I’m not perfect. How I recently pulled myself out of a negative cycle of some serious self-doubt.
Updated: Feb 28
**This is an article I wrote in early 2018, and the original version available on Chinese social media, still remains very relevant, so I'm happy to share it here.
We’ve just finished a very busy few weeks, finishing back to back events and workshops to celebrate incredible women and build awareness about how women can unleash their potential. I feel we were really successful in using this time to create a space for people to reflect, to open up and connect meaningfully to others, to build awareness about where they are on their own journey that maybe they never thought about before.
I’d like to reflect, and to share honestly about my own experience over the last few weeks:
I woke up this morning…
After my third night in a row sleeping 8 solid hours each night. Sleep
I sat quietly for 10 minutes, meditating, before my daughter got up and cutely said “Mama, I want to hug you.” I gave her a big hug. Meditation
I ate a delicious egg and spinach omelet. Diet
As I arrived at work (clearly pre-covid), I got off the elevator two floors down, and found a person who works at the front desk of my co-working office that helped me out yesterday. I thanked him to his face, shook his hand, and told him how much I appreciated him and his work. Gratitude
I’m now in my office, slowly sipping on a coffee. I’m hydrated. I wore my gym clothes today as a kind reminder to take a little time to myself to exercise this afternoon. Exercise
I feel great. Today feels like it has meaning, that I have a purpose, and that it matters. Fulfillment
Prioritizing effectively to manage energy and improve efficiency!
I lead sessions on the topic, and coach executives to implement winning practices.
But clearly, even that doesn’t make me immune to falling into common traps, like the challenge many women face about prioritizing everything and everyone’s needs above our own, or setting ridiculous expectations for ourselves, and when we don’t meet them, feeling not good enough.
Because let’s rewind to a day in my life just a few weeks ago, during the holidays. During the holiday time, I had been a full time Mom on my own. My husband had been on a business trip, and I wasn't able to connect with my larger, extended family. “This is a special time” I thought. We had fun. We went on a beautiful 4-day skiing vacation with my best friend and her two boys where I had truly relaxed and enjoyed so many fun activities. Upon return, my daughter got the flu. The nice plans I had arranged to visit with my close friends and their families were all cancelled. “This is life” I thought. “No big deal.”
But there was this little voice that started inside my head. At first it was quiet. “What’s wrong with you? You know you’re going to be busy next month, you should be preparing, why aren’t you working to prepare now?”, and then again when I started to go a little crazy after being indoors for a few days, just me and sick kids, “This is a special time with your kids, why are you not fully cherishing every moment. What’s wrong with you?”
I heard these thoughts, and, well, it’s not the first time.
“I know what to do with these thoughts!” I proclaimed.
But, somehow, I found this voice popping up in more and more situations, it was getting louder.
“Why aren’t you a good cook? What’s wrong with you?”
“You have the ability to work out at home, but you aren’t? What’s wrong with you?”
“Why didn’t you go away somewhere warm, then the family wouldn’t have gotten sick? What’s wrong with you?”…
I know this pattern. It’s been a recurring theme in my life for a long time. At one point in my life, it served me somehow, I invested a lot of time and energy doing a lot of things so that I would be worthy of my own love, so I could be proud of myself. It was in some of my life’s most challenging moments that I even became aware of it. I started to hear this voice. It’s not very nice, and I realized that it doesn’t serve me. It isolates me. It limits what I’m capable of. It stops me on my path to unleash my potential.
But knowing it doesn’t shield me from it. There it was just a few weeks ago. And it got stronger than it has in some time.
So back to that day after the holiday. My husband was back.
I woke up that day
After my 10th night in a row sleeping 4-6 hours each night. Not enough Sleep
I felt a pang in my stomach. I looked at my husband, having just returned from his trip, lying in bed. I quickly gave him a kiss on the forehead and darted out of the room as fast as I could. Deep down I was afraid he would truly see me, and that I was struggling. I felt ashamed that I was. He was busy enough, and I didn’t want to burden him with this pointless self-doubt thing I was going through. No Meditation
I quickly ate some pastries that were leftover from the day before while I was running out the door. I inhaled a coffee and felt like I needed another immediately after. Unhealthy Diet
As I arrived at work and opened my computer, I had this feeling of overwhelm. My mind was scattered, I felt busy, like there were so many things to do. There was this voice…. So strong now. “what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you execute details well, like everyone else?” No Gratitude
I sat at my desk, rapidly checking boxes off a list. Dehydrated I started to get a headache. “Gym, are you crazy?” No Exercise
I felt awful. I just wanted to curl up in a ball, or do something to procrastinate or distract myself. I wanted the day to end. No Fulfillment
You get the idea. It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t being nice to myself, in many ways.
“This isn’t productive, and you know what to do about this. C’mon! Get it together! You teach this stuff.” I thought. But somehow that made it worse. I felt ashamed.
