Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things just really, really don’t go your way.
Sometimes it’s a relatively minor inconvenience–like when you’re attempting to navigate a new city and end up driving in circles and paying $14 to park for 23 minutes in a garage 4 miles from your destination. (Shout-out to Google Maps for that little adventure.) Or when you really need to make a phone call at 4:45 pm on a Friday, but your service provider is experiencing outages in your area and you’ll have to wait until Monday. Or when you douse yourself in bug spray for a quick walk with the dog and still end up getting bitten on your eyelid. Your eyelid.
Sometimes it’s a moderately discouraging event—like when you receive an email indicating that you’re no longer being considered for a job that you were really excited about, or that the position you applied for was simply cancelled due to The Powers That Be. Or when you never hear back from the company at all and are left to assume you didn’t make the cut.
And sometimes it’s a rather life-shattering realization–like when it hits you that your 25th birthday is in a few weeks and you’re unemployed and living with your parents and getting really tired of explaining to everyone you encounter that yes, you’re trying your best to get a job and yes, you’ve tried X, Y, and Z strategy–and still watching the tiniest hint of judgement, skepticism, or just plain confusion flicker in their eyes. I’m an INFJ, yo. I have radar for the things people try to hide but inadvertently show anyway.
The past few weeks have been filled with these moments and more. On one hand, it’s been kind of emotionally draining, and on the other hand, I’ve had some great opportunities to reflect on what it means when things don’t go “my way” and how I can best respond.
For me, things not going “my way” is often a huge source of stress and frustration, especially when I feel that I did everything I could to plan and prepare for a particular situation. I find myself second-guessing everything, including my own capabilities and self-worth: Did I not actually prepare as well as I thought I did? What was I missing? Do I just really suck at life? Does this happen to other people, too? Will things always be this way for me? And on and on and on….
The more I think about why I typically respond this way, the more I realize that in today’s highly individualistic society, it’s so difficult to remember how many aspects of life are actually outside of our control. We love to think that we determine our destinies–if we dream it, we can do it, amirite? But while this type of sentiment may look nice on a motivational poster at the local gym, I think it’s a dangerous mindset if taken too far. It gives us a false sense of authority over a whole host of factors that aren’t really up to us, thus setting us up for disappointment and placing a lot of undue pressure on us to make sure that things turn out a certain way.
The stress and frustration of derailed plans, then, often stems more from a mismatch between our expectations and reality than from the nature of events and circumstances themselves. As a result, we can manage a lot of pain and anxiety by bringing ourselves back to reality. One thing that I have found incredibly helpful in this regard is repeating a mantra in my head– a word, phrase, or sentence that helps me reframe my thoughts. I first learned about mantras through yoga and have used them to regain focus when I become distracted during my practice. But I’ve found that mantras aren’t just good for yoga–they’re good for everyday life, too! And repeating one is something you can do anytime, anywhere when you’re in need of a reality check.
The key to a good mantra, then, is that it does indeed reflect reality. I used to rely on telling myself “I am in control” to calm down my racing mind when I was feeling powerless and stuck. But as you can probably imagine, instead of imparting peace and perspective, repeating this misleading statement over and over only served to feed my frustrations. It’s actually the worst.
Instead, my go-to mantra is now “I have a say.” This is a far more accurate and helpful statement, and to me, its meaning is twofold:
First, in spite of all the factors outside of my control, I always have a say in how I react to a situation. I can be positive or negative; I feel sorry for myself or I can figure out what I’ve learned and what I can do differently next time. I can become angry and bitter and act like the universe is out to get me, or I can acknowledge that crappy stuff happens to all of us, let myself stew over it for a few minutes, and then move on with my day.
Second–and here’s the kicker for a people-pleaser like me–I often have more say than I might think in the parameters of my situation–if I am brave, open-minded, and resourceful enough to actually exercise my volition. How many times have I invited unnecessary stress into my life by not voicing my needs or by always saying “yes”? How many times have I set myself up for feelings of failure and disappointment by approaching a situation with unrealistic expectations of myself or others? How many times have I practically welcomed frustration, inefficiency, and stagnation into my world by not exploring alternate ways of doing things when my usual method no longer serves me? So many times, y’all. So many times. In the wise words of P!nk, “I’m my own worst enemy.”
So today, no matter how many times I get lost, no matter how many job rejections I receive, and no matter how many quarter-life crises I experience, I will remind myself that I have a say. Not total control, but an important influence. And that’s a distinction worth remembering and repeating.
Do you have a word, phrase, or saying that helps you get through challenging situations? Share it in the comments below!