My 59th birthday is coming up fast. Which, of course, has me thinking about my 60th birthday.
What do I want to achieve between now and then?
How can I, by the time I turn 60, become a better version of myself?
Being The Queen of the Chronic Overthinkers as I am, I started this process six months ago.
First I thought I wanted to achieve greater creative success.
Sell more paintings or write a novel.
Next I thought no, that is the second step. The first step is to achieve a consistent creative practice.
Finally break my habit of writing or painting obsessively for a while, then getting burned out and quitting.
I got so far with the second one that I had the whole thing outlined. I had a plan, goals, and even a schedule.
This all changed when I attended a writing workshop a couple of weeks ago.
There were a lot of very personal prompts that forced me to look at myself with a little more distance than usual.
What I realized was: I am a woman who has a really great life, but often doesn’t enjoy that life to its fullest because of the immense pressure I put on myself.
I do this when I bully myself to work harder at my day job.
I do this when I bully myself to create better writing and art.
I do this when I bully myself to keep working even when I’m tired.
I mean look at what I wrote about my goals for the next year. Note the repeated use of the word “achieve.”
And a schedule for creativity. Really?!?
And then there is the constant browbeating.
You have no idea what you’re doing.
You have no talent.
And of course, my favorite: You are destined to end up living under a viaduct old and alone.
I would never speak to anyone else like that. Or let anyone else speak to me like that. So why do I allow me to talk to myself like that?
I’ve come to envision the way I approach projects as a bad theme park attraction: Lisa’s Viral Spiral Totally Messed-UP Self-Sabotage Spin.
1: I begin at Playful Island.
I am excited and hopeful.
I want to do this project and getting started is so much fun.
I lose hours or even days engaged. It’s like being fully present and floating somewhere far away; both at the same time. I feel proud, capable, and alive.
Bliss is the only way to describe how good it feels.
But then the little train pulls out of the station…
2: I start the climb to Mania Mountain.
Because things are going well, I increase my expectations for my own performance.
I become obsessive, almost manic, about my project.
Work harder, work faster, I bully myself as I work through lunch and skip my afternoon walk in order to get just a little bit more done.
If it’s for my day job, I want it to be the best content strategy plan in the history of marketing so I work on it all weekend.
When it’s art, I want to improve so much that I land a fancy New York gallery–tomorrow.
If it’s a novel, I won’t settle for done or good; I want The New York Times Best Sellers list.
(Ok, I exaggerate a bit, but I think you understand what I mean.)
Soon it feels like my entire world rests on the success of my project.
3: I arrive at Disappointment Creek.
When I step back to assess what I’ve accomplished so far, I realize that my work falls short of the ridiculously high bar I’ve set for myself.
If it’s a work project, I think: You’re nothing special.
If it’s a creative project, I think: You are wasting your time.
4: Which catapults me downward into the Pits of Self Loathing.
At this point I realize that everything I touch sucks. Sucks, sucks, SUCKS!
I am not good enough and will never be.
If it is a creative project, I quit.
If it’s my day job, I spend the next week wrestling myself to get out of bed in the mornings because everything seems pointless.
5: The final portion of the ride is a tour of desolate Burnout Valley.
I am so deeply exhausted that I can feel it every time I take a breath.
The only thing I feel like doing is rolling up in a little ball and staring at the ceiling.
Occasionally, the ride has actually made me sick.
Twice it was stomach issues.
Once it was esophageal spasms that I mistook for a heart attack.
And once it was a case of alopecia that ended with me developing a bald spot the size of a quarter along my part line. Right where EVERYONE could see it.
Over time, I’ve learned to disembark the ride at Disappointment Creek or The Pits of Despair so I don’t get sick. At least most of the time.
But I’m still experiencing a lot of unnecessary angst.
What if there is a way to spend more of my time on Playful Island?
I realize now that right now what I don’t want is more important than what I do want.
What I don’t want is to turn 60 and still be the woman who chronically self-sabotages herself.
So I’m setting an intention. Not a goal or challenge or even a project. An intention.
I am going to become my own self-help guinea pig as I experiment with techniques for getting my self-sabotage under control.
I’ll play with keeping my expectations in check, managing my thoughts, and reducing the incessant self-bullying.
I’ll write down what works for me and what doesn’t. (Perhaps I’ll even compile what I learn into my own personal Lisa’s brain users manual.)
And I will measure my progress in how often I succeed in treating myself with kindness.
I’m thinking of this as a sort of Happiness Project for self-kindness.
I know it won’t be easy. These are life-long traits I want to change. But I do think it’s possible.
You may be wondering why I’m sharing something this personal with you. In part, I’m sharing for accountability. Knowing that you know what my intention is will deter me from quitting.
But I’m also sharing because I’m excited. Just thinking about my intention has already resulted in many insights and epiphanies.
It’s even helped me to spend more time on Playful Island already.
Plus most of you are overthinkers too. And creatives–bakers, artists, writers, musicians, etc. who struggle with some of the same issues.
I hope you’ll support me by sharing your own experiences and tips.
If I get anything I learn into a shareable state, I will try to send another newsletter and post it on my blog.
But no promises. Because promising anything would lead to self bullying. And that’s exactly what I don’t want to do.
See? I’m improving already!
Yours in overthinking,