Why is it that I have all the patience in the world when it comes to the kids at my job? Let it be anything else in my life and I seem to be lacking – especially when it comes to myself. I would never put unfair or unachievable standards on my kids at school. So why is it that I think I’m an exception and I put these crazy standards on myself?
Some people will argue and say it’s just called pushing yourself hard and having high expectations of yourself because you know what you’re capable of. While this can be true in some circumstances, this is not the case. You can trace it back to how my generation uses technology for instant gratification. You could probably even take one of the many effects of my trauma to explain it. Perhaps you could blame it on the subtle red streaks of Irish in my hair and say “it’s just that Irish temper.” Any of these would be an easy explanation into why my patience lacks in some areas.
The truth is that it doesn’t really matter why. In some instances, I usually LOVE deep diving into the why’s of behavior – especially my own. In this case, I’m more interested in what behavioral changes or mindset shifts I can make to help me live with a little more gratitude and being present in the process. You will make the greatest discoveries about yourself and learn the hardest lessons through the process than you will from looking at a nice list of accomplishments. Reaching goals and moving from one milestone to the next is a huge feat. However, if we only ever focus on the next thing in our reach – the next promotion, a bigger house, a better job, more likes, more followers, more money, etc – we miss the greater joy that is right in front of us. The joy of being present in the process and having patience until we get there. Impatience is a great thief of joy. I’m taking mine back.
For most of my life, I’ve always put some expectation of perfection on myself. Again, we can chalk up the reasoning behind this to many things from my past and present. The bigger idea is that this image of perfection doesn’t leave much room for failure or learning. How can we learn and grow if we never fail? We can’t. It’s pretty simple. We also can’t learn from our mistakes if we don’t allow room for patience, understanding, and grace with ourselves.
My patience seems to run thin when I’ve gotten past a stage of self doubt and negative thinking. I find myself in a place where my mind says, “okay, I’ve finally decided on this next goal. Now, let me work tirelessly until I get the answers I want or have achieved whatever the next step is that will lead me closer to my goal.” This way of thinking is similar to the “grind” mindset we see all over social media. The idea that we must work day and night, sacrifice sleep, neglect our wellbeing, and only spend time monetizing every aspect of our life. I don’t know about you, but that schedule doesn’t really look like it leaves much time for being patient with yourself when you fail or make a mistake.
To give you a real life example, let me give you a closer look into my life here recently. The past year or so has been what some people refer to as a ‘quarter’ life crisis. After abandoning my life in the fitness industry to focus largely on my mental health and healing from my past, I took a job in child care. Hands down, this has been one of the best last minute decisions of my life – and trust me, I’ve had a lot of those. Working with kids has been something so great for my mental wellbeing. It has allowed me the room to not only enjoy my workday, but give my time and energy into something other than myself. Running around wrangling a classroom full of 14 two year olds doesn’t leave any time for you to worry about if your skinny jeans are accentuating your thigh cap or not. You sure can’t teach 20 four year olds about the letter of the day if you haven’t nourished yourself properly. And you can bet your sweet cheeks that the classroom full of 8 screaming infants could give a shit (literally) about what you look like that day as long as you feed them their bottle and pat their booties.
As much as I was enjoying the work I was doing, I couldn’t help but constantly wonder what my next career move was going to be. I was constantly being asked by friends and family, “well what are your real career goals? You know what I mean, like a real job. What are you going to go back to school for?” These questions, although usually well intentioned, were often followed by numerous suggestions of career paths that would lead to more money than I was currently making. Some suggested teaching. Some suggested being a preschool director. Some even suggested careers that would mix teaching and fitness, like a P.E. teacher. Again, while these were usually meant with love, it put an added pressure on me that I already had on myself.
All this thinking about where I was going to go next didn’t really leave a ton of room for me to be patient with my own process. Did I actually want a career at the preschool? No. Did I genuinely want to go back to school to further my education? Maybe, but rushing myself through that process was never going to lead me to the right answer. Instead, it made me consider all these different routes that, deep down, I knew wouldn’t lead me to feel very fulfilled in life. This feeling of fulfilment wasn’t something I was willing to give up when it came to my career choice and thank goodness I didn’t.
