Struggle and conflict are the rule, not the exception.
Weekends kinda suck for working parents. Our quiet mornings have vanished, along with our productive afternoons. We used to get so much done. And it felt nice. Now we fight just to squeeze in a little research between feeding and nap time.
We take turns being exhausted.
Your entire routine changes every few weeks. Just when you start going back to the gym, you catch another cold from work, or daycare. You already know happiness eludes everyone. That’s not what you’re after. But you should at least feel good most of the time, right?
Or maybe not.
Maybe your life’s supposed to be a plane in a thunderstorm. It’s supposed to rattle and dip and give you butterflies.
Working parents aren’t the only ones who struggle to manage a life of perpetual chaos. Maybe you expect to get laid off soon. Maybe some computer glitch just erased half a day of work you were proud of. Cloud storage didn’t come to the rescue this time.
Maybe all the expectations from your job and family make you want to walk out into the woods and scream.
Take a breath. The way you feel? It’s normal.
The problem with “If I could just…”
We think like this all the time: If we could just have ten minutes to make a real breakfast. If we could just finish that report. If we could just get our kid down for a nap. It’s not that we expect this one thing to make us happy. It’s that all of these things feel impossible in the moment.
They’re not. You’re doing them. You did them yesterday, or last week. And you forgot. Because you have to do these things over and over. You’ll always have a report due soon.
Your kid will always wake up from their nap. They’re supposed to.
We’re all slightly Sisyphus.
Certain kinds of work give you a finite, discrete sense of accomplishment. Most of us love projects that produce tangible results. A painting. A sculpture. A book manuscript. You can touch these things.
You made them.
We don’t like ongoing work. Not quite as much. It feels repetitive. Tedious. Monotonous. Your clean kid will get dirty again and require another bath. Your beautiful inbox zero will fill up overnight.
And yet, these tasks matter. Probably as much as the stuff that makes us feel good. We’re not supposed to enjoy typing memos and answering emails. In fact, none of us have ever met someone who describes paperwork as the favorite part of their job.
Even bigger projects don’t always deliver a sense of reward or achievement. Doing them doesn’t feel good in the moment. When we’re done, we sigh and return to our more meaningful work.
Real struggle doesn’t feel good.
Certain entrepreneurs glorify struggle. They churn out what Nat Eliason calls “struggle porn.” They love talking about the fun kind of struggle. The kind that’s highly conducive to group selfies at the office and YouTube videos. Sure, you can make a 14-hour day look cool.
Now picture yourself driving 12 hours to a conference because you can’t afford airfare. You’re also trying not to think about the editor who said he’d send you a decision “today” on an article you need to publish for tenure. You know you shouldn’t try to check email on your phone while driving, so you pull off at a rest stop every three hours.
And your dinner is a vending machine sandwich. This is not fun. It feels terrible. And it should.
Feeling this way makes you normal.
Real struggle revolves.
Picture yourself trying to make scrambled eggs while your daughter wails at you from her playpen. Trust me, it doesn’t look cool. It’s not fun. But the eggs taste good, even if you feel guilty and selfish. You needed a warm breakfast for once. And now you’re ready to make goofy faces at your kid and let her mess with your hair for the next two hours.
You realize she loves you, and that’s why she was crying. She thought you were gone forever.
Imagine answering emails or writing an article with one hand, on your phone, while your kid sleeps in your lap. Because that’s the only way it happens on Saturdays. That’s a struggle. It’s kinda boring. When you’re done, it doesn’t bring fulfillment so much as relief.
You say to yourself, “Okay, what’s next?”
Zoom out from your struggle.
It’s not that you feel happy or unhappy. You’re just slammed. This happens. It doesn’t feel good, even if you’re actually doing what you want. Living the kind of life you always dreamed out usually doesn’t feel that great in a given moment. That’s why you take a minute to zoom out. Check in with yourself. Ask, “Would I rather be doing something else?”
If the answer is no, then you’re okay. You just don’t feel good right now. Because you’re tired. Stressed about your stats. Or doing a necessary part of your job that you don’t like. Such as redoing paperwork.
Nobody ever reaches the perfect zen moment and stays there. That’s not the point.
Real struggle always strikes back.
A lot of advice is floating around about negative talk and bad attitudes. Here’s the thing. You never beat them completely. They don’t go away. The insecurity will always strike back.
So will the jealousy. The insatiable ambition. The perfectionism. The depression. The anger. The mood swings or suicidal thoughts. Whatever you struggle with. It never dies. Your inner Sith always returns.
That’s not a bad thing. It’s normal.
But we beat ourselves up when this happens, because we thought we’d fixed ourselves. We think we must’ve screwed up, because we still feel bad after all those great things we accomplished.
This sounds so obvious, and yet nobody remembers it when we feel the negative emotions.
When we feel good, or bad, we expect that to last forever. Remind yourself it won’t. Go through the motions if you have to. Zoom out. Do what you know has to happen. Write that memo. Buy those groceries. Cook that hot breakfast you need. Realize it might not make you feel fantastic, but it’ll keep you from walking into the ocean like a literary character.
Accept that you’re in the midst of real struggle. Maybe tomorrow won’t feel better. But the day after that might.
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