“I’m normally really precise. I did every step in the experiment exactly as it was supposed to go, every microliter measured…except, I did it in exactly the reverse order. It was a mistake that no one had ever seen before!”
”Oh, f*ck me! I just printed one thousand beautiful event postcards…with the wrong date on them.”
”Wow, these screen-printed notebooks look great! Let’s move them to the drying rack” – an improvised series of dowels & pvc laying across shelves – “to get a pic for instagram!” CRASH!
That last one was me, last week. We were able to dust off a few of the notebooks enough to make them presentable. But there was a moment when that crashing of the notebooks to the floor felt like the biggest failure. The voices started in the back of my head. Oh, what did you expect? You’re screenprinting in your girlfriend’s basement, how cliché can you get? Of course you’re going to mess it up…
Luckily, I have been writing a personal development blog for a few years now, talking about doing things like developing compassion and practicing self-care…so I was able to let the brief disappointment and fear of failure wash over and through me, and forgave myself for the mishap, laughed with my girlfriend about it (she saw the whole thing), and resolved to get better drying racks for the future.
Well. Sort of. Maybe it would be more accurate to say I went through the motions internally of forgiving myself, because I knew rationally that was what made sense, and going through the actions of laughing and figuring out how to make it not happen again allowed me to reframe the stupid – whups, that’s value judgement – the inefficient results of the experience.
But that’s not what gets the clicks for personal development bloggers, so we might as well go for some clickbait:
Three Easy Steps to Forgive Yourself
- Remember that you cannot predict what’s going to happen. Life is literally just one thing after another, and there is always a lot more going on around us than we actually know about. That’s why we can do things – we have an ability to focus on them, and filter out other things. That means that we are going to be surprised when the unexpected happens. If you need to, read the [list of inaccurate predictions] that Fast Company printed back in 2010, and imagine how much longer the list would be today.
- Imagine you saw someone’s kid do the same thing. This seems weird, but it’s kind of a shortcut to compassion. We have a hard time being compassionate with ourselves, and even sometimes with our own kids, but we tend to want to see other people treat their kids with compassion. So as your inner critic is ramping up the stream of vitriol, switch the scene to how you would expect a good parent to react to their kid making the same mistake. Hey! Now we know what happens when we do the experiment backwards! I never expected to learn that today – thanks! It’s also worth remembering how many great inventions were accidents. (I don’t actually trust that list, because it doesn’t include sticky notes, but whatever).
- Make a plan for what to do next. Sometimes that might be a fix for the problem; sometimes it may be changing things so as to reduce the chance of the mistake happening again; sometimes it’s just moving on to something else, because there’s no going back. Whatever it is, make it a concrete action that you can do. Move on, in time (not that you’ll have a choice in that) and if possible in place. Go somewhere else to figure out what to do next. Changing the environment will help your brain get out of re-living the mistake along with all the associated emotions.
Don’t Feel Ashamed. Feel Guilty
I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort… I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging…I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. I believe that if we want meaningful, lasting change we need to get clear on the differences between shame and guilt and call for an end to shame as tool for change. – Brené Brown
The key difference is that “shame” is a concept that is fundamentally connected to core identity, whereas “guilt” is instead connected to an action (which is why anyone who is “guilty” has to be “guilty of” something, whereas we usually frame the other as something like “you should be ashamed of yourself”).
Guilt is associated with responsibility. With acknowledging your contribution to what happens, and the efforts to contribute to what happens afterwards. It can be constructive, and it leaves room for moving beyond the mistake.
Try it out, this weekend. At some point there’s going to some shake-my-head facepalm moment, and when that happens, see if you can channel some compassion into your emotions.
It’s only three steps. And in case you’re wondering, it works just as well if you do them backwards, too.
I was reading a near-future dystopian thriller yesterday (Cumulus by Eliot Peper) and a quote literally jumped off the screen and lodged in my brain:
“Good leaders made themselves indispensable. Great leaders made themselves expendable.”
