Be A Goldfish — Slippery And Bold

“She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it).” ~Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

In the Apple TV series, Ted Lasso, the protagonist coach famously tells one of his players that the happiest animal on earth is the goldfish because the goldfish has a ten-second memory. He then tells the young man to “be a goldfish” so he can let go of a negative interaction that happened with a teammate on the pitch a minute ago. That line has become a favorite among fans of the show. It’s so popular you can buy mugs, stickers, and t-shirts with that saying, and it regularly makes the rounds in comments on social media. And I get it. It’s a good saying. I quite like it. I’m not very good with the advice it offers, but I’d like to be.

Today I found this meme while scrolling through my Facebook feed. It offers a goldfish with a different point of view. I like this one too. I’m a little better at being brave than I am at letting go of comments, people, and past events that are no longer important or worth perseverating over. I attribute this to two things. First, I grew up believing I was inherently unlikable, so of course if someone said an unkind thing about me or acted like I did something wrong or suddenly stopped speaking to me, I knew it was my fault. I carried those feelings around like they were a suitcase, handcuffed to me and filled with irrefutable evidence about my worth. Second, to achieve anything when you have low self-esteem, you have to be at least a little brave. It’s a fake-it-til-you-make-it proposition. So, like I said, it is easier for me to be a little brave than it is to forget about a slight.

Ideally, I think both goldfish in this scenario are right. It’s good to let go of junk you are carrying around for no reason because it often says less about you than about the person or situation you are believing rather than yourself. It’s also good to work on your bravery. Although there are some who are born brave and some who become brave situationally, most of us could put a little more deliberate effort into being brave daily. We could stand up for ourselves with our boss or ask our partner for what we need instead of stuffing our feelings or tell the chatty barista that we need a new latte because we asked for oat milk but we got whole milk and, well, that just won’t work. To be so slippery that negativity glides over me like a kid on a Slip-n-Slide and so bold that I can live my truth every moment of my life from here on out, no matter who is watching or commenting, those are my goals. Goldfish are really speaking to me these days.

When I die, if for some odd reason I can’t be cremated, I want the Lewis Carroll saying at the top of this page on my tombstone. I am good at giving myself advice. I’m good at knowing the right thing to do (be it, let it go or be brave), I’m just not great at doing it. I’m just telling you this because I spout a lot of platitudes and inspirational quotes (read: fluffy bullshit) on this blog, and you should know it doesn’t mean I am living it. I’m working on it, but I’m not there. Not by a long shot. So if you’re not there either, that makes you my people. My suspicion is I have a lot more people than I thought.

Keep on keeping on, friends. We got this.

Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

Calm Down

I saw this yesterday and appreciated it so much I had to post it to Facebook, and I rarely post anything to Facebook other than links to my blog posts because my blog posts cover most of what is happening in my life anyway. But I thought this bit was brilliant. Brilliant not just because it was amusing but because it was honest.

Thank you, Tom Papa, for your wisdom.

It’s kind of crazy how much time some people are willing to devote to their careers. Their jobs come before family. Their jobs come before their health, their friends, their home. And for what? Money? A title? Some imagined (or real but not incredibly significant) career legacy? So few people land where Steve Job, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos did. Those men have made their mark on our lifetimes, but how long those marks will last remains to be seen. Who from the annals of history do we recall? The great philosophers — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle? Genghis Khan? Caesar? Napoleon? Consider the number human lives lived during the same period that these men lived and how few of those lives had a significant, lasting impact on the world, the dissemination of their genes into the proverbial pool, notwithstanding. Most of us will live quiet lives, so why do we stress ourselves out with long hours and dedication to work when ultimately our significance in this life will remain inside a small circle of personal influence. How much time do we lose in that circle by pawing for things that don’t really matter in our life’s grand scheme? Did we learn nothing from the 1974 Harry Chapin hit Cats in the Cradle?

It’s something to think about. I think most people know the most important things in life can’t be bought. It’s too bad so many of us don’t live that way.

Escaping The Judgment Juggernaut

“It’s amazing to me how much you can say when you don’t know what you’re talking about.” ~ Phoebe Bridgers

Don’t throw these from a glass house

True story in fifteen words: I was most confident about who I was when I didn’t know who I was.

