"You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection" - Buddha
In today's hyper-connected and fast-paced global world, we are all moving, hustling and working a lot.
Many of us are committed to work-life balance and work-life fit, but face the challenge of putting what we know is important into practice. We know the benefit of purposeful pauses, digital detoxes, play, mindfulness, sleep and exercise. And yet, life has a way of... happening, and our choices do not always match our ideas of our "best selves."
The Third Metric series has offered us an opportunity to rethink how we define success, and how and why we make the choices that we do.
Perhaps an equally important point of reflection might be how we handle life when all of the things that we know that we want to do and be change or are challenged. For me, this all became much more top of mind after becoming sick.
It might be a good time to admit that my online photo in many places is an image of Wonder Woman. I even use the image in some of presentations. I strongly connect with this idea and image of a woman who is powerful, motivated and fights to make the world a better place.
Recently, I was admitted to the hospital for asthma. I caught a cold that worsened, and after numerous ER visits, was admitted to the hospital for a week. I have been an asthmatic since 6 months of age, and have been admitted to the hospital before. But it had been a couple of years, and I forgot the learning and reflection that comes from being sick.
Flashback: It is 2000. I am working in a very traditional professional services firm where we received the message that people do not take time for doctor's appointments or "things outside of work." I was working on a project with a big magazine. We had a call with one of the writers, and I called from my hospital room. I had not told anyone that I was sick, or more importantly, that I was in the hospital. I am on the call with the writer and the head of the practice, and the phone disconnects. They call me back before I could call them back -- and the phone is routed to the nurses station. I cannot remember all of the details after that, but I do remember having to explain that I was in the hospital...
Looking back on this experience, I can ask my older, wiser and hopefully more evolved self what I learned. If I look at the deeper meaning of why it happened, there were many factors at play. I did not want people to think that I was not capable or strong. I was also working within a common traditional framework that defined "success" as not being sick, not needed time away and DEFINITELY not being in the hospital.
Fourteen year later, I am wiser and perhaps in many ways, more gentle and self-compassionate with myself. This time, people knew I was sick. And more importantly, Iknew I was sick, and needed to take care of myself.
As a person who travels a lot, I found myself getting in touch with the analogy of feeling like I was on a long flight. I was comfortable, taken care of, safe and headed to a destination... this felt right. There were meals, a television and a bed... but in the hospital there was also oxygen, and breathing treatments, and nurses that came for my vitals throughout the day. I was sick, and the doctors were saying that even when I was released from the hospital, it would take some time before I would be back to normal.
It had clicked that I was sick.
In the hospital, I found myself move from a place of wanting to get home to wanting to make sure that I was feeling well. Each of the nurses and doctors heard me say that I wanted to go home. My very loving and patient family would smile (and sometimes roll their eyes...) as I would declare that I will be going home the next day. Then one day, it switched. I still wanted to go home, but I found myself saying to the doctor that I was fine staying an extra day if it would help me feel better.
Because I was sick, many things were delayed, and dinners and brunches postponed. I did not want to seem like a "drama queen" by announcing that I was in the hospital, but people who know me know that I do not cancel meetings, calls, phone dates or dinners. Although more grounded and aware than I was in 2000, I was mindful of my hesitation to let clients and even some friends know I was sick.
People are busy (I used the "four-letter word"), schedules are tight. I am known as a person who is responsive. I cannot remember an episode where Wonder Woman gets sick. Can you?
Dr. Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion encourages us to think about how we treat ourselves when things do not go our way, or as planned:
Perhaps most importantly, having compassion for yourself means that you honor and accept your humanness. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will encounter frustrations, losses will occur, you will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life.
Self-compassion is a modern day necessity -- a new type of super power. It allowed me to be sick, and to focus on getting well.
When I told a friend who is a powerhouse CEO and "super woman" that I had been in the hospital recently, she said "you know, friends tell friends that they are in the hospital." She also told me that she makes amazing chocolate cookies, and would have brought me some. Friends and colleagues were all supportive and understanding. Her comment was simple, and straightforward, but was a reminder about empathy, the humanness of who we are, and our connections.
I did not plan for January 2014 to be the "sick month," but it was. I am still working on getting back to "normal," and reminding myself (often,) that it will take time.
Perhaps we need to create a new Wonder Woman episode where Wonder Woman gets sick, practices self-compassion, and then returns stronger and bolder as she fights to rid the world of injustice.