False dichotomies: What if the opposite of trying too hard isn't being lazy? #Philosophy#aging#identity#resilience#self improvement Updated Sep 19 2018 (Posted Nov 7 2017) Ariel arielmstallings I asked the rental car place for the most stereotypical midlife crisis car they had and they did not disappoint! Remember how I was going to a midlife crisis workshop in a convertible? Well yeah, that's a thing that happened… and this was the favorite thing I learned there. The workshop leader, an author from the Bay Area named Jett Psaris, had us do an exercise where we looked at what we considered to be our core ego-based quality of the first half of our lives. So basically: I AM ______________… What’s the thing that you MOST identify with? If you had to pick ONE quality that most defines who you are and everything you do, what would it be? Other folks in the workshop said things like kind, generous, intelligent, ethical. My word was “effortful,” which will probably surprise exactly zero of you. Even if I fail, you can’t say I didn’t try REALLY REALLY HARD. I am #tryhard for life. Forever. So much effort. So diligent! So hard working! I will tell you over and over again about how hard I work. (Did I mention my grades? Did you see the trophies? Did you validate my validation!?) Then were were asked to identify what scary shadow quality was at the opposite end of that spectrum — you have to be X because if you weren’t X, you would be Y. …Because I am NOT ___________. Well, duh: if I wasn’t effortful, I would be lazy. A slacker. Worthless. “OK,” Jett said. “Now let’s rethink that shadow quality. What if it’s a false dichotomy? Just consider it for a second — what if the opposite of your core value isn’t some awful quality, but some lovely thing you’ve never even considered?” Oh wut, I thought to myself. So wait: if the opposite of effortful isn’t lazy… maybe it’s, uh, receptive?! Then my head exploded. What if the opposite of trying too hard all the time isn’t being a lazy failing worthless slacker, but rather, me slowing down and listening enough to actually being receptive to what’s actually unfolding in front of me, instead of all my striving and trying and working so hard all the time that I don’t even notice shit showing up? Huh. A dude across the room from me raised his hand. Related Post Hidden Blessings: Dispatches from the midlife trenches This weekend I am doing one of the most cliche things I've ever done: I am going to a midlife crisis workshop. Let me pull... Read more “But I don’t want to get into self-sabotage here" he said. "My core quality is ambition, and I don’t want to slow myself down and make myself intentionally fail just to explore some shadow quality, right? The opposite of ambitious is loser!” “OOH!” I said, my stupid hand shooting up in the air before I could stop myself. (I tried really really hard not to talk too much in the workshop! Mostly I just sat and cried and took notes and listened and blew my nose a lot, but of course I still talked too much. Know-it-all is probably my second most core value — sorry, world!) “I might have a relevant thought!” I blurted out, unable even to wait to be called on. Jett graciously let me share my effortful vs receptive thoughts with the guy across the room. “Our words are a little different,” I said. “But effortful doesn’t seem that different from ambitious — they’re both egoic identities based on striving and validation from accomplishments. I don’t know about you, but for me, the accomplishments have stopped even feeling validating! It’s just not even working any more.” “That’s exactly how I feel,” this guy said. “Yeah, the ambition doesn’t even feel satisfying,” I said. “And the few times I’ve let things happen instead of driving them, it’s felt way more valuable. So for me I’m trying to figure out if the opposite of effortful is receptive.” “Woah,” the guy said, and Jett nodded. “That’s the concept,” she said. “That we each create a false dichotomy of ego-based identities that aren’t even reality.” “Thank you,” the guy said across the room. “That’s useful for me.” So what if your opposites aren't really… and you could integrate the two? We broke for lunch shortly afterward, and the guy and I ended up having lunch together at what we joked was the “overachievers anonymous” table. Our lives look super different (he’s a world-renowned cardiologist who developed some sort of game-changing heart medication… I wrote a book about weddings 10 years ago), but our emotional experiences were deeply parallel. “I even tried taking up photography as a hobby,” he told me. “Because I wanted a creative outlet that felt like it was just for me… but then I started entering photo contests!” “OH NO!” I laughed. “I know!” he said. “And I won some, and then I realized I was turning my hobby into yet another ladder to climb!” Related Post What I'm learning from dancing poorly Inspired by a local dancer's athletic performance in a show I saw years ago, I asked her if she would teach me some stuff. She... Read more “I totally get it,” I said. “I’m super into my dance practice these days and friends keep asking me if I’m going to start teaching or performing and I’m like ‘Nooooooo!’ I have to have just one thing that’s just for me for joy, not for a sense of validation or monetization or career building!” Then he told me about how he and his partner got mini donkeys, and that he’d send me pictures, and I said “…but bad pictures, right? Like ONLY crappy snapshots, right?!” and we laughed and laughed. Anyway, mini donkeys aside, I'd love to hear from y'all… what's your most primary value identity, and what do you think the opposite is? And what if it's NOT the opposite? WHAT COULD IT BE INSTEAD!? Reporter Name * Reporter Email * Original text Enter the original text here. Edited text* Enter your suggested copyedit here. Notes You can add a note for the editor here. * Required information. Fix Typo Ariel Author of the Offbeat Bride book, Ariel acts as the publisher of all the Offbeat Empire websites. She lives in Seattle with her son, and if she's not reading or writing books, chances are good that she's dancing or happy-crying. Subscribe to her newsletter to get the behind-the-scenes stuff. PREVIOUS Coming out as polyamorous to family (how I did it and how it may help you!) NEXT Budget-friendly & actually fashionable(!) maternity clothing? You need to meet Australia's Glama Mama Show/Hide comments [ 62 ] Oh man I just relate to this so hard! I think I send a lot of time proving I'm a hardworker, and fearing laziness, but I think the other big one is I am compassionate, but sometimes my empathy goes to far and becomes weird and self-centered. I'm working on figuring out how to balance that. Reply Ooh, it's fascinating to think how the identity of "Compassionate" can be twisted for selfish purposes. I WIN AT COMPASSION! LOOKIT HOW GOOD I AM AT LOVING EVERYONE. YOU WILL BE LOVED BY ME, AND YOU WILL SEE HOW LOVING I AM. This reminds me of a comment Jett made during the workshop about caretaking vs caregiving. One is as a demand (YOU WILL RECEIVE MY CARE OR ELSE)… the other offers care as as a true gift. Reply Sometimes I have to remind myself to have some faith in the person to whom I feel compassionate. Reply Can I join the overachievers anonymous table? This is me so much. I'd never thought of considering the false dichotomy before, though I've started to realize now that I'm in my 30s that being the best isn't getting me what I want. Many, many years ago I had the foresight to realize that trying to be a professional musician or performer would rob me of the joy I get from playing music and doing theater, so I changed courses after college, and have preserved my creative outlets as hobbies that I can do for the love of them. I love re-framing that choice in the context of receptiveness. Instead of trying to work hard and seek out the 'best' opportunities, I've been ready to receive when things came my way like meeting a dear friend working with a new theater company in town, or joining a band where I met my partner. Time to apply that to the rest of my life, while I didn't ruin music for myself, I did turn around and apply that effortfull-ness and ambition to everything else I do… Thanks! Reply Yeah, whenever people are like "you must love that you've turned your passion for writing into a job" and I'm like "yes… and my writing has paid the price for being my meal ticket." I have a ton of wedding vendor friends who've said similar things… there's a trade-off for turning a passion into a career, and it's uncomfortable to talk about because in some ways it's living the dream… but you do pay a toll with a shift in your relationship to your passion. Reply Yes, so much! There's a guilt because you have what so many people want, and yet there's a price to monetizing your passion. It can inadvertently cheapen the passion. In talking about it, you don't want to seem like you're humble bragging or complaining about accomplishing what so many strive for. Or people shame you for not being grateful enough. You can have gratitude for your career while still struggling with elements. Reply Real gratitude is a spontaneous burst of joy at one's good fortune. If you try to flog yourself into feeling something that you think you ought to, or worse if somebody else tries to flog it out of you, it's guiltitude, and it substitutes about as well as carbon monoxide substitutes for oxygen. I find that if I just relax the gratitude flows naturally, and I'm much happier that way. And real gratitude doesn't mean trying to blot from your mind the drawbacks to something, but feeling affection for it anyway, with a sense of humor, shaking one's head with a grin and thinking, "It's all been worth it!" And if it hasn't been worth it, then you don't have to feel grateful for it. Some things come with too high a price to call them gifts. Reply I'm sitting at my desk, reading this article, and just crying. Thanks a lot 😉 I was constantly a