This saying feels like a part of the kind of understated and constructive leadership I’ve been trying to cultivate, and I was excited to share it with a colleague and fellow event producer.
“I love it generally and as intended…it touches on a fear for me, which I wonder if you have too…
If you’re expendable, would you get to go to the event?”
My reply was too quick, without much thought: “Of course you would. Why wouldn’t you?”
Then I thought about it some more.
FOI: Fear of Irrelevance
I realized that the particular fear – of not being allowed to attend an event unless you are working for it – is a particular malady related to our (my colleague and me) constant battle with workaholism. It’s a pernicious and sneaky belief that is the dark underside of the whole idea of “work ethic”:
I’m only valuable for what I can do, not for who I am.
It’s the “What have you done for me lately?” feeling, turned on yourself. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done or accomplished in the past, that voice, that fear, won’t let you rest. Won’t let you enjoy the fruits of your labor. Won’t let you in on the sneaky secret.
Even when you can set up everything so that it can run without you, the people who care about you still want you around.
And more than that:
When it doesn’t matter what you can do, you don’t disappear.
All Better Now!
So this is your semi-annual reminder:
You have worth. Not for what you do, or what you’ve done, or what you have.
>You have worth simply because you are a sentient being, and as such, deserve respect and support so that we can all enjoy the world that we build together.
There! Now that you have read that, it’s all better, right?
It’s not that easy. My colleague could have been echoing my own thoughts, and those of my partner, my kids, our friends, when she said:
I don’t know why that’s so hard to believe.
> I know it’s not you.
> I can trust you on it.
> I just don’t think I’m worth it.
And you know what? That’s ok to think that way, if that’s where we’re at. It’s not an easy fix. All of us workaholics – and there are a lot in the company I keep – just keep telling each other:
You are enough,
and do the best we can to believe it.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
― Audre Lorde
Among my freelance work, I got an assignment to write an article about how to feel ok about pursuing pleasure in the midst of the world being on fire.
I’m not going to quote Billy Joel, here, because every one of us has added our own little match to the fire here and there. There is no excuse for ignoring the problems in the world, and it’s far too often to mistake the message for the action, and think that a mere retweet or clicked signature on a petition or blog post about feeling good is going to be enough.
It’s not. There’s not anything any one of us can do that will be “enough” to stop the world from burning.
Unfortunately, that’s not an excuse, either. The key is the “any one of us”. There is a lot that can be done by groups of us, as has been proven by Russian social media bots. But every one of us has to do our part, do the best we can.
And That’s Tiring.
And frustrating, and guilt inducing. A dear friend who is a role model of progressive feminism as an educator, an artist, a mother and wife and lover, recently had one of those days where she expressed that it all just seemed to be too much. There was too much bad stuff happening, whether that was clueless colleagues or selfish students or the vicious internal critic of Impostor Syndrome.
One of the trite answers to this kind of mood is “maybe you need to take a break? Personally I hate this suggestion, because when I’m in one of those moods a “break” seems even more worthless. What’s the point? When the break’s over, the problems will all still be there. Colleagues will be sexist assholes, students will be entitled ignoramuses, and the dishes will not have magically done themselves.
This is part of why my own reaction to those moods is usually to “take arms against a sea of troubles and just dive deep into work or exercise or both. When it’s really bad, I throw my hands up and put on some bad TV show or read comics. Sometimes those strategies work, and I find, when I’m done with the reaction, I have some energy to go on.
But just as often I just end up more tired.
Care of the Soul
This is why I’m writing this now, to remind myself, and you, dear reader, that now, more than ever – as the world burns higher, and there seem to be a couple of guys with gasoline cans standing across the fire from each other, glaring – it’s important to find the things that really revive you. The music that you can get lost in, the park path that lets you hear the birds, the video game that really helps you escape into another world. You have to find that thing, and you have to give it focus, because the world is full of things that will try to tell you that’s not as important as whatever the most recent CNN alert was.
