Updated: May 3
**This is an article I wrote in early 2018. The original version, available on Weixin 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 the 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 they had 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, 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
This all sounds great. But let's just rewind to a day a few weeks ago, right after the holidays as I returned to work, when I was having a drastically different experience.
During the holiday, 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 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 while I had down time at home. At first it was quiet.
What’s wrong with you? You know you’re going to be busy in a few weeks, you should be preparing, why aren’t you working to prepare now?
I found ways to do a bit of work while managing the sick kids at home. After a few days being indoors, we all started to get a little stir crazy. I heard the voice again.
What’s wrong with you? This is a special time with your kids, why are you not cherishing it?
I heard these thoughts, and, well, it’s not the first time.
Even I lead sessions on prioritizing effectively to manage energy and improve efficiency and help women to identify the common challenge of setting ridiculous expectations and feeling not good enough when they are not met, it doesn't mean I don't fall into the trap myself!
I know what to do with these thoughts! I proclaimed. I tried to catch myself in real time. But, somehow, I found this voice popping up in more and more situations, it was getting louder, drowning me.
Why aren’t you a better 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.
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.
The holiday was wrapping up. My husband had just returned. And I was ready to return to the office.
I woke up:
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? I don't have time for that now. No Exercise
I felt awful. I just wanted to do something to procrastinate or distract myself... or curl up in a ball. I wanted the day to end. No Fulfillment
You get the idea. It wasn’t pretty.
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 rarely 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, what did I do? How did I pull myself out of it? How did I get to today?
I let it out in a safe place.
I shared my feelings with some alumnae over dinner. All of this stuff is rooted in fear, fear that I’m not good enough as a mom, as a wife, as a coach and leader. After letting it out, 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.
No one judged me. These people love me, they believe in me. And they recognize that letting it out, and being vulnerable, takes courage. It is key to get very honest with yourself about where your "safe" judgement-free spaces are, who you can open up to. If I had shared and received a response like: “What IS wrong with you? It seems like you are very weak, get over it. Snap out of it,” Well, I may have spiraled some more that would make it a lot harder to move to the next step.
2. I communicated with the key people in my life.
I went home and talked to my husband. I expressed a need to spend some time on my own and that I'd need his support at home. I scheduled a block of time off at work the next few days and alerted my colleagues not to fill the blocked times with any meetings, etc.
3. I spent time on my own.
I went to a cafe in the morning instead of to the office for my morning coffee. I scribbled in a journal the things I love about my life. So, so many things came flooding to my mind. I sat back and thought about where was I 5 years ago at this time? 3 years ago? 1 year ago?
What would my former self think about where I am today? I started writing again.
Wow, I’ve come a long way. Wow, I’ve learned a lot.
Next to the care there was a spa. Even I was caffeinated up, and it was the morning, I went to the spa right as it opened and was happy to get a walk-in slot.
I brought myself out of the past and into the present moment. I took in all the smells of the spa, 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.
After the spa, on route to my office, instead of taking the most direct route, I took a route along a river. I walked slowly, feeling the dirt of the path under my feet, the wind on my cheeks. I peacefully arrived at the office, ready to work.
4. 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, or a reminder that 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.
5. 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.”
6. I prioritized sleep, diet, exercise, and meditation.
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 that together have a big impact.
When it comes to diet and exercise, 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 food, exercise regimes, etc, so I admit, knowing which simple little things to do for me may be easier than for others who haven’t invested the time and energy to do so. (If you're embarking on this journey, I suggest you start by consulting a naturopath doctor and a personal trainer.)
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. Practice meditation for just 10 minutes and you'll feel more clear-headed immediately.
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.
What's resonating with you from this post?
Which actions above do you currently practice? Which ones feel new to you?
Welcome to reach out, I'm here.