Feel like quitting? If you feel like the treadmill of life is just too fast and you’ll never get ahead, I want you to know that I understand. It is so hard to feel like doing better when just keeping up seems impossible or hard enough. Most of my articles are about how to move from good to better, how to get over unseen roadblocks to even greater success. That can be incredibly discouraging if you are just trying to survive or trying to avoid bad things becoming worse. I have been deeply discouraged many times. In fact, I think some hefty discouragement is really normal in life. I wanted to share with you how I have learned to weather it better, in case it is helpful to you. I don’t intend to discourage. Life is tough enough without us making it harder on ourselves and others. I hope something I say will lift, brighten or reframe something for you:
Dare to Compare?
Comparison is dangerous and at the same time, I think, very difficult to avoid. To measure success, we must have some kind of measuring stick, some kind of comparison. At the same time, comparing to others is never fair. It may be fair to compare how many apples Jonny picked compared to Suzie in purely result, achievement-oriented comparison. But what I mean is that we don’t really know how many pounds of other things each person is carrying at the same time. Jonny may be a single parent. Suzie may have been born with a low IQ. We all have unknown or unseen weaknesses, strengths, and responsibilities that make us not comparable to others. It is impossible to fairly compare yourself to others.
I’ve accepted that fair comparison with others is not possible. So, I tend to compare myself with myself. But, this also can be unfair. Circumstances and ability and responsibilities change over time. How many sixty year olds can play football better than when they were twenty? In sports and often in life, striving for a PR (personal record) can be very rewarding and a very reasonable way to continue to strive for excellence. But sometimes, it isn’t.
Perhaps the most invisible and devastating comparison of all is against the measuring stick of expectations. I expected to ______________ by now. The comparison between what is and what was expected by ourselves or others can even be unconsciously assumed or unknown. That is incredibly unfair, to be expected to do something by a certain time that you know nothing about. Because our imagination has no limits, we can expect anything we want without regard to reality. It can be completely unreasonable. Even if we think our expectations of others are completely reasonable, because what we are expecting them to do or be would be easy for us, it may not be and probably isn’t for them.
Then how do I measure?
If we can’t trust others, ourselves, or expectations to be our comparison for measuring improvement, and we must compare to something in order to judge improvement or success, what can we use?
I think the answer is in the kitchen. If I want to measure flour, I use a dry measuring cup. If I want to measure oil, a liquid measuring cup. For cinnamon, just a measuring spoon is needed. I had been figuratively using the wrong measurement equipment and killing my own progress by discouraging myself. If I believe discouragement is the number one success killer, and if I believe that I can not fail unless I quit, then, I must stop measuring in ways that make me always come up short! In other words, I have to use the right comparisons for the right situations.
Now I think of myself as if in three modes: survival, coping, or thriving. If I am in survival mode and compare myself to others, to myself before, or to what I expected at this moment, I will always come up short and make my bad situation worse. None of us expects to just be hanging on for dear life either literally or figuratively. It isn’t what we want. It isn’t what we plan. These are usually caused by what I call “asteroids” in our lives. They aren’t expected. They can be nasty surprises. Major negative events are a normal part of life, but we can’t live our life in fear of them, so they always seem to surprise us. When they come, however, we can’t just pretend they didn’t. We can’t compare ourselves to previous expectations without causing more difficulty.
An “asteroid” in our lives puts a big pit in our way. Using my old expectations to make the hole seem even deeper for myself is not encouraging. In survival mode, I’ve found it really helpful to focus on smaller things, like using the measuring spoon. In survival mode we have to focus on the very essentials of life. We literally have to put other pursuits aside while we focus on making it through the next five minutes or just today, one more day. We do what we can, when we can. We must notice tiny improvements and celebrate endurance and survival.
