Today is my birthday, so for me January fourth always seems more like the start to the new year than January first. When everyone else is making resolutions and posting their word for the year, I’m still ruminating and planning. Today I am ready to share the results. Well, I’m not really ready, but then I never feel ready to take any big step in my life—I just have to force myself to do it anyway and pray I don’t fall on my ass.
This year a friend sent me a digital bundle of good stuff from Danielle LaPorte that included the audio version of her book, The Desire Map. In it she tells the story of her first conversation with SARK. Danielle asks her for some wisdom and SARK’s reply is
No more striving
Now, I don’t get worked up about most of this self-improvement stuff. In fact, I can be pretty cynical. But this statement stopped me in my tracks and led me to the conclusion Danielle’s book was something more than self-improvement. You see, I’ve been striving my whole life. From the moment I was cognizant of comparison and social approval, I have been striving. Get the grade. Win the prize. Be the chosen one. Be the best. Striving got me a Ph.D. and a good job and a nice house. It also got me a truckload of anxiety and a therapist. I had never learned how to do something simply because it fulfilled an internal need or desire—just because it made me happy. I think you can see the problem here.
So during my culturally mandated new year reflection period I tried to come up with my word for the year and all the other markers I’m properly participating in the self-care movement, but I kept coming back to those three words
No. More. Striving.
So that’s it, I decided. I need three words, not one. I had turned a self-care exercise into a rule to follow. And I was done with that. No more following arbitrary rules to prove I was part of Team Winning. No more striving.
So what does it mean to stop striving? For me it means I have stopped doing things just to prove to others that I am successful because I need to start defining success from the inside out. External cultural markers of success will never make me happy if I don’t believe in my own self-worth and if those achievements aren’t what I truly desire. Here’s what I mean.
A year and a half ago I participated in the 100 Happy Days challenge, and it worked. I posted my Instagram photos every day for 100 days, and it really did help me focus on the positive things in my life instead of my habit of focusing on the negative. Then this spring a friend challenged me to do it again, and I jumped at the offer. It helped me stop being so self-critical last time (at least for a while), so why not do it again?
The second time around, however, it felt false, like I was trying to project a false image of my life, quite literally. The purpose shifted from an internal goal to an external one. Instead of helping me focus on the positive, the purpose was now to convince the world the my life was all unicorns and rainbows. I felt like a fraud, and worse I felt I was contributing to the loads of online cropped and filtered snapshots of bliss designed to make others feel inferior. So I started taking photos of the messy and dirty (again quite literally) parts of my life to see what that looked like. But I never posted them. Until now.
This year my plan is to stop striving and have an ordinary year. Instead of just posting photos of my successes, I’m including my not so shining moments too because that’s what an ordinary life looks like. Sometimes the bathroom is clean, the laundry is folded, the checkbook is balanced, and the kids are well-behaved. But most of the time life looks more like the photos below, and we try to hide that away so no one will know we’re a fuck-up. Spoiler alert: we’re all fuck-ups. And it’s OK because we keep picking up the pieces and keep moving forward having a little fun along the way—because life is beautiful even when it’s a wreck.
So this year you can look forward to more photos like this here on my blog and on my social media accounts. You have been warned. If you have made it this far and want to join me in my little revolution, I’ll be using the hashtag #anordinaryyear