Be Kind to Yourself and Other Advice I Don’t Always Take

by Kara on March 10, 2010

A friend of mine is having one of those weeks. You know exactly what I am talking about. The kind where not only does everything go wrong, but also the things that wouldn’t normally get you down start to seem like the end of the world. It’s a busy week at work AND she has some major things going on at home (not necessarily bad things, just BIG things). Her week started out with her boss flying off the handle at her for something for which he bore the bulk of the responsibility. Then the website where she could download her W2 was offline for hours, when she needed to get to the tax accountant’s office. She hasn’t been getting the results she wants with her healthful eating and exercise. It has just been an endless series of mishaps and annoyances that add up to a very frustrating week. Individually, she would have no problem dealing with any of these, but together… Well, together they can feel like defeat.

She needed an opportunity to vent, so we chatted for a little bit while she worked to get her game face back on. I hope it made her feel better, but oddly it definitely made me feel better. It’s not that I am happy she is having a terrible week, but when I was giving her a pep talk, I realized I was pep talking myself as well. It is so easy to give someone advice or encouragement when they are down, but we rarely listen to our own advice. So this week, as I struggle with my challenge, I am going to give myself some advice. Some of it is pretty obvious, but we are all very good at not doing the things we should. Here’s hoping I learn something from myself.

Be kind to yourself
I need to get this tattooed on my forehead so I see it every time I look in the mirror. We often hold ourselves to such impossibly high standards that anything less than perfection looks like a failure. But it’s just not true. The problem is when you give yourself a laundry list of all the things you should be doing or could have done differently, it starts to look like there was nothing you did right. DON’T make that list. Make a list of the things you have accomplished. And when things do go wrong, just cut yourself some slack and think how you could improve the situation in the future. I have been struggling with what (or more accurately, how much) I have been eating in the past couple weeks. It has been stressing me out, and that stress makes me want to eat even more. But here’s what is good: My challenge is not blown by any stretch of the imagination. I am still well ahead of where I expected to be in my weight loss challenge by the middle of week 10. I am definitely healthier and I feel better than I have in a long time. So why should I focus on my mistakes? I am going to focus on what I need to do today. And tomorrow. And I will keep moving forward. I won’t give up because I had some bad days.

Know when to let go
Comedian Mike Birbiglia tells this awful story of being hit by a drunk driver and, due to an error on the accident report, ends up being told he must pay for the damages to the drunk’s car (which the drunk smashed into a tree after t-boning Birbiglia’s car). The story is classic Kafka, and everyone keeps telling him to pay for the guy’s car. He fights it for quite some time, becoming obsessed with proving that he was not at fault. Listening to this story fills you with indignation, but you know that certainly justice will prevail in the end. Except it doesn’t. He finally decides to stop letting it consume his life, he pays for the guy’s car, and he moves on. It’s the same with my friend who was unfairly blamed by her boss. She knows she’s right, but forcing her boss to lose face to prove she is right is not going to end well. She proactively informed her supervisor about what happened in case her boss complains, and then she wiped her hands of it. This is one of the most difficult things for me. I HATE to let go when I know I am right. I find it easier to do at work, but in my personal life I have to work hard not to let perceived injustices get the better of me.

Expect the Unexpected
You may get it right the first time, but if not, make sure you have given yourself enough time and resources to get back on track. There have been so many times when I completed a task and patted myself on the back for a job well done, then got surprised by an unexpected hitch. This is not infrequent. The worst was the year we got a letter from the IRS saying that we owed several thousand dollars because we claimed too much interest on our mortgage and missed some of the taxes on our investments. Once I started breathing, I realized that they simply had not received the tax form from the bank holding our mortgage, and all I had to do was send them a copy of the backup. The investment miscalculation was my fault, but that was only a couple hundred dollars, and we sent back a check and our mortgage interest statement and all was well. Sometimes, even if you have done EVERYTHING right, something will still go wrong. Be prepared for what goes wrong, and things (or you) don’t have to fall apart.

Most of the time, it does get better
I won’t lie, sometimes things just suck and there is nothing you can do about it. But there have been so many times when I have been at rock bottom and I couldn’t see how things could ever get better. Yet they have always gotten better. Occasionally, they have gotten worse first, but they have always gotten better eventually. I have a LOT of examples of this, but here’s my favorite. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I lived in a rooming house with a bunch of other girls. Instead of a landlord, we had more of a house mother, kind of like a sorority. I had always gotten along well with her, even though I thought she was a bit unstable and sometimes treated other people unfairly. I should have known it was only a matter of time before she turned on me too (and perhaps I deserved it for not standing up for the other people she turned on). I happened to mention that my Dad was disappointed that he didn’t know sooner that our house would be closed over spring break, or he would have come out to see me and we could have stayed in a hotel. I certainly wasn’t upset when I said this, I just mentioned it because the house had always stayed open during previous breaks. If there ever was an appropriate time to say that someone “flipped out”, this was it. She went from zero to sixty on the crazy scale in about two seconds flat. I’ll leave out most of the details to keep this short, but the gist is that she decided that I must be evicted and gave me a three-day eviction notice. I spoke to someone at the city, and found out that what she was doing was illegal. Even if she had grounds to evict me, she would have had to give me a 30 day notice because it wasn’t for non-payment of rent or anything. Then, while this was going on, I got a letter from UCLA saying that I did not get into the grad program I applied for. And worst of all, my Dad called me and said that he was having some heart problems. This was all in a two-day period. So what it felt like was that I had no place to go, had no future, and might lose my Dad. Well, to prevent this from becoming a novel, I will just say that I did end up finding a place to go, and I did have a future, and I still have my Dad. I feel very strongly that some of these things that seemed so awful at the time probably set me on the path to the life I have today. And I like my life. It isn’t perfect, but I like it. So I have accepted that suffering is just a part of life. Sometimes things do get better. Sometimes things happen that we can’t fix, like losing someone you love. However, when something awful (or even something sort of awful) happens, chances are that it is not the end of happiness.