go-go-go, must-achieve-more, must-have-3-new-projects-going-all-at-once, kind of person all through my 20's. I thought I slowed down in my early 30's when I made the choice to pack up my life and move cross country to go back to school and get my degree in Holistic Health. I made the choice to focus on me and taking care of myself and, I thought, slow down. Except that I quickly started taking on extra projects at school and outside of school. About half way through my program, I moved in with a friend from my class. I remember telling her my plans for Saturday one random weekend. She looked at me and said "holy crap! I need to take a nap after just listening to that list." I thought that was so silly because it was just a typical Saturday for me and no big deal. In 2014 I had reached another peak of craziness. I was working my full-time job, running a home-based bakery and my booth at the farmer's market, and stage managing shows for a local burlesque company (who I was also taking classes from 2 nights a week). It was a completely insane schedule with almost no down time and I was, once again, burning out, especially since I wasn't in my 20's anymore. At the end of 2014 the burlesque company I worked for closed and I decided it was time to close my bakery. Just having a full-time job and a regular social life felt so lazy to me. I've struggled over the last few years with feeling like I was being a slacker, or worrying that I'd lost my ambition and I'd never accomplish anything else in my life, and I've been beating myself up for it the whole time. I never thought that maybe I was finally just slowing down enough to receive life. Thank you SOOOO much for this perspective shift! Reply UG, nothing like getting slapped across the face with some truth tears… when you're like "Oh god, too real TOO REAL." I totally feel it on everything you're saying here. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to learn how to just, like, REST? Is that a thing people do? "Resting"? If we call it self-care, does it feel more allowed? 😛 Reply Can I just say that I love your recent posts. They have been exactly what I need. Life has gotten away from me lately and my personality type can not deal. Must have it all together. And that is not healthy. because life gets away from all of us now and again. Which leads me to…..my primary value identity. I am strong. Because I am not weak. Gah. Help. Reply what about thinking of it in terms of adaptability, rather than weakness? sure things can go sideways in life, but I bet you rock the hell out of figuring out how to make the best of that! Reply UG, control is an illusion. That is the life lesson that I keep learning over… and over… and over and OH WAIT DID I FORGET BECAUSE HERE IT IS AGAIN. Thanks, Life. Reply (Oh and also: thank you for the kind words! My writing is in a transitional place these days, and I think sometimes Offbeat Empire readers are like, wait what happened to the rainbow kitty shower curtains and wedding advice why is everything all weird existential navel gazing and heavy soul searching!? Which is a legit response, and something my second book explains but no one has any clue because it hasn't been published yet so there's a big gap in my narrative, bla bla bla writer problems ANYWAY thank you for the kind words.) Reply Naw, we love it that you have multiple facets. Sometimes it's fun to splash around in the warm, sparkly shallows and sometimes it feels good to dive deep into the cool, exhilarating depths, and if a person doesn't have both to play off each other they're either sunburning in too much cheery sunlight or drowning without coming up for air. Reply No, your writing has gotten AMAZING this year. Reply Vulnerability is hard, a lot of us struggle with that one I think. And it's hard to see it, but vulnerability truly is a strength, not a weakness. You're not being weak when you give up control, you're being vulnerable and in the flow of things. Taking this with a grain of salt, of course, as I have a terrible time letting go of control in my life. I have found, though, that the best things in my life have come to me when I've let go on control, whether by choice or the universe forcing it. Reply This is incredible. Thank you so much for posting it. My word is "intelligent," and I'm realizing that my fear of being or being seen as stupid or naive is actually a fear of being vulnerable and open to criticism. I just dragged myself through the final months of my Ph.D. after years of incredibly unhealthy struggling and paralysis. Now I think part of my difficulty is being afraid of not being smart enough or good enough to stave off criticism and judgment. Thank you so very much for the gift of this exercise. Reply I totally get that feeling, I think the fear of being perceived as stupid or naive has been an issue for me too. I also have that fear pop up when I'm trying something new, that I have to be good at it right away. Which is silly because no one is good at anything the first time. I've recently