Why we all wobble: thoughts on being hard on yourself
Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss
1. move unsteadily in a particular direction
"It's hard to make things sometimes, you know?" muses a naked stranger in a short claymation created by Kirsten Lepore that recently went viral. "It just takes so much mental energy. And I get so tired."
Throughout the creative process, the trajectory of a creative career, or life in general, we can find ourselves sitting still, but feeling as if we are wobbling from side to side.
The difficulty of making things, the mental energy consumed, and the tiredness spurs an internal flip-flop of the mind – Am I doing it right? Am I doing enough? Am I heading in the right direction? I need to work harder. I need to work less.
We’re caught between wanting to make progress and finding stability, so we end up wobbling somewhere in between – not quite working, not quite not-working.
But what if instead of striving for stability or trying to eliminate the ungraceful wobble, we stopped being so hard on ourselves?
"People shouldn't have to appear always, you know, stable and content, because people aren't always stable and content,” said singer-songwriter Fiona Apple.
Trying to always be stable and productive limits our freedom to express all that we are and can be, as Fiona Apple continues:
“Because we're supposed to keep everything very, you know, friendly and polite and appropriate all the time. [But] I think that every emotion is appropriate whenever it arises.”
The wobbles, the tiredness, and the slumps are just as telling and important to the creative process as the execution of ideas and periods of productivity.
Wobbling when everything is going just fine
It makes sense that we wobble when we face adversity, uncertainty, or exhaustion. Yet there are also times when even though we have our ducks lined in a row, the internal flip-flop continues to play in our minds.
We cancel plans, we sabotage our good habits, we pick petty fights. We berate ourselves over and over. We distance ourselves from opportunities. In other words, we become extremely hard on ourselves.
Why, even when we have so much to be appreciative of in our work, creative life, health or relationships, do we find ourselves in a slump?
We all have varying propensities for feeling comfortable with our own good fortunate. From as early as childhood, we learn what we are worthy of – imagined or otherwise.
We self-sabotage because we are scared and afraid of our own possibilities. We delight in comfort, and any thought, action, achievement, project or goal that is outside our own set comfort zone can make us shake.
The most interesting paradox of being caught in a self-sabotage loop is that we simultaneously feel we don’t deserve something, yet find our current lives do not present enough. We oscillate between wanting more and rejecting it when it comes.
Getting comfortable with the wobbles of daily life
Recently, I’ve had a run of sabotaging entire days (and if I'm honest, sometimes entire working weeks!) I’ll set a plan on a Sunday evening that provides energy and excitement for the week ahead. I know what I’ve set to do is achievable and would help contribute to my own sense of contentment and so-called steadiness.
Yet Monday morning arrives and if I’ve missed just one step in the plan – say woken up after 8a.m, for instance, I’ll struggle to find my feet for the rest of the day (as if it’s a formidable sin to wake up at 9a.m!)
Instead of simply adjusting my day and shifting my to-do list to an hour later – which is very do-adoable as a freelancer working from home – I fixate on my mistake. How am I meant to have a successful day if I can’t even wake up on time?
While routine is important in setting a tone for the day, if we are rigid in how things must be, then we can easily find an excuse to strike out an entire day. In other words, we let the slight wobble at the beginning of the day knock us completely off course. We use it as an excuse to be hard on ourselves – or at least allow it to act as a trigger.
Our lives are filled with missteps, we get things wrong all the time, and there is so much outside our control that we cannot possibly keep steady all the time. We are bound to wobble.
When we do, we don’t need to let our entire lives reverberate around us. We can steady ourselves and pick ourselves back up. We can continue on with our day despite the sight of a flaw.
Starting small by forgiving your day-to-day wobbles helps you deal with the bigger, more unpredictable ones that life presents.
Stop mistaking wobbling for weakness
It’s easy to mistake any sign of wobbling as a justification for your own weakness. “Hey, look, _____ is making me feel scared, challenged, unsure, confused, self-conscious – I mustn’t be deserving of _____.”
But what I’ve come to realise is that we all wobble, we all falter, we are all not-quite-sure. Interviewing successful creatives about the behind-the-scenes of their daily lives has taught me that no matter how together someone may appear from the outside, there are always doubts, insecurities, and uncertainties inside. The person you think is as steady as a lamp post, more often than not feels as if they are trying to walk on a trampoline.
We're never completely steady or perfect in our lives. We can learn to let a wobble just be a wobble, and keep moving on. We can stop mistaking our uncertainty for a character flaw. We can stop being so hard on ourselves for being human – for feeling tired, for being in a slump, for wobbling for a moment or even longer.
We can stop and take it all in – the wobbles and all. As the unsettling-yet-delightful character in Kirsten Lepore’s Hi Stranger animation continues: “I just want to sit here and relax with you? Wow look at the sunset. It’s so nice to stop and take all this in. It really makes you enjoy being alive.”
A soothing affirmation to the viewer follows: "I've been thinking about you a lot lately. I see you trying to do sooo many things at once. Worrying about a decision you made, or worried that you said the wrong thing to someone. You’re so hard on yourself.”
Do you see? You’re so hard on yourself – you’re always trying to fix, change, improve, grow, steady. You’re not allowing yourself to wobble, even though you know it's a part of life. Most of all, you’re forgetting that everyone around you is also wobbling. Everyone is hard on themselves.
So keep this final sentiment in your mind, and also offer it to those around you: “You’re wonderful. You’re worthy of being loved. You really are. You just have to let yourself believe it…"