2016 began for me as the Year of “Maybe” and “Not Sure.” One of my family members didn’t know whether he’d get deployed overseas. Because of his uncertainty, another family member’s wedding plans were up in the air. I knew I’d soon be transitioning out of a job I’d held for 9 years, but didn’t yet have an exit date (or even an exit month), nor any idea what would replace it. My husband and I were debating whether we’d move out of the country to where his family is, or if we’d try for success in the US first.
I get a lot of advise. Some of it is passive, like what I read in self-help and other non-fiction books with valuable life lessons. Other advise is more active, like people telling me specifically that I should try something they’re doing that they love.
A lot of it is good advise. But I’ve realized that the more advise I consume, the more overwhelmed I get. I’m on information overload. I cannot possibly follow every word of advise given to me by every author, every Ted-talk speaker, every pastor, every friend, and every family member. I don’t have enough brainpower, emotional capacity, or hours in a day.
If you are trying to cultivate more happiness in your life and are the type of person who is motivated by small external rewards, a calendar, a pack of stickers, and a few moments to review each day, may help.
I figured out a few years ago that I carry my stress in my jaw. It’s an ache that comes from constant jaw-clenching, and it’s my body’s way of telling me to lighten up or take a break. And it’s been talking to me a lot lately.
The problem is, I don’t have enough going wrong to warrant that kind of constant tension in my jaw. I make stress when there is none, or at least when there is very little.
Several months ago I put my car up for sale on Craigslist. I’m on the cautious side when it comes to posting my contact information online, so when I created the listing I decided not to include my name, phone number, or personal email address. Craigslist has a “reply” button which forwards messages to the seller’s personal email account. That would work just fine for me.
Apparently not for my first potential customer. I received an angry email accusing me of leaving out my personal contact information from the ad itself because I was just trying to scam people, that I was not actually planning on selling the car, and that I would not even do him the courtesy of replying to his inquiry. He must have been burned by Craigslist scammers in the past.
I love personality profiles. Something about categories helps me feel like less of an anomaly, that there are other people out there who are like me, that I can embrace aspects of myself that are valid personality traits rather than flaws to overcome.
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator is my go-to. I know social scientists give it mixed reviews of its science-iness, but I don’t even care, it’s so useful! Since I learned about the MBTI, it has helped me understand myself as well as embrace the differences of my friends, colleagues, roommates, and the guy I married. When bewildered by their ways of thinking, communicating, and decision-making, instead of demonizing them I recognize that it’s just a personality difference. And that is much easier to navigate than a situation in which one or both parties unnecessarily think of the other as the scum of the earth.
The only part of my body I’ve ever been ashamed of are my thighs. Family members occasionally teased me during adolescence (a very sensitive time of life) about my “thunder thighs,” but even if they never had, I knew that swimsuit ads never featured girls like me. So my thighs became a liability in my attractiveness, and I learned to hide that liability as best I could.
I have always fancied myself pretty good at reading other people’s minds. It comes from my tendency to over-analyze small details: the micro-actions or inactions of someone I’m familiar with. It’s a self-preservation tool to try to be prepared to respond in any situation. I’m always thinking about what other people are thinking about.
And I’ve been told (by someone I love and trust) that I’m not as good at it as I fancy I am.
When I was a substitute preschool teacher I gained a few nuggets of wisdom for dealing with 3-5 year olds effectively. Things like “use your words” and “we don’t share our germs with our friends.” I learned pretty quickly that children are very sensitive to how you say things. I told a kid once to get down from somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and in the middle of his excuses for why he had to be up there I said in frustration, “I don’t care, Ben, you need to…” and quickly regretted it. His lip quivered as he rebuked me: “Don’t say you don’t care because God cares!” You’re right, kid. Wrong choice of words. But still, get down.
Another lesson I learned about word choice was the use of the word “but.” In kid world, the word “but” invalidates anything said before it. Sure, you may not mean it to, but those who hear it (children or otherwise) tend to focus their attention on whatever comes after the “but,” and everything said before fades to the background, even if some really kind things came beforehand.
I was talking with a girlfriend a few months back about her and my tendency to give so much to others that we forget to take care of ourselves. It is a self-neglect that many (though certainly not all) women are plagued with. While we’re busy taking care of everyone else, some of us ask very little in return (some people, like our pre-adult children, would be inappropriate to ask), and it can lead to a lot of burn-out, frustration, and bitterness. Especially if we’ve not learned to a) express our needs in a mature healthy way, and b) take care of our needs ourselves instead of wait for what may never come from the people we love.