Make room for the hard stuff

Credit: Pete Souza

We do a lot of avoiding hard stuff. There are genuine reasons for this. As Obama’s sign on his desk in the Oval Office tells us that hard things are hard. I think we covered this before, right? Well let’s keep talking about what it means when we face the hard stuff and when we don’t. Yesterday, I talked about what we learn as kids if we’re shamed for having normal emotions and trying to express them. As adults, if we continue to run from those genuine emotions, our health, both mental and physical takes a toll.

Let’s stroll down memory lane back to 2015 when my midlife crisis really hit. I was completed burnt out at work and yet continued to go every day. I had a huge herniation in my spine and couldn’t walk. Still went to work every day. Stopped sleeping due to anxiety and severe low back and leg pain, still went to work. Until I couldn’t anymore. I stopped being able to go to work, my only coping mechanism. I couldn’t admit that I had serious health issues. I had severe pain in my back. I had insomnia. I still couldn’t tell anyone at work the truth. I still felt huge amounts of guilt about not being able to work. That’s what I felt bad about, not being able to work, which is really messed up. And no one at work asked me if I was ok. No one at work asked me if I needed to take time off. No one at work asked me if I needed help. What I learned through therapy was that I had a lot more healing to do. Many, many hard truths to face.

Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. The bottom dropped out several months later, after the depression and insomnia really set in. And that’s when I finally went to get help. I learned how to help myself. But the truth is, the only way I learned how to help myself was to face the hard stuff. To do the hard work, to lean into the toughest stuff I have. To unlearn the hardest parts, cry my eyes out with grief, feel the anger and be ok with it. I learned to let the feelings out in the safety of her office. That’s where I learned that it was ok to feel my feelings. But I’m still learning how to feel my feelings outside of Jill’s office. This is the really painful part. I don’t really know how to be in my feelings, in the moment. But I’m learning. I’m getting there, but it’s still hard. So if you want to unlearn the stuff in your life that doesn’t work anymore, lean in to the hard stuff. But my advice is don’t do it alone. xo Janet

#bossypants

I’ve been called every name in the book for bossy: opinionated, strident, loud, overbearing, full of vinegar, pushy and domineering. This started a long time ago, when I was in elementary school. I was smart and bossy, really good at telling everyone what to do and how to do it. I was so unsure of myself and with everything going on at home, I didn’t really know how to make or keep friends. I really wanted people to like me though, I knew that much as a little girl. I wanted to be popular, I knew that too. And I never was. Not in elementary school or high school (I think we’ve covered that already if you’ve been reading this blog for a bit – see high school was hell). It’s a big part of the reason why I loved Tina Fey’s book, Bossy Pants.

This is on a card that my boss has in her office and it’s totally a boss move to have this card. Wish I knew where it was from.

I realize now that I really just wanted attention and I was so anxious as a kid that I used being smart as a way of getting praise. As I got older, this need to be the smartest and hardest working made me put incredible pressure on myself and drive myself pretty hard to achieve. As I got older, my bossiness was dampened by bullying and exclusion but it reared its head again in university. I became singularly focused on achievement again, drowning my grief and anxiety in my work. After undergrad, I went to graduate school where once again I worked myself to the bone trying to get the carrots that were in front of me: scholarships, internships, a spot in a coveted Ph.D. program.

It wasn’t until I really got into the world of work that I started to see myself as a leader, as someone who could helpfully guide and leverage the strengths of others in service of a common goal. This is genuinely what I love about leading: working with a team of people who are all talented and focused. I’m lucky that I get to lead, it’s a privilege many take for granted. xo Janet