come to love the novice stage of things. It's hard for me, but it's embracing being OK with not knowing, not being great at something, and the love of learning. If you're in a PhD program, you must love learning. So it's not being stupid or naive, it's being the novice and getting to learn something new. Just a thought. Reply I love Jenn's idea that the opposite of "intelligence" might not be stupid… it might be something sorta like "beginner's mind": https://zenhabits.net/beginner/ Reply I love this story and I love the thought behind it. Thanks Ariel. Reply Dammit Ariel you sure ask REAL SIMPLE QUESTIONS. My word would be supportive. I am the most Hufflepuff motherfucker you will meet, I am emotional labour personified, I am the advice-giver and the money-loaner and the present-giver and if I'm not that then I am *selfish*. But… selfish isn't actually the opposite of supportive. I just need to figure out what is. :/ Reply Yep, me too! I figured my word for the first half of life would be Giving. As in, I raised a pretty fucking amazing kid (I had my one and only pretty early), I've always been everyone's go-to for the shoulder to cry on, listen to problems, giver of advice, and probably giving too much and trying too hard on an ultimately failed marriage. The opposite to me has always seemed like Taking, but I guess Receiving, instead? Even receiving support, receiving caregiving, those I'm not so good at. Maybe they take practice. Reply Maybe the opposite of supportive is supported? Reply I am totally like that, but then I noticed that I had a barrier with making REAL Friends. And I think that sometimes being over-supportive is a way to hide your own problems and avoid being vulnerable, and sometimes friends don't need you to be "helpful", but empathetic (sharing your own story) vs sympathetic (listening), which can be hard. Reply Having been a beneficiary of other people's generosity, I'd say that allowing your beneficiaries to give something back to you means giving them dignity, and transforming the relationship from a giver/taker exchange to a truly sharing relationship between equals. Reply What if the opposite of being caring is being vulnerable? As in – having the courage to ask for help, asking someone else to fulfill your needs and allowing yourself to believe others want to help you as much as you want to help them. Reply Thank you so much for this piece. This is so insightful and helpful. I'm in the Overachiever club too, always trying to monetize or get the first prize or turn whatever I like into some validation-seeking outlet. I love knitting, and writing, and creating, and I'm just constantly trying to turn my hobbies into some side-gigs only to prove that I can do it. So shallow. Anyway, one of my defining words could be I am willful – because I'm not helpless (though it's probably more that I'm not neurotypical). I don't want to be seen as the tiny depressed thing that I can be, so I overhype my willfulness at time, turning myself in this indestructible Wonder-Woman who can tackle anything, even though all she wants to do is curl up in a fetal ball all day long. I could say I am willful because I'm not authentic? Maybe show more sincerity in what I express instead og pretending all the time? I'm not sure if I nailed it now, but that could be a starting point for some thinking. Thanks a lot. Reply Oh my goodness, you just caused me to have a total breakthrough! I am always looking at my hobbies and wondering if I can turn them into a money making venture. I always thought that is because I have an entrepreneurial spirit, which I do, and because I want to start my own company and get out of my day job, which I do. But it never dawned on me to look deeper at that habit to see if there was another motivation underneath that way of thinking. It's totally true though! Always wanting to turn my hobbies into a money making business is a way to get validation that what I'm doing/making is good enough. If I can't sell it, then clearly it's not very good. But why not just make things for fun, just for me and not worry about whether or not it's "good enough"?! I do still want to figure out what business I want to create because I've always wanted to be my own boss and I know there's something out there I'm meant to do, but I am definitely going to take a step back and learn to enjoy my hobbies as activities that are just for fun and just for me. THANK YOU!!! Reply What if the opposite of monetizing everything is generosity? To yourself and others? I once had a friend with whom I loved to discuss dreams and spirituality. But then she started to feel guilty about these things not counting unless she hung a price tag on them, and so she started running workshops on dreams and spirituality, and it seemed like the only way I could have any contact with her was to pay for the conversation…goodbye friendship. I've since known people to charge admission fees to singing-parties and storytelling parties and dance parties, turning them