|My brother Nate swimming in 30" snow, Dec. 2016|
I was talking with my dad tonight on the phone and he mentioned something that really struck me. He said that New Englanders are gritty, direct, and know how to roll up their sleeves and work (i.e. shovel snow & shop wood). That piece wasn't the surprising piece, as I am very in tune with my inner New Englander, but the piece that was surprising was when he mentioned that those personality traits piss a lot of people off and make people feel uncomfortable. This got me thinking. And here's what I arrived at: it's kinda true, but it sucks that it's kinda true.
Reflecting on my own experiences, especially in my jobs and career, I have been publicly and privately shamed for my work ethic. It used to bother me a lot, especially when I was younger and figuring out who I was in this crazy world. It would range from being called out as a teacher's/bosses pet to being a perfectionist, to the Ms. Know It All or more recently, the competent one. When one lives her whole life like this, it becomes a double edged sword; you get praise for the qualities of a hard worker and the results and outcomes of that archetype, but you run the risk of being shamed and criticized.
Here's what I know now that I would share with my younger self struggling with the paradox:
If you believe in the work, it's all worth it. If the work totally lights you up, then keep forging the path and don't give a shit about what people think.
Know that there is a fine line between engagement and burn out. Burn out is not a fun trip to go on. Ever. It happens before you even know it's happening, so find someone who can compassionately keep you in check. Don't lose yourself in your work to the point where you aren't taking care of your basic needs and getting time outside in nature.
Don't sacrifice who you are. Don't resign yourself completely and swing the other way of not caring. I tried this once or twice or a hundred times. My care-o-meter is either 0% or 100%. I don't have the middle guage, but that's me. I refuse to succumb to mediocrity in my own work as long as it's not holding up the end result or impinging on someone else to get their work done.
Know who is in your corner. Whether it's your boss, your colleague, your spouse, or your meditation teacher, have someone who can pick you up when you are feeling down and doubting that this whole hard work thing isn't worth it.
Stop giving a shit about what other people think. Within reason of course. You can't just be a bull thrashing around expecting people to like it. But spend your energy on what matters versus what people think. That's plain blazing insecurity and it's not sexy. I promise.
All good things take work. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither was your local yoga studio or the amazing nonprofit you support or the coffee you drink or the plants from your garden. Good things take some time and effort and some work. That will always be a reminder in doing our work out in the world.