I used to feel guilty every time I thought or said any one of those statements. I thought they were lies.
The superwoman days
You see, I have these days every now and then that I call my superwoman days.
On those days, I get up ridiculously early, stay up ridiculously late, and accomplish a super-human amount of stuff. I go and go and go and push and push and push.
I produce, I meet milestones and deadlines and demands, all in between client meetings and calls, maybe travelling between cities, and all while wearing heels and makeup. And maybe cooking dinner and hugging a child or two.
Fuck. I’m tired even thinking about it.
Beware the lies we tell ourselves
But here’s where the lying comes in: Since I do have superwoman days, I saw those as me being my best, trying my hardest, and only those days.
Every other day I counted as me being less than. Less than my best. Less than trying my hardest.
So on difficult days, on days when I was feeling low or everything turned to shit, or all the cats didn’t get herded, or clients got let down or my feet were just too fucking sore for heels, and I tried to be kind to myself and say, I did the best I could, I didn’t believe it. I thought I could do better.
I mean, I can be superwoman! I have proof! And on this day I hadn’t. So I clearly hadn’t done my best.
Until I realised that my superwoman days were just that: SUPERHUMAN.
More than my best. They were anomalies. Exceptions to the norm. Really fucking impressive and exciting, but exceptions nevertheless.
I had to acknowledge that no one can be superwoman every day. That’s not my best! It’s BEYOND MY BEST.
What I do every other day, every day when I get up and am kind to people and get shit done, and get dressed or don’t, and work or don’t, and cry or don’t, that is me doing my best. That is me trying my hardest.
Because we all fucking do the best we can, every fucking day.
It’s probably because one of my core values is integrity, and so truth is part of that.
What I’m interested in, though, is the complexities around truth. As an indigenous woman, for example, I have a clear position that we each have our own truth, and no one has the right to say that their truth is more true than mine. It’s one of the reasons I don’t ever get involved in a whakapapa (genealogy) debate.
I know my whakapapa because it’s what my grandparents taught me. And they knew because theirs taught them. I have no reason to doubt the truth of their knowledge and their teachings to me.
I assume you gained your knowledge of your whakapapa in a similar way. If what you know is different to what I know, I’m never going to claim that what got handed down through the generations to you is any more or less true than what got handed down to me.
We both have our truth. I can live with that.
My whāngai (adopted) daughter has a truth that families aren’t safe.
That is not my truth. In fact my truth is the exact opposite – that family is my safe place to land. It’s my absolute security. It’s a guaranteed place where all is well. I don’t know how long it will be for her to develop a new truth about that, but I believe it’s possible.
I believe that one day her truth will be: I was raised in a family that wasn’t safe. I now know family can and should be a safe place.
Carver boy has a truth that humans often can’t be trusted. It’s that you can usually expect the worst of people, and you won’t often be disappointed.
Again, my truth is the opposite – people are good. They’re all trying to do their best and be good humans, and if I trust them, I’m rarely disappointed.
I ended my second marriage ultimately because my husband couldn’t be honest with himself. He wasn’t actually lying to me and those around us, because he believed the truth that he had constructed for himself to make his narcissistic universe a place he could live with. It was a universe where he could never be to blame for the things that went wrong. It drove me crazy – me, with my core value of integrity – to watch him construct a reality that was in conflict with the evidence around us. He wasn’t a dishonest man – he built a truth (and believed it wholeheartedly) that wasn’t my truth and I couldn’t make it my truth.
Challenging our truths
On the other hand, I’d like to think I challenge my own truths regularly.
I once got a haircut that I loved, but people were staring at me. After a week I was ready to grow it out, even though I loved the haircut. I couldn’t handle the ‘truth’ that people were staring because they thought I looked weird or dumb or bad or attention-seeking or something.
But then I asked myself if my ‘truth’ was based on evidence or assumption.
I had NO WAY of knowing why they were staring (unless I asked, and I wasn’t going to do that!).
