Ever worked really hard on something? Something physically, emotionally, and intellectually difficult? The kind of thing that makes you wake up un the middle of the night, list-checking, running through options, and doing the never-ending mathematics of ensuring the exact outcome you envision?
Yeah. Me, too.
What is it about us that can spend what feels like every ounce of time and energy doing that work and yet be completely incapable of devoting one nanosecond to appreciating our own efforts? And reveling in the accomplishment? Not a chance. Why are we in a constant state of review, working to make order out of the chaotic voices in our heads telling us that we missed this, didn’t factor in them, and – worst of all – didn’t think of that from the get-go. In the events world, they call it debriefing. In real life, it’s all about self-assessment, and it makes it entirely impossible to maintain a balanced perspective on all that we do and have done. Should-haves and could-haves take center stage, and before you know it, we get lost in self-disappointment and – if you’re me – shame.
Why can’t we all just R-E-L-A-X? Feet up, drink in hand, sun-shining, and not a single worry to be found. Ahhh.
My least favorite word in the entire English language is “relax.” Hate it. Always have. I don’t care if it is a simple five letter word that has lovely connotations and seems to be a universal goal. To me, it is a stinging slap in the face. Every. Single. Time. It has been directed at me more times than I care to admit, and with each condescending blow, I am reminded that my behavior – my energy, my verbosity, my angst, whatever – is, quite simply, not acceptable. And it’s not just for the deliverer; I assume it’s for everyone. All around the world. Relax, to me, means “go away,” “you’re annoying me,” “your embarrassing yourself,” and just plain “shut up.” Truly, there is no more effective way to send me into a spiral than to tell me to relax.
I have a question. Why is it that when I’m getting the work done, or lubricating the social scene, or saying what it is that others don’t have the courage to say, I’m just exactly who others need me to be, but when they don’t need it anymore, they tell me to relax? Seriously, I’m getting dramatically mixed signals, which basically leave me two options: a) to get pissed or b) to be ashamed. For a long time, I chose the former with a little dash of the latter. Now, at the ripe age of 51, I find myself choosing the latter, with a little dash of c) not giving a shit. Nonetheless, the impact of the shame of not being someone different is always the same: mid-sleep angst awakens me, brutal self-assessment takes place, and self-disappointment settles in. Argh! Why can’t I just relax?
Huh. Is it possible that all of those times that someone told me to relax they really were just suggesting that I stop to revel in my accomplishments? That, instead, I should focus on what had been done and not on the should-haves and could-haves? Could every one of them have known what a crisis it would become by not taking the time to really appreciate what is instead of perseverating over what could have been or what I thought other people wanted it to be? Did they all sense that I might be on a trajectory of a life shaped by self-doubt and, consequently, replete of any kind of inner-peace? Man-oh-man, had I only listened to them – really heard them – I would have saved myself about forty-eight thousand hours of sleeplessness.
Truth be told, I’m not that stupid, nor were they that smart…at least not knowingly. I am well-aware that my parents – the most prolific deliverers of the relax command – really did just want me to shut up and take my energy elsewhere. And I know there aren’t a ton of people that appreciate the pace of my verbal thought process. It stresses them out, and the best they can do is cry uncle, or – in this case – cry relax.
A wise – or well-trained – therapist once told me that you can’t change others; you can only change your perception of them. Words of wisdom that have slowly but surely influenced my life. It’s not always easy to beat back emotional muscle memory, but I try. I truly have to believe that people’s reaction to me has nothing to do with whether or not they like or approve of me. It’s that each of us can only process what we are capable of, right? So, as painful as it is to be reminded that I can make someone uncomfortable by just being me, I’m going to choose to believe that their stinging slaps are really just indicators that I need to be doing a better job of seeing what is right in front of me… not focusing down the road or behind me. Naturally, I’ll have to restrain myself from slapping these shamans across the face, but it will be for a good cause: taking the time to appreciate what is happening now and all that I am contributing to it.
I like working hard, and I like being relied on to get things done. I’d even go so far as to say that most of the time I’m pretty good at it. Even when I may fall short, I absolutely know that my intentions were – and always are – good. Now, there‘s an honest self-assessment – one I truly believe to be accurate – that I must never forget: good intention. Ahh. I could get used to this relaxation thing.
I can see me already. Feet up. Drink in hand. Sun shining. And not a worry in the world.