I would NEVER say to anyone else, “what’s wrong with you?” and, speaking honestly, I don’t even ever have that feeling/internal thought about other people. I believe you are whole as you are, that you’re beautiful, and that you can create any life that you want for yourself. That’s real, and that’s one of the reasons people feel so energized when they are around me.
So, how did I pull myself out of it? How did I get to today?
I let it out in a safe place.
I let the lid off the bottle. I shared my feelings with some colleagues and alumnae in the community I was running over dinner. I shared with my husband. All of this stuff is rooted in fear, fear that I’m not good enough as a mom, as a wife, as the visionary leader I aspire to be.
After letting it out in a safe space, a lot of that fear just dissipated. When I said it out loud, “this is what I’ve been saying to myself: what’s wrong with you?”, What’s wrong with you?” I could hear how ridiculous it sounded. I cried. I let it out. It brought me closer together with the group, and closer to my husband. And, no one judged me. These people love me, they believe in me. And they recognize that letting it out, and being vulnerable, takes courage.
The key words here are “having a safe place”, a judgement-free environment to let it out. If we don’t, and the people we share with judge us by saying: “What IS wrong with you? It seems like you are very weak, get over it. Snap out of it,” even though I shouldn’t, I may have taken it personally and not so smoothly transitioned into the next step.
2. I spent time on my own.
I sat down and thought about all the things I love about my life… so, so many things came flooding to my mind. What am I grateful for? I grabbed a pen and scribbled in a journal while drinking a cappuccino at a café. Where was I 5 years ago at this time? 3 years ago? 1 year ago? How does that compare to now? I scribbled some more. Wow, I’ve come a long way, I’ve learned a lot.
I went to the spa, and brought myself out of the past and into the present moment. I took in all the smells, became totally aware of my body, enjoying the experience by living only in the moment. Any time my mind would wander, I’d kindly bring it back to focus on the spa experience, to be in the moment. I took a slow walk along a river, feeling the dirt under my feet, the wind on my cheeks. I peacefully returned home and enjoyed a cup of tea with my family.
3. I focused on what's good
Wow, when you look for it, there are so, so many things that are so good about our lives. From the smallest things, like the hot water that comes out of a tap in my home any time I want, to drinking out of my favorite mug, to enjoying the flowers that sit in my office. And, there are big things too, like the woman who reached out to me after not seeing her for 8 years, and telling me about the impact I had on her, that reconnection, watching my hilarious family on a recently aired TV episode and thinking, “wow, that’s really us. And I love us,” or a reminder that all the stress in my life is “joyous stress.” I AM busy, but I GET to be busy, because I’m doing something meaningful, that I care about, that I love.
I was appreciating “what’s good”, and that’s gratitude. Gratitude and self-hatred don’t go together. Neither do gratitude and anger, or any other emotion that is stemming from fear. Gratitude comes from a place of love. I was reminded that it’s a choice. I can make that choice at any time to focus on “what’s good” and to appreciate it.
4. I forgave myself.
I forgave myself for falling into the negative cycle at all, for the time and energy wasted, for any poor choices I’d made during that time, negative thoughts I’d had. I looked in the mirror directly into my eyes and said “I believe in you, and you are on this beautiful path in life. I love you.”
5. I prioritized myself.
I struggled a bit with this at first, as I was super busy, but day by day, step by step, I just did simple little things to get on the right track. I have the benefit of having a very high awareness about my body, and what it needs to thrive. I’ve experimented a lot over the last 20 years with foods, exercise regimes, etc, so I admit, getting on the “right track” for me may be easier than for others who haven’t invested the time and energy to do so.
The amazing thing about sleep, diet, exercise and meditation is that you can take an action starting today, despite what you did yesterday, and you’ll see the result pretty quickly. Sleep 8 hours a night for even a few days and you’ll just feel happier. Do any exercise, and in addition to the short-term release of endorphins that will make you feel good, you’ll be more likely to make better choices in other areas of your life.
Now I’ve spun out of the negative cycle. That “what’s wrong with you” voice is temporarily silenced. It’s not the first time this negative cycle has occurred, and it won’t be the last.
Prioritizing effectively to manage energy and improve efficiency, making consistent healthy choices around sleep, diet, exercise and meditation certainly allows me to do my best work, and bring out the best parts of myself. But life will happen, and I will likely be the first to blame myself when it does. But, like each time before, I’ve developed just a little more awareness than I had before, I’ve become just a little stronger than I was before, and I’ve grown just a little closer to the people around me that matter most.
I’m not perfect. And it’s okay, because if I was, then I wouldn’t be moving forward as I am.
Thank you to the incredible women around me. I need you. You make me better. And I love you. Thank you to my supportive family. I need you. You make me better. And I love you. And thank you to myself. I need you to remember to take good care of yourself, and to keep getting better by taking one step at a time on your own path. And I love you.
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