So I decided to do an experiment:
when I caught someone looking at me, I told myself they were staring because they loved my hair? Just LOVED IT? What if I chose to believe it was an awesome hairstyle, and that other people agreed, and that catching them staring was evidence to support that?
I started walking with my head held higher. I started smiling at the people glancing my way. I’ve kept that hairstyle for YEARS. People tell me all the time how much they love it.
I built a truth that helped me feel good. Did I construct that truth for myself? Yes. And it’s a resourceful truth, and I’m keeping it.
So, confirmation bias
I guess I’m thinking about confirmation bias.
That phenomenon where we believe something is true, so we seek confirmation of it.
My daughter seeks confirmation that families aren’t safe, and finds it. Carver boy seeks confirmation that people can’t be trusted, and finds it. I sought confirmation that my hair was cool, and I found it.
So maybe you could check in on your truths occasionally.
What is your truth?
Is it a truth which is resourceful and helpful to you?
I woke up this morning, looked at the beautiful man beside me, and thought, it doesn’t get much happier than this.
I’ve been doing the gratitude thing this year and there’s NO DOUBT it’s making me happier, kinder, less sweating the small stuff.
That’s absolutely one big reason I’m feeling so happy.
But a really big reason I’m feeling so happy is that I have a good life. A life I worked damn hard to build myself.
A life I had to be fucking brave to get, over and over again.
I had to be brave enough to leave my first husband when he said he didn’t love me, and brave enough to keep living when he drowned soon after.
I had to be brave enough to leave my second husband and commit to being a single mother for all those years.
I had to be brave enough to be alone.
I had to be brave enough to build a house at home on our island so my children and wider whānau have a place to come home to. And so that while I work so hard on my business all year, I get a summer in paradise recharging, reconnecting, and reprioritising.
I had to be brave enough to walk away from my religion. The only worldview and culture I knew, so I could truly be me. And so I could be loved. And so I could feel the sun on my skin.
I had to be brave enough to admit what I wanted.
I had to be brave enough to resist when carver boy wanted to break things off. Brave enough to persist in our relationship. Brave enough (and patient enough) to wait four years for him to move in. Brave enough to risk another broken heart.
I had to be brave enough to say no to things that were tempting, but not right or good for me.
I had to be brave enough to set boundaries around my time and my contributions to others.
I once had a friend staying with me, and she was worried about a small decision my daughter made. She later told me how stressful the visit was, because of that one thing.
Let me explain a bit more (while still respecting the privacy of both my friend and my daughter).
The one thing.
My daughter’s behaviour didn’t harm anyone.
It didn’t inconvenience anyone.
It was not made or carried out in anyone’s presence.
It didn’t impact on my friend’s ability to do anything.
It didn’t create any consequences my friend had to live with.
I was 100% unconcerned with the decision my daughter had made. It didn’t inconvenience or worry me. It was completely fine by me.
So when my friend later told me how stressful it was for her, and how it impacted on her ability to enjoy staying with us, I was blown away!
It wasn’t hers.
She didn’t own it. She CHOSE to be concerned. She CHOSE to be worried about the decision my daughter made. I was incredibly surprised that my friend didn’t have the self-awareness to realise she was feeling stressed about something that she simply didn’t own.
How do I deal?
One of my go-to responses to stress is to write a list – itemise the things on my mind (which is where stress lives, of course).
And then I categorise:
what’s not mine?
I look at the what’s not mine category and often that’s all I need to do – acknowledge I’m carrying stress about things that aren’t mine and that I can’t influence.
That simple awareness (and the fact I’ve written it down and acknowledged it) is usually all it takes for me to let something go.
I basically roll my eyes at myself and go, well duh, that’s not mine. I cross it off the list and it’s gone.
I know. Sometimes it’s not that easy!
If it’s not that easy to do, then I think about what meaning I’m attributing to that thing that’s not mine, and see what I can shift there.
