A few weeks before the end of December, as I have done for the past several years, I began the process of self-reflection and analysis of the previous year. Following tradition, I read over my Guiding Mantra post from 2019, expecting to note the progress in my goals and attitudes. However, reading deeper and deeper into my words from last year, I felt my stomach drop. Everything I had written last year – every anxiety, every question, every uncertainty – I felt I could have written again at that very moment.
My initial reaction was a sense of panic. In an entire year of work and effort, had I really just been treading water with no forward progress? Had I become so focused on getting through each moment that I lost sight of the bigger picture? Did I really have nothing to show for the year besides just… making it through another year?
I did what most millennials would do during a minor existential crisis, and tweeted about it:
As I conversed with my friends on the internet, I came to my senses a little bit. Of course there is plenty I have accomplished this year, including things I could quantify. Even if I don’t see forward progress, I know the immense amount of energy and strength it takes to tread water, or even swim against the current, while keeping my head above water and not losing the progress I have already made. That in and of itself should be worth celebrating.
And yet, I still struggled to believe that the year was successful. I kept coming back to these questions: I know I did things, but did I do enough? Couldn’t I have been better?
I decided that before I could move forward, I needed to gain a clearer understanding of these feelings. This would involve a deep dive into everything that happened in 2019 to see if I could understand what was triggering my uncertainty. The following is a summary, positive and negative, of all the different areas of my life:
- Got renewed at Target with a team that supports each other in doing good work. Learned new things both in enterprise and in my individual practice. Reworked my theme/plugins to use Gutenberg and updated several client sites accordingly. Gained new clients and continued work with existing ones. Took on more complex and interesting work. Was able to learn new things more easily and use existing knowledge more intuitively, and can walk people through most WordPress admin tasks by memory. Felt pretty comfortable in my role as an independent professional, both working with teams and solo.
- Continued role on AIGA Minnesota board as Director of Technology, and volunteered for/attended events. Continued to speak at tech and design events around the country on new topics (and learned new things myself in the process). Continued involvement as a SiteGround Ambassador, helping them to build the program. Produced new content in collaboration with others, including blog posts and multi-day webinars. Was a guest speaker on several podcasts. Attempted to maintain useful social accounts and connect others who need it.
- Not networking much. Pulled back from WordCamps and local tech events. Feeling like I’m doing the minimum level of effort for my official roles. Haven’t been able to do major AIGA site upgrade. Events are feeling more like a chore than a joy, which I feel is manifesting itself in my attitude when I show up. Don’t feel like I’m being a great ambassador for myself or my industry. “Should” be more involved and passionate in my communities. “Should” be more comfortable showing up in a professional capacity.
- Shared a year of nesting together with Matthew. Had a lot of deep, meaningful, and constructive conversations and did some deep, rich emotional work that enabled us to grow closer. Went on a lot of fun dates with Matthew, with groups, and with other partners. Both Matthew and I each took a trip (separately) with another partner for the first time. Attended a relationship-focused conference and several meetups that gave me additional knowledge, resources, and a sense of community around the path we’ve chosen. Lots of shared mental and physical intimacy with people I care about. Growth and vulnerability on many levels.
- Many very low, very dark moments. Anger, frustration, tears, hurt, sadness, pain. Nights sleeping in separate rooms. Being jealous, selfish, and cold, and hurting people I care about. Navigating the rawness of breakups. Feeling alone in the presence of the person you love. Sexual health scares that left me insecure and questioning my decisions. Regrets and sadness about past decisions. “Should” be a more present, compassionate, and loving partner. “Should” be making more time for the people I care about.
Friends & Family
- Continued to host monthly game night with much shared laughter and tacos. Started a few monthly (or mostly-monthly) traditions to meet up with friends for shared experiences (Fancy Monday, networking events, happy hours). Meaningful moments with my Minneapolis friends on summer patios, at restaurants, at festivals, doing something fun, or just relaxing at each other’s houses. Making time for calls with people who are far away. Creating time for purposeful one-on-one conversations when I see long-distance friends in person. Carving out time for visiting friends and family when I am home. Trying to remind people I care about them.
- Letting too much time go by between getting together with people. Canceling or delaying plans, or not making them in the first place. Still feeling panicked about my ability to hold a conversation. Still being unsure how I fit in to most social groups. Feeling inauthentic and forced during social interactions. “Should” be reaching out to my friends more often. “Should” be putting in more effort to talk to and see my family.
- Reliably put money into all savings accounts every single month. Paid down a bunch debt. Paid all my quarterly taxes easily with money I put aside, with extra to spare. Put extra money into my IRA this year. Paid all my bills including the more expensive rent for a larger apartment. All my spending was in the black. Continue to have health insurance, dental insurance, and an HSA that I contribute to monthly. Finally have a sum total of assets greater than debt, for the first time since I began my career.
