I had written 1,500 words on a blog post giving all of you an update on the feedback that readers had sent me on “My 3 biggest problems email” a little while back. If you are new to this blog, the premise was simple. I asked readers to write to me what their three biggest problems were in the hope that I could find some common themes and blog topics to write about.
I received some great feedback and had written a really good piece on breaking down the feedback I had received into three buckets (as that’s how the feedback from readers actually broke down). But then something magical happened. I started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and came across this passage:
“Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people, I always think, Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me. … please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”
The funny thing about that passage is that in my original email that I was going to send to you I wrote a part about not being able to see the “beam of wood” in our own eyes. Well, when I read Gilbert’s lines, I stopped and realized, yeah, the post that I’m writing is coming off like I’m on high and I have the answers to everything. My email was telling you what you needed to do to fix your problems, and, to be honest, there is no way that I could do that. What works for me may not work for you.
So instead of me coming off like I have all the answers, I’ve changed what I wrote. The purpose of my doing all of this writing and to sharing it with you is to be authentic with you. I want to be transparent, tell you when I screw up, what I did to fix it and, hopefully, from my experiences you might glean some truth that might be helpful for yourself. Sound like a plan? Good!
Let’s get started. I went through the responses that I received from readers about what their “3 Biggest Problems” were and their feedback fell into the following categories:
- Work/life balance
Out of the three listed above, the common theme was that many of you simply didn’t want to be lonely. Fellow readers wrote to me about how they looked to make new friends, tried to figure out how to connect with people when they had lifelong illnesses, missed their children and weren’t sure how to connect with new coworkers or neighbors in a new state. In breaking that down further, there was a mix of people looking to find someone to love as a romantic partner and others were just trying to find companionship.
After reading all of the responses, I could see the similar themes in the problems that people have. I wonder if you know that there are so many other people who are reading the same type of books as you who have similar problems. What I also found so amazing is the hope that I saw in people’s responses. No matter what the struggle, readers told me how they kept looking to find love, fought a disease or struggled onward with all the other challenges in their lives. Reading all the great responses made me realize what a wonderful connected web life truly is. I’m honored and thankful for the great responses that people sent in.
I took some time to think about the responses, what people shared and came up with an idea that I’d like to write about those topics, but as I wrote above, the plan changed a bit after I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s lines.
To start off the “3 Biggest Problems” series off, I’m going to focus on self-care. I believe that this is the foundation that I always go back to no matter if I have a relationship, health or work/life balance problem.
As trite as it might sound, I have found that loving myself is the most important first step to fixing any problem in my life. Doesn’t matter what problem I’ve had because I know that if I’m not comfortable in my own skin and am secure with myself and confident in my self-esteem, then everything else starts to tumble.
Unfortunately, when I was young, I’ve committed a lot of stupid mistakes trying to find love with friends and in romantic relationships. I thought that if you just found someone who you loved, that together, you could solve all your problems and that would be that (God, does that seem so dumb now to even write).
I didn’t understand then that getting into a romantic relationship with someone when I wasn’t ready would only cause my relationship to eventually implode. Countless self-help books read, therapy sessions and Adult Children of Alcoholic Anonymous meetings later, I at least have a better idea of what I was doing wrong and what steps I needed to take to get into a better place.
I now know that loving myself and self-care (mental, emotional, physical, psychological, etc.) are critical.
When I look back at the first three books in my Cinderella’s series, I tried to capture that feeling of lack of self-esteem with Cinderella. She latches onto anyone who shows her some care and concern because she lost her mother (and her father to his work) when she was young.
I wanted her to be shown with her quirks and weaknesses so that readers could not only identify with her but see her journey. What I hope comes through is that only she has the power to rescue herself. No prince, princess, boyfriend, money or what have you will solve her problems. And similarly, I need to rescue myself. No one else can save me.
The trick thing is that I’ve discovered a little wrinkle to this plan: It doesn’t matter how old I get, I still need to love myself and to ensure that I’m making time for self-care. There are basic things that I do out of necessity, while on autopilot, such as eating and sleeping.
