Cultivating Self-Compassion

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” – Anna Quindlen

For someone who can oftentimes have an incredibly low amount of self-esteem, the nomenclature of being a “perfectionist” seems a bit ironic to me. Perfectionists, as the name would suggest, want everything they produce and put out into the world to be perfect – anything that is less than this standard is considered unacceptable to them. When they do fall short of perfect (as happens often, as perfection is an unachievable standard), the shame kicks in, telling them they aren’t good enough. For something called perfectionism, ironically enough, it often leads to feelings of being an incredibly imperfect person.

Feelings of perfectionism and shame operate cyclically, like most addictive habits. Feelings of shame, brought on from anywhere, lead to a mindset of, “I need to be perfect so as to improve my life,” which, when this goal inevitably falls short, leads to more shame, and the cycle begins anew. As Brené Brown puts it, “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame.” Shame is where perfectionism stems from, and vice versa.

Many of those who have perfectionist attitudes, including myself, justify it with the guise of self-improvement. “By working to do the best I can at everything I do,” we might say, “I’m creating a good work ethic for myself.” The first glaring problem with this logic is that perfectionists are not simply satisfied with trying their best: their results must be the best. There is nothing wrong with trying your best in all you do – that’s a great thing. But beating yourself up when what you create or achieve isn’t actually the best is a dangerous way to live. It is for this reason that perfectionists are much less willing to take risks than others. The goal of perfection becomes even less attainable when it involves something new, so, “Why risk more disappointment?” By sticking to what they know, says the perfectionist, the chances for disappointment are substantially lower.

Brené says: “Perfectionism is, at its core, about getting approval from others.” I genuinely believe that most people out there, even the perfectionists, know that nobody is, nor ever will be perfect. I think that most people realize this, even if they’re at different levels of accepting it. This only lends strength to the argument that perfectionism is “other-focused.” Healthily striving to improve yourself is focused on self – how can I improve, so my life is more fulfilling? Perfectionism is based on others – what will they think?

At its heart, perfectionism is also about control, over yourself and what you put into the world. Something that cannot be controlled, no matter how hard we may try, is others’ perceptions of us. We can toil day and night to impress someone, but the fact of the matter is that there is always somebody who will see things differently than you, someone whose idea of perfect is light years away from yours. As such, perfectionism, along with making yourself infallible, is about making yourself liked by everyone around you – two utterly impossible goals. Shame is inevitable in the pursuit of perfection.

Your biggest tool in the battle against perfectionism is self-compassion. Being kind to yourself is understanding that you are only human, and as humans we are, by our very nature, makers of mistakes. Self-compassion is the middle ground between ignoring your mistakes, and blowing them out of proportion, à la perfectionism. See your shortcomings and learn from them, but forgive yourself for them. Don’t shame yourself for what you’ve done imperfectly, embrace it, and use that experience to help you in the future.

With this attitude, it’s easier to be less judgmental of others as well. To accept that you’re a human who makes mistakes, is to realize (and subsequently accept) that we’re all humans who make mistakes. As completely cliché as it is to say that we’re all “perfectly imperfect,” I believe it to be true. “Human being” and “flawless” are not two phrases that belong together in the same sentence.

This attitude adjustment doesn’t happen overnight – it takes practice. Many of us are raised on values that, to different degrees, encourage us to strive for as close to perfect as we can reach, the whole “good enough isn’t good enough” mantra. The best you can do is good enough, but it doesn’t have to be the best. It’s hard to break out of a mindset that’s oftentimes instilled into us at an early age, but it is possible, and it’s worth it.

We’ve all heard the phrase “nobody is perfect,” so which should that not include you or me? You don’t need to be perfect to be good, and quite frankly, I’d rather have someone call me a “good person” than a “perfect person.” By practicing self-compassion, you will come to realize, you aren’t just good enough, you’re good.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Living with Depression

There’s no cure for depression. A combination of prescribed medication and therapy can variably lessen the impact the illness has from person to person, but this is by no means a permanent solution. Clinical depression, in a much less detailed nutshell, is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, particularly concerning serotonin and dopamine. Medication, as well as a healthy lifestyle and proper self-care, can help to regulate these chemicals, but that’s really all it can do. Now, it may feel like I’m starting this post off with a very direful mindset, but as my aim with this post is to address the realities of living with depression, I believe it’s important to be realistic and honest, as opposed to spouting motivational lies. But I promise, it isn’t as grim as it sounds.

