Two steps forward and 1 step back is still progress.
Every single day I fight my perfectionist tendencies. I mentioned in my first post that I am a type-A, overly metacognitive anxious ninny. Often because of who I am and how I am wired, I default to assuming that always striving, always pushing, always going above and beyond and earning a gold star for my efforts is the best possible scenario, particularly for growth to occur.
While I believe it is true in many ways that you must marry hard work with following your heart to obtain happiness and fulfillment in your day to day endeavors, I have come to realize that hard work isn’t everything.
I’m noticing, the more curious I get about my nature, that for me, it is often more of a challenge to step back, slow down, and rest than it is to ramp up and go full steam ahead.
This is important to know about myself because it means a few things:
- I have a tendency towards over-doing it or even borderline addictiveness in some areas of life (e.g. over-exercising, over or under excess with food, over-working to the point of sheer exhaustion, spending too much time on social media and subsequently feeling completely depleted of energy).
- I assume that trying hard is the key to success when, in reality, I’ve learned many times over by this point that life is not fair and no matter how hard you work, it may or may not result in the outcome you aim for. This discrepency between work ethic and eventually expecting success is, of course, even wider if you have the deck stacked against you in life in any way, for instance due to your race, gender, or sexual orientation.
- I can easily come on too strong in social contexts because my passion bleeds through and can overwhelm others. When I try a new teaching method, way of eating, or exercise routine, watch out world! You’re going to get an ear (or post)-ful. Apologies in advance.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
While it’s not ideal that my personality tends towards extremes in some ways, in other ways it is a huge gift:
- I love to try new fitness regimens and mix it up, challenging myself to grow (physically and mentally) stronger.
- Learning about the science behind optimizing ways of eating for overall health and longevity is fascinating, motivating, and, ultimately, benefits me and those around me who pick up on my habits as well.
- Social media allows me to connect with people in meaningful ways that may not always be possible in person. It has allowed me to connect with educators in 13 countries around the world and cultivate relationships with them over the course of my sabbatical.
- Sometimes, trying really hard does pay off and is noticed by those around you, leading to gaining more trust and greater responsibility and work that is more in line with your passions and talents, thereby fulfilling you.
- The part of my personality that can overwhelm me or others at times is the same passionate quality that makes me personable, likable, and able to form quick and lasting friendships with people from a variety of cultures, professional backgrounds, and generations.
So, what’s my point? Growth is nonlinear. It’s often two steps forward, one step back, as we 1) struggle to know ourselves better, 2) come up against paradox in our nature, and 3) ultimately work to accept ourselves while also pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Let’s explore those 3 steps in a bit more detail!
First, get to know your nature.
I highly recommend the nonscientific yet extremely thoughtful and fasinating work of Gretchen Rubin, who studies happiness and human nature. Gretchen is the author of several books: The Happiness Project, Better than Before, Happier at Home, and the forthcoming The Four Tendencies: : The Surprising Truth About the Hidden Personality Types That Drive Everything We Do (Coming Sept. 2017! Super exctied and may or may not have already pre-ordered!).
Gretchen is also the host of the delightful “Happier” podcast, in which discusses these same themes of happiness, habit formation, and human nature with her sister and TV screenwriter living and working in LA, Liz Craft (find the “Happier” podcast on iTunes). Recently, Gretchen has been instrumental in curating a new series of podcasts to improve your quality of life, through The Onward Project, all with equally fantastic hosts and content, including: Radical Candor: How Not to Hate the Boss you Have or Be the Boss you Hate and Side Hustle School — a short 5–10 minute daily podcast that explores a wide range of side gigs people have started to earn supplemental income on the side of their existing day jobs. Neat!
I first read The Happiness Project maybe 5 years ago, and recently “re-read” it through the audiobook on Audible. I have a feeling that I could listen to this book for the next 20 years on repeat and always glean something new and useful. I would not describe it as a self-help book at all…more of a tool to increase your self-knowledge and awareness and to cultivate and enhance, in concrete ways, your natural set level of happiness. The concrete nature of her work is what I love most; Rubin always makes sure you leave with at least one actionable area to implement in your daily life and this takes her work from theoretical to practical.
Next, explore the paradoxes of your nature
Gretchen Rubin loves to organize people into frameworks by their nature. While sometimes I initially thinkthese frameworks are simplified while the truth about human nature is more complex, I have definitely found, particularly as I reflect on them over time, that some of the questions and dichotomies she frames for getting to know yourself better to ring true for me, including:
- are you an Abstainer or Moderator? ← total abstainer over here, a post for another day!
- are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? ← total Tigger if you haven’t noticed!
- are you a Lark or Owl?
- are you a Marathoner, a Sprinter, or a Procrastinator?
- are you a Simplicity-lover or Abundance-lover?
- are you a Finisher or Opener?
- are you an Under-buyer or Over-buyer?
- are you an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel?
Finally, return to, reflect on, and trust in your nature
Finally, once you know a bit more about your nature, reflect on it. Lean into it but also keep pushing yourself out of it (another paradox!) Put in Gretchen’s words, it’s a “Secret of adulthood”: Accept yourself and expect more of yourself.
Put another way, make knowing and accepting yourself and your true nature your highest ambition. After all, remember:
“I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature.
Only once you know yourself better will you be able to know where the edges of your comfort lie in order to push past them when appropriate into growth or rest within them to recharge.
Paradoxes man…I love this stuff so much.
What paradox about your own nature have you noticed in yourself? One I always find funny is that, when exhausted, I fight myself about whether to take a nap or relax somehow or to do the complete opposite, and go for a jog or do a rigorous workout. Nearly always, I find that exerting more energy somehow restores and enhances my overall energy levels. Go figure! 🤷♀️ Another external paradox I’ve been experiencing lately is my physical therapist’s strong admonition that “your rest time is just as if not more important than the time you spend on the exercises themselves”. Why? Apparently if I overdo the exercises and do not have adequate rest, the muscles we are targeting will tire and I will wind up compensating by using other muscles instead. I think there may be a lesson in there somewhere about the nature of growth: just like any coin, it has another side — rest and rejuvenation. Remember, 2 steps forward and 1 step back is still progress. ❤ Progress, not perfection.
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Check out my other publication, MapMates for more details about my traveling sabbatical.
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