Have you ever had a time in your life where you struggled, but managed to find clarity to rise to the occasion? If you have, congratulations! I’d love to continue to learn from your successes. If you haven’t, have I got the post for you today.
A somewhat recent theme in my life relates to rising after difficult moments. Life is never consistently easy, so it matters how we react and respond to our situations. Challenge has presented itself both personally and professionally, and my emotions and stress levels went haywire.
During the last week, I reached realizations, whether on my own or with the influence of others, to help dig myself out of a few disappointing moments. I consider myself an optimist but ran into a few situations where self doubt combined with the universe not aligning in my favor.
On the professional side, I felt the repercussions of not trusting my gut with some information I was given. There was no malfeasance meant by those who gave it to me, but I should have pushed back in a stronger way about how we were telling the story instead of feeling like I had to to accept it as it was. As I synthesized the information, I struggled to create a cohesive, compelling story. I was ultimately questioned on my leadership, confidence, and decision making abilities. For someone who prides herself on and has diligently focused on continuing improvement in these areas, it was disheartening – even though it was done compassionately. How could I get the job done right, repair my reputation, and get back on track?
Personally, I was filled with disappointment. Stress was so overwhelming that I felt physically sick. I felt enraged, depressed, and confused, all at once. Was this me? Each instance of questioning my strengths sent my confidence spiraling.
The presence of these negative scenarios and feelings was frustrating to say the least, but I learned to deal with what I was facing instead of running away.
Here is what I have learned in recent times:
You can be the victim, or you can claim your power
I was listening to the “Claim the Stage” podcast hosted by Angela Lussier earlier this week. The topic of the podcast was “Why Perspective Matters”, and I loved what guest Stephanie Feger described as choosing between being a “victim or a victor.” This stood out to me from everything the two discussed because it forces someone in that situation into making a decision for the way they want to live their life.
Our destiny is driven by how we think and how we act in response to those thoughts. In sports psychology, the concept of visualization is a key practice for many athletes in achieving success – or not. I remember warming up for a field hockey game at Wheaton College during my freshman year, when I first learned about visualization first hand. Our host team spent about half the warm up time laying down in the grass, with a coach talking to them. I later learned that the coach’s words were related to seeing scores or saves or smart passing, whatever was relevant to each player and her position. While even though they were the more skilled team that day, we were crushed, dominated, and ultimately the losing team to an opponent who saw themselves winning before the clock even started counting down.
Each day we have to wake up and decide how we want to live. For some it is harder than others, but when you continuously choose to be the victor, claiming your power in life to overcome, you can achieve some level of success and a life worth living. Though I initially struggled with doubt and lost confidence, choosing to live with certainty, confidence, and a restorative approach made a difference. I pictured greatness in my future again – I just had to dust myself off and learn from this experience.
Self expectations for perfection set us up for disappointment
I consider myself a recovering perfectionist. Striving for perfection has led to unnecessary stress, pressure, and effort when 80% would have gotten me the exactly the effect I needed. I have always expected perfection from myself, and when I didn’t achieve it, I was in knots – frustrated, self loathing, and disappointed. And that was even in times where I received good feedback! This has haunted me, and I need to constantly reset expectations to ensure realistic measures and outcomes.
While it is important to put perfectionist tendencies aside, I felt it necessary to continue to cultivate expectations with confidence. And when you give up on confidence, things don’t go to plan. I started to believe others instead of myself, and I should have pushed to verify my assumptions. Instead, a retreat created self doubt that just continued to pull my confidence back. It felt like nothing could go right, even though I fully had the capabilities for improvement. I was stuck in the mud and starting to panic.
Through talking with my husband, parents, some friends, and doing self-reflection, I was reminded that I have what it takes to do the job and have done it before! I could make this right, but it would take a little effort, some vulnerability and responsibility, and self-forgiveness. Putting the past in the past helped dramatically. I was able to get rid of the mental ball and chain holding me back and keep moving forward to desirable solutions.
