team who has my back.
But that’s just the setting. Let’s look at how it all feels to be in the batter’s box.
Once you are in the batter’s box, all that other stuff fades away as you face off with the pitcher. What if you swing and miss? What if he throws a crazy ball and you get hit? What if you get hurt? What if you completely strike out? What if you let yourself down? Worse yet, what if you let your team down? I have seen countless batters step into that box throughout my years as a baseball mom. One single bad experience can set some kids into an incredible slump. Great hitters suddenly freeze, afraid to swing the bat. Some confident batters suddenly find themselves jumping out of the box because they have grown afraid of being hit by a ball again. Others lose their focus and can no longer seem to make contact with the ball.
What is it like in your batter’s box of life right now?
How does it feel? What does it look like? Is it how you want it to be or are there some changes that need to be made? What is it that you are scared of at the plate?
Look around you.
Who is cheering you on? Who wants you to strike out? Who is part of your team? How are they supporting and encouraging you? Who are your coaches and how do they motivate and bring out the best in you? What are you thinking when you step into the batter’s box? Is your fear of striking out so great that you just stand there, frozen, as the pitched balls fly by you, hoping they are called balls and not strikes? Are you so scared of being hurt that you back out of the box on each pitch? Do you lack confidence in yourself so you find yourself closing your eyes and swinging wildly?
As you start to transition out of winter and into spring, notice all of the children who are taking to the fields with their gloves, bats and balls. Let those images be a reminder to you to take some time to reflect on your life and what it is like in your batter’s box. Check your stance. What are you afraid of when you wait for the balls to be pitched your way? What are the pitches that make you step out, freeze or swing wildly? What is it that you are wanting in life right now?
I have spent many seasons cheering on my sons, hearing coaches remind them that baseball is in large part about confidence, focus and staying in the box. How can you regain your confidence, drown out the negative noise behind you, lean in, keep your eye on the ball and smash it out of the park?
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Winter in the northeast is super fun.
Strep, flu, stomach bug and other weird viruses are hitting everyone these days. A quick scroll through social media will show another family down for the count. Facebook has become filled with photos of puke buckets, cans of lysol, and photos of sick children camped out on couches. Suddenly all those political posts don't seem so bad anymore. As if these germs don't pose enough of a challenge though, here in New England in February we also have to contend with blizzards, Nor'easters and snowstorms that are measured in feet rather than inches. Do you know what that means? Snow days. Lots of them.
So, despite the cute snowmen, picturesque snow covered trees, delicious mugs of hot chocolate, and laughing children sledding down hills, It's simply not a fun time of year for many of us. We feel stuck and feel like things will never start moving forward again.
We are in the doldrums.
But, the doldrums are a funny thing. They are a place, actually - a place near the equator where everything is often quite still. The winds and seas are calmer and life feels paused in the doldrums. Somehow over time the term doldrums began to be used for life's slumps - those times in life when we are just stuck: times like the thick of winter in New England. Yet, when I was in the doldrums during my Fall 2000 Semester at Sea I found my days in the doldrums quite magical. I remember sitting on the deck of the Universe Explorer, sun on my face, watching the dolphins gracefully gliding alongside our ship. They loved the stillness of the ocean. Those doldrums were inspirational and recharging for me. There was something beautiful about that stillness.
It can be hard to find the beauty in the winter doldrums though. These doldrums are filled with germs, guilt, white-knuckled driving, power outages, stretches of days without seeing the sunshine and let's not forget about the bitter cold. The winter doldrums suck.
So, as I sit here facing yet another potential snow day (third day in a row), more income lost (self-employed folks don't get paid snow days) and am bracing myself as I wait to see if child #2's recent stomach bug will hit the rest of us (please, God, no), I wonder how I can make the winter doldrums more like the physical doldrums. How can I change my perspective?
Let's face it. We have very little control over what happens to us during the winter doldrums. Aside from frequent hand washing, house cleaning and not sharing drinks, we cannot do too much to avoid the winter germs. We also can't do much about the winter weather either. The only thing we can control is how we react to the situations cast upon us in the winter doldrums.
These winter doldrums will pass. Spring and summer always come. Yes, it may take extra time for the ball fields to be cleared, defrost and be ready for opening day. Yes, we may have more snow days and find our kids in school a bit longer in June. Yes, we may be hit with more illnesses. But, days are already getting longer. Spring is coming.
Maybe the snow days and bugs aren't about interrupting our life. Maybe they can be about mandatory pauses from the rush of our typical days. Remember the dolphins I saw playing in the doldrums all those years ago? Maybe we need to be those dolphins and soak up the playful moments the winter doldrums provide us. Snuggle on the coach with our children, break into the hallway closet's mountain of board games, tackle some home projects, re-arrange some furniture, write, read, play. Slow down. Find the fun. Just be. And, when it gets to be too much, remember another thing I learned from my 100 days living on a ship: looking at the horizon can help cure seasickness. When the winter doldrums just get to be too much for you, turn your eyes towards our horizon - the spring - and remember that we are heading in the right direction. We'll get there. We just need to hold on.
Now, let's talk about sunshine. While we can't make the sun appear, there are some tools for those of us who really need the sunshine. Light therapy started as a treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition where individuals see increased signs of depression in conjunction with lower exposure to sunlight. Over the years, access to light therapy boxes or lamps has become easier and far more affordable. So, while I cannot make the next snowstorm avoid us, I can bring some sunshine back into my life. I am finally going to purchase one of these lamps for myself and for my office. I've included some links to some highly rated options in case you want to join me in purchasing some sunshine.
In the meantime, find a way to be a dolphin the doldrums!
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About Changing perspectives...
I often find myself encouraging people to consider changing their perspective or reframe the way in which they view things. This blog is an extension of that practice and is also an opportunity for me to write from a number of different perspectives including clinician, educator, mother, friend and supervisor. Blog topics are also quite varied and changeable. Topics explored include, but are certainly not limited to, grief, parenting, health and wellness and relationships. Join me and explore a number of changing perspectives!