Sh*t happens in life. Get used to it.
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
I was chatting with someone the other day. We were shooting the breeze about life, performance coaching and rising trends of people reporting and/or suffering from episodes of mental ill-health.
Now, to state the obvious; of course we all have mental health. All the time. Mental health is our ‘thing’. External stimuli, feelings, thoughts, emotions and brain chemistry. Mental health is ever present. It exists on a spectrum. Sometimes it is positive. Sometimes less so.
Tuning into what’s happening can be a bit of an enigma, but tune in we must. As in the film about Alan Turin’s amazing machine, breaking the code can be seriously hard; especially when the answer is hiding in plain sight.
In the discussion, we were talking about that, to a large extent, in our current-day western society, we may actually be talking ourselves into worsening conditions of mental health... sadly, without actually knowing it. To be clear, I am not really talking about medically diagnosed mental ill-health. More, that the daily narrative we see, hear and the one we have internally is not helping us create the conditions that enable us to enjoy more periods of positive mental health.
The good news, as I will talk about later, is that positive mental health should be more accessible. To more people. More of the time.
Taking a step back, though. The conversation struck a chord with me. It made me recall and remember a recent study by the Mental Health Foundation - where they found that only 13% of people in the UK state that they regularly enjoy high levels of positive mental health - link below:
As problems go, this feels like a significant and pressing one; one that is bearing down on our day-to-day lives. I am really curious; just why is it that so many of us would say that we don’t enjoy positive mental health?
Surely, for many more than 13% of people, there has to be a clearer line of sight to positive mental health. Doesn’t there?
There is, as always, some weird dichotomy in all of this. It would be too easy otherwise. People like Mark Manson would say, there are very few things in life that will make you more unhappy than the pursuit of happiness itself. Yet more and more people are pursuing it. More of the time. Some people are pursuing it relentlessly. Very few people are happy with their lot.
Therein lies a significant part of the problem.
This is a big topic: in my conversation with the person above, we were landing on the idea that a lot of it is because we can regularly experience feelings of low self-worth.
We’re sensitive beings. Even those who appear most ‘sorted’ and confident are probably regularly experiencing feelings of low self-worth and their outer image (the one we see) is a facade that protects a soft underbelly. This so-called soft underbelly is sensitive, unpredictable, and likes being fed by thoughts and feelings of judgement; thoughts that lack compassion and kindness.
We can, all too easily, compare ourselves and our lives to others’ - apparently perfect - lives and therefore what we see in those lives we can, quite often, crave for our own lives.
I should be clear: I believe it is absolutely fine to have big goals, high expectations and things we need to reach for, because this is how we make progress in this largely unpredictable world. I certainly do. But sh*t also happens along the way. Pretty often. Sometimes we end up covered in the stuff. The sooner we accept that sh*t happens in life and work, perhaps even on a daily basis, and that is just life in all its glory, then it becomes more normalised - and therefore part of life’s day-to-day scenery. It makes the vista even more interesting.
The problem feels more intensified these days. This is the perplexing part. For various reasons, there is a rising tide of expectation. We’re creating this on ourselves. The expectation that life, our life, will be more ideal. We have growing levels of intolerance and impatience. We’re more disposable with things and even, sometimes, see our fellow humans through the same lens.
The byproduct: this means we end up fearing it for ourselves. We want, or need, life to be more ideal for us personally; with us right at the centre. When, in reality, it is not. We wonder why stuff goes wrong. We expect life to be more tailored and responsive to our needs. More inline with our desires and wants. It ain’t. It’s quite a battle. Stuff doesn’t come easy. If never has... and it never will.
We expect to be the driver of our ’life car’ all the time, when often we are a passenger to circumstance. Therefore reality can be profoundly disappointing. When things don’t meet our high bar, we become pointedly judgmental - of ourselves and others.
Instead, life should be visualised as a highway in front of us - with passing traffic, where we have an opportunity to join the flow or not. Like any traffic flow, sometimes there are bumps and crashes. Our strength comes from how we respond to those bumps and crashes.
When we take a step back and think about it, we learn most from the stuff that goes wrong. The bigger the wrong, the bigger the lesson. If we can shift our thinking to accept the reality that things won’t always go our way, it can be liberating. We won’t always, or perhaps even ever, be the best, the smartest, the best looking, the most popular; and this is OK. When something doesn’t go right, it presents an opportunity for something more. Something better and more engaging; because of where we’ve come from.
Please, though, don’t need to try and swim against the tide of progress. That would be foolhardy and we‘d end up being sacrificed as a consequence of Darwin‘s theory of evolution - for being surplus to requirements. Because we’d fail to adapt. Sometimes though, it is healthy to look at our life and society from the side lines. To illuminate that it can, left unchecked, and in quite a subliminal way, take us further down (or up) the path of even higher, less attainable expectations whilst equipping us with even lower tolerance - a toxic cocktail.
If we’re not aware, we don’t see. This can make us unkind. Not only to others but also to ourselves. As we aim for something that is not real: a life without challenges and setbacks. Once you see and accept this, you are aware, and then you can change things; even if only in a subtle way.
Joy, self worth and fulfilment come from resourcefulness. We shore up our resilience when we learn to navigate the blips (sometimes big, seismic blips!) with broad shoulders and a wide smile. If you lower your expectations on yourself and on others. Just a little. It makes life better. Breathe, take stock.
We’re all human. Sh*t happens. Get used to it. I have a simple rule in life: don’t be a dick - to other people, of course, that goes without saying... but it is also crucial that this includes not being a dick to yourself.