Six months ago, if I were to see a snapshot of my future life, the life I’m living right now, I would have been ecstatic.
I have a consulting client that both pays well and is fun to work with. I am six months into writing and it has gone better than I could have dreamed. My kids are both happy and settled into the school year (and they both have multiple Learning Differences, so this is not a given for them).
One year ago, I thought when I was finally brave enough to start writing, I would be happy. Two years ago, I thought when my kids got settled in school and we had all their supports dialed in, I would be happy. Six years ago, I thought when I had a stable roster of consulting clients, I would be happy. That if I didn’t have to spend so much time networking and pitching, I would be happy.
But do you know how I feel right now?
Overwhelmed and mildly panicked.
It’s funny how quickly we can move the goalposts on ourselves. How quickly all those aspirations can shift into circumstances we take for granted. And all we can think about is the next thing we’ve inserted into the sentence “I’ll be happy when…”
So here are the three things I am trying to remind myself of today. A perspective shift. A moment to let go of panicky and appreciate where I am.
1. Start finding evidence for the positive
Psychiatrists Aaron Beck and David Burns came up the concept of Cognitive Distortions. Cognitive Distortions are when people have an inaccurate perception of reality.
I know I am guilty of this.
One of the most common Cognitive Distortions is mental filtering. According to John M. Grohol, PsyD, this is “[when someone] takes the negative details and magnifies those details while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.”
I like to think of this as finding evidence for my negative thoughts. Instead of thinking about what I am able to accomplish, I have the thought that I won’t be able to balance everything. And then I focus on all the moments that have proven that to be true. When I missed a work deadline, or when I didn’t have as much time as I would like to write, and then published a story that was not my best work. I choose to filter out all the success.
So instead, I am going to try to think of 3 times in the past week when I was able to balance everything. A time when I got work done and was also able to publish a solid piece of writing. When I was able to go for a run in the morning and still get my kids to school on time.
I’m shifting my filter to the positive and away from the negative, so when I am panicked, I can remember that sometimes I am able to do it all. Not always. But I have evidence, when I think about it. Sometimes I am able to make it all happen.
2. Take time to acknowledge progress
It’s hard not to focus on how I am going to do it all in the present moment. How will I continue to wow this client? How will I still find the time to write and expand my writing the way I have planned? Can I continue to support my kids’ learning needs? What if it all means I won’t have enough time to do the things that I, personally, love — like running?
Why do we do this to ourselves?
We get so focused on where we want to go next that we can’t be happy with how far we’ve come.
But today, I am going to take a moment to remember that I hadn’t even written a word about six months ago. That no one had ever read my writing (beyond for work and school). And today, writing is a habit, in the best possible way. One that I keep returning to, time and again. I love it. And some people connect with my writing. Not everyone in the world, but some people. That is amazing, and is a giant leap from where I was six months ago.
So it might be hard to find the time to write. But I am not afraid anymore. And that is more than I had before.
3. When looking toward the future, remember that it’s all a journey
This is one of those cliches: enjoy the journey. But it’s true, right? If you are an ambitious person like me, this can be difficult. I’m never fully satisfied. I am always looking to achieve more. I spend a lot of time looking at the horizon. There is always a new goal, and I am focused on getting there.
But there needs to be an element of trust. Trust in ourselves.
We set a goal. We need to trust ourselves to reach it, or to adjust it if it no longer aligns with our inner value system.
And then the focus should shift to the mini-milestones along the way. Doing a great job on the project due this week. Celebrating the news that my son got selected as an Ambassador for his school last week and reinforcing that he is in the right place.
These milestones might not get us all the way to the ultimate goal, but they are tangible evidence that today, things are on the right track. My goals are still the right ones for me. For now.
Because, as Kierkegaard said: Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.
Life will always be part amazing and part horrible. There is always a reason to panic, but there are usually a few reasons to celebrate. If we learn to shift our filter, to see how much progress we have already made, and to see the whole path forward, instead of only focusing on whether we’ve hit a big end goal, we can create our own happiness.
Stop waiting to be happy and find it where you are right now.