- Spending a ton of money on going out, eating/drinking, travel and random personal purchases. Still have credit card debt because I still use my credit cards. My current lifestyle wouldn’t be sustainable if my income status drastically changed. Don’t necessarily have enough cushion for a major/drastic issue like health problems. Don’t have life or freelance disability insurance. “Should” be saving more for the future and creating a larger cushion to account for this.
Mental & Physical Health
- Launched a fitness blog and started video blogging. Continued my daily workouts (and sharing workout selfies). Concerted effort for earlier bedtimes. Continued eating a ton of new and interesting foods and learning to like new ones. Kept cooking a lot of new things. Consistently have a low resting heart rate, increased stamina, and improved strength. Saw a therapist again and gained new insights about myself.
- Not actually blogging regularly on the aforementioned blog. Fairly consistent pain in hips and knees that can interfere with movement. Still having to convince myself to work out most days. Letting things like diet soda sneak back into my routine. Too many “non-clean” sugars and fried foods and grains and pizzas. Lots of social drinking and the resulting headaches and hangovers. Frequent exhaustion and feeling completely worn out. Gaining weight and questioning all the progress from the previous year. Still deep bouts of self loathing. “Should” be taking better care of myself mentally and physically.
Seeing it all laid bare, I understood why my insides had taken such a plunge earlier. Here was a rollercoaster of experiences, of highs and lows, and much like a rollercoaster it all seemed to end right back at the beginning. My struggle was this: How can I take pride in my accomplishments if I can still see all the failures and places I’ve come up short? How do I celebrate the strength, resilience, joy, growth, and learning that took place alongside the weakness, sadness, regression, stagnancy, and regression?
It was very clear to me that up until this point, my self-acceptance was extremely conditional and goal-oriented. I’ve held myself to a high standard because I believe I am capable of greatness, but I am also capable of laziness and mediocrity. I felt that I had to be rigorous with myself and my efforts, and I became my harshest critic and most grueling coach. Outwardly, that approach has manifested itself in a ton of material, career, and physical success. Unfortunately, the buildup of fear, shame, and guilt creates distance within yourself and prevents connection with others. It is only through being compassionate with yourself and present with your own darkness that you can be present and compassionate with others.
I realized that my challenge for 2020 would be in accepting the worth I have right now, in this moment, rather than just on the way to the next goal. And that is when I decided that my Three Guiding Words for 2020 have to be some of my most challenging words to date:
“I Am Enough.”
These words are terrifying even to write, because I have been afraid for so long that allowing myself compassion will be inviting weakness, laziness, and disaster. Objectively, though, I know this isn’t true, and so many different researchers, psychologists, speakers, and authors agree.
Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors and speakers, introduces us to Wholehearted people in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. The wholehearted person is authentic, self-compassionate, grateful, and resilient, because they are able to be truly vulnerable, and therefore in tune with their whole selves. Wholehearted people believe that they are enough. I love the way she describes it: “Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz defines “Always Do Your Best” as the fourth and final agreement. On the surface, this sounds like it would feed into a goal-driven model of worth and success. But the real nuance is the definition of “your best.” He explains that the concept of “your best” can vary from moment to moment depending on your energy, resources, and circumstances. Your best in that moment is enough. In his words: “You don’t need to judge yourself, feel guilty, or punish yourself if you cannot keep these agreements. If you’re doing your best, you will feel good about yourself even if you still make assumptions, still take things personally, and still are not impeccable with your word. If you do your best always, over and over again, you will become a master of transformation.”
The “I Am Enough” manifesto
“I Am Enough” != “This Is Fine”
It doesn’t mean I am headed for disaster. It does’t mean I’m going to ignore the things that are wrong. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be blind to red flags in my life or in the lives of people around me.
“I Am Enough” != “I Am Lazy”
It doesn’t mean that I am going to stop improving or having goals. Finding acceptance is not the same thing as being complacent.
“I Am Enough” == “My accomplishments are not my worth”
I am more than my metrics, my stats, my checklists, my likes, my bank balance, my relationships, my accolades, or any of the the things I have done or will do. I have inherent value.
“I Am Enough” == “I am showing up as my best self”
Doing my best is not always the same as doing *the* best. Doing my best in this moment is not always the same as the best I could do in another moment.
In 2020, I will remember that I Am Enough.
I am enough in all of the ways that I show up.
I am enough when I am achieving my goals, and when I fall short of them.
I am enough when I am on top of the highest mountain, and at the bottom of the lowest valley.
I am enough when my checklist is complete, and when I haven’t accomplished a single thing.
I am enough when I conquer the world, and when I can’t even get out of bed.
I am enough when I succeed, and I am enough when I fail.
Some additional links that were inspirational in the making of this post:
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6g1yQV0dIY (Do The Next Right Thing – Frozen 2)