Sometimes it’s just a shift I need to make in my thinking. Other times I might need to act so that I can cope with the things that are not mine, but that are impacting on me nevertheless.
Then I look at the what’s mine category and plan out what I can do about it and when, and what I need so I can action that.
OK, I hate that title. But it’s all about SEO – did you know if you title your blogs with questions people type into google, your content is more likely to be found? True story.
And this post IS about living your best life. I just hate those words because I can hear idiots saying them and using them as a bullshit excuse for why they can’t won’t do stuff. “I’m living my best life.” (Read that in a high pitched, whiny voice.)
What I wanted to title this post is: What’s over your cognitive horizon?
Pretty much my favourite TED talk of all time is by Shawn Achor. It’s about happiness. And in it, Shawn says that most of us live with happiness over the cognitive horizon, because we tell ourselves once we achieve X, we’ll be happy.
When I get that promotion/pay rise/ideal job, I’ll be happy. When I lose weight, I’ll be happy. When I find the right man/woman, I’ll be happy.
The problem is, he says, once we achieve that thing, it’s in our natures to immediately set the next milestone. You find the right partner, and then it’s suddenly, when I have kids, I’ll be happy. You get the promotion, and then you set your sights to the next one, or to starting your own business.
It never ends. We never reach the happy place – so it’s over our cognitive horizon. Happiness is always in the distance, just out of reach or out of sight, and we never get there.
What the research shows, instead, is that if we can be happy here and now, those other achievements are more likely to follow. Find happiness every day, and you become more successful. You’re more likely to attract the right partner, achieve the promotion or the pay rise, find success in what you do. But the happiness has to come first.
So it’s not step 1: be successful, step 2: be happy. It’s the exact reverse.
I’ve known this for years now.
I AM happy on a daily basis. I know I need to find joy in each day (in amongst all my mess, cos I truly believe life is messy, full stop. I used to wait for the mess to be tidy so I could be happy. Then I discovered Shawn Achor).
So I understood that.
But late 2018, I woke up one day and a whole bunch of things fell into place. No, I wasn’t keeping happiness over my cognitive horizon, but you know what I was keeping there? Wellness.
I’ve had, for quite some time now, a clear vision of the life I want to live (my best life – uggh).
It involves some balance – between work and downtime, between taking care of my needs and the needs of others – it involves time outside and eating in a way that makes me feel well.
AND I WAS KEEPING THAT LIFE OVER THE COGNITIVE HORIZON.
WTF! That realisation pisses me off! It makes me feel like such a slow learner!
And what’s worse is that the horizon wasn’t even clear. It was just, I can’t have those things YET. I have to keep working my ass off for a while yet, before I can change my lifestyle. I have to work more, do the next stage of business development, make more money yet, before I can start prioritising myself and my own needs.
So on that morning, I woke up. The sun rose over the cognitive horizon and the light fell on the simple, simple truth. I have to LIVE my ideal life if I ever want to HAVE my ideal life. I have to just get up each day and LIVE IT.
Want quiet time in the fresh air each morning, Shelly? Fucking get up and do it. Because the emails can wait. That piece of writing for a client can wait. Those questions your staff are waiting for answers to, can wait. Go for a fucking walk and breathe and drink a bottle of water while you’re at it.
And strangely enough? No one died. And I came back from my walk refreshed and clear-headed and energised and sat down at my computer and got shit done.
As I write this, my inner mean girl is saying, People are going to think you’re SO DUMB, Shelly. But I’m not. *insert tongue poking out here* Yes, some of you will be giving up reading about now cos #ThankYouCaptainObvious. But at least SOME of you are going, holy shit! That’s what I’ve been doing! OMG, I can’t believe I never thought about it like this!
And then others of you might be saying, well that’s just lovely but I’ve got a 6-month-old or 3 kids under 5, or 3 jobs, so fuck you and your best life, Shelly.