At that time, my only operational mode was filtered through a mindset of internal superiority. It wasn’t that I felt superior to anyone. Truth was I felt superior to no one. No. One. I protected my fragile sense of self by drawing distinctions between others and who I believed myself to be. Once I learned more about myself, though, once I was at last able to see the cracks in my unconsciously crafted facade, everything changed. I knew my structure was vulnerable, so I started treading more carefully after a thought popped into my head. I recognized that I should not believe everything I think about others or about myself. I started questioning more and being certain less. I accepted that I lived in an enormous glass house, and from this precarious position stone throwing might be ill-advised.

I am still not consistently able to catch my hypocrisy or haughtiness in the moment, but it doesn’t take me more than a few minutes to get to a more open headspace, to recognize where I took a wrong turn, and to embark on a more authentic and honest path with myself and others. This often requires apologizing for a conclusion I jumped to, admitting I made an error, and then pointing out how the comment I made arose from my insecurities. This was difficult at first, but with practice it is becoming much easier. As a side benefit, it allows those in my circle the opportunity to get to know the real me. Like an unboxed refrigerator in a discount warehouse, I’m a little dinged up but in decent working order. There is nothing broken about me. I just had to accept that it’s not my flaws that define me.

I am working to embody the Ted Lasso school of thought: be curious, not judgmental. When I feel that judgment coming up, I am more equipped now to stop myself and be curious about my thoughts and why they jumped straight to negativity and derision. I know the demons that sabotage my better self and throw me into judging mode: shame, guilt, fear, and ego. When I go from zero to judgment faster than a Tesla in ludicrous mode, one of those dastardly devils is behind it. But now that I know my triggers, I’m quicker to catch myself and say, “Whoa there, Nelly. That is wholly unnecessary.” I am able to remind myself that I am safe now, the judgment that secured my ego and made me so damn confident about everything without having reason to be is no longer a necessary survival strategy. If I make a hasty choice or assumption, there is no need to project negative emotions onto someone else to cover up my error. I simply made a miscalculation due to the muscle memory of judgment that kept my fragile ego in bubble wrap for decades. It happens a lot when you’re recovering from a fear-based world view. It’s astounding how a little self-kindness and compassion dosed out accordingly can reduce the adverse effects of fear-based living.

I am able now to give myself and others more grace. We’re all human. We all have baggage that directs our behavior. The path to freeing yourself of judgment is facing that baggage, inspecting it carefully, understanding why you’re carrying it around, and then setting it down. I am grateful to those who bravely and in plain view undertook this journey away from fear-based functioning before me. Glennon Doyle, Kristin Neff, Anne Lamott, and Brené Brown saved me from living the entirety of my life in a glass house I inherited but in which I never wanted to live.

Don’t believe everything you think. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Believe In Your Potential To Pop

I’ve spent part of my morning doing something I don’t do often enough, reading other blogs. I recognize that I am part of a community of writers on WordPress, but in my daily struggle to find enough headspace to write and publish one post of my own, I usually neglect to read others’ works. It’s not a great plan, honestly, because other writers can provide food for thought, inspiration, and unexpected wisdom. I recognize I need to employ the Ted Lasso way of being. I need to be more curious with regard to other people. I am already a curious person regarding most things, but I’ve never been very curious about others because my childhood taught me human beings are unreliable and not necessarily worth my time or trust. This year, however, I decided to take more risks and that includes taking more risks in my experiences with others.

I found this quote today while reading someone else’s blog, and I thought it was brilliant.

I wish I had seen this quote when our sons were young and I was trying to figure out why they couldn’t do what other children their ages were doing. Parents read the What To Expect series of books about childhood development and, if our children don’t measure up according to the charts and graphs, we immediately assume something is “wrong” with them. There is nothing wrong with our children. They are simply on their own path. Some will be on target with the milestones in those books and some will not. They are individuals, and individuals come to this life with their unique set of gifts and challenges.

