I have gone around and around for the past few days about how to start this post, and I have tried several intro paragraphs on for size, but none of them seem to do the topic justice so I’m just going to jump right in. And, really, when you’ve got something that you want to say, there’s no sense beating around the bush, is there?
I’ve written before about struggling with comparisons and image and perfectionism. I’ve written about the ways that I let fear and doubt and what others might think hold me back. And I’ve written about the ways that I am trying to carve out a new way to define what is means to be balanced and successful and happy.
And in the past few weeks/months, I have become very much aware that I am not the only one who suffers from this Frosted Window Syndrome, this disease of dis-ease that thrives on Comparisons and Never-Enoughs and Gotta-Haves and the Pursuit of Perfection and the Quest to “Have It All.” And it absolutely breaks my heart that so many people are fighting this never-ending battle to feel like they Measure Up, that so many people feel like they can’t Keep Up and that they are Not Enough.
Some of us, I think, are a bit more susceptible to Frosted Window Syndrome than others. Maybe it’s because of our harsh inner critic. Or maybe it’s because we’re scared or because our skin is a little thinner than others. Maybe it’s because we have an overflowing heart or because we just have a harder time separating ourselves from the cruelty and beauty of the world. Whatever the reason, it’s there and it’s real and it pretty much sucks.
Because, even though Frosted Window Syndrome might sometimes push us to work harder or compel us to act a certain way, ultimately, it separates us from seeing what is Real and True and it prevents us from feeling Joy. Not just happiness, but deep-in-your-soul-and-down-to-your-bones JOY.
I have spent too much time worrying about things that just do not matter, things that have separated me from Real and True Joy. I can’t tell you how much time I have spent comparing myself harshly and negatively to…well…just about everyone – to the mom who only feeds her kids healthy, organic meals; to the dad who plays tag with his kids at the park while I sit on the bench and scroll through Facebook; to the blogger/writer who just got a book deal; to the mom proudly sporting a pre-baby body just days after giving birth; to the neighbor with the beautiful house and well-manicured lawn; to the popular friend who hosts the best parties (matching wine glasses and all!); to the acquaintance with the designer clothes and fancy purse; to the friend from church who volunteers 20 hours a week; to the mom who never yells; to the friend who never loses her cool; to the woman at the gym with toned biceps and a flat stomach; to the Facebook friend who seems to “have it all.”
I can’t tell you how many parties and feasts and celebrations have been clouded with stress and anxiety about calories and the way that I look and social faux pas and mismatched wine glasses. I can’t tell you how many days have been deemed “good days” or “bad days” because of the number on the scale and how many times I have pinched my stomach to judge my self-worth. I can’t tell you how many times I have minimized a feel-good-should-be-proud writing accomplishment by immediately finding some inherent shortcoming (e.g., I’m still unpublished, this post only got two “likes,” or I don’t have as many followers as this writer or that writer). And I can’t tell you how many times I have taken a success and bent it and twisted it into something completely unrecognizable by adding qualifiers or putting undue pressure on myself to come up with the Next Big Thing.
I can’t tell you how many times I have minimized my worth as a wife, mother, friend, daughter, and sister, characterizing my role in these relationships as perfunctory or inconsequential or unimportant; how many times I have pretended to be something or someone that I am not for the sole purpose of making someone “like” me.”
And I know too many people who are good parents, who are good employees, who have healthy marriages and solid relationships, who are kind and good people, but still feel like they are not enough, like they are failing somehow and in some way.
I know too many woman who subsist on coffee and Diet Coke and hunger headaches in order to maintain a thin figure. I know too many moms who feel guilty because they don’t work outside of the home, and too many moms who feel guilty because they do. I know too many women who feel unattractive because their bodies are different now – looser, softer, more tender. I know too many moms who feel unappreciated and unworthy because they spend the majority of their day wiping noses and bottoms, making meals and cleaning up after meals, doing laundry, and shuffling a minivan full of kids to after-school activities.
I know too many men who feel inadequate because they don’t make as much money as the guy in the office next door or because they wear jeans that are two sizes bigger than those they wore ten years ago. I know too many dads who come home exhausted after working all day and somehow find the energy to play hide-and-seek for an hour before bed, yet still feel like they aren’t doing enough. And I know too many men who, despite work successes and a full family life, feel like they aren’t where they “should” be or where they thought they would be.
I know too many people – men and women, moms and dads, parents of young kids and parents of grown kids – who feel frazzled, exhausted, and perpetually behind. I know too many people who don’t have enough time to engage in small talk with their friends and family, let alone have a real conversation with one another or just be together, because of the pressure to do more and have more. I know too many people who feel like they aren’t pretty enough or rich enough or thin enough or popular enough. I know too many people who struggle mightily to be a good employee, an attentive parent, an affectionate spouse, a well-liked friend, and still find the time to volunteer, exercise, read, go to church, take care of aging parents or sick family members, and (heaven forbid!) get a manicure every once in awhile – because, let’s be honest, doing everything and “having it all” is JUST NOT POSSIBLE even if we tell ourselves that it could be if we just tried harder.
I have spent too much time and energy making myself feel inadequate and somehow lacking, and I know too many people who are great people, who are well-loved people, who also feel inadequate and somehow lacking. And it makes me sad and angry and frustrated…and absolutely determined to find a way to stop the madness.
I am not entirely sure of the cure yet, but over the years I have learned a few things about fighting this Frosted Window Syndrome where everything looks a little out-of-focus and hazy. I have learned that compassion and forgiveness and authenticity help. A LOT. So does throwing my hands up and saying, “Good Enough!” every now and then. It also takes being present over perfect, and heaps and heaps of Kindness. It takes a bit of faith and surrender, as well – to God or a higher power or luck or what-have-you. And I’m absolutely certain that it takes vulnerability and courage and surrounding myself with people who love me, wholly and unconditionally.
And then, on top of all that, sometimes you just have to find a hammer and SMASH that frosted, hazy window to pieces.
Because a funny thing happens after you smash a frosted, muddled-up window and make the decision to quit keeping score. Sure, it gets a little cold and a little drafty and it may even look a little dark and scary, but you know what? All of a sudden there is a rush of exhilaration and contentment because OHMIGOSH, YOU CAN FINALLY SEE!
And then you realize that the frosted crystals and the hazy muck never really mattered much anyway. You realize that everyone is facing their own burdens, that everyone is a little bit scared and confused. And you realize that all those standards against which you compared yourself and measured yourself were constantly moving façades that were never there in the first place.
And you realize that things look pretty darn good. Sure, the world might still be crazy and cruel and disappointing and completely unpredictable, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful and amazing and hopeful and resilient. And sure, things might still be a little different-than-what-you-might-want and a little harder-than-you-ever-thought-they-would-be, but they are still pretty good.
Pretty. Freaking. Good.
So this is the year that I am smashing a few windows. Because I have spent way to much time and way too much energy worrying about things that just do not matter. And – for my sake, for your sake, for the sake of all of us – it has to stop. This year, this day, this moment. Now.
This post is part of the weekly Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography. She sends a photo; I write a post inspired by that photo. Please make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is amazing.