One thing I have learned in my 30 years is that, most of the time, it is a good idea to just show up anyway even when you feel like a mess or like you don’t know what you are doing. It isn’t realistic to avoid starting a new job due to fears of inadequacy or to tell your boss “I’m taking a personal day” once a week because the waves of life are getting rough and you feel stressed out, hurt, or angry. Don’t feel like something is wrong with you and you can’t go into work or to yoga class or to the park with your kids because you are a hot mess. Show up with your hot mess, authentic self anyway. You will feel better. Avoidance and isolation because you are afraid to show everyone your mess only leads to the downward spiral of isolation and depression. Kind of like how some people feel like they have to lose weight before joining a gym. NO. That’s what it is there for. Get out there. Connect with someone. Anyone. Join that gym. Go to work. Don’t turn down that invitation to join your friend at church. Go walk at the park. Can I tell you a secret? Most women I have talked to are about one more thing away from crying or becoming an episode of “snapped” most of the time. We think “they” have it all together, but they don’t. We women juggle so much, care so much, love so deeply. We get hurt. We feel inadequate or scared. It’s ok. Just show up anyway.
I talked to a stranger at the park about her horrible divorce yesterday. The conversation started with her commenting that I was almost inspiring her to get up off the park bench and run circles around the playscape like I was doing. I told her I was only doing this because I comfort ate a pint of Ben and Jerry’s the night before and I’m feeling like crap about it now. You never know. Sometimes if you are honest, someone else will be honest and then you realize that the lady you thought was a Stepford Wife is actually going through an awful season of life and needs support. You are not some weird crazy person who is a failure because you have issues and sadness. You are doing the best you can. Just like all of us. Some people claim to have unlocked the mysteries of the universe and they can “manifest” only rainbows and sunshine but while I do believe in the power of positive thinking, prayer, being mindful and intentional, I take issue with the theory that all you have to do is learn to “manifest goodness” and nothing bad will ever happen in your life ever again. Seriously, I have a ton of positivity and spirituality going on, but I still have my days. I still had to earn my degrees. That 160 page Master’s thesis didn’t just manifest itself. That’s life. It has ups, it has downs. It has seasons, it involves change. It requires work. Change and work isn’t always fun. I hate it when I’ve had an awful day and I feel like a stressed out, emotional wreck on the verge of busting out in tears or having a panic attack at any moment and I have to go into work and be all “calm counselor” or attend an IEP meeting for my son with 5 professionals staring at me talking to me about my son’s behavior challenges. I can’t just “manifest” my way out of those things. I can, however, just show up with my authentic self, put in the work, and do the best I can.
I feel things deeply, but I know that I have to reign in my intense emotions if I want to do things that matter a lot to me like living in my own home in a safe part of town, feeding myself and my kids, clothing myself and my kids, staying married to the man I love but sometimes don’t like, and just in general living a sustainable and stable lifestyle. That is not to say one should suppress or repress emotions, we MUST have a time and a place to completely release. I have learned that can be crying in the car on the way home listening to country music or in yoga class before work (its ok to cry in yoga class, I checked) or sitting outside and writing in my journal on my lunch break. I don’t have to call out of work or stay in bed all day and comfort eat. That crap just makes you feel worse.
I love how author Lysa TerKeurst says “feelings should be indicators, not dictators” meaning that our feelings are giving us valuable knowledge about the state of our hearts, but we don’t have to react immediately and self-sabotage just because we feel really sad, hurt, or angry. We don’t have to call out of work and end up losing our job or bail on girls’ night out because we aren’t sunshine and rainbows. We don’t have to go to the courthouse and get divorce papers just because our spouse is really, really pissing us off right now. We can tune into the information our feelings give us, but choose to delay reacting until we can react in a way that doesn’t destroy what we work so hard to create in life. Are we working for or against what we truly want and need? The long-term patterns determine the long-term outcome.
My first experience with just showing up was when I was 16. I was so scared to show up to my first day of work. I almost no-showed. But, my grandma had used her connections to get me the job, so if I didn’t show up it would certainly get back to her and to my parents. So I just showed up. All pimply, skinny, scared, untrained, young and wearing very unprofessional clothes. But, it was OK. It was fine. I SURVIVED. I LEARNED. I even LAUGHED a few times that day. They didn’t fire me due to incompetence! I learned that I can figure out a cash register and deal with difficult customers by just trying to understand their frustration and acting like I cared. I learned that a smile and kind voice go a LONG way. I learned that sticky notes and to-do lists are my best friend. As time went on, I realized that showing up meant money, MY money and no one could tell me what to do with it. Missing a day meant missing MY money and MY freedom of choice. I went in even on days when I had fought with my high school boyfriend or had a hangover. I went into work 3 days after my best friend suddenly died. I learned that work actually helps. It forces me to get my shit together mentally enough to function. I learned that having to smile and act happy sometimes made me actually feel happy by the end of the day because someone would be nice to me or I would observe something that would remind me that life is still a gift no matter how much BS is a part of it.
