Last week I got back an exam and I failed it. Not a humblebrag kind of B+ fail- I mean, an actual failing mark. I don’t fail, it’s just not what I do but I failed this exam. Try putting a positive spin on that one.
Positivity is hard. Like really hard. Like really f***ing hard. But why? Some people seem to fart glitter wherever they go making it seem effortless. Positivity has been made into this ideal but sometimes, it feels utterly unattainable. Why is that? Positivity equals happiness and isn’t that what we all want out of life? If we all want it, surely it shouldn’t be that hard. It’s not limited to the 1% like luxury cars and botox, it has no monetary value so it should be attainable to all, right?
What if I told you positivity isn’t what it’s about? Think of the last time you were in a bad mood. Not just a minor “who ate the last cookie I was saving all day” kind of bad mood, but where you also feel simultaneously stuck and restless in life. It’s that awful feeling that something is missing but you just cannot figure out what it is. This is the kind of mood that lasts a few days and you try clawing your way out of it by convincing yourself that everything is ok by saying,“I have a roof over my head and my kids are fed; I got this. So, I don’t have a partner. I have an excellent support system that not everyone has.” The problem with this method is that it ignores the issues behind the negative feelings. It pushes it all away without ever dealing with it. It’s actually quite cruel, it is a reframing without explaining. So what ends up happening is that you actually just feel worse about yourself because you’ve listed all the reasons you should be happy but you’re not and you feel guilty that you have so much and still aren’t happy.
This sounds bloody exhausting and if you’ve ever done this to yourself, you know how tiring it is.
Well what if I told you that life isn’t about positive or negative. We have accustomed ourselves to seeing the world in such binary ways but humans are multifaceted and our emotions are a cacophony of colours. It’s not about one or the other. It’s about all of them, about everything. It’s about acceptance – accepting that I feel bad right now and that’s ok; accepting that because I feel bad now that doesn’t mean I will feel bad forever; accepting that I have many blessings in my life but those don’t negate hardships and my hardships aren’t relative to anyone but myself. The mother who lives down the block from me with no family in town is someone I can empathize with and try to help, but I don’t have to negate my blessings and my negative feelings because she “has it worse”.
We limit ourselves and our emotions to happy/angry and positive/negative. The dichotomous nature of these emotions only allows us to dwell in one or the other. We are always on only one side of the coin. The problem with one side of the coin is that it can’t see its other side, to that side of the coin nothing else exists. But if we flatten the coin and allow all these emotions to bleed into one another and we allow ourselves to feel everything, then we can begin the process of acceptance – accepting that the good in our lives can’t always negate the bad; accepting that healing is not linear and there will be bad days and good days; accepting that our pain isn’t relative to anyone else’s; accepting that we don’t need to compare ourselves even in the face of our blessings. This type of comparison is actually a form of self cruelty, it doesn’t allow yourself to ever feel anything fully without guilt or remorse. Living in a state of acceptance is a form of self compassion as it allows us to feel our feelings without pushing them away because someone has it worse.
Now, the state of acceptance I’m proposing isn’t a meditative, knee cross sitting pose for the rest of your life. The state of acceptance isn’t burying your head in the sand and ignoring it all. It’s actually the opposite. It forces us to be painfully aware of our present without pushing away any feelings. This state of acceptance doesn’t negate the need for accountability and ownership for our actions and decisions. It encourages it from a place of self compassion.
If you thought positivity was f****ing hard, welcome to acceptance. Much like wearing a thong, acceptance is accepting some thing’s will forever be a pain in the ass, accepting it is our choice to be in that position, accepting our choices can make us feel sexy and empowered, accepting that it’s time to change into sensible hiphuggers or boy shorts. Accepting our choices. Accepting the ownership we have over our choices. Accepting acceptance.
People who know me well know that I am incredibly hard on myself. This sounds like a job interview question where they ask you for your weaknesses and you reframe all your strengths like, “ I work too hard.” But actually, this self induced pressure is not a good thing at all and has been the source of much pain in my life. My fear has always been not knowing the line between being hard on myself and letting myself off the hook. In other words, not knowing the line between self cruelty and punishment and sheer apathy and unaccountability.
Now, while being hard on myself has led me to accomplish amazing feats, I haven’t done it with self love and compassion. I have done it from a place of fear, fear of failure and fear of not being enough. Not even because I wanted to but because the only other option is failure and that simply isn’t a choice at all.
I failed my exam because I didn’t study hard enough. I failed because I didn’t know the material well enough. I failed because of my choices and no one else’s. The teacher didn’t mark the exam wrong, there was no fatal injustice that occurred- I simply failed. I had to sit with this feeling. This horrible, awful feeling of failure. I couldn’t paint rainbows around it because let’s be honest, it sucks. And while I briefly went down the hole of existential self despair ie; ‘my life is a mess and I am a failure and what am I doing with my life”, it just wasn’t working when the next essay was due around the corner.
So what’s left? Accepting my failure. Accepting it sucks. Accepting it does not define me. Accepting that I will do better. Accepting acceptance.