Category Archives: Success

When the Path Isn’t Straight

I hear a common sentiment in my clinical and vocational work that goes something like:

I didn’t do things the “right” way so I was delayed getting to the point I’m at now.

I really struggle with this sentiment for a number of reasons. First, I have heard SO MANY people say this! Almost every single person I know has at some point felt this way about our journey. If all of us feel this way, is there a possibility that there simply isn’t a right way?? I think a big pice of this is the issue we have with social comparison. We often compare ourselves to others in ways that aren’t helpful. A wise person once said “comparison is the thief of joy.” For me, that sentiment reveals a truth about the way we make evaluations about our own lives. We often compare what is happening in our lives to what we see of the lives of others. The difference is, we know our WHOLE lives- all of our shortcomings, mistakes, etc. However, when we look at the lives of others, all we see is the curated version of them they want us to see. I hate to jump on the bandwagon of blaming social media, but social media. Most folks don’t share about their bad moments to the extent they share about good ones. It’s human nature to actively present ourselves in positive ways. The danger of using only what people tell us as a method of comparison is that we inevitably end up viewing ourselves as less than, based on what is at best a half-truth! Someone posts about a new job they’ve received, and we don’t hear about the 15 or 20 rejection letters they got before that one yes. A friend shares wedding photos, but not mugshots of the breakups that came before. A new mother shares pictures of her maternity photo shoot, but may not have shared about a miscarriage that came a year before. Let me be clear; this is NOT a criticism of a positive-only social media presence. That is each person’s prerogative and right. However, I am suggesting that we should keep this reality in mind and work against not comparing ourselves to another’s social media avatar. Perception is not real life!

Second, who decides what is the “right” way? Are you actually talking about the expectations of the people around you? Is someone telling you that you “should” have done it one way or another? Psychologist Albert Ellis was famous for telling his clients that they were “should-ing all over” themselves (pun intended). If we were to critically evaluate the “shoulds” in our lives, many of us would find that they are really implicit and explicit messages we’ve received from others about how they believe we should do life. And, just because someone else told us to do something, doesn’t mean we have to! One of the responsibilities and privileges of adulthood is that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions. We get to decide how much influence other people we have in our lives. Sometimes, that we means we block out the opinions of people we love and care about when those opinions are not in our best interest. They cannot walk in your shoes. They do not live your experience. They do not live with the consequences of your choices- you do! You deserve to create a life for yourself that matches YOUR wants and desires, not those of another person, regardless of how much you might love and admire that person. Does that mean you might make some mistakes along the way? Absolutely. But does that mean that, if you pay attention to yourself, you might stumble upon something that only you could have discovered about yourself and for yourself? Absolutely. Run your own life. Don’t give away your power to anyone else!

Lastly, consider that the “straight” path might not be the most fulfilling path. Sometimes, there simply isn’t one right answer. Most of us, without much work, can think of a time when we experienced an unexpected surprise; something we didn’t know was coming, maybe didn’t even want, but it ended up being exactly what we needed. I am a firm believe that even those things that seem like detours can have a powerful purpose in our lives. This is not the cookie cutter “everything has a reason” response. Sometimes, we have to work to find the purpose in detours and distractions. Every time you hit a wall, make a mistake, or feel frustrated, stop and ask yourself a simple question:

What is there for me to learn in this situation?

You might find that what best positions you for your end goal is the lessons you gleaned from the experiences you thought you weren’t supposed to have. You have an opportunity to make the most of the long road, and even celebrate it, rather than viewing it as a failure. A familiar scripture is a clear reminder remember that something can be gained form any situation:

“ And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”Romans 8:28

So, when you are tempted to think less of yourself because you didn’t have a direct route, consider what you learned along the way. Consider that most of us are figuring out this windy path together. Consider that no matter what you have experienced, you still have the opportunity to live the life God crafted just for you!

Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

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FOCUS

A couple of weeks ago my pastor preached a sermon entitled “Focus”. By now, the specific points he made are fuzzy for me. But I have not been able to let go of the idea that our ability to focus is crucially important to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. So much of what i see in my clinical work comes back to this idea. Difficulty managing priorities, not being able to distinguish irrational thoughts and feelings, becoming clouded by the dangers of social comparison, and the list goes on. So, FOCUS is going to be my word for 2017. I have some continuations of goals I’ve been working on, and some new things I hope to accomplish. I really don’t want to be distracted from these goals, because they’re important to me, and I feel God is calling me to them! Here are some tips for maintaining your FOCUS as we enter a new year.

Filter out the opinions of others. Many of us are completely and utterly consumed with the opinions of others. Are we meeting the approval of our parents? Are our friends/significant others pleased with us? Does my boss like me? Social media doesn’t help, because we often end up comparing the totality of our lives (good and bad) with the best moments of those we follow. While family and friends certainly matter, at the end of the day you are accountable to you and God for the life you live. Even the best intentioned friend or family member can lead you astray because they always come from a biased point of view. Push yourself to make your own decisions and stand by them. Only you are responsible for you.

Open yourself to new ways of doing and being. I had a supervisor say once that rigidity is the definition of mental illness. Another way to say this is the the key to mental and emotional wellness is flexibility. As humans, its easy for us to get into a monotonous routine and become so invested in it that we can’t see when its not working anymore. Sometimes, we need to change things up and try something new so that we can achieve a different outcome. Don’t be afraid to try!