And you’re not wrong – being a mother of babies and toddlers was a nightmarish time in my life. It was the exact opposite of my best life.
So I hear you, sister – AND I have 2 questions for you:
What’s your best life WITHIN that reality?
Is your reality TRUTH, or are you lying to yourself about what things are in and out of your control?
Because here are some of the lies I was telling myself about my reality:
If I don’t start work the second my eyes open, when my brain is clear and I’m motivated, I’ll have lost my chance to be productive that day. So I can’t risk it.
I have too many people who need too many things from me and something’s gotta give, and the only thing I can see that CAN give, is me looking after me.
To let someone down or say no to potential work is to fail.
Living the life I want to live is simply a luxury that I don’t yet have time for. I haven’t earned it yet.
I was at a conference in Montreal last year and I was talking to a friend about how I’d know when I’d achieved balance because I’d be taking better care of myself. I honestly believed that – that balance and self-care would be the result. It would be the evidence I’d arrived at that destination over the horizon.
And she called me out on it! So thank you, Cheryl Stephens, for being wise and simply saying, you just have to start NOW. You told me to book myself a regular massage. And I thought to myself, no, you’re missing the point.
But I sat with it for a good couple of months. And then came that morning when I woke up and knew what I needed to do. Those words landed right where they needed to: in that place inside of us that knows truth.
And this is coming from one of the most loving and empathetic people I know (that’s me – yes, I’m saying nice things about myself. And?)
I’ve believed since I was a teenager that I’m on this earth to love. Empathy is one of my superpowers. I was raised in a family who are incredibly skilled and generous with expressions of love.
But. People are still frikn irritating.
I road rage a bit more than I should. I roll my eyes at people too easily. I’m certainly intolerant with my children fairly regularly.
Now that we’ve established the fact that I’m human and imperfect, I have some advice.
Every day in training rooms, my first task is to connect with every person in the room. I believe they can learn better, I can teach better, and we’ll have a more positive experience if we’ve found some way to break down some barriers and feel a bit connected. It’s the purpose of icebreakers (I just puked in my mouth a little bit). It’s just that icebreakers get used badly so most of us hate them.
In every group, there are always 1 or 2 people I have to try a bit harder with. You know those ones you just don’t gel with? Maybe they have a resting bitch face. Or maybe they don’t laugh at your jokes. Or maybe they only give one-word answers or don’t make eye contact. Whatever it is.
To connect, share
The only way I know to get past that is to keep going until I can find a commonality. To find things in common we have to share stuff. If I want people to share stuff, I have to go first. So I’m an oversharer in a training room. Consciously. Purposefully.
You’ll find out that my moko kauae is still fairly new. That I have grandchildren – holy f*ck – and I’m still surprised by that. You’ll find out I live in Hamilton and that we were once the chlamydia capital of New Zealand.
I talk. I share. Until people start to see I’m just human. A bit of a weirdo. Until they see I might have some things about me that are like them.
Then, ask questions
Then I need to ask enough meaningful open-ended questions to give people a chance to share useful stuff with me.
Commonalities we might find:
things we hate
activities we love
embarrassing experiences we can relate to
schools, towns, countries, trips
If you can connect at a values level, there’s no looking back
The more we talk, the more we share, we inevitably find that we share values. And once you’ve discovered that? Those other difference seem less significant.
You wear a hijab and I wear a moko kauae. Different, right? But both expressions of our identity and the things we believe in. We’re both committed enough to what we believe in to wear it on the outside. To make our beliefs visible in a crowd.
And all of a sudden?
We’re the same. Deep down.
If you want to connect with people, you need to find things in common. Things that build a connection. Do you have a neighbour who pisses you off? Find some things in common. Things you can build on. Connections that will outweigh the irritants. Got a co-worker you want to throat punch? Find commonalities. One of your children who just keeps rubbing you the wrong way? Build on the things you can find in common.