I really struggle with joy. I’m not unhappy per se, but I wouldn’t call myself a consistently joyful person. It doesn’t come naturally. And with everything awesome in my life, that just doesn’t make sense. Intellectually, I know this is my achilles heel as one who pursues a life of wellness and has been taught that this is a critical element for success, so consistent joy is a goal-post I continue to run towards.
Let me start with why it’s hard, as that’s what comes natural to my glass-half-empty, joy-challenged personality:
- I’m a super empathetic person, and I’m also a fixer. I absorb other people’s darker emotions around me as if they were my own. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t say I’m sympathetic, though – that’s the fixer in me…I wish I were softer, more gentle, and a better listener. Instead, I’m regularly described as a pretty direct, tell-it-like-it-is kind of gal. My disposition works for some, but not everyone…and I’d like to work on that. My instinct is to take on that emotion and rapidly fix it for the other person. Maybe that comes from something in my DNA, while 2 decades in a client service role must have also contributed to this mindset. It was my job to solve my clients’ problems, anticipate the next ones, and frankly…just keep everyone happy around me and moving forward. My manifesto was, “Don’t worry! I’ve got this!”, and I let everyone else go on their merry way while I shouldered the burden of their problems in addition to my own day to day struggles. Why? Because I knew I was strong enough, tenacious enough, resilient enough, and just plain stubborn. And, I feel this intense physical reaction to get mad at the challenges of others and take care of them. Like, “They don’t deserve that! F-that @#$%!” It doesn’t leave much room for joy, but plenty of satisfaction in allowing others to experience theirs and that’s why I’ve repeated the pattern for so long. I am getting better at realizing that I need to let others experience their own lessons and just listen rather than try to fix everything for everyone so we can both have some emotional space to experience joy on the other side of a challenge.
- I’m not comfortable expressing emotions. I suppose this is a control thing because I’ve got that too as you might imagine. It’s not that I fear being weak…there are plenty of things I comfortably suck at. But I recently watched the Brené Brown special on Netflix and she really nailed it when she said there can’t be joy (among other things) without venerability – there’s the difference! When I was 26 I moved blindly and completely alone from suburban Detroit to San Francisco for a new job opportunity. When you’re 26 you have the world by the balls…or so you think. I was moving my way up the ranks of corporate life at a rapid pace. I was going to reach the top come hell or high water. To get there I was going to make it in a progressive, urban city known for some of the greatest thinkers in the world and I was going to leave my mark too. There wasn’t room for venerability or tears, even when things seem to unfold as total dumpster fire pretty immediately upon arrival (my physical move could not have been less smooth, I hated my new job, I was constantly sick and even landed in the hospital with violent food poisoning not having a clue how to get there, yadda, yadda.) I constantly told myself that classic movie quote, “There’s no crying in baseball!”, and embodied a hell-bent drive and confidence to get to the other side of the madness. In turn, I tucked away any soft and fuzzy feelings and pursued my prey like a Tasmanian devil. Here’s the thing…word on the street is that bottling emotions is so last century. That repression is bound to manifest itself in some other way and, spoiler-alert…it won’t be positive. In hindsight, what harm would it have really been to show some human side? It may have actually made things a bit more smooth and allowed for more laughs along the way because it clearly had moments of pure comedy as I think back. Alternately, my husband is a far more emotional and relatable person, and now as a CEO, he shows me every day that outward humanity and sensitivity is actually an incredibly valuable trait in business and leadership. And, I know he’s experienced more joy in the process than I ever did.
- I’m a worrier. I’ve been that way my whole life. I annually threw up in anticipation of first days of school, I also threw up before class field trips, I got hives weekly before a youth symphony I played in during middle school because I was among the youngest in the room and afraid I wouldn’t play as proficiently as the older ones, and I had countless anxiety attacks at work not wanting to blow a big meeting where millions of dollars and people’s jobs were hanging on my performance. Because when you’re a perfectionist for whatever influences drove you to be that way, you hate even the idea of shit going wrong. Add being a Mom in there and whatever chemicals change in your brain when that little human emerges from your body, they multiply any previous worry-meter you had by 10. Case in point, I was at a swimming lesson with my 2-year-old at the time and the other mom at this 2-on-1 session basically called me out as a “helicopter mom” for pacing and nervously performing some frantic sideline cheerleading to help my daughter stop crying and finish this lesson. Based on the traits outlined in points 1 and 2 above you can imagine that my immediate reaction was to shoot lasers out of my eyes and obliterate this woman, but 3 years later, I can see that she wasn’t wrong. I needed to just sit my ass down and let the teacher do her thing – my daughter was fine. And, in all of the previous situations I mentioned above, I was also fine. And, as I recently heard from another motivational speaker, Mastin Kipp (and hopefully I get his quote somewhat accurate), “What’s the worst that was going to happen vs. dying with regret of doing nothing at all?” The bold side of my personality would choose going for it every day of the week vs. standing still in fear because those risks I’ve taken have given me EVERYTHING I have today. Now, I am working to go one step further and reduce this fear impulse in all areas of my life and enjoy the ride because I know all the worry generally didn’t change the outcome. This will be for my benefit and for the benefit of those around me. Because it seems that no one wants to be around that “spazzy mom” anyway. Let’s “let go, let God” instead and uncover those moments of joy during these amazing milestones in life, and even the little ones in between.
A little advice in summary, as Brené pointed out – and again, I encourage all of you to watch her special to hear it for yourself or watch the short version of her interview with Oprah here: the people who have the greatest levels of joy in life demonstrate regular gratitude. So, note to self and anyone else who is joy-challenged: stop letting self-imposed restraint or the ill-perceived need to take care of everyone else but ourselves hold us back from expressing gratitude and receiving joy. Let’s work harder to enjoy the ride. Let’s trust in the process. Let’s just be our true selves and come what may. Let’s stop trying to control what we think things should look like and just enjoy what’s here in front of us. It’s a critical piece of our overall wellness. Say it with me…today, I will choose to practice gratitude to uncover joy and one of these days, this mindful practice will become meaningful second nature It just makes perfect sense.