Guys, I’m just going to honest: 2018 has been a crazy year for me, with lots of challenges. January 1, I had no idea we’d be moving countries. Now I’m poised to move to Cape Town, but still not there yet, waiting on African bureaucracy for paperwork to come through that’s completely out of my hands. Will this wild ride I’ve been on this year ever end?
For someone like me who loves to be in control, this has been an especially hard process. When I first thought about leaving Kenya I was terrified. But it also launched a process of freedom that I hadn’t had before. Freedom from the need to be perfect and the fear that I’m not good enough.
I was having a lot of anxiety back in February, so I went to talk to a counselor. After hearing me talk for a while, she made an observation. “Have you realized you are ‘shoulding’ all over the place?” I had no idea what she was talking about, so she elaborated. “You keep talking about what you think you *should* be doing. I’ve kept track and you’ve said something like that a dozen times.”
I had no idea, until she pointed it out. But then I realized that it was true. And that it wasn’t isolated to just this one conversation. Throughout my life, I’ve been plagued by insecurities that I’m not good enough, that there is more or better that I *should* be doing.
The counselor handed me a 3x5 card. She told me to write on the front of the card who I am. Then turn it over and write out who I think I should be. I went home with the card and dutifully filled out my homework assignment — although, TBH I wrote it in my journal since I’m far to wordy for a 3x5 card. But the exercise was truly liberating.
As I wrote out who I was, I felt so affirmed. I wrote the things I was good at and enjoyed, even if they were things I hadn’t felt were worth celebrating. And as I wrote them, I realized this person I was describing was pretty great. I actually liked her.
Here’s a sampling of my list:
• Hospitable, loves to have people over for a meal or to stay
• Outgoing and friendly
• Likes to be well-dressed
• Empathetic and sensitive
• Good communicator
• Likes a cozy, comfortable home
Then I wrote out who I thought I should be. The things that weren’t part of my previous list, but I wished they were, or always felt like they should be. And it was eye opening. Here’s the gist of my list:
• A full-time stay-at-home-mom
• A full-time missionary
• Never says no to others’ needs
• Tough and less emotional
• Hard-core camper who enjoys roughing it
Do you see what was eye opening? First of all, some of those things are mutually exclusive (being a full-time mom and a full-time worker), and writing that down actually made me realize how ridiculous those warring expectations were. Another, the not saying no piece, I then recognized wasn’t healthy. I’ve met someone like that and she was in the last stages of burnout, a paranoid mess who couldn’t help anyone much less herself. I realized that’s not actually who I wanted to be. And that brings us to the last two parts, where I had written how I wanted to be tougher. I’ve always felt like I lived too soft, like I should be in some war-torn country or at the very least a slum. But then I compared that with my first list of who I was and I said to myself, “Huh. That’s not me, but I like me, so I’m okay with that.” For the first time, I felt proud of myself for having a comfortable home, for making choices of saying no to things that made my life sustainable. And I can tell you, I would not have survived so long on the mission field without making choices for self-care. I did those things, and I’m thankful for that, but in the back of my mind I always felt guilty about them. For the first time, I could accept them.
So that was the start of my journey towards greater freedom this year. There’s been lots of other steps along the way, and I’d love to share more in other blog posts. In the meantime, if you struggle with “shoulds” like I do, I’d encourage you to do the exercise I did. Then I’d love to hear how it went for you.