It’s not. CNN will have more alerts. You, on the other hand, we need. We can’t do it without you. That means it’s really important that you find out what you can do to create and find joy. You’ll need those spaces in the time to come, and I’ll need you to remind me to find those places too.
We’re all in this fire together. Might as well share the marshmallows.
One of the several books I’m working my way through right now is “Designing Your Life.” It’s a book (review forthcoming) that takes “design thinking” and applies it to life planning. Preliminary reaction: good stuff.
In the beginning, the authors (who teach a course at Stanford’s d-school by the same name) suggest that you do an evaluation of your own life in four areas: Health, Love, Work, and Play.
It’s a pretty simple assessment question: “How are you doing in each of these areas? I have been feeling pretty good about life lately, so I wasn’t too worried. Work? 100%! I’m engaged in work I enjoy, find meaning in, and I’m compensated adequately. Love? 120%! I’ve never felt so loved, cherished, and even occasionally adored as these last few years. Health? About 90%. I’m pushing fifty, so it’s not the greatest, but I’m aware of what needs work and have the resources to address them.
full stop. Uncomfortable shuffling of feet. Um…how exactly do you define “play”?
play: an enjoyable activity pursued purely for its own sake, with no monetary, social, or other purpose.
More uncomfortable shuffling. Um…well…
My play score was about 15%. If I’m being generous.
Why You No Play, Gray?
It’s easy to see why. That old saying “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life is 100% the reverse of reality: I love what I do, and since I do a lot of different things, I am in a constant state of “hustle”. If I’m drawing, I’m trying to draw better so I can design better ads & newsletters; if I’m playing guitar, I’m trying to get ready for a performance. And if I’m not doing something that I know is furthering my work and career or benefiting the people I care about…well, I feel like I’m wasting time.
I should add: I do watch TV, surf the web, and even read a fair bit. That doesn’t count as “play” within that definition, though, because they are passive. I’m taking things in, not interacting with them. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, mind you – but when we’re looking at Play, they don’t count.
At first glance, I also thought I could see clearly the reasons why: I’m too busy. When you work for yourself in a performance-related capacity, any time you’re not producing is lost revenue. And in my case, the margins are tight, and the deadlines are constant, and…
Wait a minute.
As my mind ran through those phrases, I realized: that’s not true any more. Right now the events I’m managing are in good shape. I have plenty of time to myself, the pantry is full, the rent is paid, there’s gas in the car…all those stories of scarcity that I told myself just don’t apply.
Yet I still feel like I can’t play. Why is that?
I gave it a little more thought…and realized that I didn’t play because I felt guilty when I did. If I was playing, I was wasting time. I was being selfish. I was destroying opportunity.
I was letting everybody down.
And I can’t do that, can I? I want to be a Good Man. I enjoy my role as counselor, provider, creator…and if I was playing, and by definition not doing those things…then what use was I?
What kind of worthless person just plays?
See what I mean? Dark. I even coined a FOMO-esque acronym for it: Fear or Letting Everybody Down. It’s tied pretty tightly to the belief that I am only worth anything if I have recently done something worthwhile. Past achievements don’t count except as bars never to be lowered, only raised. Future intentions also don’t count. The feeling is that: if I am not, right now, doing something that is constructive and valuable, I am not any good.
If you’ll pardon my French: that’s a fucked up attitude, for anyone.
What Are You Prepared to Do?
Of course, that changes “Play” from an overlooked activity to a challenge. Can I force myself to spend time in an activity with no other purpose than the activity itself? It’s a specific, measurable, achievable goal, so of course! I’ve been playing “Uncharted 4” on privileged – er, I mean, light – difficulty, for a minimum of 1/2 hour, with a goal of three sessions this week (two down, one to go). And I’m going to spend some time learning to draw pinups for no other reason than I want to (no, you’re not going to see a pinup on this blog).
In case any part of this made you wonder “why on earth would an adult need playtime?” you should start with this article.
And then? Go play for a while.
