So! Last week I told a very dignified story about a river, and sharp rocks, and the moral was BUY THE DAMN RIVER SHOES and you can read that right here if you missed it.
I heard back from so many of you who wrote me saying, “Ohmygoddess!!! This is SO ME!!!!” (and most of you I still haven’t written back, but I WILL after my filling-up trip!!!), and it got me thinking.
Why do so many of us smart, capable, grounded, sane feminists end up doing this to ourselves!?!?
And THEN I REMEMBERED SOMETHING.
Last summer, Nick and I were hanging out with our kids at our local river. We weren’t camping or anything, it wasn’t a big trip, we just packed some snacks and sunscreen and hopped in the minivan and tootled down to the little river that runs through our town. The water is shallow, the current is sleepy, and we didn’t even have bathing suits on– the kids were just wading, finding minnows and very exciting rocks. It was one of those hot, soupy, lovely summer days.
Then all of a sudden my mama-radar went off. One of our kids had stumbled. The water was only ankle-deep where they were, but she’d lost her footing and every time she tried to get up she kept slipping. And somehow she’d gotten scootched sideways into a spot that was up to her knees and there was a sudden current that kept knocking her over and she was getting further away by the second.
You know how it goes– I didn’t even consciously realize WHAT I was doing until I flew across the river to her SO FAST and pulled her back across to dry land. We were both soaked through, and she was bruised and scratched and SCARED.
I hugged her, and we both got a little teary, and Nick remarked that he hadn’t actually known that I had the physical capacity to move that quickly. I gave him the evil eye as spouses do.
BECAUSE MY BABIES, OBVIOUSLY. Never underestimate the mama-bears.
And it wasn’t until later that I even realized that actually my feet were totally beaten up. Because I’d been barefoot, see, when I tore across the rocks. In the moment, the adrenaline and the fiery maternal instinct had overridden every bit of my normally-rather-delicate nerve endings and I hadn’t even noticed that the bottom of my feet were being asaulted by the nature that I was only seconds before marveling at.
And this is how it happens.
When it’s truly necessary, we can do crazy hard things and hardly even feel them.
Which is wonderful, and also why the species survives.
But HERE IS THE ISSUE.
If we’re not careful, that crisis level of operating becomes the new bar we set for ourselves.
You stayed at work until midnight fixing the crucial presentation? Now you’re a rock star who works til midnight!
You stayed up all night with the sick baby and still killed it on the conference call? Ah yes, because you are a person who doesn’t NEED sleep!
You swooped in and helped the friend in her crisis? Now you are The Person Who Will Always Help, 24x7!
You ran into the river to scoop up your little girl and you did it barefoot? Awww, see, who needs river shoes???
This is how it happens.
Not with one big decision that we’re going to overwork, overstress, overgive, overtax.
Just a bunch of tiny moments of everyday badassery that somehow, accidentally, can become business as usual if we’re not careful.
Now of COURSE I want you to be your truly heroic self when the moment presents itself!
But if you find that that moment is presenting itself every day or even every week??? That’s not heroism, that’s martyrdom.
We need to be able to distinguish an actual emergency from a mini-crisis and use our resources wisely.
And the more we take care of ourselves in peacetimes, the more we will have to give when we’re truly called upon. So don’t mistake everyday life for an unending crisis. Don’t let that become your New Normal. Otherwise you’re always going to feel a little bruised and battered.
Plus, let’s be honest; there will be plenty of honest-to-goodness actual emergencies, so save yourself for those. Beware the illusion that you’re supposed to be a hero every hour of every day.
That’s actually CRAZY.
Rest up, badass.
Because even first responders get days off.
And if your life does include more honest-to-goodness true crises than most people, I salute you. I am here cheering you on. You’re my heroes. And, you probably already know that it’s even MORE important that you find ways to fill yourself up (even if it’s in the tiniest doses) in the cracks of time in between.
Now let me be clear, I need this advice as much as anyone else. And I have just as hard a time following it as my clients do. Because life mostly DOES feel like a series of emergencies and they’re ALL DIRE. But I know, I truly do know, that that isn’t true and it isn’t sustainable.