into Events and their homes into Venues. But then they don't have friends anymore, just customers and suppliers. Remember when people had fun together for free? I want that back. And I'm getting it back. I've met a bunch of young neohippies who have spontaneously started coming over to garden for me and help me with housework, all for free just because they want to! So naturally I want to do things for them too, fix them meals, open up my library to them, teach in their freeschool and let them have as much of my harvest as they can carry, because thanks to their help I had more to harvest than I could possibly use, more than these old bones could have managed to produce by myself. And then we wind up doing things together like dreamwork and art, and most of that wouldn't have happened if at any point any of us had charged money. The opposite of a professional is an amateur–and amateur is Latin for "one who does things for love." Reply This is such an amazing exercise. I relate to a lot of what you and your workshop buddy expressed about achievement/ambition/effort. Similarly I think mine would be "busy" and "doing nothing" – that's the false dichotomy. If I'm just busy all the time, then no one can say I'm not working hard. But in reality I may be just a hamster on a wheel – "busy" does not necessarily equal "productive" or "useful" just as "still" or "idle" does not have to equal "unproductive", "useless", or "pointless". It's a double edged sword because it means admitting all my busy-ness does not mean I am accomplishing anything or actually going anywhere, but it also means recognizing that "not busy" doesn't mean "failing". I feel like a better word to put forward as the opposite of "busy" would be "thoughtful" or "reflective". Reply This is cool! I am observant/aware because I am not careless. I thought about it for a while, and even though I identify with all of you overachievers out there, I've long ago given up being a true overachiever (as I was in high school and college) because I had to learn to cope with severe anxiety. The good thing about dealing with anxiety is that I learned to enjoy hobbies and entertainment, and I've gotten pretty good at that (sometimes too good at that, at the expensive of my productivity). For me, whether I am watching a television show or reading for work or teaching a class or in a conversation with a friend or colleague, I feel like I have to Notice All the Things. I want to remember everything that was said in a conversation and get frustrated if I don't. I keep a calendar and to-do lists, not necessarily because I am always doing so many things but because I want to really be on top of it and to at least know exactly what I should be doing, even if I'm not doing it. If someone is wondering about some practical aspect of why something is going on at work (why did that course number change? why are we having a meeting here instead of there?), I usually know the answer (not that anyone listens to me). If I am not always hyper aware and detail-oriented it might suggest that I don't care or (gasp) that I'm absent-minded. The other opposite of observant and aware (and I cheated a little because I realized how well this would work) is, in fact, literally care-less. Given my anxiety, I can, in fact afford to care a little bit LESS about all those details. It might give me more time to enjoy what's around me. Reply Oh to care less! As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I'm with you on that. When being observant becomes a way of not actually being present! It just doesn't seem fair. Reply Amazing post Ariel, thanks so much for sharing. Loving all the recent posts too and excited for when the second book comes out. I’m not sure I’m an over achiever because I haven’t really achieved any stereotypical things like high grades or fancy jobs or awards. But I know I take on too many responsibilities and that leads to cycles of burn out. Quitting an industry after ten years, dropping to about 1% of social media, and focusing on some more short term goals I can see in front of me and touch with my hands and are very achievable. Like – instead of I will become a famous vegan and start the revolution, now I want to volunteer regularly to help feed animals at a sanctuary and not think about being famous in any way. Thanks everyone else for your comments too, they really help me not feel alone. Reply Thank you for this! Reply This post made me cry for a different reason. I don't know who I am. I have no standout traits, no particular talents, no identity. That's not to put myself down at all – I'm competent at some things, good at others, and have a reasonable understanding of how my world works. But I am a Jack of all trades, and a master of none. If pushed, the only term I could think of to describe myself is "indecisive". I don't think it's a false dichotomy to say that the opposite is "decisive". I just want to say to anyone else who might be struggling with this post, that you're not