Unfortunately, self-care is much more difficult to work into my life:
- Am I allowing myself to grow?
- Am I taking care of my mental state, making time to meditate, pray, talk to a friend or counselor?
- Have I set strong boundaries around myself so that I am giving myself the time I need to relax?
- Am I surrounding myself with positive influences? (Friends, family, books, music, films, activities)
These things are much harder to put into practice and often, I’ve found, to be left on the chopping block when I’m short for time. And I’ve found that over time, neglecting self-care is a bad thing because it always catches up to me.
I can’t be there for others if I’m not first there for myself.
That’s an extremely simple thought, but putting that into practice can be one of the most complex issues we face.
Here are a few examples:
- My boss gives me extra work and wants me to work over the weekend but I already have plans with my family. Do I say yes?
- My daughter is sick in the middle of the night and then I have a full work day tomorrow and am running on fumes. How do I cope?
- I’m running, running, running trying to hold all the balls in the air, but aren’t taking time to look in the mirror, smell the roses and reflect on my life. Am I truly being open to growth and change or am I simply using an exciting life to tamper out any of the negative feelings I’m having? (Essentially, keeping myself so busy not to deal with how I truly feel? It’s very easy to keep saying “I’m so busy.”)
I could go on and on, but I won’t. I bet you could add a point or two of your own. What is that problem? What is that beam in your own eye that you can’t see? And for me, what is that beam in my own eye that I’m blind to?
Like I said at the beginning of this: I needed to rewrite this whole piece because I was being blind to my own faults. Instead, I’m laying bare my own tendencies to screw up and take time to reflect on what I can do to solve my own issues. Because, again, no one can save me. Running around being busy all the time and not stopping to reflect on what I want out of life, why am I sacrificing so much time to write novels, is a bad thing for me. I need to stop and ask: WHY?
Because when I am at peace (like now at 5:45 a.m. in the morning when I am writing this), I know that I love sharing stories. I love dreaming up worlds, characters and to share with people what beauty, love and hope there is in the world. I just want to keep trying to share those stories because, deep down in my core, I’m a romantic. I believe there is good in everyone (as simple as that might sound).
The challenge I have in life is finding balance between self-care and the rest of my responsibilities (work, etc.). And, I’ll be honest, sometimes there isn’t always a good solution for some problems. There are times when a major deadline at work and one of my kids being sick happens at the same time. And there are other times when I push myself too hard, trying to finish a book. Why do I do that? If I’m not doing it to try and “save” others with my message, why do I truly write?
The deep, dark secret is that the stories I write help me. I had a rough childhood (I expect many of you can relate) and when I write about the hard times my characters are going through, I’m identifying with certain themes of abandonment, codependency, and the struggle to find self-esteem and love. By writing about that, I am setting myself free and it’s healing. It’s that simple.
So when I’m burning the candle on both ends, what can I do? Stop and think.
I’ve learned that when I’m at peace and at rest that’s the best time for me to truly judge whether I’m doing okay or in downright panic mode. Last week was a case of that: I was stressed at work, bogged down trying to finish the first draft of my latest book and I don’t remember what broke the camel’s back but I just lost it. I was cranky, tired and burned out.
The only way that I know of how to recharge my batteries is to take time to rest: Read and get to sleep early. I’m an introvert and that’s what works for me. I’ve found that all my other relationships go much more smoothly when I look at life from that perspective.
And that’s where I’m going to end this: Before dealing with relationships, complicated health problems or work/life balance, I know, that for me, it’s essential that I have a solid foundation of self-care. Without that, nothing else will work. When I take care and love myself first, then all else comes to me. Over the years I’ve positioned myself to be in the right mental space (as well as physical space) to meet knew people who would eventually become my friends and, eventually, one of those people would become my wife.
But I’ll leave you with this: I’ve been married for 15 years and with my wife for 21. Even after all that time, if I don’t practice self-care, I create waves in my marriage. If I’m honest, the same is true with my friendships and work. When I don’t practice taking care of myself, the rest starts to fall apart.
It’s that simple and, yes, that complicated.