When I was a child I would have very bad stomach aches. So bad that I would be curled in a ball on the floor wincing and crying. It was inconsistent and hard to monitor when it would flare up. I saw specialists, did blood tests and exams, and tried various prescriptions. Nothing worked. I was frustrated, felt a lack of control, and as though my body was failing me.
My mother used to say that I worried so much that I caused myself to have a stomach ache. Even though I eventually discovered that digesting meat didn’t sit well with my stomach and changed my diet, I think she was partially right. From as far back as I could remember I always put so much pressure on myself; a pressure to perform well in school, in sports, and in all aspects of my life. For me the concept of failure was never an option. So naturally, I put the weight of the world on my shoulders. And even though I no longer struggle with the same stomach issues, I still experience the lingering effects of anxiety.
In a year with so much loss, it is overwhelming to say the least. I am well aware that there are many things out of my control such as the global pandemic, the state of our country, racial inequality, the future of my work, and the health of my loved ones, even still, I feel it all. I feel it in every facet of my body to the point where I lack sleep, feel tense and anxious.
A couple of weeks ago I eventually broke down and told my husband, “I am failing.” Through tears and frustration I felt as though I was losing control. But as I sat with what I had just said out loud, I realized that everything I was worrying about was completely out of my control. I can’t control the outcome of the election, I can’t control the hate I see, I can’t control what other people say or do, I can’t control the economy and the future of my work, I can’t control the global pandemic, I can’t control the health of my loved ones.
However, I can control how I respond to whatever is in front of me, making my voice heard through casting my vote, standing up for what I believe in, being compassionate towards myself and others, putting my health and wellbeing first, setting boundaries, and how I continue to move forward.
I know I am not alone in experiencing feelings such as stress, anxiety, fear and sadness which are often associated with the idea of failure. I also know that I am not alone in experiencing feelings of hope, love, joy, and abundance which are often associated with the idea of success. We all experience these feelings and yet it doesn’t automatically mean we are one or the other. Unfortunately, how our society defines the idea of failure comes from a place of fear and leaves very little room for the idea of success. It is everywhere. We see it in the news, in advertising, and on social media. We see hate and violence in the news, we buy insurance fearing that we may loose our belongings or material worth, and we check our social media from a fear of missing out. Yes, we should stay informed but there is a fine line between getting information and overwhelming ourselves with fear of things we have absolutely no control over.
I have come to find that if we attach our self-worth to the idea of success, the moment we are confronted with anything less we will automatically label ourselves as failures – a vicious cycle that is not productive or healthy for anyone.
So what can we do?
How about we redefine the idea of success from a place of love and compassion, knowing the path isn’t always clear, linear, or final? How about we focus on what we can control? How about we take everything one step at a time? How about we acknowledge the small successes that are part of the bigger ones?