Depression, like many other illnesses both physical and mental, is ever-present. Experts say it’s likely that at least 60 percent of those who’ve had a depressive episode will have a second, 70 percent of those who have had two episodes will have a third, and 90 percent of those who have had three will have a fourth. As the number of depressive episodes increases, so too does the likelihood of another. To clarify, depressive episodes are not the same as clinical depression as an illness – episodes refer to periods of time, lasting anywhere from days to months, in which one is suffering from depressive symptoms. In short, a multitude of depressive episodes are what make up clinical depression as a whole.

A statement from Thomas Franklin, M.D. speaks to me as being one of the most accurate representations of what depression is, anatomically speaking. He describes the illness as being biopsychosocialspiritual, meaning it oftentimes permeates every aspect of the life in one who’s suffering from it. Physical, mental, spiritual, social…depression can be informally considered an illness of any type. There is much we still don’t understand about it, and with time, research, and prayer, hopefully there will come a day where we can eradicate it altogether, but for now, we live with it as best we can.

In the Harry Potter series, according to author J.K. Rowling herself, dementors are a direct reference to clinical depression, mirroring her own experiences with it. For those who aren’t fans of Harry Potter (first off, why not?), dementors are ghostly, cloaked, disturbing creatures, who attempt to kill a person by literally sucking their soul out. Yikes. As morbid of a metaphor as this may seem, it is accurate, as those suffering from depression often have the joy “sucked out of them” by the illness, preventing them from enjoying life as much as they should. Whilst many who have depression may not claim that their soul is missing, it does seem important to note that life, the very thing that builds and strengthens our souls, is what’s being threatened by depression.

I would be remiss to sit here and claim that I know what depression is like for everyone. Every person is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually different, and the way depression affects each person is different in each of those ways as a result. For myself, depression is a creeping beast, ready to pounce when I least expect it. My depression is the almost eternal pessimistic attitude, and the devil on my one shoulder, though oftentimes it feels like it’s on both. My dementor ensures that only the happiest of moments can drive it away, and even so, it will oftentimes rear its ugly head after the euphoria has died down. My depression causes me to think about returning to my bed for a large chunk of the day, only to have me return to it at night, wide-eyed and worrisome for the next day.

bedtime
Credit: Jake Likes Onions

Accepting my depression is accepting that I will never be as comfortable in social situations as many others. Very rarely will I be the one to take initiative in much of anything, and logic will oftentimes fall to the wayside as my decisions are emotionally based on trying to lessen the impact of my depression in the present, as opposed to making decisions that will help me combat it in the future.

I’ve accepted my depression. I’ve come to (relative) peace with the fact that much of my life will be spent trying to live in harmony with it. The key is realizing that it doesn’t have to govern my life. Depression, by its very nature, is a condescending acceptance, a resigned sigh that things aren’t going to get better – if anything, it says that things will get worse. That’s what depression tells me, and all else who suffer from it. This is one of the plethora of lies it will heap on whoever unwillingly listens to it, another step forward in its job to make people’s lives worse.

Whether or not you believe medication makes things better, anatomically, it does help. From our very, VERY limited knowledge of depression, we can see prescribed medications make the numbers we want to go up, up, and the ones we want to see go down, go down. I’d be lying through my teeth if I told you if I knew what all of those numbers are, but from my own research and personal experience with psychiatrists, serotonin and dopamine are the two golden chemicals in this this regard. Our brains need certain amounts of each one of these to make us happy. Regulating these chemicals is key to combating clinical depression.

As any good doctor will tell you, though, popping a few pills isn’t nearly enough to avoid recurring depressive episodes. Having good mental health is a full-time job, and it includes balancing all aspects of your life. Depression makes this even harder, though, as the very likelihood of its existence is based on inadequate mental health management. This is why I cannot stress enough: if you need help, ask for it. Although the stigma surrounding asking for help has been dying over the past few years, there is still a strong mindset out there that believes asking for help is a sign of weakness. We’ve all seen the movies where the stubborn husband on a road trip refuses to ask a local for help because “real men don’t ask for directions.” Don’t be that person. Real men and women aren’t afraid to admit their hindrances, because they realize everyone has their own.

Notice I didn’t say “admit their faults,” there, as depression isn’t a fault, just like it isn’t your fault it you’re suffering from chicken pox. You clearly didn’t pick your genes out and say, “Ooh, depression? That sounds fun!” It’s not your fault, nor is it a fault in character. It’s an unfortunate character trait to have, sure, but that doesn’t make you worth any less. It’s a part of your life, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can learn to live with it, if not harmoniously, at least tolerably.

