As a kid- it’s easy. You seem to shoot up overnight, and the marks on the wall in your childhood home speak the testimony of how much you’ve grown over the year. It’s easy to compare, as your sister still looms a few inches over you. “One day, I’ll be that tall,” you think. (In my case, maybe even four inches taller.)
You get a little bit older, and it gets a little bit harder. You start to measure yourself by SAT scores and extracurricular activities, or maybe by how many boys you’ve kissed. You measure yourself by how much acne you have, and how much makeup you’re allowed to leave the house with to cover it. This is really when we learn to use a measuring stick of cars and money and beauty, and we learn how to punish or prove ourselves when we fall short.
After this, we get a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. We find spirtuality, we find confidence, & we find community. And now the measuring stick is all sorts of fucked, because we’re secretly still using it while hiding it from everyone else. We’re above comparison, and above materialism. We realize that everyone follows different paths, and that’s okay. If we take a million years to finish college, and get our heart broken a million times, that’s okay right? But at night we fish the measuring stick out from under our beds, tempted to use it the way we used to. We ask ourselves: “How am I supposed to know if I’m doing anything right?”
It’s pretty clear that I’m in a weird, exhausting season right now. I started at my current-level (emotionally taxing) dream job, and am graduating with my undergrad degree in December. Long hours and limited social activities, mixed with the desire to hyper-perform academically and professionally is leaving me with very little at the end of each day.
I convince myself to push through the hard nights, knowing that thousands have gone before me bending over backwards to acheive their dreams. I repeat over and over to myself about how hard work pays off, and how in the end it will be worth it to have pushed myself to my breaking point. This is the American Dream. If I only get five hours of sleep a night, no big deal. I’ve done it before, and I didn’t exactly die.
Tonight was supposed to be another night of “pushing through”. As I left work, my mind raced thinking of all the families I connected with. “Could I have said something differently to de-escalate the situation? What resources can I connect those parents to? What is hindering the progress of this case? How do I communicate to this family that I’m on their side? What did the foster parents mean when she said…?”
I got home, and immediately opened up my laptop to work on an assignment. Instructions: read article “Satisfaction with Counseling Among Black Males in Transition from the Foster Care System”.
My heart sank. Cue negative self-talk:
“You have to do this. If you don’t, it means that you aren’t cut out for this job. If you don’t, you’ll never apply to grad school. If you can’t get yourself together to do this assignment, it means you’re weak. It means you’re lazy. It means you’ll fail.”
If there’s anything more exhausting than my responsibilites, it’s my self-talk about them.
I stopped. It’s a miracle, but I actually stopped my mind from running a million miles an hour. I went and found my planner, and wrote out “SELF CARE” in big letters on Sunday’s date. I got out markers and paper and wrote “Over-planning kills magic”, which is one of my new favorite intentions. I blocked out time to do my homework over the next week, and blacked-out all of the eight hours I should be sleeping a night (If there’s one thing I’ve learned that contributes to my depression spiraling out of control, it’s lack of sleep). I rolled out my yoga mat, and moved through a practice I’ve been putting off all week. I sat in calm, quiet, meditation, and resolved to start again tomorrow.
This being kind to myself, listening to my body, and paying attention to when my mind starts racing– this is my new measuring stick. I made it a few years ago, fashioned it from the kindness and grace of friends. I forget about it sometimes, and used to only pull it out in emergency-end-of-my-rope situations. Tonight, when I began to measure myself by how kind I was being — that is how I really know that I’ve grown. Everything else – professional, academic, & relational success- is just a byproduct.