Showing Up

I have a friend who, for years, has talked with her retired father on the phone each morning. Over time, these daily telephone conversations became a source of jealousy between my friend and her siblings. Her adult sibs would grumble about how she was “the favorite” and that they wished they got daily time with their dad. After listening to their complaints, my friend finally threw up her hands in exasperation. “Go ahead, YOU be the one to listen to him endlessly recount what he said to the guy at the meat counter yesterday, or repeat word-for-word what every single guy at the retired men’s coffee klatch said this morning! I’m happy to let you in on these scintillating conversations!” Faced with the reality of long, mostly one-sided, and sometimes boring interactions – as opposed to the idealized version in their heads – her siblings reconsidered. They told my friend, “No, no. You go ahead. It was your idea in the first place.”

Here’s what my friend understood, that her siblings didn’t necessarily get: what makes her interactions with their dad meaningful is that she shows up for them every day. No matter what else is happening, or what size the mountain of tasks she is facing that day might be – regardless of how mundane the conversation –  she shows up. Her siblings wanted the end result, the closeness, without the responsibility or the tedium of doing the daily thing.

And really, isn’t that true for most of us in at least some of our relationships?

Unfortunately, it is too often true about our relationships with ourselves, as well. This became especially clear to me the other night. A friend who is a cross-country coach posted an invitation on Facebook to come to his annual open meet. I typed the following reply: “I’m too fat to come this year.”

Of course I erased that self-shaming message before I hit send. Besides, what I really meant was, “I don’t feel good enough about myself right now to show up for you.”

That thought gave me pause. I have excused myself from exercising regularly due to tendonitis in my shoulders; I have allowed myself to eat fast food frequently because it is late in the evening when I arrive home; I have treated my minor depression and other menopausal symptoms with snack foods and junk TV. In other words, I have not been showing up for average me, much less my best me.

As a result, I just don’t feel like showing up for my friends or my family if it requires any effort on my part – or when doing so means they might notice how I’ve let myself down.

When we stop showing up for ourselves – when we consciously forego the kind of daily self-care that allows us to feel good in our own skin – we are much less likely to have the energy or ability to be present with, to or for others. And that is no way to live.

“Growing into your future with health and grace and beauty doesn’t have to take all your time. It rather requires a dedication to caring for yourself as if you were rare and precious, which you are, and regarding all life around you as equally so, which it is. ”  — Victoria Moran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recognizing the “Will to Meaning”

I hesitate to mention it here, but I haven’t felt really well for several weeks now. It’s nothing serious, just one of those things that leaves you feeling tired and weak. And after a while, tired and weak leads to depressed – not clinically, but definitely down. I hesitate to mention it because there are people reading this post who are dealing with lasting, serious or chronic health conditions and I feel like a heel for complaining.

The reason I decided to bring up my respiratory infection is not, however, to have a wider audience for my complaints. I started crying for no good reason during a meeting today. I have spent the past two evenings at home feeling cotton-headed, and emotionally isolated. And all of this is the result of a not particularly debilitating condition. What if I felt this way all the time? How would I cope with that? These questions have led me to think about my role in working with young people – especially those who struggle with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation.

Some of you have heard me say that today’s students appear to have fewer coping skills and less resilience than the students I worked with when I entered my career twenty plus years ago. For some, this leads to an inability to take “normal” bumps in the road of life in stride (breakups, failed tests, etc.). For some, the life events they are attempting to take in are shockingly horrific. And this includes mental illness and personality disorders. A sobering truth: although college students commit suicide at a slightly lower rate than their age-mates who are not in school, suicide remains one of the leading causes of death among college students. This is a truth of which I am currently hyper-aware.

What can I do? My job is to do my utmost to keep them safe, to provide a safety net of concern, awareness and response when a student in crisis is brought to my attention. But what else am I to do as an adult who has successfully maneuvered through late adolescence and early adulthood? What are we all called to do to assist others who are struggling?

I try to stay away from making sweeping generalizations about our culture and how the “Jersey Shore” mentality is harming us all. But I do think the paucity of character and values in popular culture is detrimental to young people. And the influence of popular culture is multiplied by a vaccuum in their daily lives created by the disappearance of adults who are prepared to help them find meaning and purpose in life. Because we’re not talking with them about meaning and purpose. We’re talking with them about how to maximize their earning potential. We’re talking to them about filling their resume with activities that will help them stand out in a sluggish job market. They’re listening to their parents trying to figure out how to get above water financially, and they’re turning to vacuous tanned talking heads to escape their anxiety.

I’m not suggesting that we stop attempting to help our young people prepare for careers. I am suggesting, however, that we need to do a better job of recognizing the need for young people to feel that their activities, their work – their very lives – have meaning. That their lives have a purpose beyond that of basic survival and/or material comfort. And as sometimes happens when I am ruminating on such ideas, a perfect resource appears which can explain my jumbled thoughts better than I can. Yesterday, I saw the short film clip, below, over at The Better Man Project (a personal motivation blog I follow). I strongly encourage you to watch it – four minutes with the great Viktor Frankl, whose book Man’s Search for Meaning remains one of the most influential in my life. As always, Frankl speaks with eloquence and humor, and what he says is as true for today’s students as it was for the young people listening to his lecture in 1972. If we fail to recognize the “will to meaning” within an individual, we fail that individual. And the cost of that failure is very high – lives are, literally, at stake.