Knowing that someone has it worse doesn’t make your pain go away
One of the things people do that really gets on my nerves is when you are talking about a problem or annoyance and they respond, “Well, you should be happy you are not in Haiti. Those people really have it bad.” Well, of course they do, and I am happy that is not my situation. But the fact of someone else’s pain does not negate your own pain. Sure, sometimes we get a little ridiculous about our problems, but it is okay to feel bad if your dog dies or you have an awful day at work. You don’t have to justify feeling bad to anyone, as long as you keep some perspective. Just because someone has it much worse doesn’t mean that this makes your problems better. They are not related. No one can tell you that you don’t have a right to hurt. Of course you do. I don’t have a lot to say about this – I just have a big problem with people diminishing someone else’s feelings or trying to assign a relative value to them. It’s just not relevant.

There are probably a zillion other points I could make about dealing with life’s hiccups, but I’d like to hear what other people do when they are faced with crises big or small. Please post a comment and share your advice. Yes, I know these flower pictures have nothing to do with the subject of my post, but they are pretty and made me smile, so they’re in!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Ellen March 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I’d like to comment on your last point that “Knowing that someone has it worse doesn’t make your pain go away.” It’s true that knowing that I’m not living in Haiti right now would not make me feel better about any difficult situation that I happened to be facing. But I can say from experience, that when a rich, powerful person gets caught doing something absolutely ridiculous and hypocritical, and as a result has to retire from public life…. somehow it makes it a lot easier to get up in the morning; when someone has it so good and messes up that bad, my tiny errors and problems seem a lot more forgivable.

Do you follow the Happiness Project? Similar story line. http://www.happiness-project.com/

Kara March 10, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I agree totally, Mary Ellen. And I LOVE the Happiness Project website! Thank you so much for sharing it – I wasn’t familiar with it. I see I have a lot of reading to do now.

Mary Ellen March 11, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Not sure you want even more to read, but I do own a copy of the Happiness Project book, if you want to borrow it. It’s pretty light stuff, and a little more focused than the blog.

Margot March 12, 2010 at 6:23 am

Point 1: Remember the Magie Diet?
* There is no such thing as FORBIDDEN FOOD. Food is not bad for you.
* There is no such thing as “CHEATING.” This is not a test.
* Eating something sugary or fattening or unhealthy does not make you a BAD PERSON (or naughty or weak or any of those things). This is not a moral issue.
* Falling off your diet is not a catastrophe. There is always tomorrow. Or the next day. (I just made that one up.)
Some days when my diet is going really badly, I just say, “The hell with it!” and pig out. And enjoy it. Then I start over.

Point 3: It *always* gets better in one fashion or another. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be able to live, I think. The worst experiences of my life have led to the best and I wouldn’t change anything. Bad times are a real learning experience for those that are paying attention.

Point 4: Funny. I was just thinking that the other night. Yes, I’m sorry for people whose lives are bad beyond my conception, but that doesn’t make my allergy feel any better.

Here’s what I do when I have an important, nay, life-changing decision to make: Should I try to stay in England or should I go back to the States? Should we give up two good jobs in England and try to start over in France?

I imagine what the worst outcome could be — and could I live with it?

England. I detest my current working conditions and my boss. Should I quit and stay in England or go back to the States? What’s the worst that could happen? If I quit there is the likely possibility that no company will go to the bother of getting me another work permit. I will run out of money and lose my house. Well, I’m sure I could find one person in the States who would advance me a plane ticket. Once I got back to the States, I would have no problem getting a job. Could I live with that? Yes. In fact, any number of companies, as it turned out, were willing to apply for a work permit and I got a job. And then I started jogging, for my weight and something to do. And in the jogging club I met Nick. And in April we celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary.

Even things over which I have no control have worked out. I learned something. My life conditions changed to send me off in new — and better — directions.

My career (high-flying tech type), my marriage and my generally great life have all been influenced by the worst events in my life. I must the the eternal optimist.

Lauralie Lee Ezra December 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Thank you for this. Some days I feel so annoyed at what I didn’t accomplish. I have moments where that list overtakes me. Then, out of no where I’m completely behind. How can I be behind on something that never existed? Losing a pound, eating this not that, blogging or not…all in a days work. I too feel oft times annoyed at those things that didn’t happen and forget the little wins. Thanks for reminding me that sometimes this happens to everyone. Sometimes, it’s ok to let it all just ‘suck’, but mostly, I should appreciate and breathe.

Sighhhhhhh

Cheers!

LLE

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