Do. Doing. Done.
- Do. What am I going to do?
- Doing. What am I doing right now?
- Done. What have I done?
One of the most vital things I’ve learnt over the last couple of years is to acknowledge my achievements.
It took me a long time to realise how damaging and corrosive it is to be unkind to yourself. To fail to see yourself as good enough, to not acknowledge yourself and ultimately ignore your worth is terrible.
Self deprecation is a blade that cut myself with for the amusement of other people. I have done it to show others that I don’t take myself too seriously. It’s a weird kind of masochism to see others laugh at you while you amplify your deficiencies and diminish your achievements. Some people laugh manically, others laugh uncomfortably. Bullied as a kid I guess I learnt to reduce myself to avoid the pain of others doing it to me.
Bullying is about power and the assertion of that power sometimes takes the form of withholding. By withholding attention, acknowledgement or kindness, bullies are sending a message that you’re not worthy of those things. By failing to acknowledge my own worth or give attention to my own achievements I have withheld my own self respect. I have been my own worst bully.
After a long period of introspection, not so much anymore — here’s what I do;
I ask myself what am I going to do. This is not merely about making todo lists — it’s about recognising the opportunities that are presented to me. Recognising these opportunities is worth acknowledging as well.
I notice myself when I am doing something. Being present during those times when I am embracing an opportunity — recognising my participation in those moments and thinking about the quality of my engagement. Permitting myself — in all forms of myself.
I acknowledge myself when I have done something. The troll of self loathing is at its worst when I don’t call out my achievements or acknowledge my successes. Even when things aren’t successful, it’s worth still seeing those failures as worthy attempts none the less. Taking the time to recognise these things is an important reminder of my agency.
All this came about a couple years ago when I more or less broke down. I was shaken by the belief that I no longer had any agency. As if I had become an automaton.
As a developer, I believed I had no control over the next card I was expected to pick up, that I was not valued for my skills and experience, that I had no currency in the meritocracy which had emerged around me. I felt that the work I was being engaged to do had no meaning because no value was placed upon my contribution to it. These feelings drove me to despair and ultimately to depression.
As a husband and father, I believed I was just another entry in a calendar. Working full time removed me from the day to day (but not the nightly grind) of my young family. Becoming a father was something I believed I wasn’t worthy of, I wasn’t good enough to be or do. I did not acknowledge the real work, however small, that I was doing. I spent a lot of time fighting and struggling with the idea of being a father. It has taken nearly five years to accept myself in this role and accept the role in my life.
Both our kids — then an intelligent and eager three and half year old and a six month old (who has had an very closely attached infancy) — benefited immensely from the tireless nurturing of my wife. She is a wonderful mother and a very tolerant partner.
Regaining agency took a long time, but it wasn’t difficult to do. It is anchored squarely on addressing my wants (and needs in a totally Maslovian sense) and stating them clearly: I want to take four hours for myself; I want to change this process; I want to build this thing; I want to you to take more care.
The last one, I find, is the most difficult — asking other people what I want of them. In organisational structures, this is often referred to as “managing up”. I have found though, that with a clearer idea of what I want and the need that it services, then stating those wants is much easier. It’s also much easier to negotiate a compromise.
A lot has happened in the last two years, much of that happening has involved countless hours of therapy. A lot of things have also settled down. Robert is finally starting to sleep independently — Eric has always been an excellent sleeper — and the boys are exploring their independence.
As an aside, my wife and I have both declared aloud — sleep deprivation is a valid form of torture. Actively supporting strict and regular sleeping patterns of our boys has been vital to our survival and sanity. My wife’s perseverance, and belief that “it will get better”, has in many respects set a critical and healthy foundation their lives.
Now: I’m sitting at a kitchen table on a Sunday. It’s 8.30am and I’ve been up for two hours — I’ve cooked breakfast for my family and I’ve taken some time to finish this post. I’ve arranged my thoughts and I’ve shared with you some insights. Done.