In honor of Martin Luther King Day I’m gonna hit you with some wisdom this Monday morning.
Yesterday was a rough day for me. Without getting into the unnecessary details, what should have been an amazing opportunity fell through despite my best efforts. There was nothing I could have done differently. There was nothing I could have done to change the outcome. I knew all these things, yet I still felt incredibly disappointed, sad and I blamed myself.
My first instinct was to force myself to put on a happy face. Look at the bright side. Pretend like I wasn’t upset. (And then beat myself up for not being able “buck up” and fully believe that it was in fact “a blessing in disguise” because I knew deep down it sucked.)
I had conditioned myself to believe that wallowing in self-pity was bad. And it is…sometimes. BUT, after becoming a mom to a small child that experiences EVERY emotion to it’s fullest, I have realized the complexity of human emotion.
I have learned through my son that IT’S OK TO BE UPSET. I allow him to experience all emotions good and bad without placing a value on them. When he gets upset we acknowledge it, allow it to happen and then move on. At first when I tried this with him, I admit, it felt ridiculous. Bending down to a toddler and saying “I know you are upset that you can’t climb on the furniture. That must be really frustrating” is weird…at first. It’s strange when you sit and let your kid flail about wildly for a minute until they get out their frustration. But the more you do it, the quicker they bounce back and the less extreme their emotional outburst become. When they understand that it’s ok to be sad when someone takes a toy, or mad when they can’t have something or frustrated when they can’t zip their jacket, then they learn how to have healthy and appropriate emotional responses. It just makes sense. I see it making sense.
For some reason though, as we get older, we condition ourselves to believe that the “good” responses happiness, optimism, success, are the only ones we should be able to express. It becomes no longer “appropriate” or “acceptable” to outwardly express what we have convinced ourselves are “negative” emotions – sadness, anger, frustration. I’m not saying it’s healthy to go around throwing temper tantrums, or crawling into a dark room every time something goes awry. But I am saying that ALL emotions should be experienced, expressed and allowed without judgement.
So yesterday, I tried something different. After feeling upset and then guilty for feeling upset and then trying not to feel upset and then not to feel guilty for still feeling upset (see how confusing and exhausting this all is!) I just let it happen. I allowed myself permission to just be upset. I spent the rest of the day a little bummed…but then I woke up this morning, went on a nice long run, and realized while I was running that I no longer felt upset or guilty or bad at all. I felt inspired, encouraged and motivated by what had happened the day before.
You see, normally, when I experience disappointments I lose motivation. Second guess myself. Doubt my life choices. Allow my failures to feed into my insecurities leaving me less confident and ultimately less motivated to pursue new challenges. I would have spent at least a couple of days in this upset, but don’t be upset, guilty about being upset, don’t feel guilty, why can’t you not be upset spiral. I would have lost confidence. I would have taken it personally and allowed it to affect my self-worth. But not this time. And the only difference I can think of is that I gave myself permission to BE UPSET. Instead of ignoring my feelings and trying to look on the bright side, I acknowledged my feelings, allowed them to happen and naturally without FORCING myself was able to wake up happy, motivated, confident and relatively unaffected by the previous day’s events.
It has been proven that success is one of the strongest motivational forces. Success = motivation. But, what if we could be as motivated by our perceived failures? It sounds great in theory. We teach it to our kids…when you don’t get it right it’s an opportunity to learn…it’s about the process not the result…it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. But as adults all of those platitudes are, well…not so much agreed upon.
So here’s my life lesson…
If you are sad LET yourself be sad. If you are angry LET yourself be angry. If you are frustrated LET yourself be frustrated. Allow yourself to feel ALL emotions good or bad without judgement.
And then allow yourself to move on.
Let your perceived failures be as motivating as your successes. How do we do that? I don’t really know….but…maybe NOT “letting it go” is in fact the key to “letting go”?