Living each day much muchier
Sometimes I think this blog should be called ‘things that are obvious, but not to me.’
I recently did a workplace Birkman test to better understand why I’ve been burning out instead of bright. The results showed that I’m literary, strategic, musical and love the outdoors. No surprise, but there was also a breakdown of needs and stressors. I had an aha moment.
There is a version of each of us that plays out when our needs are met and a version when they’re not.
Laura with her needs met is naturally strong, confident, caring, excitable, social, cheeky, adventure-seeking and creative. She’s smart and insightful, productive and curious and she feels all the world as something alive, musical, and beautiful. If you’ve known me long enough, you’ve met her. Laura without her needs met turns to comfort food, pulls on hangnails, withdraws emotionally, yelps in her sleep from violent nightmares, grows vague and forgetful and incapable of making decisions and finally, unable to face the day, can’t go outside or even sometimes, get out of bed. I suspect there are phases after that, but I’ve never let myself get that far and quite frankly, it terrifies me to imagine.
What if the failure to live well is a symptom and not the cause? What if all we achieve when we whip ourselves to do better is wage a long and exhausting war with ourselves?
Some things energise us. Some things drain us. It’s different for everyone. These aren’t strengths or failings, they’re just the ingredients that make up who you are.
I think this might be what self-care is, what being yourself is. It’s not about accepting your flaws and limitations or deciding you’re beautiful anyway. It’s about seeing undesirable states and behaviours as symptoms that something in your situation isn’t good for you. You’re a sunflower in the shade. You’re a fern on a sunny balcony. You’re a cake made with baking soda instead of flour. You’re a border collie in a tiny apartment.
You aren’t wrong or broken or bad. You don’t need fixing or even changing, necessarily. No-one else could ever change enough to meet your needs because that’s outsourcing your responsibility for self-care. Instead of fixing yourself endlessly, try exploring what you need to thrive and make choices that meet those needs.
I don’t know about you, or whether this is always been obvious, but it feels life altering for me. Instead of fearing that I have a diminishing capacity to cope with the world, this gives me hope that I can feel better without trying harder, because I’m so tired of trying harder.
A week of hiking in Wilsons Promontory has been hugely restorative, with time to think and write and take lots of beautiful photos. I can’t live like this all the time, unfortunately, but I can make sure I keep these elements regular in my life and I can favour the things the energise me at home and in the workplace.
What are the two versions of you, and what routines have you got in place to make sure your needs are met? Could things you always thought of as flaws or failings be symptoms of unmet need?
If you are in a stress state instead of an energised one, maybe it’s time to have a look at the ingredients in your life and find better suited ones. Maybe then we can rise and keep rising.
What if the failure to care for ourselves is a symptom and not a cause? What if all we’re doing when we whip ourselves to do better is waging a long and exhausting war with ourselves?
Women particularly (though not exclusively), are encouraged to internalise everything. We see ourselves as the problem, always. We don’t look at the problem, we look for ways we’re problematic. We find reasons to attribute situations to the ‘fact’ that we’re too much or not enough. This might come as a surprise to those men who believe women incapable of thinking they’re wrong or apologising. Throwing blame quickly onto someone else is a defence against the deep and painful shame that we’ve internalised, to deflect what we’re afraid is really going on.
Be yourself. It’s okay to be you. Follow your heart. These platitudes are everywhere, but what do they mean? Every kids movie contains the message of self-belief, but, then they make that kid truly exceptional. It’s okay to be yourself, we learn, but only if your self is fabulous.
So, we strive to be better. The best at something. Then we fail, over and over, because life.
I can’t push myself to be more like one than the other. The catalyst is knowing what I need to thrive and meeting those needs.
So there you have it. Things that should have been obvious, but for some reason, weren’t.