After taking an unintentional hiatus from the blog, here I am again, feeling much more energized about writing and what I have to say. I’ve been on a bit of a self-improvement kick, and I’m looking forward to sharing about all that I’m trying out and learning. As a therapist, I usually have at least five self-development or psychotherapy books on my nightstand at all times – and piles more waiting for me on my bookshelf and Amazon Wish List. But most of the time, my goal in reading those books is much more about my desire to learn and be more effective with clients than it is to improve myself. It seems obvious that “practicing what I preach” would be way more effective than just trying to learn and apply theories and interventions in my clinical work – and it’s not like I don’t ever do this – but I realized that I was truly not engaged in my own personal growth.
If I did do something for myself (like read one of those books, listen to a podcast, journal, etc.), it was often with the motivation of becoming a better therapist – and ultimately trying to squash my insecurity about not being a “good therapist” because I’m too young/not insightful or creative enough/not educated enough... the list goes on. And while doing those things might indeed help me become more skillful in my job, I was starting to feel stuck in my life -- in the only area that I was constantly striving for growth, it was because I was too caught up in the “hustle” for self-worth and confidence (as a clinician), something I regularly caution clients about. I’ve been told by more experienced therapists who I admire that the thing that’s helped them the most to feel confident in their work is the therapy and personal exploration they’ve done for themselves. (The other thing I hear: "You just gotta rack up the miles." Amen to that.) I came to acknowledge that in my own half-assed attempt at doing this "work on myself", my motivation was backwards. I have to first genuinely want growth and exploration for me – and if it happens to have a positive impact on the work I do, that’s just a bonus. And I'm finally at a place where I authentically want it.
The problem was that I had become okay with living my life at 70%. I gave most of my motivation and focus to my job, and with the limited energy I had left, I participated in choir and other activities at my church, occasionally exercised, took care of basic adult responsibilities (housework, running errands, paying bills, preparing meals – notice I did not say “cooking”, not most of the time at least), watched shows on Netflix, and occasionally socialized with friends. I hated getting up in the mornings (more on that in the next post), and sleep/sleeping in had become one of my greatest joys. While I have a lot of gratitude for the people and things in my life, and a wonderful partner to share it with, I had gotten stagnant and complacent with being 70% alive and engaged. I’m reminded here of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I read a couple years ago (and could probably benefit from reading again). She wrote about her frustration with knowing that she had a good life but not feeling fully engaged or appreciative of it, and her yearlong challenge to reengage, supported by the latest research on happiness and fulfillment. I feel like I’m embarking on my own sort of happiness project, but it feels more like a Wake Up to Your Life Project – heck, I’ll call it my WUTYL (“wuttle!”) Project! As a DBT practitioner, I’m totally down for cheesy acronyms.
It’s not that I feel like I’m lazy or don’t work hard – anyone who knows me well will tell you that’s not true. I just – like most people with the luxury of having basic needs met – got so caught up in the day-to-day grind that I stopped questioning what I was really capable of and whether I was intentionally shaping my life to be what I wanted it to be – or if I was buying into self-limiting beliefs that this is the best I can do, that I am just not one of those “extraordinary” people, and that this is just the way my life is, it’s pretty good, and that’s good enough for me. I had convinced myself that zoning out on Netflix or tumbling down the online rabbit hole was “self-care” because I needed to relax after a hard day of work in a field that’s notorious for burn-out, not to mention the 2-hour daily commute. I had also convinced myself that moderate “success” was fine, because a person’s worth is not measured by their bank account or how impressive their resume is. (Oh, and don’t forget that I’m just not one of those extraordinary people.)
Although I do believe that a person’s worth is not measured by their professional or financial success, I was using this as a reason to not challenge myself. I had confused settling with self-acceptance – and while I’m totally on board with the latter, I’ve decided I’ve had enough of the former.
I’m compelled at this point to say how grateful I am for the work I have already done on myself. I’m obviously not exempt from the familiar “not good enough” tapes that play in my brain, but both through my own life experiences and through my work as a clinician, I am usually able to put those thoughts into perspective and recognize they are just part of my brain’s natural evolutionary process of making sure that I don’t get excluded from my tribe. I do feel that in many ways, I have developed internal strengths of self-compassion and self-acceptance – and if I didn’t have that foundation, desires for personal growth would probably just be more of that self-worth hustle. But now is the time to challenge myself to build on other strengths that I haven’t focused on as much.
This personal growth journey is something that I just sort of stumbled into over the past couple of months because I was ready internally – ready to get unstuck and become more intentional about being the best version of myself. As I write about my ongoing experience on this blog, I hope that reading it can be inspirational for others who are also feeling stuck or frustrated about the gap between your current life and the life you want and know you could have. I’m also going to free myself from the pressure of feeling like I have to cite lots of research and books to back up what I’m writing about this journey. There are plenty of great books out there that have already done that, and if I focus on that, I won’t be as focused on what I’m sharing about my personal experiences. But I will certainly cite as necessary, and mention the books, blogs, or articles that are helping me the most. Come back (soon, I promise!) for my next post, where I’ll write about some of the practices that have been most helpful for getting me motivated and committed to WAKING UP to my life.
I would also love to hear in the comments if anyone can relate or if there have been any practices that have had a lot of impact on your own personal growth -- so I can keep adding new elements to this experiment!