A few weeks ago, I was giving a presentation about how to build a thriving culture at work. As a result of how busy I’ve been over the past few months, and the month of May in particular, I was wired the night before the presentation. My brain wouldn’t shut off, and I barely slept. I know how important a good night’s sleep is to performing well, so I was a bit concerned about how the presentation would go.
In the moments before I began, I prayed that whatever strength I was lacking would be poured out on me, so that my words would have power beyond what I was capable of in that moment.
And that’s exactly what happened; the presentation went great.
People were engaged, connecting with each other, and sharing their own experiences with the rest of the group. I was able to offer compelling stories of companies that care, personal stories about my own work journey, and enough data to keep the skeptics happy. I wouldn’t have changed a thing and received positive feedback from clients and coworkers.
At the end of the session, a woman I’ve known for a few years approached me to tell me how wonderful it has been to watch me blossom and how much she has enjoyed following my work. She told me how inspiring it has been and how much she looks forward to hearing me speak. I was grateful for her kind words and thanked her.
But I wasn’t expecting what she said next.
“Are you happy?”
I paused, caught off guard by the directness of her question.
If I’d been 100% unfiltered in that moment, here’s what I would have said:
“No! I’m not. How could you tell? I barely slept at all last night, and I’m running on fumes. I’m exhausted. I really did enjoy giving that presentation, and it did light me up and recharge me but not in a sustainable way. I’m rarely present for my own life. I’m more likely to be six months into the future in my head than wherever I am in a given moment. I feel stuck and overwhelmed and frustrated and don’t know how to turn off the constant wheel of thoughts and worries spinning in my mind. And the irony of it all is that I’ve been giving presentations about the secrets to happiness and thriving cultures for the past few months and have not been thriving myself.”
But I didn’t say that.
I said what was easy.
Because, in that moment, being diplomatic was easier than telling the truth.
“Well, I’m kind of going through a bit of a transition and rebranding what I’m doing, so you know, that’s been challenging. I’m doing okay; I’ve just been really busy lately.”
I knew it was a BS answer, but it’s all I had to offer her. I couldn’t really get into the truth about how I was feeling. But I couldn’t let go of her question that day either, and it’s still floating in my mind weeks later.
You see, I’ve always been really good at appearing like I have it all together.
Even when I don’t.
It’s much easier to share our struggles once we’re on the other side of them than when we’re smack dab in the middle of them. I’ve had a tendency to do just that; to share my stories of victory, so everyone around me could be inspired.
I shared the story of my weight journey after I’d lost the weight and kept it off for a few years.
I shared the story of gaining that weight back after I had another positive spin to tie it to, like restoring my physical health and getting beyond being clinically malnourished.
I shared the story of recovering from Epstein-Barr Virus, an acute form of mono, after I had been through a grueling seven months of sickness and healing.
I shared the years of mixed emotions I’ve had around having children after my younger sister shared the news that she was expecting a baby last summer.
I never shared my stories when I was in the middle of them, only once I had reached the other side and could tie them up neatly with a bow and hand them over to you to offer the gift of hope.
This time is different.
This time I’m in the middle of the mess.
And that’s exactly why I have to write about it.
So that in those moments when you, too, feel stuck or frustrated in whatever you’re facing, you have a voice telling you it’s okay to be in the middle of the mess, to not know how it will all turn out. That you are still okay, even if everything around you and inside you feels like it’s not.
Well, that didn’t last long.
I’ve sped up again because it’s the state that’s most familiar to me. I’ve been overcommitting myself because busyness excites me. I get bored easily, so I fill every inch of my schedule to ensure that I will feel valuable and needed and wanted and like I’m “doing” something important. Once again, the vast majority of my current state of exhaustion has been self-inflicted.
And I’ve allowed it to steal my joy.
But I’ve been learning from it, too. I’m learning that the first step toward growth and transformation is recognizing the truth about where we are and where we want to go.
I want to be happy.
I’ve chosen not to be.
That’s a hard truth to acknowledge.
I have no one to blame for my mindset except myself. I haven’t set healthy boundaries in my life and haven’t given my body all that it needs to feel its best, including regular exercise and time to shut off. It’s so easy for me to fall into a state of condemning, shaming and judging myself:
“I thought we weren’t going to do this anymore, Rachel. I thought we’d gotten through this hurdle. Aren’t you ‘enough’ yet? Didn’t you learn your lesson last year? What’s the matter with you?”
Yup, that’s what my self-talk looks like more often than I’d like to admit.
But condemnation and shame rarely lead to anything good, and there is no place for condemnation in a full life. Condemnation is loaded with criticism and rejection and blame. Feeling badly about ourselves isn’t how we were meant to live.
So, I’m choosing conviction instead. Feeling convicted is helpful and with conviction, shame disappears. Motivation emerges. A desire to be better, to get beyond where we are follows.
I’ve started making small changes.
I began writing this blog post on a Sunday night and slept on it a bit. Before going to bed, I decided to put what I have learned into practice and jotted down five good things that happened that day in my journal to give myself perspective. I felt better within minutes and fell asleep.
I signed up for the gym for the first time in two years. My motivation is different than it was eight years ago when I first went on a journey to lose weight. This time, I’m not trying to “fix” myself.
I’ve just realized that not consistently exercising negatively impacts me emotionally, physically and mentally. I know I’m called to honor my body and its need to move more than I have been. After getting mono last year, I pretty much bowed out of anything that challenged me physically because I just wanted to have enough energy to function normally. Now, I have my energy back, and I want to use it.
I’m carrying excess weight and don’t feel my best in my body right now, and I’m convicted that something needs to change. I know I need to get out of my head and back into my body. Sometimes holding on to extra physical weight can be a sign we are holding onto something emotional that we need to release or let go of. Once we address the deeper emotional or spiritual need, we may find that our body naturally releases physical weight we’ve been carrying.
It’s really difficult to share thoughts like these with people who admire me and see me as an example of how to live. I value being seen a certain way (i.e., having it together and being on top of it), which is all the more reason for me to share stories like these – stories about being in the middle of our challenges, not on the other side.
I do it to show that none of us is perfect, that each of us is on a journey, and that we rarely “arrive” at a new way of living or being and stay there forever.
That’s why it’s important to stay open, to continue to notice what’s best for us in a given moment, to let go of what has worked in the past because our future may require us to do something differently.
It’s as though life is a series of seasons.
Some seasons are full of sunshine, clear blue skies and balmy breezes. Other seasons are marked by bone-chilling temperatures, snowstorms, and sheets of ice. Still others are full of blooming buds or falling leaves.
We do the best we can to adjust and adapt to whatever season we’re in, recognizing that a new one is coming in a matter of months.
If you’re reading this, you’ve weathered every season thus far, so your track record is pretty good.
If you’re feeling ashamed, condemned or guilty about where you are in your life, job, relationships, or body at this moment, I invite you to release the weight of those thoughts and feelings. They are weighing you down. I encourage you to hold onto hope and follow your conviction. Have the courage to make a change if one is warranted.
Just be a little gentler with yourself. Show yourself some grace and compassion. You’re doing the best you can in any given moment.
You don’t have to be on the other side of your struggle before you can start talking about it or inspiring other people with it. It’s okay to be in the middle of the mess.
Start where you are with what you have.
I’m right here with you.