It’s been a rough few weeks. I had pneumonia coincide with the biggest event of my year in San Antonio. Not surprisingly, I didn’t recover quickly enough to avoid coinciding with another not-as-big-but-still-significant Open Space in Chicago…but thought I was on the mend, really I did, to the point where I started to push myself in yoga practice, last Wednesday.
And immediately relapsed, coughing, etc, in time for my three-hour workshop on consent in local community groups out in Marion, Iowa.
On the one hand, I’m totally living my Pa-on-Little-House-in-the-Prairie dream of working myself to death.
On the other hand…maybe I shouldn’t do that.
Ah…Push It…Push It Real Good…
If ever there’s a time to note how unhealthy toxic masculinity can be, this is it. The dirty little secret of any practice is the sneaky way it slips into a goal-oriented “growth” mindset. Rather than It’s a beautiful day, I get to enjoy the way my body moves it becomes What’s my time for this kilometer? Can I maintain the pace? How’s my heart rate – better or worse than yesterday?
And there’s some value in that. I’m not saying the goals and measuring progress is inherently a bad thing. It’s just not conducive to healing a body that (as one medical friend put it) suddenly has, at best, 2/3 the lung capacity it had before.
You may, like me, try to reframe it: OK! The new mission is called “Operation Gray Get Better. We’ll measure it by hours of rest, and glasses of water, and your girlfriend will incentivize it with pinup pics sent for progress made towards…
Not good. Well, not terrible (I do enjoy pinups) but it’s still turning a natural healing process into an effort. If I’m not even having the energy to write a post for my blog (sorry about that, readers) creating a new project is not going to help rest.
Bringing It Down to Basics
I’ve had to face the hard reality that I’m simply going to be at a limited capacity for a while longer. This doesn’t mean that I need to give up my practices, but it means I need to be realistic about what I can do, what the results will be. Most of all I need to be more aware of my body, and when I find myself “pushing”, I need to stop.
Here’s the things that I can do:
- Yin Yoga (or, as I’ve been calling it, “laying on the floor like a slug” yoga, which is uncharitable). This is a form of yoga that can be challenging, but usually is more focused on long, supported, internal-awareness poses. YogaWithKassandra for the win!
- Breathing It’s always humbling when something you take for granted becomes something challenging. There are specific breathing exercises that have been recommended to improve lung capacity after pneumonia, and since yin yoga focuses on breathing anyway, it makes for a nice pairing.
- Find New Joys More than just from the illness, I’ve been fighting depression. A lot of the joy I’ve found in the work I do has seemed to vanish into bureaucracy or worse. After weeks of this, I suddenly came to the realization that the pneumonia has cut off one of my main ways of relaxing: cigars. Finding something that’s an alternative – that gives me as much interest and enjoyment – is a challenge.
- Practice Self-Compassion Most of all, I need to give myself a break when I’m not “producing” as much as usual. I’ve had some good support from my colleagues and loved ones in this, but that’s the easy part; the hard part is convincing my inner critic that time spent healing is time spent well.
Bringing It Along
At some point I know I’ll be better. I’ll have the capacity, again, to work and work and create and produce and feel that I’m a contributing member of society.
I hope I don’t.
I hope I can find, instead, a sense of inherent worth not based on what I can or can’t do, but rather on who I am – the same kind of unconditional love I would give others.
I wonder what it would feel like if my work could be for it’s own sake, rather than tied to a need to support my self-esteem.
What kind of world would that be?
We are not good at planning.
I mean any kind of planning. Ask for any soldier’s list of favorite quotes about war, and odds are one of the top three is some variation of the phrase “No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” (If you want to look brainy, when someone tries to tell you that Colin Powell or George S. Patton or John Wick said that, you can inform them it was actually Helmuth von Moltke the Elder).
