And the Oscar for Best Self Flogging goes to…

February 27, 2013

Failure. Incomplete. Stalled. Stagnant.

Oscar and me at a party

Oscar and me at a party

I’m feeling all of these things right now despite doing some great things the past couple of years. How can I have such a blindspot for all that I have done? Is it like in ‘Pretty Woman’ when Julia Robert’s character says, “It’s easier to believe the bad stuff.”  Why do we so acutely focus on what we haven’t done? Assuming you didn’t sit around eating chips for the past year, you’ve likely accomplished a lot that you aren’t giving yourself (enough) credit for.

As I sat down to start this blog post, I took a look at earlier posts. I got upset; what I want to talk about now is along the same lines of what I wrote about in late 2010. I felt a sudden and sharp pang of failure. I felt incredibly stalled – as though I had not done anything to move my life to where I wanted it to be. My blog was my mirror, and I could only see what I had not yet done, what I still wanted to do. I felt like I had only tread water.

I could not see all that I had done the past couple of years.

I could not see the professor who has taught design two nights a week at her alma mater – who looks forward to each new group of students. I haven’t been willing to pay the price of giving up (even temporarily) teaching. There has been great joy found in teaching. I’ve had amazing students. I care about them all so much, but in that moment, I could not see the past 8 semesters’ worth of students who came in as novices and left as confident visual communicators.

I could not see the dog owner who spent a year essentially running hospice for my dalmatian Kiko. I got Kiko from the shelter after 101 Dalmatians came out. He’d been my dog since college, 14 years ago. He was my buddy, and we went everywhere together. Kiko was a beautiful and sweet dog who in his advanced age would still go for walks as long and as far as I was willing to take him – even though his back legs would drag a bit. His aged body betrayed him; he began to have frequent accidents. I cleaned him up and washed his beds round the clock. Yet in that moment, I could not see the patient, loving caregiver I had been to Kiko.

I could not see the wife who held down two jobs after she and her husband were laid off six weeks apart in 2009. The wife who shepherded her husband through going back to school to change careers during the recession. I always felt he should return to the career that makes him come alive instead of the soul-sucking one he’d been in for fifteen years. I couldn’t see that I carried us through that storm. I could only feel as though I had made no progress on something that matter very much to me.

I began to have a very distorted view of myself – like a fun house mirror. One where I saw myself not measuring up to some impossible standard. Like an evil Santa Claus, my inner critic was furiously writing up a rap sheet of offenses – didn’t get the laundry done today, forgot to call for an appointment, didn’t work out, wasn’t as loving or patient as I should have been, etc.

From somewhere inside me, a small voice spoke up, “what if you focused on what you did do? The small stuff, the silly stuff, the hard stuff, AND the big stuff.”

In the craziness of each day, who’s actually keeping track of all the good stuff when there’s just more shit to do – more dinners and laundry, issues at work, bills to pay, homes to maintain, children to rear, relationships with spouses, family and friends, etc. Damn – why AREN’T we giving ourselves gold stars? We’ve done great things. We are accomplished. We’re actually amazing most of the time; we just fail to notice or acknowledge it.

I was so lost in a moment of perceived failure that I lost all perspective. The things I’ve done in the past two years vastly outweigh the little stuff that didn’t get checked off the to-do list today. Instead of viewing where I am with my blog as a failure, I should see it as I’ve come back to where I left off – like a bookmark holding my spot in that novel I had to set aside while I tended to some of life’s tough spots.

So I decided if my inner critic was going to keep writing her rap sheet, I was going to strike back with my own list – a score card of three things that were good today, three little notes of gratitude. I make sure one of them is something I personally did well that day. It helps me see the real me, not the distorted, fun house mirror version.

It’s one of the profound, yet small ways we can affect our own happiness – write down the good stuff. Everyday. Write them down. These add up over the week, the month, the season, the year. We can remind ourselves of all that we bring to the roles in our life. In a way, these little notes – the ones about the things we did well – are like our very own Oscar nominations.

Today, I fell off the proverbial horse, got some mud on my face, but climbed back in the saddle and wrote this article. Today, my puppy and my 9 year old dalmatian cuddled together. Today, I enjoyed a cup of red lavendar tea and thought fondly of my friend who introduced me to it.

In the comments, please tell me one thing you did well today – kicked ass at the new yoga class? rocked the family dinner? got high praise at work for that latest project? ate only two Girl Scout cookies instead of the four boxes you wanted to?

And if you are feeling bold, what Oscar should you take home this year? perhaps “Best handling of a toddler’s tantrum,”  “Best herb garden,” “Best supporting spouse in a double income no kids marriage”? You tell me – what Personal Oscar should you receive?




One Response to “And the Oscar for Best Self Flogging goes to…”

  1. Christine Says:

    Lovely words of wisdom. I have the rest of the day to kick ass today, so I’ll say that last night I turned off my work at a reasonable hour. This is a constant struggle and one of my goals at the moment–to set boundaries with a very demanding job.

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