Looking back, each season of my life has given me PLENTY of reasons/excuses not to show up at all or to quit. But also many reasons why I HAD to show up. Not just at work, but in my marriage, in my friendships, as a parent, etc. Stressful life circumstances and grief/loss could have been my reasons to just throw in the towel and accept my misery so many times, but instead they catalyzed me. I could have refused to show up and try when I was a massively overwhelmed, broke 22-year-old with an underemployed boyfriend, a newborn and a 2-year-old who was newly diagnosed with autism. There were endless therapy appointments and paperwork. We couldn’t pay our bills. I got by with one pair of shoes until they wore out. There were months when I didn’t know how we would pay rent and I had to contemplate really bad options. I skipped meals to save money. Ultimately, I realized I had a choice. There was so much worry. I didn’t even have my faith to lean on during that time because I was so spiritually empty, stubborn, rebellious, and lost. I hadn’t yet learned that I don’t have to bear my burden alone just on my aching shoulders. I hadn’t yet had my desperate prayer on the bathroom floor “come to Jesus” moment yet. But, I did know that I had a choice, I could do what needed to be done. I knew the rent wasn’t going to pay itself and it would be a cold day in hell before I was going to move in with family and all of the headaches and dysfunction that would entail.
Over the years, I have worked as a waitress in a smoky bar until 2am with men sexually harassing me, I have worked as a preschool teacher caring for twenty 2-year-olds all day and doing the hours of cleaning at the end of the day just to do it all again the next day for $8/hr…and going home to my own 2-year-old who didn’t let me rest either. I worked a physically demanding job running up and down flights of stairs carrying baskets full of laundry, walking around helping clients, and standing on my feet all day during my pregnancy with my youngest son until one week before he was born. I would go home having contractions and wondering if my son would be born premature because I had to push myself so hard. Thankfully, my body didn’t let me down and he was born at 37 weeks strong and healthy into my hands at home without pain medication or a bunch of unnecessary interventions. I didn’t fear or fight the pain of labor. I knew it would end eventually and it wouldn’t kill me. My big, strong boy showed up, opened his eyes and looked into mine. Worth it. Every bit of it.
I once worked a job driving around po-dunk providing early intervention special education services in-home for at-risk children, sometimes being told to “get the f#$% off my property you DFCS b#$$%” and threatened to be shot. I somehow was able to not run for my life, but rather explain to these people that I was not DFCS and was only there to teach their special needs child colors, letters, and numbers. I actually ended up getting along well with that family. I worked myself to the bone all through graduate school while also caring for my young children because there was no other option. Well, there were options. I could have left my kids with my mama or my man and run off to live with some guy or I could have just tried to be ok with a diet that only consisted of ramen noodles for my kids. But those options are unacceptable to me. They were traps, illusions that short-term pain and sacrifice was harder than long-term bad choices and the long-term consequences and pain they bring. I’ll take short-term suffering to create the life I want to live over that any day.
“No one ever said life would be easy or fair” I remember hearing several relatives say over the course of my life. Why would I expect it to be? I am strong. I am smart. I don’t need easy-peasy puddin’ pie. Anything worth having is worth working for. I hope if anyone gets an easy life, its people who are truly so weak or unable they need easy. I’m perfectly capable of showing up and doing what needs to be done even if I feel like I’m falling apart sometimes.
I remember when one of the best friends and mentors I have ever had was dying of cancer. It was a situation where I could have walked away with all of our good times and just let his daughter care for him by herself. She asked me “are you in this for the long haul, until the end? Because if not, just say your goodbyes and leave now before it gets really rough.” I felt like I could barely breathe. My heart physically hurt and I shook when I cried as I said, “I’m in…until the end.” I rarely missed a day coming to see him and care for him for at least a few hours. I only missed one day of work during this whole time and that was because he needed me. He could have been my excuse for quitting work and letting myself completely fall apart. But the fact remained that my kids needed to be sheltered, clothed, fed, and cared for. I’m in it for the long haul when it comes to them. Nothing has ever or will ever motivate me like my kids. I kept my job. There were many days when I would hold it together all day long at work counseling women and children, only to fall completely apart listening to music on my drive home. There were days when I would lay my head on my steering wheel in my driveway and just shake crying so hard I could barely force air into my lungs.
Working and taking care of my children was what kept me from being a wreck 24/7 while mourning my friend’s passing. At work, I HAVE to find my strength, muster my resources, and get it together. At home with my children, I have to tune into them and out of my pain and be present. I find joy in those moments with my kids or at work helping people. I didn’t have to do this, I suppose. Plenty of people just give up and stay in bed, drink or drug themselves to death slowly or quickly, or neglect their kids. But, it doesn’t make sense to me to take the easy way out in the short-term only to reap more pain in the long-term or worse to redistribute that pain onto others. Life is hard, but we can do hard things. We can find strength when we don’t already have it in things like showing up to do our life’s work whether that is being a stay-at-home mama or a CEO or just extending love and care to those who cross our paths, being honest, reaching out for help when we need it, and helping someone who is even worse off than we are.
The most courageous thing I can do is just show up anyway no matter how crappy I feel. Just put on my big girl panties even though I feel about 4-years-old in the moment and go into work, take the kids to the park, read bedtime stories, and then at the end of the day cry in a bubble bath listening to that song that just touches something deep in my heart. I pray the most in the shower and in the car. I pray God will keep giving me strength to just keep showing up no matter how scared or inadequate I often feel. God hasn’t let me down yet. I’ll keep doing my best and let God do the rest. That’s all anyone can do.
Don’t feel like you are not good enough to show up. You are. You are as good as anyone else. No one is perfect. We are all just winging it. Winging it alone is hard, if not impossible. So just show up where you need to be today and let’s wing it together.
Can you think of times in your life when you just showed up even though you were scared or felt inadequate? How did it go? Did you learn anything about yourself?