Moving forward, my eyes have been opened to why confidence is so important. I always knew it from an intellectual standpoint, but I hadn’t lived meaningfully enough (or made the mistakes yet) to know how important sticking to my guns and fighting for what I believe would be.
A support system matters
I’ve been thankful that I had people to rely on in a difficult time. Building up those times laughing and having fun makes it easier when you need to struggle through questions about your abilities. Build your relationships when times are good. Not only is life more fun that way, but you have people in your life with whom you are comfortable to be honest and open, whether it is a fear or a perceived failure.
One particular shining star in my support system is my husband, Tom. I firmly believe that who you marry, or don’t marry, is incredibly important to your success. It is truly my gain to have met my husband. He continues to show up everyday, not just for his job and himself, but for me and us and our life. That means that even when he is preparing for a major internal presentation, he still makes the time to listen to my worries and help remind me that I am talented, that this is a phase, and to keep putting my best effort forward.
Your partner should be just that – your partner. It isn’t about whose turn it is, it is about living life together and achieving all the dreams you set out to make a reality. Tom’s success is my success, and vice versa. Don’t get married for the dress and party, because of a fear of being lonely, and certainly don’t marry for the money. Your happiness and what you are able to do in life is based on what you both provide for each other. Balancing two ambitious careers can be challenging, but also has its rewards. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t met Tom, settling in marriage would have been disastrous for career success and life happiness – I would have been better unmarried than not finding the right person.
So choose your people wisely, whether a spouse or your friends. While we can’t pick our families (though I am thankful for mine), our relationships have incredible influence in moments of challenge and in times of celebration.
Continue to guard boundaries for health and well being
In a previous job, I was working almost constantly. I’d work from 6:30am to 5:30pm, commute home and have dinner with Tom, be back on the computer by 7:00pm, work until I fell asleep around 10:00pm, and then get up at 3:00am and work until I had to get ready for another day at the office. That was five hours of sleep, thirty or forty minutes to rest, and the rest related to work, commuting, or getting ready to go to work. Emails were coming in at all hours of the day – there was no hour that felt like a reprieve from the intensity of the project I was working on. I was fearful for my health, having put on almost 30 pounds in under a year and dealing with a near constant racing heart. It was miserable.
This time around I elected to guard my sleep and energy, and it has made all of the difference in not completely burning out. When I come into work I am truly putting in a full effort in, not struggling to stay awake or fighting my mind to focus. All of my side projects at home were put on hold so that I could get a full night’s sleep and truly let my mind rest before going to bed. I started practicing more meditation. Even five minutes a day made a positive impact. Though I was inconsistent with workouts, I didn’t gain weight because I eliminated stress eating.
It is important to define your non-negotiables in stressful situations and draw those boundaries HARD. Not in the sand, where it can wash away with the waves, but explicitly stated. Whether you have a friend text you to go to bed, have a spouse encourage sitting down for a healthy meal, or set a reminder on the phone to meditate or workout, do something in your life to set and keep boundaries. Your body and your mind will be better off. You’ll be equipped to take the necessary actions and have a clear head to sort through complexity and make a smart decision, not just make any decision.
Where do we go from here?
This period in time I perceived as a failure at the beginning was an immense stepping stone. It wasn’t a failure at all, but a teachable moment from which I chose to become a stronger person. I had the opportunity to make choices in how I saw myself, and sometimes it took reminders from important people in my life.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler.” Had I acted with confidence from the start, I would have eliminated any challenge in this situation! Forgetting my own abilities forced me to recognize the need to have that confidence, and to focus on growing it. Even if in the immediate moment it might have been awkward, I now know that a little bit of conflict can save significant time and heartache as well as getting the desired solution the first time.
Remember that we have choices in this life. We can choose to be hyper critical of ourselves, or be realistic. We can choose to believe we work hard to make our own luck, or that life just doesn’t like us. The choice is ever present, and each day we are fortunate enough to be alive we choose between the ability to create our own destiny, or sit back and wallow in fear, discomfort, and perceive failure instead of an opportunity
I hope you choose the power to create your own destiny.
What challenges have you overcome, either personally or professionally, and how did you accomplish it?