I make lists like it’s my job. And for a while there, it was: I’ve gone down the personal assistant route, I’ve written round-ups of everything from the best protein bars to “7 bike shorts that don’t suck.” My methods for getting to-dos to-DONE are impressive at best, neurotic at worst. Bubbles, arrows, brackets – my lists are more like living breathing flow chat entities than items to be checked off (don’t even get me started on my Google Cal notifications).
My professional-life-enthusiast status does not come without its pitfalls, though. I have a tendency to become dependent on strategizing, and therefore a little addicted to a steady stream of outcomes. Which isn’t really a problem, until it is.
Sometimes life gets in the way of plans, but sometimes it also feels like life is that one super-late party guest who keeps texting you that she’s “ten minutes away” and then just ends up saying she’ll catch you next time. As much as I’d LOVE to be able to To-Do List my life, usually the universe has stuff in store that doesn’t quite line up with the algorithmic vision I have of causes and effects.
And when I find myself without a next step – or anything to show for my time and work, really – I deflate.
My friend Diane calls it being “down in the slumps.” Nope, not down in the dumps – down in the slumps. Her slumpy catchphrase was originally born out of a misunderstood idiom, but I’ve now found it’s actually pretty accurate when it comes to describing that lame feeling of defeat. It’s not just sad or depressed: when you’re down in the slumps, you feel like all the air that’s been keeping you buoyantly afloat has been drained out of your spirit. You try and try to hoist yourself back up into the air, but it’s nearly impossible to get even a few inches off the ground without slumping down over yourself more and more just a few seconds later.
I’ve seen my share of slumpy slumps. Heck, I just uprooted my entire life and moved across the country – don’t you think for one second that that sort of acclimatization process doesn’t come with its fair share of slump feelings. My slumps have almost exclusively been a result of (unintentionally) going cold-turkey on my “habit addiction,” not even leaving me with a set of vague rules or roads to use as guideposts. It’s why I’m historically not chummy with change, and why transitions are such a challenge for me. What have you even been doing? an unfamiliar judgmental voice inside me nags. You’re a smart woman; you’re wasting your potential. You have nothing to show for the days/weeks/months that have passed you by.
You’re not trying hard enough.
You’re not doing nearly enough.
Enough enough enough. You’re definitely not enough.
Hey, inner voice, here’s a newsflash: sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you try. Sometimes what’s necessary is exactly what you dislike the most. Sometimes you need to explore your full range of emotions to find out where the key is to get back out into the sunlight. Sometimes the challenge is necessary for the change.
When I was in high school, my theater teacher used to tell us that instead of saying we were nervous before a show, we should tell ourselves that we were actually excited. Both nervous and excited are “aroused emotions,” meaning they trigger a response in the body that prepares you for action. Studies are now showing what theatre kids have known for their entire lives: Turning your words around in a tense situation can turn your emotions around, too.
But what about when the emotions you’re feeling are a response to inaction? How do you flip a shitty feeling without sounding like freaking Mary Poppins or your well-meaning great aunt who passive-aggressively reminds you about ticking clocks and when-I-was-your-age and your super successful third cousin and what-not?
What happens when doing everything you can just never feels like enough?
Did you ever think about why exactly it is that you’re down in the slumps? Why is it that you’re able to feel as discouraged as you do?
Think of it this way: if you were actually an unmotivated, untalented, no-passion loser, discouragement wouldn’t be an option, right? You’d be living in blissful ambivalence, not caring about anyone or anything – CERTAINLY not giving a crap about moving forward fearlessly.
But you’re NOT any of those things, because you’re not someone who doesn’t care. Your discouragement is a reminder that you care, and care deeply.
The OG of motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar, once said It’s not about how far you fall, it’s about how high you bounce.
Did you ever think that the reason your lows are so low…is because you’re fearless enough to go chase the high highs?
Did you ever think that we’re all just getting the wording wrong?
We say we’re stuck and discouraged when really, we should be saying we’re ambitious and driven.
The great thing about ambitious and driven people is that they’re always seeking growth and expansion. Whether that’s personal growth (relationships, health, spirituality), career-related growth (new jobs, new projects, new ideas), or something else, the ambitious person is a professional possibility seeker. It’s part of them. It’s in their bones.
The flip is that possibility is subjective. One person’s vision is another person’s dead-end. So what happens when there’s no possibility to be found? The ambitious person shrinks. She deflates herself to fit the perceived space around her, one she sees as too small and narrow to hold her drive and desires.
How many times have we altered who we are in our core just to fit in? When possibility is scarce, we start to think “it’s us.” So we lower our intensity, mute our opinions, and become a shell of who we are in order to survive and thrive in the elements of where we are. Ambition and drive seem like negative qualities, not positive, when you’re buying into the belief that the world isn’t big enough to receive what you have to offer.
It’s a simple, borderline-positive-affirmation-esque shift. But what makes the discouraged-to-driven shift different than any old affirmation (or any BS click-baity strategy that ultimately just tells you to look on the bright side) is that with affirmations you need to talk yourself into believing the phrase. The discouraged-to-driven shift is easier to recognize as truth right off the bat. You’ve got PROOF from your life to support this fact. Times you’ve succeeded. Times you’ve soared. It’s just that it’s a whole lot easier to praise ambition and drive when things are actually going your way. So in frustrating or deflating times, it’s essential to remind yourself of your true nature.
When you’re feeing discouraged, remind yourself that there is a big world out there that’s more than big enough to fit your unique level of ambition, intensity, and courage. All people have that electric drive in them. But not all people are brave enough to explore where it can lead them. It’s easier to give into the slump than it is to slowly-but-surely soar. You choose to go for the “soar” even though it requires you to show up, both physically and emotionally. You fall down and have to improvise at times, and if you’re like me and would rather have a list of to-dos to get to-DONE, it’s never going to be comfortable. But you’ll get there. That drive is part of what makes you extraordinary.
Side note – don’t you think I’ve stopped making lists in my life. It’s just not an *addiction* anymore. There was a time I thought my lists were what kept me motivated…but now I realize that it’s just the opposite. My lists are just byproducts of the motivation that sets everything in motion in the first place. There’s a whole lot in my life I’m just not able to list out and check off in sequence. Like what happens after you move across the country. Or what happens when you leave a job. But I know I’m a doer, and I know whatever the slump, I’ll find a way through.
There are unknowns and there are pivots, and there are times when it feels like you don’t even know where to start getting started. I get it. But the small step of identifying and trusting who you are at your core is the perfect small step to get the ball rolling. It’s not about how far you fall, it’s about how high you bounce. It’s not about how low you slump, it’s about how high you soar.