Recently I had the privilege of being a counselor at a children’s summer camp. While I would like to write about how great a time I had and how great my kids were (and really, they were), it’d feel much more real for me to write about my internal struggles throughout that week. Let me explain:
Over the last couple of years I’ve put quite a bit of effort into getting my fundamental practices in order; things like regular exercise, meditation, and practicing gratitude through journaling. While I knew that these things were important for me to have in order, I had forgotten what life is like without them. During the week I was getting far less sleep than the ideal eight hours, I was meditating for three minutes at the most in the morning, eating food I probably would not eat at home. Although I was walking around a camp site for most of the day, I wouldn’t call that exercise. I told myself that I could put up with this for a week, but I was pretty unaware (despite having read otherwise) that I would be unable to bring my best self for others when I was not practicing the things that enrich my state of being. The irony was that, being at a summer camp for younger students, I had to be more playful, forgiving, and helpful than ever, but I was barely using any of my practices that help me be that way.
In short, I felt that I reverted to everything I was before I put any of my practices into place. At this camp I went to I often found myself thinking “man, I’m nowhere near as chipper as everyone else, I must look pretty jaded”. Through a conversation I was having with another counselor after the week was over, I realized what limiting beliefs were still floating to the surface: mainly my hangups with my physical appearance, my disconnection with other people, and probably at the base of it, my sense of self-worth as a whole. Although I’ve been aware of these doubts for years now, I thought I was done with them. In my mind I had completely “graduated” from this stage of personal growth that I wouldn’t have to revisit again. Having had some time to reflect on this, I came up with a few ideas and lessons I could pull from this experience:
1. Have your fundamental practices in place.
As I mentioned before, without these (whatever they might be for you), you won’t be feeling your greatest. I will say, though, that just because you’re meditating, exercising, eating well or whatever doesn’t meant that you’ll never encounter any self-doubt and criticism. However, doing these things makes it much easier to let go of those thoughts, and move on.
2. Let someone help you.
Being the type of person that gets deep into whatever self-help content I come across, I have a tendency to isolate myself from other people thinking that I can solve everything on my own. What I’m still learning is that letting someone help you, even when you might appear to be a really weak person, can give you a lot of insight that you might not have known before. As much as we try to carry ourselves as if we have it all together, there’s a lot to be learned from letting our guards down to let someone help. At the very least, hearing yourself vocalize any harmful thoughts and beliefs can help you realize how strange, silly, and straight-up wrong they might be.
3. You’ll never get “there,” but you can still celebrate how far you’ve come.
Here’s a concept that I think is beautifully articulated by George Leonard in his book Mastery:
“Ultimately, the master and the master’s path are one. And if the traveler is fortunate—that is, if the path is complex and profound enough—the destination is two miles farther away for every mile he or she travels.”
Most of the time what I’m really trying to get at (probably on a subconscious level) from reading personal development books is reaching a perfect way of being. That is, I want to just read or listen my way into being a person that doesn’t have to deal with self-criticism and doubt anymore. So why bring up the abstract concept of “Mastery” into this discussion? What Leonard here is saying is that you’ll never be that kind of person, and that for every step we take, reaching that goal is going to be two steps further than before. The message here isn’t “life sucks and then you die,” it’s that if you’re going to keep running into challenges on the way to the destination, you might as well fall in love with the process. There really is a sense of relief in understanding that you will never be perfect, too. Although we all know this in the back of our heads, it’s surprising how often I catch myself falling into this trap. And when it happens, it really feels like I got knocked on my ass. Now (hopefully), I’ll know that this is just part of the process the next time it happens. Not only that, but that it’s counter-intuitively a sign of growth, something to look forward to.