I was driving with some friends a few days before New Years Eve and I asked them,
“Are you excited for New Year's?”
One of them mentioned that he was because of reasons that most people could relate to: new beginnings, things we are anticipating, new opportunities, etc. But my other friend’s response sparked a train of thought for me. He said that he wasn’t really excited for New Year's because it’s "just another day” like the others. You count down, you celebrate, then you go back to life the next day.
My friend wasn’t being a Debbie Downer, he was just being literal. And sure, even though I know it IS just another day of the week, and life doesn’t magically reset once the clock strikes 12; I still always anticipate New Years, because it has a symbolic meaning to me. Maybe it’s because other people around are feeling renewed by the fresh start of a new year, a new beginning, but it rubs off on me. There’s something intangible about it, but I can actually feel the old season pass and a new one come.
Despite this fresh new feeling, I’m not always able to step into the new year with a completely clean slate.
This year in particular I come into the new year feeling hopeful, yet at the same time, many of the challenges from 2016 are rolling into this year: Shannon is still facing heath obstacles, we are still facing financial challenges, I’m still in a waiting period on which direction to take myself professionally, I’m still working on fears and insecurities, etc.
The presence of these “old” challenges in the new year has left me thinking about this:
“How can 2017 be a better year than 2016 if the challenges of last year have rolled into this year?"
Here’s the difference-maker:
You have to change this year. Not your circumstances. YOU.
We have little, if any, control over what happens to us in life, but we DO have control over ourselves for the most part: our decisions, our thoughts, our words, our actions, our responses. Still, we spend so much time trying to get our circumstances to change, instead of looking inwardly, which leaves us disappointed, discouraged, tired, frustrated, and depressed.
We are the single common denominator in everything that happens to us in life.
Which is why we can be in completely different situations, with completely different people, at completely different points in time, yet still encounter the same challenges, problems and issues. When this cycle is rolling in our lives, the solution isn’t more money, more time, different people, different opportunities, or trying harder, it’s an indicator to us that there’s something INTERNAL that needs to change.
A few weeks back we were at a church service and our pastor said,
“You’re not going to find success in 2017 with 2016’s mindset.”
This is why 2017 will be different for me: I have an opportunity to change myself, even if my situations haven’t changed. And I believe that by changing myself, my world will change.
At the very least, I will change my perspective of what each situation means for me. With the right mindset, a bad thing can be a good thing, because it challenges you to trust, have belief, hope, learn, get stronger, stretch your capacity, and grow. With the right mindset, even when you have little resources, you can feel wealthy. You can be grateful for your family and loved ones, your home, food, clothes, health, and all the other things that you tend to overlook when you’re stressing about a bill or financial needs.
One of the biggest challenges for me this past season of life has been ANXIETY.
Worrying about “Will we have enough?”, or “Do I have what it takes?". I’m normally pretty good about trusting that everything will work out and at looking at the bright side of things, but when wave after wave of challenges come, it can be hard to keep my eyes on the shore, and it can be easy for me to only look at the next wave coming.
It shrinks your vision when you’re in survival mode.
It's too easy to long for the seemingly unreachable future, while simultaneously being fixated on the issue at hand. The disconnect between the solution and the problem feels a mile wide.
Even when I’m doing everything that I know how to do, I STILL can come up short. Sometimes my best isn't enough. This leads to me feeling broken, small, frustrated, afraid, and anxious about each day, wondering which waves will come next to crash over my head.
Anxiety steals my ability to be present in the moment, causes me to miss out on time with people I care about, makes me focus on lack rather than enjoying what I have, it keeps me from being able to have vision for the future, it can make me feel sorry for myself, it can make me angry at people who let me down or situations that should have gone a different way.
Expectation versus reality.
This contrast trips me up a lot. What do you do when you work your hardest, try your hardest, do your part, do everything that you need to know, and then still come up short?
That’s a fear that I’ve constantly battled throughout life, especially when it comes true. (FYI, it’s inevitable this will happen. We are humans, and we aren’t perfect.) And because I fear being inadequate, whenever I reach my limit, it feels like the world is going to end. I feel like I’m drowning. It feels like I’m suffocating. I forget about the parts of my life that aren’t falling apart, I forget about the encouragements and truths I know in my heart, I feel helpless.
This kind of disappointment hits me so hard because, ever since I was young, I’ve felt that I had to be perfect in order to be secure.
Through different experiences in life, challenges, and traumatic events, when I was younger I came to the conclusion that if my world was going to be uncertain, unreliable, and not secure, then I would provide that security, reliability, and certainty for myself. I would perform well, I wouldn’t show vulnerability, I wouldn’t show flaws, I would find solutions myself, I would solve problems myself, I would be perfect.
