When my writing/editing business was a few years old, I’d edit through the night, sleep in my clothes and work through every weekend. I’d eventually catch up on my sleep, but then do the whole cycle again. And there’s still times like a few weeks ago I work at the margins of the day/night and hear bird song at 4 a.m., but I try to go to sleep the next night at a decent hour. I know it’s not smart to be constantly tired because that leads to colds, injury, pissed off clients, police tickets/car damage/house damage and more good stuff like cancer (been there, done that).
I don’t know where I got my drive: as a 5th grader I remember reading a book about Thomas Jefferson who as a student at William & Mary woke up at 3 a.m. every day to dunk his feet in a bowl of ice cold water. I thought to myself, “Wow, that guy has a lot of drive and I want to be admired like that.” In my 11-year-old mind, I felt I would be recognized and rewarded if I also worked hard beyond other people’s expectations. I didn’t want to be average. I didn’t want to be like other people. I wanted to be loved for my accomplishments and respected. I didn’t have many friends, so respect was pretty important to me—it was well known I wasn’t liked at school by most students and even some teachers. I felt my parents tolerated me and HAD to love because I was their kid.
My parents didn’t put much pressure on me; I did that to myself. The only times my parents put pressure on me was when they suddenly told me I needed to find a job or join the cross-country team to get a coach signature for my ROTC application. I got the jobs and did my cross-country stint, no problem. My 11th grade guidance counselor couldn’t believe how much I sucked at my math PSAT score and told me I wouldn’t be able to get into any colleges with a shitty math score on my SATs, which were coming up. She also couldn’t believe my parents weren’t applying pressure to me here. A year before I demanded my parents put me in summer school for geometry so I could take calculus my senior and be more competitive. With geometry behind me, I took a SAT prep class which didn’t raise my score. After crying when I opened my SAT test grades, I vowed to buy better SAT books and after studying like mad, I got the scores I wanted. I believe opening that “good score” envelope was my best memory of high school. Sad, I know.
So you see, I was never gentle on myself growing up; I didn’t see how being gentle could help me reach my goals–one of which was to get out my parents’ house after college (which didn’t happen for four years). It would take decades before I would realize hard-charging through life and hurting yourself in the process are counter-productive. It would also take me many years to realize how much of an asshole Thomas Jefferson was. Go Hamilton!
Here are 5 ways to be gentler with yourself:
- Get your 7-8 hours of sleep every night
- Go to the doctor right away if you’re sick—do you believe I didn’t go to the doctor for five years because I was scared of what he’d find? Yeah, well, I had a little cancer. Ooopsie.
- Don’t take on more shit if you already have shit to do. I am FAMOUS for doing this to myself because I want to look super-competent and awesome. I fixed this problem by giving out work to my qualified friends—this is a win/win. Stop living your life in a place of fear.
- Exercise. Just don’t over-exercise because you’re avoiding something. Ah, been there, done that too.
- Write. Read outside of your job. Do your art. Sing. Play with your kids. Get off social media.
I’m still not the most self-compassionate person I know, but I’m more aware than I was a year ago. My former violin teacher, Melody, was always on my case for not being self-compassionate and looking back, I know how wound up I was. She reasoned that if you’re wound up, you can’t play good music. So true. Being healthy is the pathway to peace and compassion for one’s self is definitely a thought and a do.