Because my sons are mostly grown now, I am looking at this quote with a different perspective. I learned that lesson about my kids, that they would eventually find their stride on their separate and beautiful path. It never occurred to me when I was giving my children the grace to get where they were headed in their own time to do the same for myself. From the beginning, I’ve imposed unnecessary, stringent guidelines on myself with regard to what was appropriate in my life and when. I cried hard on my 25th birthday. Why? Because I was upset I reached that milestone without having my master’s degree. Shit. I’m still aiming for unnecessary and contrived goal posts. I wrote the other day about what a person my age “should” be wearing. I am an adult. It doesn’t matter what others think is age appropriate and acceptable for me to wear. It only matters what I feel comfortable in and what I feel makes sense for my life. I don’t even have a job with a dress code. I could wear a Disney Tigger costume every day if I felt like it and not get fired. (What would I fire myself for? Being too cute?)

We are all popcorn. Some of us don’t pop as children, however, so it’s unfair to put that expectation in place. We will pop in our own time or we won’t. There are those among us who will remain the same coming out of the pot as going into it. Maybe our goal should be not to worry about when the pop will happen but to believe instead we will reach that potential when we are ready. Some of us might just need a little extra time in the pot to get there. Patience is key here. Don’t count us out.

The Box Of The Me Who Was And Is Still

In this dusty box, my history lives

I was going through a plastic tub of memorabilia today. It’s full of things I collected while growing up. I dug the box out of the basement hoping to find some remaining buttons from bands I liked when I was in high school. I did find some, definitely not as many as I had at one point, but some.

The box contains some items my mom saved from my childhood and then other items I held onto for myself. There is an album someone else compiled with cards given to my parents both when I was born and on my first birthday. There is a local newspaper with a photo of me in 1976 when I was 8 and won a coloring contest sponsored by a bank. For that feat, I earned a $25 savings account and a liberty bell bank. The headpiece to the veil I wore at my first communion is in there, as is the memory card from my confirmation and photos from church trips. There is my Brownie uniform, my Girl Scouts membership card, and all the Girl Scout badges I earned but never sewed on my sash. There are report cards from elementary school, junior high, and high school. There are two random field day ribbons, both for the high jump, one fifth place and one third place. There are the literary magazines I contributed to and edited in high school, along with information about the band trip I took to Florida my junior year. There’s a letter from my orthodontist about how to care for my braces. There are wallet-size photos given to me by friends in junior high with their written dedications to me on the back, along with some notes that they passed to me in classes. My eighth grade yearbook is in there, which is odd because the rest of my yearbooks reside in a separate box. There is the corsage I wore to prom. There is a Junior Passport for Disneyworld from 1983, cost $9.50. There are envelopes containing my ACT, SAT, and GRE scores. There’s the letter I received when I was waitlisted at the only college I applied to. So many parts of my life that would be forgotten if I hadn’t saved the specifics to remind me when I hit 50 and discovered my childhood memories fading like the ink on the photographs from my youth.

Of all the items I unearthed, among the poems, paintings, and artifacts, I found one that stood out. It was a note I wrote to my mother when I was 7 years old. On a morning when presumably she didn’t wake up in time to help get me ready for school, in my second grade handwriting and with my second grade spelling, I wrote a note so she wouldn’t worry about me when she woke up and realized I was no longer home. It read:

“Dear Mommy, I got Kathy and Julie quiet. I left the house. I wost up and brust my teeth. I got my cloths on. Rigth now Im in scool.”

I wrote my name at the bottom in case when she found the note it wasn’t completely obvious it was written by her seven year old and not her five year old or two year old.

Everything you need to know about me is contained within this short note. 1) I started my writing career early. 2) I have always been quite responsible and self-sufficient. 3) I look out for people I care about. 4) I don’t want to be a bother. 5) There’s a reason why I didn’t go into art.

I’ve changed a lot over the years, but the person at my core remains the same. I’ve been writing for too long to stop now.

Unmoored

Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

I’m having a sad day. I assume you know the kind of day I am referring to. It’s as if all the difficult and emotional things in my life that have been running in background mode for a while all decided to rise up and jump on me at the same time, leaving me at the bottom of a dog pile of sadness. I’m one of the most fortunate people I know, so I fight the urge to feel sorry for myself, even when there are legitimate life experiences that are troubling me. When you have everything, it feels shallow to whine about the few things that feel off in your life.

I allow myself to feel frustration, anger, shame, guilt, and a whole host of other emotions, but sadness is verboten. I think this goes back to my childhood. There are only so many times you can hear someone sing “Cry Me A River” or say “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” before you realize sadness is something to be avoided at all times. The past couple days, though, I let the sadness smother me. I have been throwing myself a pity party, and I’ve not been enjoying it one bit.