Perfection was my coping mechanism for life's troubles.
And it served me well, to an extent. Many people looked at me as being perfect in many ways, or at least without fault. I had a reputation for being pretty squeaky clean. I did really well in things I set my mind to. I relied on myself a lot, while still having friendships and relationships. I was able to take care of myself pretty well.
Being a perfectionist can be a sneaky issue, because high performance is so praised in our culture.
I danced the line between excellence and perfectionism. There is a difference:
Excellence is a pursuit, whereas perfection is a destination.
Excellence is motivated by passion. Perfectionism is motivated by fear, or obsession. They are so similar that I was able to rationalize with myself that the fear of vulnerability and inadequacy that hid underneath my perfect mask were minor issues compared to the good results I was getting.
Looking back, I can see that a lot of what I was doing was taking things that were meant to be strengths, and living them out from the wrong foundation: FEAR.
Rather than letting these strengths be expressions of who I was, I was using them to shield what was going on inside of me. I would use my strengths to mask my insecurities and fears, rather than finding additional strength in embracing my flaws and being transparent about my fears. It has taken a long time to understand what was going on under the surface, and I STILL have a hard time not reverting back to that mode when things get hard.
What I've had to learn was that it’s OKAY for to not be perfect.
Three or four years ago, I had been doing an exercise I like to do where I reach out to people close to me and ask what they think of me and if there are any areas I have for growth. Getting perspective from people you trust and love is a great way to notice things that you yourself might miss.
When I was on the phone with one of my mentors I asked him, “Is there anything about me that you would change?”, and what he said to me hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been expecting some sort of great insight from somebody I really looked up to, but instead he said,
“I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”
And as he went on to affirm why I was valuable just the way I am, and that who I am right now, even if I never change, is still worth something, I broke down and wept.
That was one of the most validating experiences I’ve ever had: to hear that who I am is good enough.
There is always room to grow, and that kind of change is positive. But even without that, I had to come to the realization that I still have inherent value.
I don’t have to earn my worth.
It’s okay to have limitations. It’s not healthy or fair for me to have unrealistic or inhuman expectations of perfection on myself. That kind of mindset will always leave me falling short and feeling like a failure. But instead if I embrace my limitations, my flaws, my situations, the things that I cannot control, then I can find strength. I can be grateful for those things because they prove to me that I’m not perfect and it’s ok, because no one is. They teach me to have faith and hope and belief. They teach me to reach out to others in my life and to ask for help, to be transparent, to not try to solve everything by myself.
One of my biggest fears in chasing perfection was,
“What if people see my failures/ flaws/ fear, and their perspective of me changes?”
What I had to come to the realization of was, “What if that’s a GOOD thing?”
What if my pursuit of perfection causes people to see me as unreliable, distant, guarded, inauthentic, impersonal, untrusting, or closed-off? What if people’s perception of me could change for the better by me being more transparent, vulnerable, and open?
My fear would have no power if the end result was a positive one.
Besides, who wants to be friends with somebody who is perfect and flawless? They would be intimidating and unrelatable. Who wants to confide in someone who doesn’t have flaws? They can only give you sympathy, not empathy. You can’t have deep connection with a person like that. I don’t want to be like that; I don’t want to be a robot, I want to be real.
So I tried it out by being honest with a friend about an insecurity of mine recently, and guess what?… I didn’t die. I didn’t lose their love and respect. They didn’t think any less of me. As a matter of fact, what seemed like a huge and humiliating confession to me wasn’t even that big of a deal to them; they were just loving and supportive.
It’s it ironic how much power we allow fear to have over us about things that are disproportionately small to the rest of the world?
I’ve learned that in order to live with peace of mind and heart, in order to have a positive self image, have confidence, the be happy, to be present, that my perception has to change. The same goes for this new year in comparison to last year.
My 2016 thinking, mindset, strength, discipline, knowledge, and perspective cannot lead me to success in 2017.
So I’m choosing to look back at this last year differently:
- The biggest challenges we faced were growing points.
- The biggest obstacles were preparing us for the future. The hardest times were refining our character.
- Our times of lack were teaching us to be content and grateful.
- Our times of being stressed out exercised our ability to be present and to find peace.
- Our feelings of rejection and abandonment have taught us to find our true, inherent value and identity.
- Our times of loss have shown us how to appreciate everything we have.
- Our missed expectations have taught us not to put our trust in things, money, or our wants, but rather in our personal beliefs and faith in God.
- Sickness and health issues have taught us to value each day and moment we feel good, to not take our bodies for granted, and to make daily progress toward wellness.