There are many other versions of this sentiment:
Life is what happens to us when we’re busy making other plans – Allen Saunders
The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang agley – Robert Frost
Shit happens. – Forrest Gump
So if we know this — if this has been enshrined in multiple tomes of wisdom and situations where lives were at stake based on how well people who were only job is to strategize make their plan — why do we give ourselves such a hard time when we can’t finish a to-do list?
The Map is Not the Territory
Here’s a test for you — really, for just about any of you:
Draw, from memory, a map to my house.
Some of you know where I live, and might even be able to remember the building and apartment number. A few will remember the street, but likely not the cross street. Some know what part of Madison, WI, I live in, and most likely are going “Wisconsin? People live there?”
Now here’s the question: how critical should I be of your map? Should I tell you you’re no good at map making? Really, directions obviously aren’t your forte – and I’m certainly going to caution anyone from traveling with you if you’re in charge of navigation.
Ridiculous, right? And yet that’s what happens with a schedule and a to-do list. We are drawing a map of a place we’ve never been: the Future. What’s more, nobody else has ever been there, either — so really, what you have is a bunch of people using a map they made up about a place they’ve never been, often depending on other people’s maps to get where they want to go.
When you look at it that way, it’s miraculous that anybody ever accomplishes anything.
Don’t Get Better at Planning; Get Better at Living
This is not going to end with me telling you how to be a better planner. I mean, I have lots of ideas (ok, a hint: plan fewer things).
That’s not the point, though. At any time your plan for tomorrow can be derailed, whether it’s meticulous or just a scrawled “Do some stuff”. The point is to remember: your schedule is your imagined life. What happens is your life.
That means that if things don’t go according to schedule, that just means the plan wasn’t accurate, not that you lived your life wrong.
Just because it’s not accurate doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Plans can be statements of intention; they can show where your values are; they can be inspiring and comforting and a useful tool when you’re faced with a What do I do now?
Using them as a tool for criticism, though? Not terribly useful. Use your plans as allies, not prison guards. The world is cruel enough without you adding to it.
And let me know what you plan, and how that helps you!
It’s not a light read, but ”The Evolving Self: Psychology for the Third Millennium” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (say it with me: mih-HAY-lee chick-SENT-me-high) has a lot of pretty profound thoughts. This one might seem a little depressing, but bear with me:
A rosy-colored picture of human nature cannot stand up to scrutiny for long. Those who expect priests to be consistently saintly, soldiers brave, mothers always self-sacrificing, and so on, are due for some serious disappointment. To them the entire history of the human race will seem to have been a huge mistake, or as Macbeth said so well, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
While he’s mainly talking about views of others, I see this time and time again in people who take up the challenge of self-work. I’m just no good at this. Why should I bother? The word “fail” creeps up again and again, but in a climactic and ultimate-judgement kind of way instead of simply a part of the process of iteration and progress.
Since it’s notoriously hard to change reality, especially the reality of the selves that we’ve been creating for the last several decades, one of the great tools is to simply change our perception of that reality. I am beautiful. I am perfect! I am successful. But those kinds of affirmation ring hollow pretty quickly, and can even be destructive.
Instead the practice of “reframing” takes a more rational approach. Rather than simply ignoring the negatives it acknowledges them and then includes the positives that may be overlooked. I don’t have a six-pack, but I look great in a suit. I am not a great writer, but I’ve written over 600 articles. I am not wildly successful, but I’ve provided a home and food for myself for almost thirty years. There are even apps for helping this kind of mindset – and if you’re really advanced, change all those “buts” into “and” to really expand your worldview.
Mr. Csikszentmihalyi includes that method as he goes on talking about the view of humanity:
…if one starts from the assumption that humans are basically weak and disoriented creatures thrown by chance into a leading role at the center of the planetary stage, without a script and without rehearsal, then the picture of what we have accomplished is not so bleak. Paraphrasing what the trainer said about his talking dog, the point is not that we sing well, but that we sing at all.