Count your blessings. It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong in your life. They often take the forefront in our mental and emotional space. Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and focus on what’s going right. This change doesn’t make the bad things go away, but it helps us to have a more level headed and even keeled response. Attending to the good things can help balance out the pain associated to the bad ones.

Understand your purpose. You always have lots of choices in life. Big choices and little choices. Just like on a multiple choice test, some of these options are “distractors”. They’re not really good for you, but you can only figure out that out if you have studied and prepared yourself. Study and explore your purpose, so that when the time comes to make choices, you won’t be strayed by distractors. Everyone has something they are especially equipped to do, that they can give to the world! When you know what you’re called to do, it’s easier to identify and follow the path that will lead you to it. (More in this next month).

Simplify your life. While we are on the topic of distractors, how about getting rid of some! Is your house/office so cluttered that you can never find what you’re looking for? Are you involved in so many activities that you can’t tell whether you’re coming or going? Do you have some “friends” that annoy you so much you are constantly screening their calls? Perhaps it’s time to clean house. Why waste your time, energy, or resources on things that don’t fit with the life you’re trying to live? It’s ok to say no. It’s ok to let things go. It’s ok to move on.

While these may sound like quick tips, they are really big habits that if you aren’t doing already, will take time and commitment to accomplish. Try to pick one that feels most compelling to you, and focus your energy on making a decision every day to work toward that goal. Whether it’s January 1 or any other day of the year, you CAN reach your goals! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices!

How Much is Too Much?

I see a lot of people talking about pushing themselves to reach their ultimate potential, and the lengths to which they will go in order to reach their goals. To this end, it seems that there is a message that working with a dogged intensity that leaves you running constantly is the only way to get where you want to be. It’s admirable to push yourself beyond the bounds of your current situation. It’s brave to move out of your comfort zone, and it’s exciting to make real steps toward making your dreams come true. Ambitious dreams make it necessary for us to sacrifice and work long hours. You know the saying: blood, sweat, and tears.

The ambitious professional in me loves this spirit- the sense that sleep is for those who aren’t ready for the challenge. Maybe, in our dog-eat-dog world, that’s accurate. However, there’s another part of me, the therapist in me, who is worried about a world where #teamnosleep is a badge of honor. It feels disrespectful of our hummanness, our natural need for down time and rest. I worry that we run the risk of killing ourselves and calling it living. I think a lot about striking the balance between ambition and self sacrifice. There are goals I have that I haven’t achieved yet and am working toward. But honestly, I struggle with figuring out how much to push myself. I am a hard worker. I don’t mind going above and beyond. I don’t mind some late nights or long hours. But I don’t want to slave myself away for the sake of achieving a goal. I don’t desire to beat myself into submission in service of calling myself a hustler. I have not yet figured this out. I don’t know if I will. But, I do have some ideas about how I can continue to answer this question.

I think it’s important to ask ourselves the purpose of our striving. Why am I working so hard for this goal? There are lots of valid reasons- a sense of call or passion, a desire to give back to the community, a feeling that there is no other option, financial stability, the list goes on. Whatever the answer to that question is, it needs to make sense for you based on your values. Hustle without passion is empty and exhausting. I do what I do because I feel called to do it. It is a part of what brings meaning to my life and it is worth losing some sleep over.

Next, consider the cost of your sacrifice. Is it worth it? There are only 24 hours in a day. Every day. You can’t make time appear out of no where, and inevitably dedicating more time to one venture means dedicating less time to another. There is a cost associated with your striving, and it’s important to consider whether you feel the cost matches the reward. For me, there are certain things that are not negotiable: my marriage, my mental health, my faith, to name a few. I want to be successful, but those things will not be casualties- I’m unwilling to make those sacrifices. So, that means that some days instead of staying up to read or write or whatever the next task is, I let it sit. Perhaps this means my business doesn’t take off as quickly as I would like- I’m ok with that consequence. For each of us, that reasoning is different.

Finally, ask yourself: what happens if I fail? What happens if I succeed? We can work really hard for something, and it simply doesn’t work out. And, we can work really hard for something and it completely takes off. If you succeed, will you be ready for the fruits of your labor? If it fails, will you feel that your time was well spent? I know it may seem like the “wrong attitude” to consider a possible failure, but failure is a reality in life. Too often we try to make failure a taboo, but failure can also help us to learn a lot. If you can look back on a failure and feel that the time and energy you spent was still worth it, it was absolutely the right thing to do!

It’s a hard balance to find. Success (however you define it) is intoxicating. We all want to say we have made something of our lives. But, my hope is that we can have much flexibility in defining what that success looks like. What good is reaching a goal if you are too exhausted to enjoy it?  I don’t know what the right answer is for you. Only you can answer that. I will say that understanding how much is too much is dependent upon you knowing and listening to yourself. Our bodies and spirits often tell us when we are pushing too hard. It’s important to drown out the din of a demanding world in order to hear it. One of my favorite quotes is one from Maya Angelou:

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.

I love this definition because it is both individualized and comprehensive. I think about it often, and try to make decisions about how hard to push myself based on this. Narrow definitions of success can often lead to self-criticism and disappointment. So, whatever your definition of success, don’t forget to take care of yourself in the process! Thanks for reading, and make Well Choices.