Reminding Myself As To Why We Continue, Despite Everything

If you can turn yourself into smoke whenever you want, why do you bother walking?
Credit: flickr / Jackman Chiu

It’s been a mixed week. Some successes – Awesome Foundation! Girl Geek Dinner! Getting my visa sorted! And then a number of things that made me wonder why I was bothering. Mostly stupid things, and you could say that I shouldn’t worry about them – but that is easy to say, and hard to do.

Telling a friend about one of them, she gets it, telling me I shouldn’t be bothered by it but understanding that I am, likening it to the first negative comment she received on her blog (which, of course, she still remembers). And I think about how insane it is that I can’t remember the first positive comment from a stranger on my blog, but I can remember chunks of the nasty ones. How I’d forgotten I was on the radio until the recording came on my iPod and creeped me out (“who’s that talking? Oh wait, it’s me?”) but I definitely haven’t forgotten the couple of mixed press articles about things I’ve done, or the article where they misspelt my name.

In interpersonal relationships, a ratio of five positive to one negative interactions is needed, from Wikipedia:

After studying married couples for many years, psychologist John Gottman has proposed the theory of the “magic ratio” for successful marriages. The theory says that for a marriage to be successful, couples must average a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative interaction. As the ratio moves to 1:1, divorce becomes more likely. Interpersonal interactions associated with negative relationships include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.

When doing things, I don’t know what the ratio is, but I do know that it’s very easy to dismiss the nice comments as people “just being nice” and take the nasty ones to heart. By nasty I don’t mean constructive criticism – the kind people who say, “have you thought about X” and then offer you something – time, a contact, a piece of information – that will help you do that. I mean, just straight up, “you suck” with no acknowledgement of the time, effort, and energy you put into doing whatever it was sucked. It’s stupid to get worked up about, I know. If they have nothing nice to say, they were likely not your target audience.

Personally, I do things for two reasons. Either I find them interesting, or I think they should be done. “Have people tell me how awesome I am” is not on that list, and please, should it ever be that way, shoot me. So – why does “Having people tell me how much I suck” make the list of reasons not to? It shouldn’t. I know, objectively, that the more successful you are and the more you do the more people will try and belittle what you do, and at times somehow manage simultaniously to try to take the credit for it. I know that. And yet, each time it happens (as it did twice this week) I’m hit, afresh, with feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and frustration. And, too often, I wonder if they have a point.

Deep breaths. Focus on the reasons why. When I dislike someone’s means, remind myself that the ends – and their intentions – are good. And, as a reminder that set-backs are not necessarily the end, this week a battle that I had been fighting for several months, was won. I hadn’t thought it would be, and I’d had to go and focus on other things. But then, someone else didn’t give up, and the result is that we all win. And the following day, something happened to remind me why I thought that battle was important in the first place.

But, again, all of this – easy to say, hard to do. So tell me, how do you avoid taking things you shouldn’t to heart?

4 thoughts on “Reminding Myself As To Why We Continue, Despite Everything

  1. ‘how do you avoid taking things you shouldn’t to heart’

    That is a very tough question. How can you tell if something falls into the category of ‘shouldn’t be taken to heart’?

    Awhile back, a mentor (and manager of many years) said to me in an annual review that no matter what happens to me in my career, I need to hold on to and cherish that ability to care deeply about what it is I do.

    So many times, my family and friends would tell me to care ‘less’ and I would be happy – and I always heard his voice in my head reminding me that this is an essential part of me.

    There are times for sure when perhaps caring less would have made me seem more relaxed, may have saved me a few grey hairs and sleepless nights, but it would have been moving away from an aspect of self that makes me able to push beyond limits (when others would just settle for less).

    Weirdly enough – what I am discovering later in life is that when I am in a situation where I am wasting time and energy caring about something that I shouldn’t, it means it is time for me to make a change, to remove myself from that situation, and focus on those spaces in my life where giving all that I have is energy-giving rather than energy-draining.

    Thanks for the great post, as per usual – you are awesome.

    1. I needed this comment so badly I meant to make another blog post about it – I haven’t yet, but who knows… it’s true. I was asking to “care less” but if I didn’t care so much I wouldn’t find the time to do those things in the first place. Thanks for reminding me.

      The flipside of caring, I guess, is that some people don’t. And they don’t care if they upset you when they attack you either – most likely they think they would do a much better job, but likely they never get around to doing anything at all.

  2. It’s difficult to take criticism for things that we put so much effort in, I think – especially things like relationships or all of the heartfelt blogs that you do. I think, generally, there are people who criticise without specification out of at least a bit of ill-intent; in that case, sometimes I try to follow up with them and ask them why. If they don’t take the time to reply, then surely their comment didn’t mean as much to them as it did to you. 

    I think all of the work you do it great! Your blog and CompSci Woman has inspired me so much and continues to be a motivation for me during my studies. I thought I was a complete odd ball for wanting to minor in languages while pursuing computer science, but clearly I was wrong, and I’m glad I was. 

    1. That is so true, people criticize the “entity” but when the entity is you, and you’ve spent so much time and done your best… it’s hard not to take it personally.
      And that is really sweet of you to say – thanks. You’re definitely not mad for having lots of different interests! And I love your sketches, too 🙂

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