It’s not a super path

Superman/woman syndrome is a sneaky snake in current culture. No matter how many times we’ve heard it, somewhere deep within we harbor the feeling that we can do it all, being all things to all people. This myth dies hard. In straight thinking moments–or days–we embrace the bunk that is superwoman/man, and free ourselves from those expectations. Hurray for a small dose of reality.

However, even when we readily admit that we can’t achieve superpowers, a sneaky leftover part of that drive to be super deserves the ‘who says’ challenge: beliefs about the path to change. We still expect to be like Superman himself, clearing buildings in a single bound. The one-click culture encourages us to expect change to happen just like that. Click off the old behavior, click on the new. Door open or door closed. Instant change and everything is now rosy–i.e. perfect.

Magic wand at the ready, I wish it were this way myself. (Though of course that would mean I was out of a job and I’m not quite ready to retire.) The reality is that it’s a path, often a twisting path at that. It’s two steps forward, then one back. Or it’s a spiral, my favorite illustration about moving toward change, cycling by the same issues again and again, reworking and fine-tuning as we make our way to the goal at the top.

Accepting this winding path as reality stops that old automatic “failure” thinking. When we stumble, or it seems that we are NOT achieving that goal in a single leap, we lose track of the big picture. We conclude that we’ve failed. Time to step back and see that you are on the path. It’s just not a single step, or even a song and dance two-step.

Have a little self-compassion. No single leaps aided by a ruby cape. Just steadily wind your way up the stairs, or along the path, and you’ll soon be where you wish to be. Enjoy the climb.

Unexpected gifts

You know those frustrating moments you have, where you are intending action A, and get result B, which you could have never accomplished in a million years if you’d been trying for that result? Let me explain. We’ve had a run on them around here lately that made me pay attention.

1) I was driving, and lowered the window on the passenger side to throw out a plum pit. (It was a half-inch in diameter and organic material that would decompose, but go ahead and scold me for littering if you want. That’s a post for another day.) Even though the window was open 4 inches, the pit hit the glass, bounced back into the car, and disappeared between the driver’s side seat and the center console.

2) My husband was walking through the work area that is our former (and future–we’re remodeling) bedroom, tripped on the rake (he’d been using to clean up broken mortar from tile removal). Regained his balance and saw that the lace on his shoe was entwined in the rake, looped up and over the tines completely as if he’d sat down and threaded it over.

3) The TV remote was on the bed one moment, and completely missing the next. Looking under covers, under bed, under newspapers–not to be found. Finally found it two feet away nestled inside a shoe.

Now, if you’d been AIMING to accomplish any of these tasks, you’d never think them possible, right? These impossible outcomes always leave me aghast, too–and completely frustrated. I could’ve sat for hours trying to bank shot that plum pit at the window and back between the seat and console. Etc.

So I took a deep breath, looking at these crazy quirks of accomplishment, and asked: what is the meaning here? Gremlins? Instead of feeling frustrated at these events, I’ve decided from now on to view them as signs of our miraculous potential. Instead of sighing, I’m going to embrace the inherent wonder. If I can accomplish these tricks without trying, I can do anything I set my mind to. Who says that’s not true?

Any examples of your own? Start tuning in, because I’d love to hear them.

Wand Targets, #3

“I’d never eat out alone.” Countless women–and men–have voiced this one, implying that if they had a magic wand they’d never have to shovel pasta alone again. Eating lunch with my daughter, we overheard the man at the next table lamenting, “It’s just awful. I can handle lunch alone, but dinner . . . ”

The underlying assumption is “I must be some poor, lonely loser if I can’t find someone with whom to have lunch/dinner.” Maybe you flash back to the lunch table, ousted by the mean girls. There was a time in our culture when single diners, especially women, were treated poorly by restaurant staff. Stereotypically shuttled to the worst table, where they would be banged in the head by the swinging kitchen door.

One of my greatest ways to refuel is to take my current book and eat on a patio in pleasant weather. I rather like my own company, people watching or enjoying a good story. Eating alone says nothing more about me than that I am eating alone. It’s all a state of mind. No need for self-talk that eating alone is pitiful; reframe it as the quiet time you desperately desire.

While we’re addressing expectations, you might want to add Eat Chocolate Naked Week to your list to celebrate. Are you sick of the conventional definition of beauty, and shamed into hiding because of some perceived lack in your appearance or size? This looks like a wonderful opportunity to redefine beauty in a way that works for you.