When we first adopted our first three kids under three, I was in survival mode. I think most new moms enter some form of survival mode. It was literally a success if no one died, and we all made it to see the next day. Self-care and rest was a supreme luxury. I wondered if I’d ever get a shower or enough rest. In the hospital, in grief, in post-partum, in crisis, we just need to survive. Literally, that is the goal, get us all safely to tomorrow. In survival mode I have often felt selfish or sad that I can’t help others. But it isn’t true. We are never too poor to give sincere gratitude to those that assist us in these times of overload or crisis. I hope you will be very, very kind to yourself. Use a measuring spoon.
I’m in coping mode when I am just at the edge of possible. I’m keeping my head above water, barely, but there isn’t quite enough room in my schedule for comfort, relaxation, and continuing education. In coping mode, I think we have to measure as if we are using the dry, 1 cup measuring cup. Our cup is full and maybe a little needs to be scraped off the top with a knife.
In coping mode, I continue to just survive, but I also have enough safety to see if I can measure what to take out. Perhaps it doesn’t quite fit. Making room for self-care like nutritious meals, exercise and enough rest can be really hard to do because in survival mode, we can outlive the crisis and continue to eat fast food or snacks instead of meals, run after the kids or the deadline rather than pacing, and sleep only when overcome by exhaustion. That might work and be our only choice when we are surviving. But, when we are stable enough to cope, the goal changes. Our goal changes from survival to enduring it well.
I think many of us are in coping mode a majority of our lives. Life is very challenging and naturally pushes us to the edge of our capability. I’ve heard it said that “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” This, to me, is coping. If coping is life, then I guess I’d better learn how to live well. I have to understand enduring and dry measuring cups, resist overcommitment and budget my time and money well if I will ever be able to enjoy,
In thriving mode, I am in the garden of my life. I feel abundant. I feel blessed. I have enough and to spare. I create room to thrive by taking out the unnecessary and embracing in it’s place self-nourishment, growth, and sharing. It is easy to make time for a favorite novel or a Netflix spree. Suddenly all the other things I need or ought to do are totally forgotten. But real thriving doesn’t clear the weeds for these types of empty-calorie type activities. In thriving mode, I have time for learning. I have time for people, listening, serving, and learning from them.
In thriving mode we have enough time and enough money for the things we really desire, and more. I have learned that I can’t completely control this opportunity. It is a gift. But, it is also a result. If I never save money, I’ll never have extra. If I always overcommit my time, I’ll never be able to be generous with it. Continuing to thrive requires a liquid measuring cup. I have to water my own plants and the plants of others if I want the garden to continue to produce and overflow.
There are only three main things you can do with money: pay your debts, save it, or spend it. I think our lives are like that, too. When I am in survival mode, I have to pay my debts. When I’m in coping mode, I have to save some and hold back just enough to build a reserve of strength and wellbeing so I’m prepared for future emergencies and so that I can endure well. If and when I am in thriving mode, I know of nothing more rewarding than to spend myself in love, with love, and with no strings attached. What could be better than helping others survive, cope, and thrive?
May your cup
DarEll S. Hoskisson
DarEll S. Hoskisson loves to do hard things, but not too hard. She shares her own challenges, goals and experiences as she guides you into a realistic path of self-reflection and self-improvement. She shares tips on how to find, know and trust yourself so you can decide if other’s suggestions are right for you. DarEll has the world a little upside down—where work is play and play is work. She actually thinks other people’s problems are fun to try to solve and lights up with a personal challenge. She loves people, harmony, and excellence. She also loves useful things like tools and ideas that make work faster, easier and more fun. DarEll married in 1993 and graduated from BYU (1995) with a bachelor’s degree in English and Secondary Education. Since then she was adopted by 5 children and has worked with many non-profits. She is currently a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor—leading pilates and yoga at her local YMCA. DarEll lives in Florida where she enjoys her family, nature, her work, and encouraging people to live well. She periodically posts her poems, what she is learning, and service opportunities on her personal blogs: https://personalabridgements.wordpress.com and https://darellhoskisson.wordpress.com