Again, let’s take that from an external view of humanity to the internal view of ourselves. When did you first realize that you wanted to improve something about yourself? How many years had you spent having less-than-optimal habits reinforced by yourself and others, perhaps even people who you entrusted with your development? Teachers. Parents. Society. Culture. I’m not saying they were malicious (though sometimes they are). I’m saying they, also, were “weak and disoriented creatures thrown by chance into a leading role.”
Just like you.
Reaching Beyond the Fence
Basically, before you get hard on yourself for not living up to some arbitrary standard of perfection imposed either by media messages (the ultimate “fake news”) or your own expectations, try remembering that you’re basically a rescue animal, and treat yourself with that measure of compassion. Even when you open the gate of your inner cage, it is hard to trust that there is anything but pain and regret out beyond the fence.
If you’re lucky, you may find someone else to help you do that. A loved one, a friend, a therapist, a coach.
Or maybe you just have to talk to yourself in the mirror, and remind that reflection to “Give me a break, ok? I’m doing the best I can.”Because it’s not going to help if you pile “why don’t you just be better?” on top of everything else. Try a gentle smile, and “I know. I appreciate that.”
That’s not a false affirmation. It’s just gratitude for taking the time to take care of someone who is worth the effort: yourself.
A friend of mine who is a shining example of someone who Does the Work to reflect on and improve his life recently mentioned struggling with “shame spirals”.
The term was coined by clinical psychologist Gershen Kaufman, who described it as
“A triggering event occurs. … a person is suddenly enmeshed in shame, the eyes turn inward and the experience becomes totally internal, … The shame feelings flow in a circle, endlessly triggering each other … causing the sense of shame to deepen … until finally the self is engulfed.”
In other (wikipedic) words, it’s “ an internalized, self-reinforcing sequence of shame events”. I like to think of it like this: when you wander into the forest of your own brain, sometimes you find lovely, surprising things, or strange wonderful friends…and sometimes you get stuck in the mud. In fact, you can get to the point where you know about shame spirals and you shame yourself for being in them.
Luckily, there’s a superhero who can save the day.
Brené Brown to the Rescue
Everybody’s favorite empathy researcher and writer has a lot to say on the subject, often in frustratingly short snippets of video. However, she does identify the characteristics of people with “shame resilience” – that is, the ability to feel shame and move on from it. I’m not sure I like using the word shame there, myself – I’ve always considered shame to be a situation where you feel inferior for who you are rather than simply feeling regret for something you did.
But I’m not a world-famous shame researcher, so I’m going to go with her ideas.
The first thing is to recognize that shame needs three things to thrive and draw you into the spiral: Secrecy, Silence, and Judgement. If you can counter these things – basically cut off the life-support system for the shame spiral – you can develop your own shame resilience.
On a clip with Oprah, she outlined three things you can do right away to help combat a shame spiral:
- Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love when they’re feeling unworthy Maybe that’s in your head, maybe you need a mirror, maybe you need to put on your webcam and cel phone and pretend you’re self-skyping. But whatever it is, you probably know how you would try to cheer someone else up. Why not do it to yourself?
- Reach out to someone you trust. This fights that “secrecy” problem, as well as getting out of the “judgement” idea. Pro tip: let that person know what you need from them, and that is likely not a “solution.” Instead, just finding someone you know likes you (”for who you are, not what you do”) and seeing how the shame spiral stands up to their unconditional love and support. (I predict: not for long).
- Tell your story. Brené says “Shame cannot survive being spoken.” Here’s where you get rid of the silence. It’s related to the fact that shame spirals, like most circular logic, don’t really survive being put out in the open and examined.
Shame can hit you from any direction, at any time, especially as you practice being more vulnerable and open to loved ones. the hardest one to learn to love is yourself, after all. At the same time, it’s as necessary as “put on your own air mask before assisting others” – you can love others and be self-shaming, but it’s not easy.
The Banzai Strategy
Take this part with a big chunk of salt, because I might be completely wrong. My own strategy for getting out of shame spirals has very little to do with what Brené Brown recommends (but that’s not saying she’s wrong).
