Dear Megan, I have been doing so much work on my inner self and my inner monologue. I have a daily meditation practice and all sorts of great self-care in my routines. I really thought I was getting better. I am comparing myself to people much less, and I have made tons of changes in my life and I feel really good about where I am. And then, I feel like I regressed in a major way. I spent the weekend in the Hamptons with some friends who really like the club scene out there, and whom I really love. I’ve had weekends like this a million times before and really enjoyed, but this weekend, I just felt like crap about myself and started thinking I was a failure. “I need to make more money. Why don’t I look like that? Or why don’t I drive that? Or date that guy?” I thought I was over this!! What am I missing? What else can I do to change my pattern of thinking? Help! -E, 27
I LOVE this question for several reasons. First, it’s a microcasm of a lot of the choices that we have to make in life. This one seems like a small one and pretty straightforward–presumably, a particular place, a particular weekend, so just let it go, right?! But, we often undertake this same behavior for years and years, in relationships, in our jobs, in spaces and places that we continue to show up to, invest in, thinking something will change (definition of insanity, anyone!?), so it’s worth recognizing and nipping in the bud at first sight. We want to practice noticing it and calling it out here, as you have done.
Second, it also highlights a really typical thought pattern that many of us have (especially women), where we think the problem is us. We are way more likely to see the problem as inside of us and work tirelessly to change ourselves, when we actually don’t need changing!
Back to why it is important to highlight this seemingly minor moment: There are 2 parts of creating your best life: the internal work and the external work. The internal is all the work it sounds like you’ve been doing, working with your mind and your emotions, BUT that has to go in tandem with action–making decisions about putting yourself in the environments that best serve you. AND the more you do the internal work, the more intolerable some of the external environments you used to spend time in may become. You choose who you spend time with, what kind of environments you put yourself in, and you are responsible for that. We are responsible for our own triggers. Sometimes, working with our own minds can only get us so far, and some environments are just…toxic, and not aligned for us/in our integrity. Simply put, you may just not prefer that Hamptons club scene (I don’t!!). Your values may not align with the others there. They may not be your tribe. You may not get the nourishment that you are looking for there. You may find that being in that environment fires up all of the parts of your thinking that aren’t helpful, especially “compare and despair”, when we compare ourselves to other people and then despair over own lack and unworthiness and how “behind” we are in life. Usually, if it is causing you pain and suffering, AND you are trying to work with your mind, it is your intuition’s way of telling you that this just isn’t where you want to be.
For me, in my past life at Google, for example, no matter how much work I did on myself, it was never going to become the right environment for me. It’s like putting a rainforest tree in the desert and expecting it to thrive. It may be the best, most hardworking, diligent, self-aware rainforest tree ever, but if you put it in the desert, it might pull together all of its resources and tools it has to survive for a while, but that will be the best it can do. It isn’t going to be free and liberated and joyful and its best self there. Last night may have been the equivalent of your desert. And, in those scenarios, the most mature and wise thing you can do is recognize that, and choose to not put yourself in those situations.
This isn’t something that has to happen in one fell swoop. You don’t have to swear off those friends, or all parties, or the Hamptons. It can and will be a case by case basis for you, but notice what feels fun and what doesn’t, NOT what is “supposed” to be fun and cool. Maybe next time you decide to cook with everyone in the house instead of going out, or you have dinner with everyone and then go home instead of going to the Talkhouse. And, maybe next time you’re invited to the Hamptons, you think about whether there will be people who want to do something a little different in the Hamptons, than the doing the party scene.
The bottom line is: you aren’t doing anything wrong, you didn’t regress and it isn’t that you didn’t do a good enough job working with your inner critic last night. When it’s too loud to work with, it can truly be “it’s not you, it’s them”. It could be a seemingly small thing, like a specific party, or big like your company, or even the city you live in. But, once you know that, you’re responsible for making a different choice.