When Life Feels Scary, Here’s What’s True

work-life-balance

Some days, I just want someone to tell me I’m doing a great job and everything’s gonna be okay. Then make me lunch with a fruit roll-up and a little post-it love note tucked inside. Basically, I want to be a kid again, with all the hard stuff left up to the grownups.

When did all these everyday decisions start to feel so life-or-death? Where to enroll the kids in summer camp. What to do when all the camps fill up IN SIX MINUTES, before I get the chance to finish signing up (are you kidding me???) Whether we should really be taking that 3-week vacation we so desperately need for sanity’s sake but I don’t feel like I deserve after my year-long break from working.

Good God. All I wanna do is cut and run because. I. just. can’t. anymore with this constant barrage of decisions. Remember when selling everything we owned and moving to Costa Rica was a no-brainer? Or popping out two kids in 2.5 years seemed like no big deal? “We’ll figure it out. We’ve got time.”

Now, every decision carries very real potential consequences. I have friends who didn’t make it through those consequences without losing a marriage or kids or careers or houses. It’s terrifying. Every fall, every mistake feels more painful and permanent. Scars take longer to heal. Resilience is harder to come by. And to top it all off, my body no longer tolerates wine. How the hell is anyone supposed to make it through this gauntlet of horrors without wine?!

To make matters worse, at every fork in the road, my brain plays a quick recap of all the times my choices ended in failure. I feel paralyzed, confused. Completely unable to shut off the playback long enough to think clearly. Aw, yep, I remember that time, and that time – the verdict is in: I’m an awful, ignorant decision maker who keeps making messes of things and will likely do the same here.

Cue shame spiral, waves of overwhelm, fear sweats. Suddenly, the most logical choice seems like hiding out in the laundry room with a jar of chocolate chip cookie dough and an extra-large spoon. Crumble some potato chips on top, and I’ve got myself a nice little afternoon escape.

Here’s what’s true, in case you’re also in too deep to see clearly:

Your past does not define your future. Sure, there may be cases where you need to examine some habitual cycles that aren’t serving you very well (for example, anytime I feel overwhelmed, my impulse is to start lopping off commitments when it may be more helpful to ask those around me for help). But just because you did this one thing this one time and it ended like THAT, doesn’t mean next time will be the same. As my friend Robyn says, there aren’t many things you can’t change later, if you decide to. Plus, with every fall, you gain more wisdom to draw upon. Which brings me to my next point…

True failure is never moving forward. You didn’t fail, you made a mistake. We all do. Even the smartest, most capable person you know. Guess what? You’re still here. Which means, one way or another, you got through it. Maybe it wasn’t a graceful rise from the ashes – more like this dog trying to get out of the dishwasher.

Maybe you lost some things along the way that were important to you. Money. Dignity. Relationships. Flexibility. It’s only natural to doubt yourself and what the future holds for you when you’ve still got a limp from the last crash and burn. Just move forward, because…

There is Good that wants to find you. It starts with being thankful for where you are and what you have, right now. Gratitude doesn’t just happen. You have to fight for it. Protect your mind from going down those timeworn roads of comparison, fear, or self-pity that keep you stuck. Maybe take a 5-day break from social media (or that friend who seems to want to complain or poke holes in your positive outlook). To nurture gratitude, you simply can’t let everything in – be choosy.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million more times: being an adult is f*cking hard. Being a kid was so much easier for me. I realize not everyone had the same experience of childhood. Maybe things have just always felt hard, and I’m so sorry. When every decision feels impossible, overwhelm sets in, and the kids are getting concerned because they caught you sobbing while folding the bath towels, remember this: with the increased responsibilities of adulthood come increased satisfaction of making it work. You can’t feel the fulfillment of a job well done without earning it in the trenches.

As much as you might love to go back and be a kid at times, ya can’t. We have to make choices, choosing just one of many possible paths. We’re the people in charge now, and that sucks sometimes. But it also means we don’t have to ask permission to knock off some of the stress with a glass of good whiskey at 2pm. Or meet with a friend over coffee (or more whiskey) who admits she’s terrified, too, and totally making it up as she goes a lot of the time.

Despite what social media or other people may tell you, most of us are scared. You’d almost be crazy not to be. There’s a lot at stake here and no real play-by-play formula for wrangling your specific group of circus animals. You can’t run when it gets hard. But you can ask for help to figure it out. And you will. You’re doing a great job and everything’s gonna be okay.

1 Comment

  1. How could this post not resonate over and over again with nearly anyone? Such an amazing depiction of the daily emotional and physical roller-coaster we ride as adults. Even a 3-week vacation doesn’t remove the “adulting” that’s required to manage the details. Your insights on failure are spot on — not really failing but learning from going the wrong direction. We’ve all been that dog in the dishwasher. Thankfully, there are people like you to give us encouragement and insight into moving onward in positivity. For myself, each misstep (or failure) is an opportunity learn who God is teaching me to be. And to continue to be recreated.

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