I should get up early. I should go work out. I should work harder. I should eat better. I should. I should. I should.
This was my inner dialogue for the majority of my adult life. As a young leader in way over my head and a confused young man in every other area of my life, everything — mostly surface-level — I leveraged as a guide pointed in these directions.
The demands of the modern-day society overwhelmed me. It was a game of keeping up, as opposed to finding my path. My way of being became skewed, wading in between collapsing parallels of ego-touting impostor syndrome and a silent-but-deadly identity crisis. The innermost essence wasn’t even a blip on the radar of my awareness, let alone something I aimed to deliberately realize. The virus-like spreading of my confusion transformed into self-deprecation, convoluting and exacerbating the issue even greater.
So caught up in the steering of my ship, I never looked up to examine the charting of my course. I stepped over the fact that my life’s vision revolved around me, limiting the fulfillment factor to that of a single person. While self-love and self-care are irreplaceable, they are not meant to be standalone. They are the acute stages of love and care for others.
Empathy and compassion clearly didn’t exist for me. I used my dissatisfaction with who I was to my advantage in my career, working tirelessly to succeed and achieve that blissful millisecond of relief where I felt good enough. I wired myself to snap back, however, as it became my identity to never celebrate victories and always look to what was next. I spent my entire life trying to get someplace else.
But wherever you go, there you are.
I didn’t understand that sometimes less is more, so I continued to pile it on. Working longer — yet considerably less effective — days. Making further sacrifices. Getting up early simply for the sake of the act itself. The cyclical patterns of discontent began to repeat themselves until one day, it all came crashing down.
A change was called for. I had gone on far too long avoiding that hard look in the mirror — which sometimes means, a hard look into the eyes of someone you love.
I started to open myself up to feedback from people I deeply cared about. I was finally desperate enough to suspend my judgment to actually hear what they had been attempting to convey to me all this time, only to be shamed, shut down or re-directed. The meaning I associated to the people in my life — although they were no less significant to me than when I first met them — had become something I intellectualized, rather than something I felt deep inside. The outcome: a suffocating taken-for-granted feeling firmly attached to my coattails — something impossible for others to ignore.
I wanted to know where this came from. I got the impact — a severe impact — I was having on others but to interrupt it involved me harnessing its inception.
Delving deeper into the confines of my heart and soul, I extracted nothing but fear. Fear of rejection, judgment, loneliness, insignificance, disappointment, loss, failure, and criticism rounding out the menu. As fear was supplanted firmly within my heart, it shaped everything around me. Fear ran rampant. I cut others down instead of building them up. I saw the negative instead of the positive in everyone I met. I became easily frustrated and annoyed by the uniqueness of others, lashing out as a result. I was so hard on others, due to the exorbitant amount of pressure I placed on myself.
At a certain point, you have to call yourself in for questioning. What do you want your life to stand for? Judgment, ridicule, and berating people? Scarcity, problems, and a universal dissatisfaction with your life and everyone in it? My answer to all of these inquiries was a resounding no.
I think back to my childhood. The wonder. The joy. The excitement and curiosity. Our imagination becomes reduced as we get older, often due to the social constraints we made up to keep ourselves in line. My mother would often describe what a sweet, happy boy I used to be. I didn’t want that to be locked away in my past.
I interrupted my entire default way of being, essentially doing and being the opposite of what my natural tendencies were. Over time, I have been able to embed and imprint a new way of being — one that I love and am at peace with. One I’m happy with. One I don’t have to go anywhere else to find. And the best part of it is, the happiness, patience, and peace I feel for myself is easily transferred to others.
People in life make mistakes. I make them, too. Like the way my mother never gave up on me, I don’t want to be the person who gives up on anyone else. I want to show compassion, understanding, and grace for where they are in their level of self-awareness. I want to exude calm and peace in the face of distress and irritation. I want to spread hope like fire.
Notice the distinction in the last paragraph versus the first. The should vs. the want. There’s nothing I should do. There’s everything I want to do. Honoring myself leads to honoring others. Going easy on oneself develops the empathy and connection with people that could truly benefit from it.
Take a moment to relax and quiet your fears as you become upset with others. While they may feel like an adversary on the surface, they’re essentially inviting you to love yourself enough to give the gift of grace — to both you and them.
Time isn’t an infinite supply for human beings. You can spend it honoring yourself and others or you can spend it wallowing in the confines of anger and resentment.