See, I just ignore it. I throw myself into some project or workout or experience that doesn’t give me time to focus on all the things that are Wrong With Me. It can’t be something that only takes part of my attention, like a tv show or surfing the web; it needs to be an engrossing book, or a challenging performance, or a craft that requires care and focus.
There are probably neurochemical processes involved in why this works, but what I find is that when I’m done with the “banzai” project (that is, yelling banzai! and throwing myself into it) (and no, that’s not cultural appropriation; look up the origin of the term yourself) that shame spiral is pretty much a memory. Maybe it’s also because I’ve just done something that required my full attention, and that is something to be proud of.
Regardless, consider that a fourth strategy in case the first three don’t work. But do take action when you find yourself in those self-critical quicksand moments!
After all, it’d be a shame if you didn’t.
It’s one of the bitter silver linings of the current political climate: a lot of people suddenly find themselves in a similar situation to their pop-culture heroes. Suddenly the word “Resistance” is not talking about a Princess-General struggling against an evil empire in a galaxy far, far away – no, instead it’s in the form of thousands of protesters filling the streets of Raleigh, NC to protest the draconian and anti-democratic measures of their state legislature. It’s in the form of friends held or turned back at the border, or in the form of surreal commentators saying “Well, yes, they’re Nazis, but let’s hear them out…”
Suddenly we (and yes, make no mistake, I’m part of the Resistance, and if that means I lose your readership, I’m ok with that) are faced with the realization: Being part of a resistance to a totalitarian regime is not much fun.
In the movies, you see the highlight reel. You get fictional narratives that end the way we want them to: with focus on the people who survived. Storytellers usually won’t give us as much attachment to the characters that won’t survive the tale, Whedon and Martin aside (Rowling kills characters, sure, but she usually makes sure their deaths mean something).
In reality: there is no storyteller. So people who you are attached to get hurt, and people who don’t deserve it end up on top. Rather than some machiavellian plot, the world is run by a whole bunch of people who either don’t know what they’re doing and are faking it or (worse) think they know what they’re doing but really don’t.
In that kind of world, being part of a Resistance is a weary place to be.
It’s OK to Be Tired
Here’s the good news: if you are part of the Resistance, then what the Evil Empire wants to do is wear you down. It wants to make you give up. It wants to dishearten you, weaken you, and erode your resolve until you effectively disappear.
That means anything you do that frustrates that plan is an Act of Resistance.
- Did you look at cat pictures today and smile? A blow against tyranny!
- Did you tell a friend you appreciated something they accomplished? Strike for freedom!
- Did you manage to get a workout in today? Reinforce our defenses for they shall never break through!
- Did you make it even slightly harder for them to keep track of you? Operational Security is the Key to Victory!
Even if the best you can do is get to the end of the day and growl out “I’m still here!”, you’ve scored a victory.
But if you want to do better than that, there are some ways you can make it a little easier:
The Logistics of Resistance
Armies run on beans & bullets – every smart military commander, ever.
Here’s some things you can do – this week, today, right NOW – that will help arm you against the sea of troubles we’re in (and by opposing, eventually end them):
- Join Something. There is strength in numbers. You don’t have to do everything, but pick out one group that resonates with your own purpose. For me, that’s EFF.org, as well as a local conservation club.
- Support Something Else. I’ll repeat it: you can’t do everything. So look for that thing that you wish you had time for, and throw money at it. Doesn’t have to be a lot of money, but you can definitely make a deliberate practice of it: I want to get a cheeseburger deluxe meal. But I’m going to have a plain burger instead and donate the $5 to the ACLU. You just gave one of their lawyers the extra cup of coffee that inspired the thought that successfully overturned an unconstitutional Executive Order! Way to go!
- Limit the Bad News. It’s a pretty depressing time to be a news junkie. The Gravy Hose can fill your brain with an awful lot of stuff that keeps you awake at night. This is a good time to decide that you are going to limit your sources of news to those you trust (the NYT has my vote) and then limit your intake to a set time every day. I’d recommend cutting yourself off a few hours before bed, just to improve your sleep.