Once I finally gave myself a little patience and let myself breathe for a second, I found my answer to my career goals in a book. I had made the decision to trade some screen time throughout my day for reading a few pages from a book that I had been saying I was going to read for a couple months and never even started. The book is called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. It discusses how trauma affects the whole body, mentally and physically. It goes into depth on the science behind what is happening. For the first time in probably my entire life, I wasn’t forcing myself to read. I’ve always joked that I don’t actually know how to read and that my reading comprehension skills were wildly lacking as a funny excuse for why I hated it. Turns out, that isn’t the case at all. I just didn’t give a shit about anything I was reading. I found myself way more engrossed and entertained by this book than anything on my phone. There were no more google searches for side hustles that can help me make extra money. There wasn’t the constant career-column reading on what career paths I can go down with the education and experience I had. It was just me, my fancy mildliner highlighter that I paid way too much money for, my mac-n-cheese cup, and my book on my lunch breaks at work.
I remember thinking to myself it’d be cool to do something centered around psychology and mental health for my career, but I’d always come to the same conclusion.
I could never do that.
There’s no way I’d ever be able to handle going back to school with my history of schooling.
It’s way too late in my life to do some major career move like that.
I can tell you for a fact that this negative thinking and having zero belief in myself did come from a past of trauma and learned negative self-talk. Thanks to my previous efforts to heal myself from maladaptive coping skills such as these, I knew that these thoughts were dumb. Though at times, I still believed them to be true. Despite the contradicting thoughts in my head, I researched some career paths that involved going back to school for psychology. I quickly found myself overwhelmed with excitement over all the areas of work and study that I could go into. There were even options that included my love for kids – wow, imagine that.
This is the part where I discovered my next goal. This is the part where my lack of patience almost bested me. I spent much more time on my phone looking up program after program. I reached out to countless schools’ admissions offices to get advice on how to get accepted and what my next steps were. I was trying so hard to hurry up and get started in an attempt to begin class in August (a month’s time span) that I didn’t give myself a chance to breathe. I found myself getting super frustrated and annoyed when I didn’t get immediate responses to my emails or my searches wouldn’t lead me to the answer I wanted. Didn’t people know that I was in a time crunch and trying to rush through a process for absolutely no reason?
It was at this point that I was close to throwing in the towel. I was falling victim to that negativity in my head again. You might think this hard inner critic is no big deal, but she comes in the form of a bear from my past and sounds so loud it’s like she’s in the room with me. Just believe me when I say this bear is very convincing.
Using whatever strength I had left after staying up late to chase after answers I wasn’t going to get, I decided to reach out for help. Previously, this was not something I ever did and still took some convincing to do. I called the mom of kids I nanny for in the mornings (she’s a badass career lady that means what she says). The conversation was quick and concise. She took my doubt and questioned it for lacking any depth or truth. With some reassurance and kind words, I was back on my game. Crazy how kind words can really make a difference in a person’s day or even life.
After all that was said and done, I sat back and let myself catch a breath. I got some rest. I had patience for all the emails I’d sent out and still haven’t gotten a response to. Most importantly I had patience for myself. What was the rush? What would be the point in forcing myself back into school completely unprepared and not at all in the right mindset? I wouldn’t be setting myself up for success that’s for sure. Instead, I talked with some friends and my boss at work about my possible career plans for the future. This time I didn’t go searching for the answers I wanted. I was patient with myself and others and actually ended up getting better feedback than I had imagined. I got some great insight on applying to programs from some old friends who had already done the same thing. My boss helped find job shadowing opportunities to get me some experience in the mental health field. This was all way more helpful than any of my previous plans to dive in head first into something I wasn’t prepared for.
Through this process I am and will continue to learn and grow in a way that will only better prepare me for my future plans. See, patience is a whole lot more than just not being quick to anger. It’s taking real time to let an idea or decision sit with you. It’s knowing that the hard work will be worth it. It’s knowing that taking back your joy and being present in the process will do more for you than the “grind” ever will.
Are you currently in school and feeling the pressure to graduate in four years or even early? Maybe you’ve been excited to make a big career change and you’re ready to dive right in. You might be interested in a new hobby, but instead of starting at beginner you’re ready to jump all the way to level expert. What your case may be, know that it is okay to be excited about something new or to want to push yourself to keep going and finish your goals. Where we go wrong is putting an idea of how we think we should do something and possibly an unrealistic timeline on ourselves. If you’re in school and struggling with your mental health, ask yourself what would happen if you took a semester off to focus on yourself and your wellbeing. If you’re ready to quit your job today to finally go for that dream job, slow down and come up with a concrete plan to get there. If you’re about to drop $300 on a new guitar without having a second thought, take a minute to do your research, buy some music books, look into lessons, and be patient. In any scenario, being patient with ourselves and taking time to let our minds feel its emotions, think through an idea, process a change, or heal from our past will never hurt us.
Thanks for being patient with me and making it through this extremely long post. Now that you’ve finished, I challenge you to go trade even a little bit of your screen time for literally anything else that your life is better spent on.