No matter how you look at it, these are stressful times. Whether you’re pondering the horrors of global warming, cringing at the actions of our country’s leader, or simply slogging through the holiday season, it’s easy to feel discouraged. A very talented, gracious, lovely friend of mine—who is consumed with learning a new and difficult task at work—told me this week that she feels like she did in junior high school. “Every day,” she said, “I would just make mistake after mistake.” I laughed because I can relate to that feeling more intimately than practically any other at this moment. In fact, because I know that life is about growing and learning and changing, I’m often willing to just accept the fact that I’m always going to be 10 steps behind and perpetually trying to correct something I’ve done.
As I move on my speedy little train toward 70, I am painfully aware of the futility of wasted time.
But, as we race toward the holidays, which we barely even expect to be a time of joy and relaxation, it does seem fitting that we might switch our perspectives just a little. I’m thinking this holiday season—and trust me it’s not too late—that we might give ourselves the gift of appreciating all of what we do right. I want to stress the notion of appreciation, too. I don’t want to just list the qualities my mother told me were good about me 30 years ago—nice, friendly, smart, whatever. I want to take some time to really revel in the stuff that I know I do well.
As I consider these qualities or recently developed skills, I realize that many of them are the flip side of those shortcomings I know so readily. In other words, I chastise myself regularly for being cynical about the outcomes of certain situations. Despite regular, internal reprimands, I often go to the worst-case scenario in my anxiety. But what I’ve realized lately is that I’m unmistakably resilient when it comes to actually tiptoeing through the potential landmines and making the best of the results. I’ve learned to be big-hearted and good-spirited even though I’m laying side bets that it’s all going to fall apart. I’m patting myself on the back today for valuing that ability instead of rolling my eyes at my penchant for disparagement.
I get it that this could sound a little too Pollyannaish to some people, but I figure we don’t have much to lose. Most of us have spent the last 352 days being our own worst critics. We practically make a contest out of knowing our faults better than others do. When there is open time and space in my brain, I go immediately to the list of what I could have done better. But what if I just spent the remaining 13 days of 2017 relishing what I’ve done as well as I possibly could?
As I move on my speedy little train toward 70, I am painfully aware of the futility of wasted time. But for all of these years, I’ve convinced myself that focusing on my challenges rather than my strengths was preparation to do better. It wasn’t until recently that I really understood what a profound time suck personal chastising had become. And the thing that made me aware of it was hearing my friend talk about feeling like she did in junior high. When I looked at this amazing, accomplished woman, that image of a bumbling 13-year-old seemed incongruous. And yet, when I look inward, the rules are all different. A change in perspective will do that to you.
So I’m aiming to change my view for these last couple of weeks of the year. I want to step up to higher ground and watch myself with loving, forgiving, encouraging eyes instead of the critical ones I usually reserve for personal reflection. I don’t think this will help much with the stress of politics, but it's the best Christmas gift I could ask for from myself.