Friday, July 12, 2013


Slim, over at The Next 40 Days, and his wife, Laura, are completely on to something. Go HERE for details, but I’ll give you the short run-down: Make a change in your life and stick to it for 40 days. It’s that easy. The change can be to your own behavior and impact only you (example: Slim and Laura are about to embark on a 40-day juice fast), or it can be for the greater good of the world (case in point: Slim and Laura gave away personal care packages to homeless people last year). Either way, I have been following their progress for about a year while all the time admiring their creativity, chutzpah, and positivity. All the while also knowing that I needed to do something similar.

Well, I just couldn’t wait any longer, so I started my year of 40-day challenges on June 1. But, what to do first? Should I focus on myself? Should I do something good for others? Before I get on to the actual challenge, I must first explain something about myself: anyone who knows me understands that this was the hardest decision to make. Planning out a year’s worth of challenges was a piece of cake, but THIS? This was difficult. Me or others?

I will never go so far as to say that I am either selfish or selfless. However, I’m not one to seek the spotlight when it can (and should) be given to others who are more worthy. I find that when I focus on myself, I am uncomfortable in my own skin. When others focus on me, I am not only uncomfortable, but I actively (although usually subconsciously) try to sabotage myself until I am the opposite (internally or externally) of the focus/praise that I may have received. Does that make any sense?

(An all too often) Example: Wow! You look great! You’re really losing weight!
My inevitable response to this compliment EVEN WHEN IT IS TRUE AND DESERVED is to verbally downplay the remark (Oh, this is just a flattering skirt), and then to go home and spend the next ten days eating every dang snack I can get my hands on as well as second servings and calorie-filled drinks and doing fewer workouts.
I don’t know why.

I’m not selfish, but I’m not selfless, either. I try to do good because it is the right thing to do but also because it makes me feel good about myself (remember Phoebe’s selfless good deed on Friends?).

I believe in the ability of one person to change the life of another person. I believe that those who are in a position to do so should help those who are struggling. I believe that even those who are struggling can, and should, so something (volunteer). I believe in the greater good, in the ability of a community to effect major change, and I believe that I should play an instrumental role in these things. I should not sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to do something so that I can reap the rewards of their hard work. (Although I do some of that. I’m not as politically active as I should be. I don’t donate time or money to as many organizations as I would like to. But, I think that we’re all there to a point.)

I am this way because of my mom. Plain and simple. I don’t know why she was that way, and I’m sure that I was influenced by other people, too, but in my mind, she is the epitome of selflessness and altruism. She gave and volunteered and did for others until she couldn’t anymore, and I don’t remember a time when she did anything for herself. But, she was (or seemed) genuinely happy with this.

So, I always, ALWAYS feel like I should be doing more – for my family, my neighbors, my community, the boys’ school, my coworkers, LGBT groups, cancer fundraising groups, youth organizations, blood drives, environmental causes, and on and on. I barely get to a fraction of them.

And, I always, ALWAYS feel guilty that I’m not doing more, that I’m not doing as much as my mom did or would have done.

So, the pressure to choose challenges that are about myself or other people? Well, that just about put me over the edge. What kind of person chooses self over service to others?

Well, Me. That’s what kind of a person. Me. Because I feel truly and sincerely and profoundly screwed up right now. The past four years have been hard being a single income family, and I will admit that I have become more tired and ornery and less fun than is probably necessary. But, the past six months (very little to do with a single income) have really messed with my mind, my self-esteem, my belief in myself, and – let’s face it – my ability to be happy. So, I chose me.

People are always saying stuff like “you can’t love others until you love yourself” and “you must take care of yourself in order to take care of your family” and “don’t eat yellow snow.” (I just threw that last one in there to make sure that you were still awake.) I’m not sure that I truly believe those things (except the yellow snow bit), but I’m also not sure that I can handle another year of constantly questioning myself, of being angry, of yelling (internally at myself and externally to anyone unfortunate enough to cross my path), or belittling myself, or believing that I’m less than I originally thought, or being genuinely and unmistakably sad most of my waking hours.

I just wanted to experience some success for a change before I forgot what that felt like. So, I chose me and nine challenges that will be broken up into 40-day increments. I wrote each challenge down on a piece of paper and then asked the boys to draw the slips out of a hat thereby determining the order in which they would be performed (so that I couldn’t give any “preferential treatment” to those that seemed either easy or hard).

Nine mini-success opportunities.

Nine times to learn.

Nine times for me to feel like I’m not completely broken.

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