Despite what the title suggests, this post isn’t about imposter syndrome. Not entirely, at least. Self-doubt is a part of it, but it’s more about why I get so down on myself when I’m not working or being productive.
Truth be told, I don’t know how to relax. Or I should say, I don’t know how to not feel guilty about taking time to myself.
You could blame modern society, hustle culture, or even FOMO (fear of missing out). But that’s not the core of my inability to slow down and find peace in doing nothing. No, for me, it goes much deeper than that. And it starts with the passing of my mom.
Let me add a little context.
When I was a kid and later as a teen, I was lazy. My parents had to pull tooth and nail to get me off my ass to do chores around the house. Or bribe me with money, and even then, I was unbelievably reluctant.
And in my early 20s, my work ethic was shit. When I started my first job at 15, it only lasted about a week before I quit – I can’t tell you the number of times I left a job simply because I didn’t want to work. If there was something better to do, like hang out with my friends, play video games or strum my guitar, I’d shrug off all responsibility without a second thought.
As you can imagine, this led to a number of consequences later in life: financial woes, lack of accountability, and general lethargy to name a few.
But the worst part is the stress my parents must have felt by my lack of action.
Photo by S. Rae
Selfishness has a collateral damage
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a household with two parents who cared deeply for me.
They wanted nothing but the best and brightest future for both my sister and I. And as middle-class blue-collar Canadians, that meant sacrificing a lot. Our parents gave us all they could afford just to see us succeed and achieve a life that was better than their own.
After all they did for me, I can only imagine how painful it was to watch their son throw away opportunity after opportunity; burn bridge after bridge; and leave one job after another.
Of course, I thought little of that at the time.
Sure, I self-corrected here and there as I got older—when I was expelled from high school, for example—and living on your own with the reality of paying rent and keeping food in the fridge forces you to take some responsibility.
But my parents still had to bail me out a few times; I leaned heavily on my cousin, too; and later, I relied on my partner to make ends meet while I floated from job to job.
That all changed the day my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. Within a year she was taken from our family – and my perspective on life was forever changed.
After a period of darkness and almost losing the one job I really cared about, I came to recognize the failures I had repeated my whole life. I finally understood the disappointment my mom must have experienced as a result.
The only problem: it was too late to apologize.
So, while visiting her gravestone shortly after she passed, I made a promise to her. I wasn’t going to coast through life anymore – I would honour her memory and take full responsibility for my actions.
I vowed to make her proud and become the man she always believed I could be.
The weight on Atlas’ shoulders
I’d like to believe I’ve lived up to that promise, albeit with the odd slip now and then – after all, I’m only human.
But here’s the thing: I’ve placed an enormous burden on my shoulders. I’ve raised the bar so high it’s nearly impossible to reach. And when I don’t reach it, I crash hard.
I become my own worst enemy.
When I don’t meet the unrealistic expectations I’ve set for myself, I tear myself apart. What’s more, I call myself weak when I:
- take a break throughout the work day—even though I really need one;
- use a sick day—because I’m stressed AF and mentally exhausted; and
- step back from the blog—despite knowing creativity and growth require patience.
Whenever I try to relax and rejuvenate, I start to feel anxious; I feel guilty about decompressing. And the amount of negative self-talk that goes on in my head is appalling.
It happens every time. It’s a vicious cycle that erodes my self-confidence and degrades my mental health.
Basically, if I’m not doing, I’m failing.
And if I’m failing, I’m letting my mom down – which is something I swore I’d never do again.
Of course, when I stop to think about it, I know I have made my mom proud. Even when she was still here, there were moments when she saw me at my best. Being the first in our family to graduate college—on the Dean’s List, too—is a perfect example.
What I’ve accomplished since—especially in the last few years—would make her glow with pride. I know this with 100% certainty.
I also know she wouldn’t be impressed by all the pressure I’ve put on my back. In fact, she’d kick my ass for being so hard on myself, and then she’d tell me to take a break and give myself grace.
All she’s ever wanted was for me to be happy. She wanted me to succeed in life, but I don’t think she was ever worried that I wouldn’t. Her only hope was I’d feel fulfilled by whatever path I chose to follow.
So, today, I’ll make my mom one more promise:
- to stop holding myself to an unmeetable standard and forgive myself when I fall;
- to keep working hard, but to allow myself to be at peace when a break is needed; and
- to continue to make her proud and to feel pride in myself as well.
Waging war with yourself is a never-ending battle; a battle you are destined to lose. Being your own worst enemy is never worth it, nor is it helpful.
Being human is to be imperfect.
We rise, we fall, and we get back up again. How we treat ourselves in the moments in between is what defines us.
Thanks for reading, folks.
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