alone. And if anyone has overcome this feeling and found themselves an identity then perhaps you can give me some tips? I feel at mid thirties I should have a better idea of who I am. Reply The opposite of indecisive could also be stuck-in-your-ways. I also don’t have just one thing, and I have decided to stop beating myself up about that and embrace what I call my “experimental” life. So being “indecisive” becomes “experimental” and that opens up so much joy for me. That IS my thing. Reply I love “experimental!” That’s a great way to reframe. Reply I've been having THIS exact conundrum myself. I don't know who I am or even what I like to do. I don't know what single word describes me. I don't have a thing, or a driving force, much at all. I keep thinking, who even am I?? At 32, how is this still an issue? It's causing me professional issues, as I know I'm not happy in my mildly toxic current job, but I don't know what I want to do, other than something else. I was having depressive symptoms up until a few month ago, when I started making myself exercise and discovered trail running. I've never loved a physical activity the way I do trail running, but if you're like me, you probably have a slew of abandoned hobbies behind you… I'm sometimes concerned this is just the next one on the list. Maybe "dilettante" is my word, in both the negative connotations (dabbling, half-baked, half-cocked, unaccomplished, unskilled–ouch, thesaurus.com) and the positive ones (aspirant, hopeful, learner, neophyte, devoted amateur). For myself, I think it's better to try things and be excited about them for a short period of time, even if it doesn't become a lifelong passion, than not to try. Maybe leaning in to indecisiveness is the way to go. That's as much plan as I have, anyway: keep throwing things at the wall, and seeing what's fun once, what bounces immediately off, and what sticks. I hope some of that is helpful to you! Reply So, here's an interesting piece of context to keep in mind: this exercise was part of a midlife crisis retreat. Most of the attendees were between their mid-40s and late 50s. (At 42, I was one of the youngest.) The challenges of midlife adulthood are understandably different than the challenges of younger adulthood — at 32, it makes perfect sense that you're still developing those core ego values. That kind of exploration and identity development is exactly on schedule! For those of us in midlife, we're dealing with the other side of that… we thought we'd figured out who we were (ooh! and doesn't that feel NICE! check that box! success!) and then a decade or two goes by, and suddenly those identities start falling apart because that's how human development works. This isn't to minimize the agony of figuring out that first identity layer — it just means that you shouldn't feel weird for not having a midlife crisis at 32! 🙂 Reply I liked the idea behind the exercise even though I’m almost 35 and certainly would not like to think of having a midlife crisis. It still worked/made sense to me. I can just replace “first half” with “first third.” Reply Oh I totally agree that it's a useful exercise for all ages! I just wanted to reassure Emmy why it'd totally make sense if she doesn't have a super-calcified ego identity yet, at 32. I feel like, in my early 30s, I was juuuuuust starting to be like "Fuck yeah, I'm figuring out who I am WHEW glad that's almost done so I can be settled and the same for the rest of my life." Ha ha ha, joke's on me! I'm reminded of Gail Sheehy's "Passages," where she talks about how adulthood is an ongoing process of maturation. We have this assumption that you're supposed to "figure it out" in your 30s, and then you made it and… GOOD WORK! YOU WIN! But in reality, life just keeps going and your personal development either stalls out or you break/rebuilt several times. Wait, now I'm rambling. Good ramble. 🙂 When I hear you describe what "indecisive" means to you, I keep thinking "supple", "adaptable", "mercurial", "open", "kaleidoscopic" and "anything but boring". Have you ever thought of becoming a career temp? I was a temp for much of my working-life. Temp agencies look for people exactly like you–somebody who can shapeshift into whatever job they need that week. It's not a skill that everybody has and yes, it is definitely a skill. Reply It's interesting that you've both reframed yourselves based on doing lots of things. To me, what you're talking about seems to be along the lines of "I've tried all these things and I can't decide which I like" or even "I've tried to be all these types of person and none of them fit". My indecisiveness isn't active like this. I certainly don't feel like I've ever chased anything much really. Some people have a strong sense of their personal identity, even if this changes over time. Some people seem to find their identity through self-reflection or experimentation but I never have. I feel like I'm in a boat that has the capacity to sail the oceans and I'm using it to pootle