Now is the winter of my discontent for it is cold and white and terribly unpleasing. I enjoy the seasons, when we have four of them, but the spring and fall months seem to get shorter every year due to climate change. Last year, we had an eternal winter, a polar vortex so cold hell froze over, and about two weeks of spring before the temperatures climbed. I’m looking forward to more light in the day in any case.
Winter also brings a fresh round of To Do lists and goals I want to achieve, the type that are within my control and power to control. With the focus on productivity, however, an old and malformed tree has begun to bloom, for this tree–call it Work–is tied to how I view myself in my darkest moments. Its blossoms of self-doubt attract birds that cry: “Are you doing enough?” It’s the “enough” part that’s the challenge for me, because every time I open a new project I feel like I’m at the beginning and I’m starting over again and again. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been, for that’s behind me. My destination is the only thing that does.
Unfortunately, that type of thinking leads to toxicity for one very simple reason: None of us are machines. We are human beings. Life happens! Most people I know are doing the best they can. As I’ve mentioned several times before, Americans aren’t great at talking about failure and loss until we’re on the other side of it. Whether that’s out of fear because we’re deemed unlucky or not, failure and loss are part of our journeys. We desperately need discussions about them because they help people figure out ways to cope. Most people don’t just climb the proverbial career ladder in one trip. Some people don’t want to climb the ladder. Some get climbed over or pushed down. Sometimes the rung is broken. That doesn’t mean that the person who reaches the top was smarter, faster, better–and yet, the social zeitgeist favors “a” story. Someone had a dream, they worked their ass off, and they became wildly successful. It’s the work, you see, that made them what they are. If you just work hard enough, you’ll get there.
This, too, is incredibly toxic because it implies that every dream is possible provided you apply enough effort. What’s wrong with that? The emphasis on “you”. That it’s your fault if you don’t succeed because there’s something wrong or broken or different about you. You get sick, someone dies, your company shuts down, your rent goes up, you get into a car accident–none of which are your fault. Your identity and the things that happen to you don’t acknowledge the big picture; they don’t recognizing systems of power that impact you, too. You didn’t get the job. Okay, that sucks. Why? You didn’t get the job because that position went to the manager’s nephew, instead. All of a sudden, when you start recognizing that pattern or the details, you notice just how much is out of your control. That’s why the myth of personal responsibility in a society filled with millions of people can and does negatively impact us from time to time. If only I didn’t… If only I weren’t so… If only I… Sometimes, you could do all the right things and nothing works out; that doesn’t make you a failure.
So what’s the solution to dealing with those conceits? Besides not listening? I think that’s different for everyone. Our coping mechanisms evolve as we grow and change, too. My solution is to re-frame what I’m doing as a marathon. Right now, I’m tracking my tasks instead of time or word count. Every time I do something related to my personal goals I write that item down in a journal. Over time, I’m building up a log of all those little things I’m doing for myself. Those tasks are written down and dated so I remember in those uncomfortable moments that yes, I am making progress.
If you’re reading this and struggling right now, please know you’re not alone. I don’t know you or your situation, of course! However, if you’re feeling bad because you’re not doing enough? Maybe, you are.