Things are tough, everyone knows it. Some of us are back at work, or whatever work looks like these days. Some still shelter at home, some are becoming new techno-wizards-by-necessity. Some people are out of work and hanging on by a thread. Other folks are nervously still working at businesses that are themselves on the verge of bankruptcy.
Politics are heating up and people who have made their choices are busily trying to convince those few stubborn folks who refuse to pay attention to either party (and blindly insist that both parties are the same) that their candidates are superior in every way. Everywhere you look are political ads pointing fingers, yelling out warnings, using the sounds of war, snapping fingers, ringing phones, and even rattlesnakes in the back ground to make you even more on edge and willing to seek safety.
And then there’s the weather. And fires. And social unrest, peaceful protests, rioting, police brutality, white privilege, systemic racism…
…oh, and a little thing we call a pandemic that is killing our fellow human beings at shocking rates all around the world. We try to go about our business while getting used to wearing masks (fogging glasses, smoker’s breath) and no longer getting facial cues to help us understand others.
People are totally stressed out. And as they have always done, they lash out at strangers because that’s so much safer than risking relationships of value by venting at home. People are rude when told something they were used to is different now, they’re vindictive online when their whims cry out for revenge, safe behind screens to write things they’d never say with mouths that kiss their mothers. Stress turns normal people into fretful freaks, or angry avengers, or snarky narcs, and every
Metaphorical line, it could be they’re on your phone, visiting your office, trashing your book reviews (Charles), or staring at you through two car windows and a foot of space between them during rush hour.
They stomp on your day, digging sharp elbows into soft bellies, setting your teeth on edge, challenging you to admit you don’t know what you’re doing and have completely, utterly, failed. Judith Viorst knew exactly what I’m talking about and brilliantly named a picture book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which I used to read aloud to my students, even the sixth graders. Because everyone has them.
Terrible days. Horrible weeks. No good months. And very, very bad years (Yeah, we’re looking at you 2020). You need a way to counter their effects, save your day, remind yourself of your skills and talents, and give yourself a mental hug. So I’m sharing a life hack that has served me well over the decades, but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone.
As an elementary school teacher, I began keeping a file in my desk at work. I titled it: To Be Read on Very Bad Days and in it I kept every little thank you, recognition of my skills, and love note from a student I was given. Any praise from administrators, awards and recognition, photos with kids, were carefully stored. On days that left me ready to weep with exhaustion, low self-esteem, and frustration I would give myself 10 minutes to pull out my file and remember. Re-reading about my successes, seeing the appreciation of those whose lives I’d touched for the better, remembering the strength of my conviction to be my best self, would help. I’d straighten my shoulders, stiffen my spine, wipe my eyes, and carry on.
Over the years that folder grew thicker and just the sight of it would sometimes be enough to help me shoulder through the days when I felt like the worst teacher ever. Even though I’ve been retired a long time now, that folder stays in my desk in the basement. I still read it from time to time.
Start one. Today. Take a half-hour and gather whatever you’ve got lying around in the way of compliments, no matter how small. Birthday cards signed by co-workers, a note, glowing reviews… We need to SEE, visibly SEE our successes to remember why it’s worth going through the messiness of life, especially these days.
Keep adding to your file and over the years it will become just the thing you need on those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days when you need a little self-support. And if you can’t count on yourself, who can?