I grew up in a single parent household racked with financial stress. I ate, I had clothes on my back, but it wasn’t unusual to hear my parents fighting over child support or to find my mom crying over a pile of bills she wasn’t quite sure how she was going to pay. Many families live precariously on that tightrope of paycheque to paycheque, and this state of constant fear leaves some marks. One that I am currently struggling with is a bit of a surprise. I feel bad for living well.
My partner and I have made decisions, professionally and personally, that have left us financially okay. Not Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a pool of gold bullions okay, but comfortable. It has also gifted us the opportunity of choice. I don’t love my job, the one I worked hard for, and now I am at a crossroads where there is a possibility to do something else. And I feel really shitty about it.
I am getting better every moment at acknowledging this potential shift as a gift to be thankful for, but old habits are hard to break and I am having trouble believing that this is real and that it’s okay to go for it. It’s like there’s a nervous cat in my chest that keeps hissing and spitting for me to just let it alone in familiarity and security. Then there’s the rusted fork wielding troll in my head that keeps telling me that my current lifestyle and profession ticks all the boxes, and that I’m being an ungrateful cow.
So what I am supposed to do with this? I have a spastic feline in my chest and a troll in my brain, and all I really can do is make space for them as well as that wiser, kinder part of me that knows these visitors are fleeting. I can only notice when I decide to wallpaper my brain with guilt laden sticky notes marked “should”, so that maybe I can let these self-imposed expectations go. I am choosing, moment to moment, to be okay with living well.
This isn’t a post about letting go of your inhibitions and trying out Tinder or sneaking a little rum into your baby’s bottle so he’ll sleep more soundly. This is a post about letting go of your refusal to be terrible at something that you actually want or need to do.
I have very little tolerance for what I have labeled my own personal failings and because of this, I can sometimes shy away from trying new things. Even when they are things that I am passionate about or would like to be better at, the temporary feeling of being totally lame at it is overwhelming.
We don’t want to force ourselves to do things that would make us unhappy just because they may lead to some kind of a benefit down the road like admiration or security. But we also can’t let fear of looking incompetent, stupid or just plain ridiculous stop us from living our lives. So how do we find the worthwhile sweetness when sorting through a mountain of salt? We ask for our ego’s opinion and then promptly tell it to shush.
I learned recently that the mind is made up of a bunch of monkeys, including the ego and the intellect. The ego’s job is to label things. I like this. I don’t like this. I hate that. Anytime you feel a reaction against something or someone, it is your ego pulling the strings. And this is fine, except for the fact that our egos can be nasty little gremlins who are shifty and wholly unreliable. That is where our intellect takes over...well, it’s supposed to at least. It is rational and objective, and able to reason out the benefits and drawbacks of a certain situation. But we as humans have let our egos run amuck and they are quick to boot the intellect to the back of the bus. Before we know it, we’ve marathoned every season of STNG in a disturbingly short amount of time, feverishly responded to several internet trolls, and eaten half a Costco sheet cake.
Our egos are little maniacs when they are allowed to run the show. The ego is constantly searching for what makes us feel good and is quick to throw away anything resembling discomfort. And it sucks to suck at things, so when our ego is in charge, it hits every panic button in sight. But the intellect is there to help us reason, provided the ego can stuff it long enough for the intellect to have its say.
So that’s how we do it. We notice the urge to chuck experiences into the Hate It/Love It piles and we pause. And we give ourselves a little space to listen to what we really want and need. And it is rarely eating half a Costco sheet cake.