Just before my sixteenth birthday, my family packed up our little white clapboard house in Honolulu (where we’d lived for eight years) and moved back to Los Angeles (where I was born and had attended elementary school). My first year back on “the mainland” required me to adjust to life in a big city after spending many years in the slow, simmering heat of a tiny tropical island. I also had to cope with the stress of starting over at a new school in the eleventh grade, on top of the normal, everyday highs and lows of teenage life.
It wasn’t easy. By the end of my senior year, however, it became clear that the move was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Attending a small, art-centric high school helped bring me out of my shell (I was painfully shy at school prior to the move), and, as a result, I developed friendships that were deep and meaningful. I left high school feeling strong, confident, and incredibly happy. I recognize now that I’d come a very long way in just two short years.
But, again, it wasn’t an easy journey getting there. It was a stressful process, and I was often very hard on myself when I made mistakes, or faltered, or did things that I thought were awkward or embarrassing (but, in hindsight, were totally normal). I was my own worst critic and toughest judge — I expected myself to handle everything perfectly.
One day, though, just before graduation, I remember sitting on my back patio and suddenly thinking something that I’d never thought before. The thought contained just five simple words, but they resonated so clearly: I think you’re doing great. It felt so good to think those words, to believe them — because when all was said and done, I was doing pretty great. My life wasn’t perfect, but there were so many things to be proud of and to love about it. I’d been critical of all the things I thought I’d done wrong along the way, but had never given myself credit for all the things I’d done well.
I thought of this last week at a moment when I felt tempted to say – half-jokingly — that I felt like a complete mess. I was sleep-deprived, working non-stop, and feeling sluggish and scatterbrained in general. I’m failing, I thought.
Then, I thought again. The truth of the matter was, I wasn’t failing. There was a lot going on at the time and much of it was stressful, but there were other things to be happy about, too. The difference was, I was choosing to focus only on what I was doing wrong, when really, there was a lot I was doing right, as well. Why wasn’t I acknowledging that?
My takeaway from all of this: when things aren’t going my way, when I’m under a lot of stress, when I’m tempted to put myself down, I should remember to give a nod to the things that are going well instead, and give myself a little credit, at the very least, for trying. Life can be painfully, overwhelmingly hard. We’re all doing the best we can, and no one’s perfect. It’s a challenge to think this way, but it’s so worth it: cut yourself some slack. Chances are, you’re doing great.