I’ve seen a lot of articles online about the pitfalls of constant self-improvement, but like any other type A overachiever, I thought I would be immune to such follies.
But here I am today, tail-between-legs, telling you that I too am a victim of “always wanting things to be better”.
As many of you may know, for the past 250 days or so, I have been on a [death] mission to answer a set of “daily reflections” every single day. For the first 200 or so days, the results were absolutely incredible. My progress in every area accelerated at rates I never thought possible. Until it stopped.
I was putting so much pressure on myself to never miss a day because I didn’t want this to be just another project that I gave up on. I am practically famous for starting and not finishing projects. I was so determined to see this project through, to work as hard as I possibly could, that I didn’t even realize when it started hurting me. In hindsight, the signs were pretty clear, but hey, hindsight is always 20/20.
Every month, I try to summarize the ways that my 365 day challenge helped me so I can keep track of how the changes evolve over time. Starting around February, it got really hard for me to think of any positive changes. This should have been the first sign. I thought it was just a busy season. I was in a full-sprint for practically 2 months. A feat I never could have accomplished before. I was used to one or two week sprints max and couldn’t believe how long I’d been going ,going , and going for. I was proud of myself. I told myself this was just all of my hard work paying off. But in the back of my mind, I remember thinking I can’t keep this up forever.
I wanted to believe that all of my habits would sustain me through anything. I wanted to believe that working hard would make me worthy. Worthy of what, I don’t even know. But for some deluded reason, I really wanted to prove to myself, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I, Grace Brentano, can work hard. And so I refused to give up. It got to the point where my daily reflections, my habit of questioning my life every day, seeped into.. well.. every day.
I’ve always believed in the importance of living in the present moment. Some people think that presence inherently contradicts self-improvement, but I’ve always thought that if you could strike the perfect balance, you’d have the key to life. As a result, I tried to be aware of my presence. In fact, one of my thirteen daily reflections is “Was I present today?” At first, I was pretty good at judging myself. I knew when I was distracted in class or distracted with my friends and I would kindly guide my mind back to whatever was happening. But what I failed to see was whether or not I was being present with myself.
Because what does it mean to be present with oneself? If I am 100% focused on answering my daily reflections, am I present? Or am I inherently not present because I’m in the process of reflecting. I would argue that during my semester abroad, I became so comfortable with myself, so comfortable with my thoughts, that I never questioned whether or not I was truly being present when I was in my head.
It got to the point where I would reflect so aggressively on my days that I would convince myself that if I worked hard enough I could fix things outside of my control. And because I was only reflecting on my choices, my actions, and my thoughts, I would never consider that maybe someone else was at fault, maybe I needed to just let go, loosen up a little, and release control. You might be thinking this seems very straightforward. If you know you’re a workaholic, if you know you’re type A, if you know you push yourself hard, you should know that every now and then you’re gonna need a break. And therein lies the trick. Because before beginning this confession, I would’ve told you that I’m not a workaholic, I’m not type A, and I don’t work hard. In fact, I believe it was those deluded beliefs that enabled me to push myself so far (too far) in the first place. But that denial was really just fear. Fear because working hard and believing in myself would make me vulnerable. And being vulnerable is scary.
I’ve always considered myself an extremely open person; I’ve always touted vulnerability as necessary for getting those big wins. High risk = high reward, right?? But I’m realizing that for as long as I can remember, I’ve been denying parts of my personality out of fear. And I never even realized it because I’ve been denying those parts of myself to myself too.
No wonder I don’t know how to chill - I don’t even know how to be myself.
Welp. I guess this means I’m embarking on a new (hopefully less aggressive) journey. I could not be more excited.