As with many posts I don’t sit down and plan out beforehand, this was a little all over the place, and for that I apologize. If there’s any one thing I’m trying to get across here, it’s to show how those who have depression can view the world, and broadly explaining how I believe the illness can be dealt with. Sure, there’s no cure for depression, but there are ways to live with it, and decrease the chances of its return once it lessens. There’s help everywhere, all you have to do is ask.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

You are worth so much, another reminder

There have been times – many, in fact – where I feel worthless. My thoughts toss over one another as if in a tumble dryer, telling me I should be “farther” in life than where I currently am. I look at friends, acquaintances, family members, who have all accomplished so much, found what their life is meant to be about, and the most appropriate emotion that comes to mind is discouraged. Lazy. Simply put, crappy. In my personal experience, there are few feelings as terrible as scrutinizing yourself and coming to the conclusion, “I’m not enough.”

I know I’ve written on this topic before, so forgive me if I’m redundant from my previous posts, but this is a topic quite personal for me, and I know for many others as well. I wanted to revisit it, especially because over the past few weeks I’ve felt more worthless than normal. Suffering from depression, I’m clearly not blessed with high self-esteem in the first place, but even on bad days I usually have enough self-acceptance to tell myself, “you’re enough.” Unfortunately, as I lay here in bed, up rather late for someone who has to be at work at four in the morning, I feel the need to release my feelings on this subject once again.

For myself, there’s always been something tragically pitying about trying to pat yourself on the back…the equivalent of a “cheer up bud” from a coach, or some cheapy, dollar-store participation medal whilst everyone else gets gold and silver. A consolation prize, if you will. I want a gold medal, so telling me that the participation medal is just as cool isn’t going to cut it for me. I, like many others, don’t want to settle. Most aren’t asking for the world, they’re simply asking for contentment, a sense of accomplishment that isn’t acknowledged as, again, a figurative pat on the back.

In my view, it all comes down to comparisons (another topic I’ve written on multiple times before, for the same reason) – holding yourself to a standard that someone else has set for themselves, and beating yourself up emotionally when you fail to reach it. Logically, I think it’s fairly easy to point out the flaws in this way of thinking. For one, the standards you may try to hold yourself to aren’t even yours. As a 24-year old, I can look at another person of my age and say, “Oh, they’ve graduated college, and they’re on a fast track to a career. I’m physically at the same point in my life as them, and I haven’t achieved either of those things and as such, I’m a failure in that regard.” Perhaps my example of hearkening myself to a failure is a bit extreme, but it’s still the same train of thought that many go through when judging themselves based on standards set for others.

So, as I look at this person who has completely different circumstances, skills, social groups, and just a different life in general, I still find a way to expect myself to be at the same level of “accomplishment” as they are. Can you see the flawed logic? Simply put, despite any similarities we may have in our lives, the fact remains that our lives are not the same. For every similarity we have, we have ten more differences between us, in so many different aspects of our lives. So, when we hold ourselves to a standard based off of somebody else’s life, it’s bound to end in disaster.

With all of this, there’s the snowball of emotions we call “worth.” I don’t mean literal, financial worth, but instead our self-worth; how much of an achieving human being we see ourselves as. In my opinion (and that’s all it is), the entire concept of worth in our society is gross, poisonous, and just plain hurtful. As a millennial in the United States, I was passively expected by American society to have graduated college. As someone who has not, my job prospects are severely limited, and I can’t even tell you the amount of time I’ve been asked by family members who I barely talk to when I’m going back to school, as if it’s low-key expected of me.

Of course, this is just one of many examples, all based on where you live, your family, living situation, etc. As I’ve tried to demonstrate thus far, this cultural and social mindset also leaks into our personal psyche. We are so prone to comparing ourselves to others, and using our discontent at not being where we want to be compared to others to fuel our motivations. I don’t believe that there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but when it gets to the point where it emotionally drains us, making us tell ourselves that we aren’t enough, it needs to stop. I’m convinced that there are much healthier ways to motivate yourself to achieve your goals in life.

So, in case you have trouble telling yourself this, as I do, let me be blunt: you are worth so much. Regardless of your social, financial, romantic, familial, or occupational situation, you are precisely where you’re supposed to be at this point in time. You are a unique individual, so acting like you should be where somebody else is in their lives just doesn’t make sense. Don’t get me wrong – I know we still compare ourselves to others anyway. Heck, I do it constantly. But that still doesn’t change the fact that you are you, and nobody else, no matter how desperately you wish that your “worth” was as great as theirs.