Tonight while walking with my youngest, I was talking to him about how I am struggling. In addition to all the truly shitty things happening in the world and the country right now, I’m facing growing older, having my kids go to college and move on with their lives, recognizing that the job I’ve devoted myself to 24/7 for the past 21 years is ending, accepting that the pandemic took a toll on my friendships and hobbies, and trying to figure out what I am supposed to do with the rest of my time on earth. If I had to put a term to what I am feeling, I would say I am unmoored. Luke, being the wise person he is, told me I need to find some anchors, regular routines or habits that will give my life some stability and meaning when I feel like I am adrift. He pointed out that he has reading and school to keep him busy and give him purpose. This makes sense, and I know he’s right.

I have spent the past two years the way many people have during the pandemic: in limbo. I’d like to start back to yoga, but I suspect the minute I do some new variant will come sweeping through, close studios, and set me back again. This fear that the other shoe is constantly about to drop and mess everything up is debilitating. I need to get to a place where I can shove my melancholy and fears aside and throw myself back into life. I need to start moving forward, but it’s hard to do that when all you want to do is lie around and binge watch shows in some sort of meaningless, feeling-less stupor. I am all over the place, stuck in a cycle of feeling superfluous one minute and lying to myself and acting as if everything is fine when I know damn well it is not the next. It’s no bueno.

I need to claw my way out of this hole. I am going to start with forcing myself to exercise and hope that sets me on a better path. It’s either going to improve my mood or kill me is what I figure. At least it will be a step in a direction, which will be better than staying buried under my demons, right?

Life is hard. Anyone who tells you it isn’t is selling you something. On a more positive note, though, I guess “unmoored” is another way of saying “free to explore new shores.” So, there’s that.

The Things We Tolerate

I can’t look at this little girl without wanting to hug her and tell her she is enough

As a child, I learned that I was something to be tolerated. This notion colored every relationship I had. If you think you are barely tolerable, inversely, you will tolerate a lot of abuse from others because you understand what a burden you are. I spent most of my life apologizing for being who I was rather than acknowledging what I had to offer. Over my years in therapy, this paradigm has shifted for me. I am able to see what my gifts and strengths are and to value them. Don’t get me wrong. I know I have faults and hang ups and annoying habits too. I simply no longer think they outweigh my positive qualities. What I taught my children about themselves now also applies to me: “You aren’t a bad person. You are a good person with bad moments.”

Part of the beauty of reaching midlife, if you’re lucky, is your priorities shift. You become less concerned with what anyone else thinks and more focused on what you need, want, and are willing to work for to make the rest of your life worthwhile. When I combine what I’ve learned about myself through therapy with what I’m learning about life by virtue of being of a certain age, it’s like having a FastPass at Disneyworld. I am ready to jump to the front of the queue. I’ve spent long enough working hard for others, bending myself into a pretzel to make sure I am bearable, while not asking often enough for what I needed for myself. I’ve come to the place where I acknowledge if I’m not worth the effort to someone, then I don’t need to stay with them. Tolerance works both ways. I am free to choose what I will put up with from others.

Lately I’ve been taking stock of the relationships in my life. I can put them into categories. There are the people who like me both for and in spite of who I am and the people who see my downsides more than my upsides. I suppose there are also some people who walk the line of liking me most of the time and yet expecting me to be something I am not the rest of the time, but I can deal with those more nebulous relationships later. My goal right now is to jettison the relationships that make me feel worse about myself, the ones where I do all the compromising and giving and they do all the “tolerating” and taking. Those relationships aren’t serving me. They never did. There is positivity in walking away from them if I can withstand the judgment and commentary from those I care about who will question my choice to do so. Can I be brave enough to stand confidently in my truth without reverting to old habits, wavering, and then capitulating in the face of dissenting opinions?

Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, but I am feeling a compelling pull to weed the garden of my relationships. I want a fresh start. The void left by the people I walk away from will be filled in time with new, life-affirming friends of my choosing. I need to trust the process, to know in my heart that eliminating those whose words and actions make me feel less will only bring me peace because, heaven knows, keeping them around has only mired me in self-doubt. I’m not something to be tolerated, and I don’t have to tolerate a life with those who think I am.

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.” ~Roy T. Bennett