Four times in the past week and a half, I forgot things that are important to me.
A first meeting with someone I am eager to collaborate with. A session with a client for half an hour. The fact a colleague was going to get me to a meeting. And yesterday, writing this.
I know that pattern, and the feelings that come with it.
I feel overwhelmed, guilty, scared, worried, a bit ashamed, like I’m failing.
There's a lump in my throat. My chest feels tight, so are my neck and shoulders. I feel almost dizzy with my brain overflowing thoughts.
Of course, since I am trying to write and share my work more, the question “Am I really cut out for this?” came up.
And when on top of this, I felt really sick last night and woke up with some kind of flu, the desperate thought “Is the Universe decided to show me I can’t do this?” has even come up.
Then I remembered a friend of mine, who often says “The Universe is always so perfectly timed”. She is so good at spotting those little synchronicities, when indeed, it feels incredibly timed. I love that about her.
I learnt to spot those wonderful little moments too, and it really wasn’t natural at first. For me, being positive was born in need. My family is quite pessimistic and we went through a tons of hardship.
It’s not a stern house because we all believe in the good life, what French call being a “bon vivant”, literally, “good living being”, the art of making life enjoyable. Good food, good friends, laughter…
But I also heard a lot the idea that life is tough and unjust, that anything I wasn't good at right away “wasn’t my thing”, that people are unreliable, mean-intentioned and untrustworthy, that the world is mostly a shitty place, and that there’s nothing we can do about any of this. This made life quite tough and heart-breaking, believe me.
So really, it wasn’t natural to me to learn optimism. It started with 10 years of placated and forced optimism. I would think pessimistically, ignore it, and put a positive spin on whatever I had in front of me. On one hand, it was a huge relief to step away from what felt like an infinite swamp of negativity. On the other hand, fuck this was exhausting…
Because of this (among others), my BS radar is quite efficient, but I’m always afraid too that it might be my upbringing speaking. So I put my intuition about my friend maybe forcing herself too, like I used to, aside, and focused on enjoying how much it was agreeable instead.
Until she was stuck for a few days in a shitty situation and took me by surprised by how down she was about a mild (although frustrating and out of her control) inconvenience.
Something in there throw her tipping point. She was really upset, and the question “Why?? Why would the universe ruin consistently our good moments like this?” popped up.
She reminded me of me so much. I saw myself in her struggle 10 years back, powerless and desperate facing the uncontrollably painful, exhausted to hang on to positivity. It broke my heart.
Since we both cultivate a strong non-religious spirituality, after listening to her and showing her some empathy (reason without empathy is unkind), I kindly mentioned how even if it’s hard to see and accept, life tends to give us exactly what we want and need. So long as we don’t get too hang up on the presentation and how shitty it can feel.
(Please NEVER say this to someone going through something awful, I am not even sure it was helpful here, but KNOW it's not when tragedy hit us. We were talking here about something really mild, even her knew it was.)
She answered “Yeah I know… But what’s the message here, frankly??”. I said “I really wish I knew, my Dear. All I can say is... In the midst of annoying and repetitive like this, I love to ask myself : What’s something useful and needed could I learn here?... Can you see anything?”.
We discussed some more, she was still very frustrated, and I kind of drowned the subject, feeling uncomfortable, saying we could discuss it more soon if she wanted or I could share anything I would write on the matter. She said yes, that she would love it but she never did talk about it again. I regretted not being more upfront.
Had I been more confident about my legitimacy to say so, and less willing allowed myself to add “You know, if that was me, I would take that opportunity to accept that I can’t control everything, that some things aren’t in my control at all even. And that the only take-away I can get from the shitty situation is practicing acceptance. Is that something you think could help you?”.
I don’t know why, but living that situation with her, is my most powerful reminder of this idea that is at the heart of learned optimism, that you can learn more about by reading Martin Seligman great book on the subject.
True optimism is ABSOLUTELY NOT about being positive all the time. It’s NOT about putting a positive spin on freaking everything.
That’s actually how a lot of people develop depression, because forced positivity implies ignoring our unpleasant feelings, the most efficient joy robbing technique that exists.
True optimism is about choosing to question our painful negative beliefs. It’s usually very hard to do in the middle of a very hard situation, and that’s not always the appropriate moment to do so.
Pain is a call to pause and rest for a moment, to experience whatever is first and foremost. But we can learn to also take notes of what we feel in those moments. And if it’s too hard at first, we can practice on smaller beliefs, ones we don’t hold too tight to.
Now, only after years of painful and maddening situations, I’m able to question a lot of my hardest beliefs quite quickly after being caught in a painful loop. So after my hard week and my mistakes on things that matter to me, I started to reflect.
Clearly, my system is not working as is. I forgot 2 of the appointments because I didn’t put them in my calendar right away, that’s on me to implement that good habit. Not trusting my busy brain, freeing some mental space.
Sometimes negative reinforcement is our best teacher. I HATE learning how to get organized, I spent years learning how to train my brain to remember what I had to do so I didn’t need a planner, that’s how much I despise it.
When I started working, wether it was about being a private tutor or having my first patients, I was so rebellious about the idea that until I had more than 5 appointments a week and/or would miss a few of them in a short amount of time, I was solely relying on my brain to tell me when and where I had to be. (spoiler : it's exhausting and very unreliable as a system)
But here’s the thing : I truly, madly, deeply HATE feeling unreliable, uncaring and rude like missing a commitment to someone else does make me feel.
So it’ll be my cue to learn another layer of organization. Negative reinforcement can be a great teacher too.
I reluctantly learned how to give structure (as loosely as possible at first of course), first to my years, months, then to my weeks, ONLY because it was too annoying and maddening and my life was suffering too much from not doing it.
This is my new cue, about giving some structure to my days. I’ve planned to experiment with Notion as a start. It might also be a way to not have 75 tabs open in my browser, waiting to be watched/listened to (you read that right). I told you I despise organisation haha.
Regarding writing, being afraid it might be a sign I shouldn’t do it, I’m learning that this is fear about doing something that really matters to me and this will often be a fear of mine. Simply being scared doesn’t mean anything in itself. Big things are scary, period. If I'd quit each time I was scared, I wouldn’t have done anything valuable in my life, anything worthwhile.
What this specific hardship is reminding me here is far more simple than some cosmic curse : changing our life takes time and effort.
If I want to make that writer life work sustainably, I will struggle. Shit will hit the fan.
And in a way, if it’s really the Universe teaching me something, It’s giving me the perfect opportunity to also see what it means and asks from me to keep showing up when shit mini hits the fan. Some sort of practice for when it’ll get harder, so I can prepare myself. I don't like it, but have to admit it's useful.
I have no idea if that’s true, and I don’t care : it helps.
I’m nurturing my fear, I’m going slow, taking it slow, giving myself space and time. I’m taking good care of myself and trying to be careful about my perfectionism.
Like writing yesterday’s text I missed, but not today’s, it can wait. I’ve written enough today, especially after a whole evening of appointments with my patients. And I bask in that feeling that I’m going to be okay, no matter what. That it doesn’t need to go according to plan for me to be okay, since I can trust myself to be here for myself anyway.
I’m also allowing myself to notice that all the progress I made since the placated positivity. How much it’s less exhausting to not try to spin positively and control everything, and instead giving my energy to doing my best to navigate waters, no matter how troubled they can get and to believe in myself instead.
My dear warrioring hummingbird, keep your warrioring energy towards what’s serving you and when life will need you too. Don’t be afraid of the darkness, that’s where we learn to grow the most. You have everything in you already to do this, our culture made you forget and buried you under self-doubt, but you really do : start digging it up, one day at the time.
In badass love,