around the harbour. Staying as I am requires no decisions, it's familiar, easy and safe but ultimately I'm going to cover the same distance and never get anywhere. Welp, this was surprisingly difficult to write. No wonder I bury this stuff rather than talk about it… Reply For you, indecisiveness is an inaction, something I understand. My word is Responsible and not wasteful or stupid. As in – I take the safe path, the option most likely to "guarantee" a positive outcome. The stable boring job, saving rather than a wild vacation, cooking the food that's about to spoil instead of the thing that sounds good, and having only two bites of dessert rather than my own big slice. The path of least resistance to checking off the boxes of a Responsible Adult – job, car, spouse, dog, kid. Check, check, check. EXCEPT, holy crap I'm missing my life. I haven't taken any risks, I haven't pushed myself to achieve… anything. I'm pretty good at some things, but I'm not great at anything. And I'm certainly not passionate about anything. I think Ariel has a point – the worst thing you can do is stop exploring and pushing. Reply I am adventurous because I am not boring. I put on a show of my rash decisions and many exciting life changes, moving cities, starting new careers, going on long solo trips, doing brave/dangerous things. I want people to think "She's this badass free-spirited chick, living her authentic life rather than following the rat race". In reality I feel like I'm just escaping, constantly. Settling into life scares me. I'm actually adventurous because I'm not content. I'm adventurous because I'm not secure. I'm adventurous because I don't know how to build the life I want, and I'm afraid of failing. Maybe it's time I grow out of that identity and explore what feeling grounded means. Reply *heart eyes emoji* Reply I'm going to frame your comment on a wall. This is the story of my life. Thank you for articulating it so clearly. I'm in therapy right now because all I do is run around like a chicken with my head cut off, immigrating across continents and flying solo to Guatemala on a whim and contemplating divorce and renovating a van and… (insert endless projects here). I love being adventurous, but I also feel like to truly appreciate adventure, you need to feel grounded first. If not, we're just lost wanderers. Reply I came back to this post because I knew the comments would be great. They're fabulous. I am learning so much from you all! I'm 32, so not yet in the midlife crisis. Yet, I relate to this. I think for me it's that I'm in the midst of a major transition into "the next stage", whatever it is. I had it figured out – more than a decade of professional and personal experiences that defined who I was (trauma worker, international student/traveler, nonprofit executive). Then I had kids and it all fell to shit. I'm five years into motherhood but still figuring out how to be a Mother, making my third career change since giving birth, and recently followed my partner across the country to a new city everyone else seems to love, but that I'm kind of meh about. It's really freaking uncomfortable, this in between stage. I suppose my false dichotomy is "I'm badass and lead and help people through the hardest stuff (survivors of war and torture, sexual violence survivors) because if I'm not doing that, then I'm weak and ineffective." Maybe more simply another version of effortful vs. lazy/worthless. The secondary trauma got me hard core after I became a mother. Much healing has occurred since then, but I left trauma work, and sometimes still feel embarrassed about my current field of work, because it feels far less impactful. This concept of a false dichotomy is so helpful. Reply What if the opposite/complement of a trauma-helper is a trauma-preventer? Because that's what you're doing by being a healthy parent, raising a healthy child. Consider it Phase 2 of your job. Reply I am helpful because I am not useless. I will be helpful to other people to the detriment of my well-being and the people closest to me. So much, that my husband of 7 years is leaving because I put "everyone before him". He's not wrong. The validation from helping is a drug and when there's something easy right in front of you, you do that and get the drug instead of the hard, vulnerable work that doesn't give you the drug. I don't know the better opposite yet. I like the bits about being receptive but thats not quite it. What also comes to mind is something my fave yoga teacher says – "in every and all ways, you are enough". I am helpful and I am enough and have value even without the help I provide. That feels closer to the "useless" dichotomy I'm trying to get over. I'm 37 so a bit early for mid-life crisis but divorce has a way of hastening that process. I am SOOOOOO looking forward to the book. You helped me get married and I'm ready for you to help me be divorced. Also, yes please more of this writing! Reply Divorce DOES have a way of hastening that process… I hate