Stop Bringing My Bootstraps Into This

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Hey there, freaknasties, I finally had a chill enough day where I didn't come home and collapse into a coma before 9pm, and I will actually get to leave my house after the sun comes up tomorrow. I think my travels only go as far as Athens, GA this week, which will be a nice reprieve, although my agent is currently emailing me in a flurry, and while my watch is vibrating, refuse to even look. 

I AM BLOGGING RIGHT NOW MIKE, CHILL. 

So like I said it was a much needed 'normal' day going to the office, visiting clients, and coming home at a reasonable hour. It was refreshing! Like...ah...only an 8 hour day! After this weekend in Chicago and the week preceding that trip, I am ready for a bit of a reprieve. 

 You're actually home, so now I will guilt you with my moping. 

You're actually home, so now I will guilt you with my moping. 

Today's post has been swimming around in my head for a while, and today felt like the right time to write it. I was sitting on my couch doing 'The Binder' and feeling a bit angry and sad. 'The Binder' is something I'll touch on soon enough. Basically, I'm a psycho about reconciling my end of month in all ways. I clean up my computer files, I reconcile my receipts to my bank statements and credit cards, blah, blah, blah. It's something my stepfather instilled in me from the age of nine. 

I was sad and angry because I made the trip to Chicago, and my ex wouldn't let me see the kids. This blog post isn't about that, I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for it. This is the hill he wants to die on? So be it. We can bury him with his sword and shield. I was emotional because after my podcast went live Saturday night, after a week of radio silence from him, he just couldn't help himself and lashed out at me. Same ol' same ol'... deadbeat, whore, etc. 

I'm sitting on my couch tonight tallying up totals, and it has now been a solid year I have paid more for our children's care monthly than he ever did in court ordered child support with a 6-figure salary. There is no legally binding custody agreement. There is no child support order. I send things, give the kids allowance, and paid a $90 phone bill for them today, and my number is blocked and deleted on all of their devices. I was able to chat with them when I called from the hotel phone, and they were bright and happy to talk to me, and had no idea I was even in town. 

Again, that doesn't bother me. It stings, but I am fully aware of who I'm dealing with, and I am about the long game. There will be no drama. No storming the castle. No threats. I will simply keep doing what I'm doing. I'm showing up. If there's ONE thing I have learned in the last ten years... the secret to everything in life is showing up. 

I guess that's where my emotions are coming from tonight. Once again today someone remarked to me, "You have really pulled yourself up by the bootstraps," and while I understand it's a high compliment, it sets my teeth on edge to hear it. 

The reason why this post took so long for me to articulate, is because I didn't know why that compliment bothered me so much. It wasn't until a couple of close friends of mine began their journeys, somewhat similar to my own recently, and I was on the receiving end of someone reaching out for advice and help. 

"It's going to suck," was the first thing I said to both of them. These last ten... TEN...did you get that? TEN years have really, really, really sucked sometimes. Last weekend sucked. My Mother's Day will probably suck. It is a dance of one step forward and two steps back until you get your feet under you, and then IT WILL STILL SUCK SOMETIMES. 

I feel like the whole 'bootstraps' thing simplifies a very complicated and nuanced change. I didn't just wake up last year and say, "I WILL BE SUCCESSFUL." I got fucked up drunk because I was sad two Christmases ago, and my friend stepped in and leveled with me on an emotional level. Not on a "This is what you should do..." level but on a, "you matter just as much as all of this garbage, so make a plan for YOU," level and that's when I started going three or four steps forward and one step back. 

It had nothing to do with my work ethic. Changing your life isn't all work ethic. I've been a workaholic and a trainwreck at the same time. The difference maker was I had enough self worth to keep showing up even though I didn't cognitively know it yet. It's something you have to grow into and feel when you're ready, and sometimes that takes a decade of dancing the Trainwreck Two Step and doing the best you know how to do in the moment. 

Today when I got the 'bootstraps' compliment, I smiled and said, "I just kept showing up until it started to work." That's the advice I gave my two friends, and I guess I'll share it with you as well. 

  • It is going to suck. You will feel extreme emotions you will want to run for your life from. You will want to numb and escape. You will have a few bad relationships. You will mess up. Do it. Get it over with. Have the courage to make mistakes. 
  • Show up to something every single day. Work, volunteer, the gym, something. Do something every day that makes you have to put on pants and comb your hair. This prevents true disaster. 
  • You will want your old life back a lot of days. Your old life is familiar, comfortable, and easy when your new life isn't. Keep showing up in your new life, even if you hate it, until your old life is intolerable to you. Psychological change truly happens when your brain and body connect and the idea of living your old life gives you a visceral reaction. 
  • Pushy friends are great. You need pushy friends sometimes. But if you're feeling guilt or bad about yourself for feeling the things you feel, that's not healthy. It's ok to take a break from a relationship if it's not a good place to be for you right now. A good friend will step back and understand. 
  • Talk to someone completely removed from your life. There are free counseling groups like Stephen Ministries, where it's as simple as going out for coffee with a listening ear who has no emotional investment in the game. It gives you a fresh outlook. Friends and family mean well, but sometimes they reinforce certain things that make you lose your objectivity. 
  • Exercise. Endorphins, baby. 
  • Finally, don't put a timeline on anything. It took eight solid years for me to put this two year plan together for a grand total of TEN. You are not a failure if you're not hitting huge benchmarks of success and change in six months. Anyone holding you to those kinds of expectations is a loser. Anyone who held me to that standard had someone else paying their bills. Fuck em. Seriously. People really love to flaunt their superiority complexes around those who are struggling. 

There's no such thing as 'pulling yourself up by the bootstraps,' so please let's kill this ideology all together. If it takes 28 years to get yourself in a certain place, you're beating the odds getting yourself out of it in ten. We should celebrate the process of being brave and showing up instead of the end result. 

Ok, so I've become very motivational speaker-y here lately, and it feels weird. I guess I'm finding myself passionately trying to change the narrative about certain things, because there are so many built in lies our society has that keeps people stuck. This whole 'bootstraps' thing sets people up to fail because it implies that you're just going to work hard and ONE DAY MAGIC WILL HAPPEN AND YOUR LIFE PROBLEMS WILL SOLVE THEMSELVES. So when it doesn't happen like that, you're a colossal failure. 

Nope. 

As long as you show up and keep going, you will get there. And when you do, 'there' isn't even a real thing. It's just a new leg of the journey. 

My agent has literally sent me 5 emails while I wrote this.

CAN I LIVE, MIKE? 

I better go read them. Pulling myself up by the bootstraps only created more work for myself. :)

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Jennifer Gulbrandsen