If only everyone could only act like me . . . Wand target #3

Recently, listening to my community of women’s voices reveals the third target for the proverbial magic wand we all wish we had. It seems a universal wish: that others adhere to the same standards we hold in our own heads. The refrain echos all around me:

  • “I try to be cheery to everyone I see–why can’t my coworker do the same?”
  • “I try to affirm my mom as a mother–why does she feel threatened when I’m successful as a mom? Why can’t she be happy for me?”
  • “I love my sister unconditionally and don’t criticize her choices–why does she feel it’s okay to pick on me like that?”
  • “I work hard to fight fair–then my partner throws these vicious barbs at me!”
  • “I don’t gossip about those women–what have I done to them?”

Who says the internal rules of our cohorts must necessarily match our own? Of course we wish everyone followed the Golden Rule. Life would be so much smoother, if everyone held the same high ideals that we enforce for ourselves. It truly feels like one of life’s major injustices, to get bombarded by bad behavior from all sides. To receive treatment we work hard to avoid dishing out to those we encounter–how is this fair?

***SIGH**** It’s not.

Our old frenemy expectations weaves in and out of this issue. Disappointment is inevitable when we expect others to honor our code, our values. The hurt seems particularly intense because of it’s repetitive nature. Again and again, siblings, bosses, parents, partners fail to follow the fair, kind, loving path we try so hard to stay on. Often, the only solution is to remember that we really can only expect others to be themselves. To act out their issues, their moods, their unhappiness. They are only being their messy, limited, hurting human selves. “It’s just who she is.” Not very satisfying, for sure. But it definitely helps the next encounter if you can remember to rein in your expectations. In your own head, review that a) this disappointing behavior doesn’t have to do with you and b) it’s just Mr. or Ms. Crabby being their poor, miserable self.  Enter the situation from a point of compassion: it sucks to be them.

At the same time, pat yourself on the back. Kudos to you for keeping to your own high standards for yourself. You didn’t sink to that level! But if you do have a bad day and you snap into stinging rubber band mode, offer yourself some compassion–you are only human too. In the words of the Dalai Lama:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Wand target, #2

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons by Snaily

Theoretically, summer is waning. But with record heat all over the world, the season seems intent on keeping it’s hot little mitts on us awhile longer. With the dog days, it seems that the volume on the lament “these kids are driving me crazy!” raises a notch or two. Working outside the home or in, moms feel guilty when thoughts like that percolate in their heads. “I hate that I don’t like my children.” “I hate that I don’t love every minute of time with my kids.” “It’s summer, we should be having fun–and I can’t wait for school to start.” “I can’t stand them climbing on me one more minute.” The elevated expectations of summer, to orchestrate more fun for our kids, make many women feel guilty against the reality of day in, day out summer.

Recognize the all-or-nothing thinking? When it comes to our loved ones, whether we’re parents or not, most women shy away from embracing the completely normal range of feelings that permeate relationships . Most of us feel badly unless feelings of love and good will materialize 110% of the time. We feel like bad moms, bad partners, or bad daughters or friends. We wish for that magic wand: POOF with fairy dust! We would never feel negative toward a loved one, child or adult, again.

Feelings of frustration with others in our lives are the badge of being human. Many women can accept such feelings aimed at the family of origin. As a small child in the grip of sibling rivalry, you accepted that you hated your sister. As a teen, it was status quo to hate your mom, and maybe your dad too. Underneath, you knew in your heart that you truly loved these family members. You just were momentarily (okay, maybe it was months that these feelings festered in your teenage heart) unhappy with the behavior, even though you still loved the person. Chances are, as an adult, you’ve come to terms with this reality with your significant other, as well. Backing off from black and white thinking, we can understand that this person-behavior distinction applies.

Nonstop sticky, sweaty, demanding kids clinging to your legs or lap ARE annoying, but embracing that reality doesn’t make you a bad mom. The mantra to memorize is “love the kids, hate the job.” Fleeting hate does not mean you are a witch. It means you are simply flesh and blood and emotion, rather than an autopilot Stepford creation. Negative emotions are a package deal with the joy. It’s all about the ratio. Tune into the fun, loving moments and you will see that the wand is not required.

If you need a few ideas to survive the end of the season, check out the August 3 podcast of The Sanity Hour. Perfectly good moms send those kids into the back yard to amuse themselves under the sprinkler while they sit in the shade with some deep breaths, a cool drink and a good book.