that it's true, but it's true. And UG, the book. It's done, but the book publishing process is agonizingly slow. I'm trying to be patient and see how it unfolds (SEE?! RECEPTIVE!!) but if it really takes too long I'll just say fuggit and self publish it because I want to get it into people's hands. Reply So something I've been working on in therapy for a really, really long time is that I deeply identify with being Accommodating. I try to make myself invaluable and essential by saying yes and committing myself–'til the point that my anxiety kicks in and I go down a spiral of feeling overwhelmed, under appreciated, clumsy and insufficient. I had always assumed that the opposite of Accommodating would be Unneeded or Selfish, but what if it's Proactive? Instead of waiting around to say yes, I take care of things I know that need taking care of and I go ahead and delegate the rest? Instead of pushing my needs to the back burner, what if I learn to say "Okay, I'll help you with that, but hang on just one second…" Instead of letting someone need, need, need until they're not doing anything at all, what if I just kick them off the bus and move forward without that weight? Reply What if the opposite of being accommodating is figuring out and taking responsibility for YOUR OWN needs and making sure they are met, both by yourself and the people around you? Reply I am the world's best juggling instructor. I am also the world's worst juggling instructor. What is the opposite of that ^!? <3 Reply Not juggling at all? Contemplating objects without trying to see how many you can keep up in the air at once, just letting them sit. Hey, maybe you could paint a still life! Reply I identify with being creative. What if the "opposite" isn't "dull"? What if it's "appreciative" of things uncomplicated, untampered-with? Reply "… and then I realized I was turning my hobby into yet another ladder to climb!" Mind blown, lightbulb turned on, etc. My hobby for the past 15 years has been community theater. Non for profit just for enjoyment acting, directing, stage managing, etc. In July I was hired as the Dramatics Director at my old high school and I've been having some super huge swings of attitude about it. One day I'll be super excited and the next day I want to quit. I couldn't figure out why this was happening. But that sentence brought it home. I took a hobby and I turned it into a job. Now I HAVE to do it and I'm receiving money for it. Wow … I'm going to see this year through and then assess my feelings. If it's worth it (not in a monetary way but in a self-fulfilling way) then great. But if it isn't I will know that theater is meant to by my hobby, not a job. If you see that dude again Ariel, thank him for that sentence for me 🙂 Reply I think mine would be "I am strong because I am not a victim." I know it's not healthy to be strong all the time, in fact, it's killing me. But I am having a lot of trouble with the concept of not being strong because then I open myself back up to being a victim. As someone who has had to get themselves out of a number of difficult situations in life through sheer will, I don't know how to even begin to put down my survival instincts. Because why would you put down your weapons and risk being harmed? The constant anxiety of never feeling safe is crushing and the inability for me to trust anyone is ruining my new marriage (it doesn't help that my partner also has serious trust and anxiety issues). I'm seeing a therapist but everything she suggests seems impossible because I will not be a victim ever again but I don't know how to stay sane while keeping myself safe. Reply I really think the shadow quality at the end of so many of these words is actually vulnerability (it's at the other end of strong, independent, caring, high-achieving, busy etc) We go to quite some lengths in our lives and relationships to avoid feeling vulnerable. When I went through with my divorce and my next partner's infidelity I made vulnerability my core word to get me through the tough times, and I watched this TED talk A LOT: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability Reply Thank you, this really helped. I think I need to do some serious thinking about what it means to be married to someone who doesn't make me feel safe enough to even consider being vulnerable. I realized watching her speech that this is something that I need but it seems impossible in my current situation. So we have some work to do. Reply Have you done any work with the enneagram? It has been super helpful to me digging in to my values and fears based on my "type" in their typology of personalities. Based on what you've shared here sounds like you're a 3. https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-3/ Reply Join the conversation Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *Comment Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Subscribe me to your mailing list No-drama comment policy Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.