Thursday, March 7, 2013

Avoiding Extremes and Finding Balance

It’s true that I spend most of my quiet time humming songs from Dora and pondering things like why there is grape jelly hanging from the dining room lamp but this past month I’ve had the opportunity to do some real, honest, thinking about life.  And whats more, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss some of these thoughts with other people. We’ve discussed things like fear, failure, joy, etc. But something that keeps coming up for me is the concept of balance.  Keeping balance in my life has always been a struggle for me but now that I’ve got 4 young children and a husband along for the ride it seems much more important that I’m not swaying side to side or riding an emotional rollercoaster.

The world in general appears to be struggling with the principal of balance.  It seems more and more people feel the need to live their life in extremes and make black and white issues out of everything. Everywhere you turn there are people who are angry and frustrated an just so darn sure they have all the right answers to everything. Thanks to inventions like facebook and twitter we get to see the minute to minute mood swings of everyone we've ever met or heard of.  We see the high highs and the low lows and things that were once solved in private are now public knowledge for all to see.  It’s seems that there is competition at both ends too.  Some friends competing to make their little slice of life look the most like heaven while another group argues over whose life is the worst.  So lately I’ve been trying to decide how much of my self worth is intrinsic and how much am I depending on external factors to make me happy.  So this blog post is a collection of random thoughts I’ve been having about how I can be a more balanced person. I think they fit together somewhat but they are mostly random.  It may just be that this is more of a journal entry than anything else but I thought I'd post it in case anyone else ever has some of the same feelings. I’d love to hear people’s comments and ideas of how they balance everything because I could use any help I can get.

#1) Others Success is not my Failure

Is this a hard lesson for anyone else?  I’m a driven person.  I like to succeed. I also tend to be a perfectionist on certain things.  When someone else is successful my first thought is usually “They are so awesome”…but…often my second thought is “I wish I could do that” or “I am horrible at that” or some other negative self-talk.  It’s so great to be surrounded by great examples.  And most of the time we can stop and be grateful that we are surrounded by such awesome and talented people but sometimes we take those examples and just use them to beat the living crud out of ourselves.  And we might justify our behavior by saying that those comparisons are helping us to grow and change.  But there is a lot of danger in doing this. 

First, the higher up on a pedestal we place someone the further they have to fall.  And when we’ve been using that person as our reason for change and growth, what are we going to do when they fall short of our expectations.  Thinking things like “I wish I was more like so-and so” often tends to lead to thoughts of “well if so-and-so can’t do it what hope do I have”. 

The second danger of comparing ourselves to someone else is that we are different people.  What is easy for one is a struggle for the other and vice versa. The important thing to remember is that no one has a life without success and that no one is immune to trials. You are different people, you’ve made different decisions up until now.  You are living with different talents and weaknesses.  Your pasts are different, your present is different, the expectation that you are going to be the same people in the future is ridiculous.  It’s apples and oranges my friends. Or in my case a pear. :/ 

The final danger is that we don’t know the whole story.  Things are never what they appear on the outside.  Often we are comparing our whole internal experience with a small piece of their external being.  For instance, we could see a really cute professional picture of someone else’s kids.  They are all dressed up perfectly and sitting perfectly and we might make the mistake of letting ourselves believe their kids are perfect. But we forget we are just seeing a snapshot of their kids.  When we think of our own family we think about trying to get our kids out the door in the morning, and how our 4 year old keeps hitting people, and how one of our kids is getting teased at school because she has a disability, and our twin 2 year olds can’t hold still for one minute.  (all hypothetical of course) So now we’ve compared our family’s entire existence to a perfectly framed snapshot of someone elses…and from there we leap to conclusions like “she’s a better mother than me” or “her kids are just easier than mine”.  Wouldn’t you be shocked to know that her toddler sang “Old McDonald” at the top of her lungs all the way to the portrait studio, her 6 year old has a grass stain down the entire side of her dress from running around the building and that she ultimately bribed them all with Sam’s club churros to smile in the picture.  Say cheese!

#2) Others Struggles Don’t Lessen My Struggles

Another trap I fall into sometimes is feeling guilty for struggling my way through easy trials when so many people are going through much harder things than I am.  And while it’s good to keep some big picture perspective we shouldn’t beat ourselves up for having a hard time with things.  Yes, some people don’t have a house to live in it at all…that doesn’t mean it’s not stressful when you have a giant leak in your roof.  And some people don’t ever find the right person to marry…but that doesn’t make you worry less about your spouse’s health problems.  I have friends with six kids who still manage to keep perfect houses and run successful businesses and I only have 4 kids and yesterday the biggest problem I could tackle was how to walk a crock-pot full of soup into the teacher’s lounge with all of my kids in tow.  It nearly sent me over the edge.  

#3) My Struggles Don’t lessen Others Struggles

Since when did it become a thing to compete over whose kid throws up the most? Whose husband is gone the most. Whose child has the most disabilities at school.  I call this the “Well, it’s harder for me because…” I think deep down all of us need for others to acknowledge that the trials we are going through are real.  But for some it seems that if they admit that others are struggling too that somehow their struggles are less important. It’s not a competition. Why do we let our self-worth be determined by how many trials we go through or don’t go through.  While this problem has been probably going on since the beginning of time, it’s kind of brought to a head when you add in social media. Have you seen this on Facebook?  Person A posts weekly about how horrible her life is. So Person B comments with “well, you think that’s bad.  Mine is way worse”. Meanwhile they are both so focused on themselves they don’t stop to think about helping one another or even realize person C is at home struggling silently alone.  Just like we shouldn’t spend time comparing people’s successes, we shouldn’t be comparing our struggles either.  Even though our trials may not be the same, everyone’s trials are equally hard for them.  Don’t get me wrong, I think that discussing your problems with other people in the right setting can be a great thing.  It can help you realize you aren’t alone and think of new solutions.  It can help you realize that other people need your help and that you shouldn’t be demanding everyone else help you. That being said, do I think that being a martyr on Facebook is the right setting…no.  

