I woke up this morning about 6 am and did my best with the regular morning stuff.
By 8 am, I felt like I was an utter failure at all the things. All of them. Motherhood, entrepreneurship, online marketing, delegating, deadlines, friendship, you name it.
Do you ever wake up and feel defeated almost before you start?
As I walked around my house turning off lights and adjusting the thermostat, I sent out an “I hate you” to people I can blame for my current obstacles, thought patterns, and core beliefs.
Not surprisingly, this anger at others and the damage they’ve done to me in the past gives me a momentary feeling of righteousness, a stomp-my-foot kind of justification, and a nearly physical rush of power.
But it doesn’t actually make me feel like less of a failure.
It’s at this point in my morning when I realize my thinking is irrational.
People who are failures don’t have thermostats. They can’t pay their light bills so they have nothing to switch off. I’m not trying to insult people who live in places without thermostats or who can’t afford to pay their light bills—I’ve been one of those people.
I’ve lived without water and power, slept in my coat and hat, and used the backyard as a bathroom. I am on no mountaintop to throw stones.
But I know there is a big difference between the kind of issues I’m tackling today and the issues of someone who is utterly unable to provide any financial support to her family.
That’s not me today.
But even if it were, the answer for me is the same.
Somewhere, deep in the heart of me, deep even in the cells of me, there are cities of belief. Each city has an infrastructure, a web of streets and alleyways, a tangle of multi-story buildings and must-see shops, a mess of errands and delays. All of it has been built over years on a concrete foundation of “No.”
These Cities of No were founded when I was a child. My parents and relatives helped me dig foundation holes deep into the marrow of my bones. Trauma scraped away what was once naturally adventurous and innovative and laid pathways of paralysis and deflection. As I grew, my own insecurities and fears piled brick on top of brick, creating monuments to the past, to each possible horrible outcome, and to every negative perception of myself available.
Each cell of my body contains a tiny City of No. If I give into it, if I wake up and take a walk down its byways, I’ll live there all day. Its’ easy to stay. I crafted benches just for self-reflection and regret. Other people built entire hospitals dedicated to reminding me how weak and broken I am. And together, we made tiny houses of fluffy denial that allow me to stay and rest and escape the sound of No right outside the window.
After I dropped my son off at school this morning, I sat down to write this. Because again, I could see that my failure thinking was irrational.
How often do you feel discouraged, only to realize on some level that your feelings are exaggerated and that you’re probably not as bad off as you feel?
That’s all great and everything—really, it’s great to be able to rise up and see that your feelings aren’t actually the result of starvation or homelessness but rather a poorly timed visit to the Cities of No. But what do you DO with that realization so you can get the hell out of there?
Take a detour.
This is the trickiest part for me. Because again, my temptation is to settle in, to luxuriate even in the feeling of paralysis that comes over me when all I hear in my heart and mind is the word failure. You might hear the words loser, fat, broke, stupid, or lazy.
Whatever that word is, dear reader, it’s a gigantic billboard for the City of No. You have driven right into the heart of failure country and the only way out is to take a detour.
(If you’re like me, you might have stayed there for a few days before you’re realize you’re in it.)
A detour is an action. This means I can’t just sit here and think my way out of feeling so utterly discouraged that I don’t want to move off the sofa.
(Let me just pause right here and say that I am NOT talking about depression. Depression is a state of being where you feel lethargy, sadness, anger, fear, or apathy that extends over a long period. If that’s where you find yourself today, talk to a counselor. You might need an official escort out of this crap town.)
I don’t know what your detour looks like.
Mine often looks like writing. Hence, today’s blog post.
Yours might look like cooking, running, talking to a friend, praying, meditating, cleaning, organizing, doing math, knitting, or juicing.
If you can’t immediately tell me what will make you feel better when you’re in the City of No and can only hear the echo of failure in your bones, then you’re going to have to experiment.
Here’s the key: You have to take action at the wrong time.
I’m writing this blog post at the time in the day when I usually spend about 30 minutes writing my intentions, organizing my priorities, and reviewing my financial reports and forecasts before I dive into anything else.
Instead of that, here I am with you, dear reader. I had to interrupt my pattern. That’s what a detour is. It’s a zig when you’re used to zagging. It’s a displacement in your usual organization. It’s an off-the-beaten-path choice.
By taking my action at the wrong time—that is, a time when I usually wouldn’t take that action—I’ve cleared the fog out of my head. I’ve remembered where I am, and it’s not the City of No.
I actually live in the City of Hope. (You thought I was going to say the City of Yes, didn’t you?)
It’s Hope, instead of Yes, because I don’t say Yes to everything. I know that’s a thing some people do and I get it. But what I’m talking about is the place where I want to wake up and live every day.
Believe it or not, I was talking about hope with my son this morning. Every day, we read a devotional together before he goes to school, and today’s was about hope. I asked him what he thought hope meant. He’s six, and he said, “It means you feel happy.”
I said, “Yes, that’s good. Hope means you feel happy when you think about what might happen in the future.”
This is the city I want to make my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual home in each day.
Just because I woke up in the City of No today doesn’t mean I don’t live in the City of Hope. It means I wandered back into the place where I used to live and forgot I could leave.
You can leave the City of No. You are not a failure. You are not a loser. You are hope. You are light and love and possibility.
So the final action to stay in the City of Hope today is to take out a map and remember where we’re headed.
As I wrap up this blog post, I’m going to start my plan for the day. I’m going to note the places where I feel fear and encourage myself with the places I feel hope. I’m going to call a friend today and feel the love. I’m going to list my gratitude. And I’m going to take my detour again if I need to repeat it in two hours or two minutes.
Because there’s no self-loathing in the City of Hope. There’s no Judgy McJudgerson waiting to tell me I’m wasting time by being kind to myself and adjusting my thinking. And there’s no failure.
There’s just hope. For all of us.
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