I’m worth plenty. He’s worth plenty, she’s worth plenty. It all just comes down to realizing that we all are, including you.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

 

Jealousy, Take Two

Oh, goodness, I haven’t written anything here in quite a while.

Since July, to be exact. I could give you the spiel of how I’ve been so terribly busy with work and…well, more work, but that’s probably not of much interest to you. But, for completion’s sake, I will say, I’ve started going into work much earlier than I had been used to, and I get home feeling like a zombie half of the time, so even when I say to myself, “Ooh, I’m gonna get home and write!”, any thought of that tends to exit my mind as soon as I see my beautiful, comfortable, incredibly inviting bed.

However, as I’ve been on this early morning schedule for some time now, my internal clock has (mostly) adjusted, and I hope to get back into the swing of updating this, at the very least, weekly. And so, as I’m here dog-sitting two adorable German Shepherds, I thought there’s no time like the present to get back into the swing of things. And so it is…

So, jealousy. I’ve done an entire post dedicated to this subject in the past, but being that it can be such a prevalent feeling in our lives (it certainly is for me), and given that I’ve felt jealously creeping into my own mind over the past few weeks, I thought it might be an interesting venture to revisit the subject.

Jealousy seems to be such a tragic facet of our first-world culture: They have something, I don’t have that something, I want that something and I’m bitter towards them for having it, bam, jealousy. For me, the feeling of jealously isn’t what’s inherently bad, it’s more so how it leads my mind to come to conclusions. When we’re intent on getting something someone else has, be it a material item or achievement, there’s often a thin line between what many call determination, and jealousy. The jealousy creeps in when we feel resentment towards others for having what we do not.

It seems that human society puts value on a great many things that, in the end, really don’t at all matter. Material possessions, achievements, titles. For some who get jealous over these things, it may be less of an arduous task to step back and say to themselves, “In the grand scheme of things, these possessions don’t matter. But what of things for which “want” could be argued? Marriage, children, a sturdy financial situation…some may argue jealousy is a healthy type of determination for these things, as love and a comfortable living situation are things all should strive for. If feeling jealous towards an individual or family that has these near “essentials” is the kick in the butt needed to get you working towards those things, can’t you argue for that bitterness? Doesn’t it help you more than harm you?

My own intuition says no. When jealousy is used as a motivator, it more often than not turns into a competition with another. I have the “healthiest marriage,” or the “best-behaved and loving children,” or “highest-paying job.” God knows we have an entirely too-competitive society already, so when we start to incorporate that competitiveness into our life goals, it turns our lives into finding contentment by simply being happy, versus finding contentment by trumping others. At the risk of sounding like I’m channeling the Dalai Lama, happiness should come from peace and contentment in ourselves, not from knowing we have the “best” anything of anybody.

Not to mention that if we fail in our jealousy-initiated competition, it only leads to more bitterness towards our “competitor.” “I wasn’t able to beat them out in having [insert possession/relationship/status here], so I’m going to be even more resentful towards them from now on.” I’m sure you’ve never consciously said this to yourselves, even in your mind, but the devil on your shoulder may plant that bug of revenge in your minds. Not that I support revenge in any sense of the word anyway, but this type of, “I-didn’t-get-what-you-have-now-I’m-bitter-and-resentful-towards-you type of revenge isn’t logical. If revenge is supposed to come from a place of somebody else actively working against you, how does revenge against someone who is just going about their life make any sense?

Like most negative emotions, jealousy also has a physical effect on you – racing heart, tensed muscles, even something more active such as staring the potential “competitor” down. Gone too far, a relationship built mostly on jealousy of another can spiral out of control, resorting to spying on them or their communications, or even going through their personal belongings. It goes without saying that these are destructive (and intrusive) habits.

My own jealousy becomes apparent when I notice my abdomen tensing up or my breathing quicken. I subconsciously flex my fingers in and out, not necessarily into fists, but as if all of my negative feelings are trying to escape through my hands. In my interactions with others I become snappy and rude, and when I interact with the one I’m jealous of, my passive-aggressiveness shines like a crude beacon to all.

So, even if jealousy can push us to strive for our goals, the collateral damage of ruined relationships, physical symptoms, and invasion of privacy is by no means worth it. If it gets to the point (which it often does) where others are starting to take notice of your lack of contentment, it’s time to take a step back and deal with the situation from neutral, level-headed ground.