Also, be sensitive to people who are going through trials you’ve already conquered.  I always hate it when people tell me things like “you think having toddlers is hard, wait until you have teens”. It’s probably a true sentiment but it sure isn’t helpful.  And I’m sure they would have hated it just as much if someone had said it to them when they had toddlers.  Sharon Creech has a great part in walk two moons where she talks about when we turn a certain age, we aren't just that age but we are all the ages we've ever been.  So I'm not just 30, but I'm 20 and 10 and 5 as well. Don't forget what it was like to be a new parent, or a stressed out college student, or a lost teen, or a know-it-all kindergartener. Avoid saying things like “you think you’ve got bad, I’ve got…" Again, it’s not a competition. And even if somehow we manage to win the “I’ve got the most problems” award, how is that really going to make us feel in the end? I doubt it’s going to inspire us to solve anything.  Most likely it will become our new biggest problem. Now we’ve got a new status for Facebook.  And repeat…

#4) I’m not the best but I’m probably not the worst either…so that’s something.

Anyone else have a tendency to want to be perfect? We tend to be an “all or nothing” kind of person when it comes to critiquing ourselves.  Either we did something perfectly or it was a failure.  It’s hard to admit our small successes. Like somehow if we admit that we did one thing right we’re betraying the 99 other things we still haven’t done at all.  But I think for many of us we don’t understand the real relationship that failure and success have with one another.  We tend to look at it like it’s two separate roads, one leading to success and one leading to failure.  But truthfully they are both stops along the same path.  Thomas Edison said, “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up”. If you’re not a success right this minute it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure.  Give yourself a little more time, or a nap, or drink a diet Dr. Pepper and then try again.  

#5) There is season…turn turn turn…

Even more frustrating than the talents that I wish I had, are the talents I do have but am not using. Sure I used to win awards and scholarships with my poetry and do open mic nights and perform in plays, but right now I am busy with 4 children and I’ve actually been in the middle of conversations where I’ve had a hard time remembering words like spoon and window and the closest I come to writing is rambling on and on in this blog post.  But just because we aren't using those talents now doesn’t mean that we won’t use those talents again in the future.   And we're probably using a lot of new talents that we don't even realize we have.  Like babysitting kids, or helping others who feel low, or changing diapers, or I don't life to small human beings! But none of those things happen on a stage or get applause and sometimes they get lost in the day to day living and we forget that they are kind of important things to be doing.  Seriously, I change like 20 diapers a day...doesn't that deserve some kind of award, or golf clap, or at least a few finger snaps.

#5) It’s okay to say no to things…(I don't know if that's a statement or a question)

I admit it.  I like to say yes.  I like to help. It makes me feel good when I can use my talents or serve other people.  If I could I would say yes to every good thing someone asked me to do, I would. But I can’t and it’s selfish to say yes to more things than I can reasonably do.  But yet, sure I can be in charge of ordering girl scout cookies for the whole troop!  I know I can’t be all things to all people.  But I’m already going to the PTA meetings anyway, and they really need someone to be the president, so maybe I should just volunteer.  I know that just because I CAN do something doesn’t mean I should do something.  But now they are sending around a sign up sheet for food and I really love to cook so I’ll just sign up to bring 100 homemade cookies instead of bringing the bag of Fritos.  And I know that in theory I don’t owe anyone an explanation about why I can’t do something.  But what will the others think if I don’t volunteer to bedazzle 10 little girls dance costumes for tomorrow’s recital?

Does anyone else have those kind of conversations with themselves? Hands? No? Just me…okay. But deep down I also know that living our life running around in the car isn’t good for my children.  And I know that when I take on too much I have a shorter fuse. And I get grumpy. And I don’t take time for myself. And I get grumpier. And I know that I shouldn’t worry about what other people think of me.  I know that I could make 100 cookies if I wanted too and I could bedazzle all the dance costumes if I had to…but I shouldn’t be saying yes to prove that to other people.  And also, there are plenty of other capable people who can do all of those things too and they need a chance to serve.  Would it make me feel better to say yes to everything…yes! But would it really end up being better for anyone if I spread myself so thin that I can only give 10% to each thing. Not really.
It’s okay to say no.  Sometimes you should just say no. 

So there you go.  Some random thoughts about balancing the way I view my life.  I’m not perfect but after further consideration I guess I’m probably not that horrible either.  I really am blessed to have so many wonderful examples of calm, well rounded, successful people in my life.  And I'm sure someday I will be as good as they are, but for now I will just hope that guilt by association really works, and that I get lumped in with their awesomeness. I’m blessed that I’ve been able to learn from failure and find joy in success.  I’m blessed that I have so many opportunities to be better than I was the day before.  I know that happiness is a choice.  And ultimately it is within our power to choose what the result of our life will be.  If we want to succeed we will succeed and if we think we will fail we will fail.  We shouldn’t be willing to put that power in others hands, allowing our lives to be dictated by social norms and others’ opinions of us. A great quote by Grantland Rice is “Failure isn't so bad if it doesn't attack the heart. Success is all right if it doesn't go to the head.”  We are going to have successes and failures in life.  I guess that for me balance comes when we realize that success can only be found when we overcome failure.  And that living through failure is what makes our successes so sweet.

Have you ever had any of these thoughts? What are some of the things you are doing to find balance in your life? Leave a comment! I'd love to hear from you!

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