- Mistakes have taught us wisdom for future decisions.
- Having responsibilities and needs thrust upon us has taught us that being an adult and diving into a challenge isn’t as scary as it originally seems, that there is always a solution, and that people are generally wanting to be helpful and empathetic.
- Self doubt has taught us to find courage.
- Fear has led us to faith.
- Anxiety has taught us to find peace, even in the midst of a storm.
- Pain has taught us to forgive.
There’s so many lessons we’ve learned this year that were disguised as problems.
We’ve started saying again, “Maybe this is happening for a reason.”, whenever something happens.
It reminds us to not stress, but to look for the value in each moment and experience. And when you do that, you see that there IS value in each experience. It’s all up to how you decide to respond to what life brings you.
This year will be a year of new perspective.
In a way, I’m sort of grateful for some of my “Rollover” challenges from last year, because they are serving as a reminder that real life is messy and beautiful.
Life isn’t as clean cut as a movie, it doesn’t wrap up all the loose ends by December 31st. And that’s ok. It gives me something to work on coming into this year. They serve as a reminder that I’m a work in progress, and I will always be a work in progress.
I’m not going to arrive at a point where there are no challenges or problems, that’s not a real place.
And if I ever did arrive at a place of perfection, would I even like it? There would be no challenges that cause me to grow, there would be no resistance to hone my skills and determination against. There would be no hunger to fuel me forward. It would be easy to become complacent. – That being said, I don’t want to perpetually be on the brink, I definitely want to overcome the challenges we are currently facing. But I do embrace the process of continual growth and maturity instead of chasing an imaginary destination.
I’ve heard about people who spent their early years busting butt to become very successful so that they retire at age 35 on a beach, drinking margaritas and doing nothing; only to find a few weeks later that they were completely bored out of their mind and miserable doing nothing. They had no purpose.
We need growth, challenges, resistance, something to apply ourselves to, for life to have meaning. The important thing is that we don’t keep facing the SAME challenges over and over.
I want to grow to NEW levels and face NEW challenges. I want to get past the current obstacles I face and move on to bigger ones. I want to move beyond my personal things and start helping others, which ends up rewarding me in return anyway.
I believe that it’s important to do what I can TODAY to become the person I want to be in the future.
Some thoughts I often have about the future are,
- “I can’t wait till I make X amount of money, then I can give in big ways.”
- or, “When I have X number of people in my audience, then I will be a legitimate writer/speaker.”
- or, “If I didn’t have to worry about all of these needs, then I could be more present with Shannon and others.”
- or, “When I have a higher position/bigger clients/am making more money, then others will think that I’m a success and I will feel like a success.”
But lessons I’ve learned from people much further along than myself have taught me that the dream destinations of life tend to not be everything we imagined they would be. More money doesn’t always translate to more time/ happiness/ credibility/ generosity/ etc. A fancy job title doesn’t make me better at what I do, or make my voice any more valuable than before I had it. Sharing lessons and thoughts with 10,000 people doesn't make them any more valuable than if only one person is changed by them.
Success will only make me more of what I already am.
So if I look to my “Future Self” and want to be compassionate, generous, present, capable, bold, self-confident, productive, disciplined, etc., then I need to be this things where I’m presently at in life, even if it’s to a smaller extent at first. If I want to be those things in 2017, I have to start today.
- Fitness starts with me doing daily pushups, even when I’m tired/lazy, and saying no to binging on Christmas candy.
- Authoring books starts with journaling my thoughts daily, no matter how insignificant.
- Giving someone a car starts with me giving someone food when I barely have money myself.
- Being confident and loving who I am starts with little affirmations of my value when I’m feeling down, and consistently giving myself grace.
- Being surrounded by a community of loving, trusting, loyal, friends starts with me being transparent, loyal, and loving to them first.
- Having peace of mind and heart starts with me embracing my fears, working hard at what I can change, acknowledging the things I can’t.
It’s the little disciplines and choices over time that lead to us actually arriving at the picture of our future self, not some unrealistic big jump or graduation ceremony.
Stepping into 2017, let’s aim to change ourselves, rather than our circumstances.
Embrace the things that you cannot change as experiences that bring value to your life, even in hardship (ESPECIALLY in hardship). Choose to love your imperfections because they're what make you human, they make you unique and beautiful. Change your perspective to look for the good, look for the growth. Be grateful instead of feeling sorry for yourself.
Give yourself permission to start somewhere, to start small, to grow, to not be good at something, to be afraid but still step forward, to not be confident but still practice, to take action in the face of doubt.
As my high school math teacher would say, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be excellent.”
And most important of all, give yourself grace through the process.