So how do you deal with, or better yet, avoid jealousy altogether? I don’t claim to know what helps everyone, or even most people. I can only give you what helps me, and the most powerful tool in my personal arsenal is mindfulness. I talk up mindfulness like Billy Mays talked up OxiClean, but I do so because it works (the mindfulness, not the OxiClean. I dunno, I’ve never used OxiClean). In a nutshell, mindfulness is looking at situations not from a place of passionate, sometimes corrupting emotion, but instead with a clear head, only going back to revisit the situation in your mind once you’ve been able to interpret it from a level-headed perspective. By doing this, any overwhelming emotions that you felt during the moment in which the situation is happening have had time to die down, and as such, should no longer cloud your judgement or allow you to jump to conclusions based purely on the ferocity of your emotions. Instead of being the jury or executioner, being mindful is being the judge; looking at all sides of the situation and then coming to a conclusion, not the other way around. Keep in mind that being the judge and being judgmental are not the same thing.

It may also help you to avoid jealousy by simply telling yourself, “I’m not them.” Well, duh, you may say, but by admitting to yourself that different things happen to different people at different times at different points in their life, it’s easier to accept that not everything they have is something you should have, and vice versa. You’re different from them, and they you, and that’s how it should be.

As I stated earlier, I’ve been trying (and sometimes failing) to fend off jealousy myself for the past few weeks. For most, it isn’t easy, and even after writing this, I’m still probably going to go to work next week and feel, at the very least, a twang of jealousy. But, like a firefighter goes into a blaze with the correct tools to survive it, I feel that with the correct mental and emotional outlook, jealousy, like fire, can be overcome.

Stay strong.

–  Ryan

Please, don’t take the people in your life for granted

To give you one of the biggest understatements of all time – life isn’t easy. Arguably, it isn’t really meant to be. Oftentimes, the most invaluable learning moments in our lives come from moments of sadness, despair, and failure. But, during those moments of sadness, despair, and failure, this is little consolation. When we’re depressed, angry, guilt-ridden, or any other one of those overpowering negative emotions life seems to enjoy throwing at us, rarely do we ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this,” or, “how can I apply this to my experiences in the future?” We just want those “valuable” experiences to be over and done with. Perhaps afterwards, when our emotions have come back into balance, we can look at those moments with a more level head and deem what we got out of those experiences, but in the moment, generally, our only thoughts are for it to be over and done with as soon as possible.

As such, during these times of duress, we try to find our comfort in certain things. Obviously, what these “things” are vary from person to person; God, friends, family, getting active, spending time with our pets, reading…the list is endless. Between individuals, however, there are generally a few constants when it comes to sources of comfort. One of these is people, whether it be family, friends, significant others, or co-workers. We may turn to others in hopes we can find some common ground in our suffering. We may hope that they can relate to our experiences and give us the keys to the kingdom: how to feel better. We may like the reassurance that we are indeed not alone in our duress, despite how often our brain can tell us that we are.

Regardless of our reasoning for turning to others, the fact remains that we do so because it oftentimes helps us get through those hard times, however it may do so. In times of emotional strain, our companions can be life-savers, telling us exactly what we need to hear exactly when we need to hear it. Even if they can’t, simply sitting there with us, simply being there for us, can do wonders for the emotional mind. Human connection is, at the root of its purpose, much of the reason for our lives. There’s a reason that solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments a human being can receive.

So, we turn to others during times of hardship, and they serve as a source of comfort, in whichever way they can, and, like all moments of emotional hardship, it passes. We go back to our lives, our tough moments happily behind us.

But what about the person (or people) who helped get you through those moments?

Do you remain eternally grateful to them, pledging to help get them through any hardships they may endure in the future? Or, as is unfortunately more likely, do they blend into the chorus of your other companions, remaining a source of comfort where you may need it, but otherwise just…there?

This isn’t to say they’re forgotten completely by any means, but all too often those who help us through this life’s hardest moments go underappreciated. Now, I’m not suggesting you shower them with praise every chance you get, lifting them up on your shoulders and parading them around the town, but I guarantee you that showing them what they’ve done for you hasn’t been forgotten will only benefit the relationship you have with them. Even small things, such as letting them know that you’re there for them in their own moments of hardship, can be just the touch of encouragement they need to get them through. Not always, but just the show of willingness to be there for them can do wonders for them emotionally.

