Get Rid of Superwoman Syndrome Once and for All

When it comes to what happened the other day, I have choices. I can forget it, beat myself up for having superwoman syndrome, or learn from it. Usually I elect a combination of forgetfulness and self-flagellation, but now, I’m going to go with learning.

Here’s what happened: I spent a day in a haze of stress, flitting from one administrative task to another. I didn’t prioritize creative writing. By the end I was sprawled on the couch, back aching from hours of sitting, eyes strained from staring at the computer.

What I found especially frustrating was that I know better. When I feel a day spiraling out of control, I know to take pause and ask: What needs to happen? What would bring joy into the picture? But I didn’t.

We don’t quit doing harmful things until we’re ready. We don’t start doing kind things until we understand, on a bone-deep level, that we are worthy of love and tender care.

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How to Betray Your True Self (And Then Make Amends)

This is a tale of treachery, but it doesn’t start out that way.

‘Betrayed’ faces, 2011.

Instead, it starts with a group of direct-care assistants hanging out in the kitchen of the L’Arche home where we lived and worked in 2008. I’d just finished a strenuous workweek, and I was exhausted.

Why? I’d recently said yes to becoming a Home Life Coordinator. In addition to doing caregiving routines, I wrote schedules, mentored assistants, and oversaw home life. We had a number of crises that summer, so I served in the new position while training for it and simultaneously carrying out my former responsibilities. It was … not easy.

So why wasn’t I resting during my time away? Because I wanted to help a new assistant feel welcome … but really, I wanted to be in pajamas. In fact, I was about thirty seconds from heading upstairs to don my monkey slippers when another assistant — I’ll call her Lia — asked me if I could drive her to a party across town.

Every fiber of my being was telling me, No, honey, you cannot, not this time. You really need to rest. 

Every fiber, that is, except the ones that were saying, But Caroline! You’re the Home Life Coordinator! You have to show the new assistant how we care for each other in community! And the yes slipped out. I thought I was modeling ‘community,’ but I wasn’t. I was modeling betrayal.

***

Betraying your true self always takes a toll. You can get away with it for a while, but eventually, your self rebels. I know this because of what happened that afternoon. At that point in my life, I’d been taking care of everyone else’s needs and chronically neglecting my own.

Saying yes to Lia seemed like a small thing, but deep down, I knew better. It was the tipping point, the final straw. My body, mind and spirit were screaming at me, and I tried to ignore them. Again.

As I started the van, I had a caged, desperate feeling in my stomach, which grew worse when we hit traffic. I was so angry that I could barely speak. (And I didn’t want to explode at Lia; the situation wasn’t her fault.)

The round-trip drive took over an hour. It remains one of the worst hours I have ever spent. After I dropped Lia off, I started crying. Hysterically. I couldn’t stop the whole way home.

***

Serenity on the Gulf, 2013

If you’ve seen Brene Brown’s first TED talk, you know that she has this wonderful slide on which is written the word breakdown. But breakdown is crossed out, replaced by spiritual awakening.

That afternoon was a breakdown / spiritual awakening, because I realized: I don’t know how to draw lines. I don’t know how to say a true yes and no to others, or to myself. And that’s a problem. 

It’s a problem of faith, I think. In the short term, lying is easier. It takes faith to look ahead, to see where the covertly dishonest road leads.

It takes faith to be true to the yeses and nos of our hearts. It takes faith to believe that we are worthy of love and care. It takes faith to be honest about our actual capacity to give.

I’m still learning this kind of faith, but what I have figured out is that, if we want to be prepared for those ‘big’ Yeses and Nos, we have to start with small things.

We have to start with the things we hardly even recognize as choices. Going to bed when we’re tired. Getting off the phone when we’re no longer present to the conversation. Choosing the books we want to read, though they may not be the ones our well-meaning friends have lent us.

These things sound so small, so simple, so humble.

But then, when making amends, humble is a good place to start.

***

Do you struggle with your ‘yes and no’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Are You ‘Silent About Things That Matter’?

I celebrated Valentine’s Day by doing something I’ve never done before: calling animal control.

It all began when I started learning to drive our stick-shift truck. During ‘driving practice’, I’d have (metaphorical) blinders on. It was me against the truck, and the battle demanded every bit of my focus.

Meet Curley, the sweet puppy I grew up with.

Meet Curley, the sweet puppy I grew up with.

Gradually, I started looking around as I drove. When I did, I noticed an elegant German Shepherd with mournful eyes. She’d bark at me, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it.

She was chained to a tree. She had food and water, but only an unlined barrel for shelter. 

I asked around, and found that, as I’d feared, the dog was never unchained. I also learned that several neighbors had approached the owners to advocate for the animal … to no avail.

I didn’t know what to do. I thought of her every time the temperature dipped below freezing.

***

Days passed. Every time I saw the dog, I felt a tug at my spirit. My conscience said, Do something. Don’t pretend this doesn’t break your heart.

I mentally replied, Like what? It’s not my business …

The tug said: But it is. It is, because you’ve seen it, and you know it isn’t right. Please, do something.

But I didn’t know how to respond. When I passed the dog, I ducked my head, ashamed.

***

The day before Valentine’s Day, my husband and I invited friends over. The conversation turned to the dog; they’d noticed her too. Collectively, we agreed that her situation was awful. Our friends mentioned a rescue league as a possible resource, and I heard myself say, “Good idea. I’ll look them up first thing tomorrow.”

And suddenly, I knew that I would. Our friends’ distress marked the tipping point. I could push aside my own sadness and fear for the animal, but I couldn’t ignore the same emotions on their faces.

I would give this sad-eyed dog a Valentine, the only one I could think to give.

How every dog ought to be loved.

How every dog ought to be loved.

The next day, I did some research. I learned that chaining is banned in several states and communities, but not ours. However, I also discovered that insufficient shelter is grounds for neglect, and that our town’s animal control office was the place to report such conditions.

With my heart beating fast, I dialed and described the dog to the woman on the line. She assured me they’d send someone to assess the situation. I hung up, flooded with relief.

Now at least I’ve done something, I thought.

***

Days later, I saw the dog again, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The unlined barrel had vanished, and a dog house had appeared. The dog was still chained, but now, she had shelter.

Did a visit from animal control prompt this? Perhaps. If I had to guess, I’d say that the dog house is a cumulative result. Just as I needed the voice of my conscience and a push from our friends to do the right thing, perhaps the dog’s owners needed a visit from their neighbors and from animal control to get that dog house.

When I realize this, I feel compassion where I used to feel anger. Though I’m incapable of chaining a dog and depriving it of shelter, I am capable of waiting weeks before doing the right, necessary thing. I have something in common with those owners, and so I cannot judge them.

I tell you this as a confession, and also a plea: when your conscience is calling, answer. When you see injustice and cruelty, do something about it. Do it for others, and do it for yourself as well.

Why? In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

And our lives begin anew the day we break that silence.

***

Have you faced a similar ‘call to action’? Join the conversation in the comments!

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Fed up with an ‘impossible’ person? Tired of a situation that may never change?

Pick up my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing).

*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can use Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.

Upcoming speaking engagements – if you’re in the area(s), I’d love to see you there!

  • Living Spirit Church, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 3, 1:30pm
  • Redeemer Presbyterian, Florence, AL, Sunday, March 10, 10:30am
  • Faith Inclusion Network, That All May Worship Conference, Norfolk, VA, Friday-Saturday, March 14-15

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