- Do Preventive Maintenance. Personal development bloggers often would promote the idea of morning routines as a way to be healthy, or to succeed. Now there’s another reason: to stay strong in a world which is designed to weaken us. I didn’t do yoga, meditate, and journal this morning so that I could make more money or find enlightenment; I did it because it will better prepare me to face the onslaught of demoralizing and terrifying news and events of the day. Find your morning routine – or begin to develop it – and do it for the Resistance.
Most of all: find joy. Find the thing that feeds your soul, no matter how frivolous, and do that. It is not a waste of time, and it is not less important than anything else. Think of it as the oxygen mask in an airplane: Secure your own before helping others. Because if you let yourself get used up and burned out, we have one less ally to help us through these times.
If you’re going through hell – keep going. — Winston Churchill
I’ve been a frequent traveler for a few years now, but since last October things have been ramping up a bit as I try to make my presenting and teaching into a significant income stream.
One thing I’m very wary of is self-care while on the road. A couple of years back I had quite a burnout after a six-week junket that manifest as physical illness as well as muscle and back strain. Add on to this a general malaise and it was the world telling me without any doubt that I was doing it wrong.
What ended up happening was not just one thing, but several lifestyle changes including moving to Madison, WI and a more serious investigation into the meaning of “home” and health. It’s also meant looking at ways to make the travel that I do take part in be more sustainable.
One single over-arching principle keeps on re-appearing both in my research and in my own practice of self-care during travel: minimalism. Now, I’m not the one in the family who writes books on the subject, but here’s my top five minimalist travel tips:
- Pack Smart: I fell in love with this packing technique right after I saw the video, and it’s made a huge difference in my ability to limit myself to one suitcase.
Combine it with some of these and you’ve got more room than you know what to do with. Just remember: this cuts down on volume, but not on weight.
- Stay Connected with a Select Few: It’s fine to tweet and instagram and such – but instead of chatting with everyone, have a few people – or even just one – who you stay in contact with as your support team. It can be chosen family, it can be penpals – but don’t spread your digital self too thin.
- Bring Nuts: For me, the best “emergency” food is almonds and cranberries. For others, it might be something like a Spirulina Energy Bar. I guarantee you one thing: your best emergency food is not a Snickers. I the ingredients and processing of the foods I have handy really simple (dried apricots? Heaven) you save the hassle of lines, of futzing with money, and your body will thank you.
- Customize Your Environment: This is a trick I learned from an old friend who used to travel more than me: when you get in the hotel room, change one thing. Move a chair, put the table by the window, maybe even cover the TV with a sheet. But do something that makes it not just the same old hotel room as the rest of the place.
- Travel Slow: Yes, I got this straight from the Professional Hobo herself, Nora Dunn. I was putting it into practice subconsciously before reading her book, but now that it’s a deliberate practice it’s even more useful. The thing is, it doesn’t just apply to things like trains and buses; when you’re “traveling slow” suddenly the queue for security is not as bad, nor is the wait for a hostess at a restaurant. All those little annoyances that can be the difference between a good trip and a bad one? You’d be amazed at how they disappear if you just slow the @#$! down.
Bonus tip: Hydration. I invested about a year ago in a Vapur Element Bottle and it’s both improved my personal hydration and also been a great money-saver. I don’t buy bottled water, I fill up at the fountains or taps (which are cleaner than most of the world’s water, you knew that, right?) and just clip the thing onto my bag (or on the pocket on the back of the airplane seat, which is handy). Then when it’s empty, I don’t have to look for a trash can or carry it around with me – I fold it up and it goes in my bag till the next refill.
I call this one a “bonus” because the dirty little secret is that it actually applies to life in general, not just travel. Whether you are driving across the country, flying across the ocean, or walking downstairs to study (you know who you are) you should have a water bottle with you.
That’s what I’ve got. What are your best simple and minimalist travel tips?