Ask anyone born before 1950 and they’ll often tell you the same story – people these days don’t realize how lucky they are to have what they have (“I had to walk 5 miles to school uphill…BOTH WAYS!”). They didn’t have cell phones, or iPads, or Netflix, but we do, so be appreciative of it. I agree wholeheartedly, but there IS one thing they had that we do as well – relationships. Yes, we should be grateful for our cell phones and iPads and Netflix, but the same goes for the meaningful relationships we have with those in our lives. Lord knows you wouldn’t forget how Netflix (and ice cream) got you through that terrible breakup, so why would you forget your friend who convinced you there were other fish in the sea? You wouldn’t forget your phone’s texting capabilities, but who would you have to text if you didn’t have those friends who are so dear to you?

So, I write this conclusion not as a traditional one, but rather a “getting on my knees and begging you” one. Please, please, please don’t take the ones in your life that you care about for granted. Don’t let them go unnoticed. Don’t allow them to fade into the background even once your troubles have passed. Let them know you care for and appreciate them. If we can’t do a simple task such as tell the ones close to us how much they mean to us, how are we supposed to do so on a larger scale? Human beings were made to be creatures of compassion – so be compassionate.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

 

As life takes its course

Wow, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

I haven’t written in a few weeks, so I apologize in advance if this post comes across as rather sloppy. My mind is so creatively static from being idle so long.

As I sit here, at a fancy Starbucks sipping my fancy coffee (wot wot), trying to find some eloquent way to explain my absence from the blogosphere as of late, I find myself struggling to come up with why exactly I was absent. Looking back at the past few weeks, I can’t really pinpoint any precise reason as to why I haven’t written. I’ve been working just as much as I always have, although my schedule has primarily shifted to the wee hours of the morning…I’m generally up before the sun is. For most of my life I’ve been a night owl, so it’s been quite the kick to my internal clock. But I’ve adjusted, and I can’t tell myself I haven’t been writing because of that.

I’ve found myself being a lot more exploratory lately, going to places I normally wouldn’t. Including now, for example – I’ve just driven 45 minutes to a Starbucks straight outside of the city of Chicago, right across from where the Cubs play at Wrigley Field. It’s not that I don’t normally go to coffee shops (coffee runs through my veins more than blood), but driving a bit of a distance to explore the city as I did earlier today isn’t something I would have caught myself doing a few months prior.

So as I’m sitting here, my cup of fancy coffee a bit emptier than it was two paragraphs ago, I’m asking myself, why now? Why am I taking time where I would normally be writing, reading, or worrying to be more adventurous? Simply put, I’m not entirely sure. My best guess, my gut tells me, is that I’m feeling I’m becoming so…static. Internalized. Boring. I’ve never been an extrovert, but I’ve had times in my life where I’ve felt the need to explore and take advantage of my surroundings. I’ve lived within a short train ride to Chicago for almost three years now, and today marks only the fourth or fifth time I’ve visited, and a couple of those times I didn’t really do anything. I love hiking and exploring the outdoors, but when I lived in Washington, a beautiful, mountainous state, I never even ventured into those mountains, only the foothills close to my house. I could see the wondrous, snow-capped Mt. Rainier from my workplace, yet I never took advantage of it.

I don’t want to be static anymore. I don’t want to sit on my couch, looking at the beautiful scenery passing me by and not enjoy it. I don’t want to let my anxiety prevent me from experiencing life as I believe it’s meant to be experienced. I’m sure that I sound incredibly cliché with my whole “take life by the reins” spiel, but as I try to figure out why I haven’t been spending as much time on things as I normally would (such as writing and posting on here), my mind is telling me that’s the reason. At least, I think it’s the reason.

Like I said, I’m not even sure. Maybe I’m making up a reason to sound philosophical and wise.

I do still want to write. I still am going to write. Is it going to be less often, or will I fall out of my newly adventurous ways and revert back to posts every week or so? I don’t know, only the future will tell. If I have my way, I’ll get back to posting every week, but life is unpredictable, and so am I. I’m not leaving, I promise you that, but only the future can tell whether or not I’ll get back into the habit of writing as often as I had been.

Funny thing is, I’ve still been reading all of your posts. If I follow you, I’ve most likely read all of your posts since my last one, I just haven’t been taking the time to make posts of my own. And I’m still amazed at the creativity, wisdom, and wonderment you all convey in your posts. Bravo.

So, this short post in a nutshell: life is just that – life. Unpredictable, but I wouldn’t want it to be any other way. I hope life is going swell for you, dear reader, and I’m coming back to this habit of posting more often if I can help it. Sooner rather than later, I certainly hope!

Stay strong.

– Ryan

 

 

Cultivating Authenticity

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter