It was winter time during my junior year of college. I was working part time at the YMCA teaching a “Total Body Conditioning” class at 5:30 in the morning, three days a week. I’ve always been a light sleeper and while my true nature isn’t to be a morning person, I pop right out of bed when my alarm goes off and I need to be somewhere. Dependable, punctual, and responsible…that’s me!
Well, most of the time.
I’d gone to stay at my parent’s house because my roommates at the time refused to turn up the heat. They thought it was reasonable to walk around our apartment in coats and mittens.
I did not.
Let’s just get this straight right now. There are certain things in life that are worth paying for. Heat, air conditioning, and internet definitely all make my short list.
Back to my story, being under my parent’s roof and in my old bedroom again must have affected my sleep on that Friday morning because I slept right through my alarm. I woke up to see that it was past 6:00am and I’d completely missed my class.
Man, if that isn’t one of the crappiest feelings in the world. Panic followed by embarrassment and then shame. Some of the worst emotions a human can experience and they’re all coming at you in your first moments of consciousness. Even before coffee.
I emailed my supervisor to tell her what I’d done, explained that it was a total fluke, I was soooo sorry and it would never EVER happen again.
Then it happened again the following Monday on the very next time I was scheduled to teach.
I remember opening my eyes that morning and knowing something was wrong. Scared to even look at the clock I just started saying “no no no no no no this can’t be happening”….but it was definitely happening. I had missed class for the second time in a row. There was only one thing to do.
Bawl my eyes out.
I don’t remember if I got in trouble at work or even how it went when I finally did show up to teach my class the following Wednesday. I never missed a class again and yet a year or so later when I was leaving the Y, my class got me a goodbye present…
It was an alarm clock.
Of course, it was a joke and we all had a laugh. Those back to back missed classes had become known as “that time Steph went on a bender”. They all got a kick out of that. (I pretended I thought it was funny)
This is a very small example but isn’t that the way it goes? You can show up to teach a class hundreds of times over the course of a few years and yet when it comes down to the end, the thing you’re most remembered for is your “bender”, the time (okay, two times) you messed up.
I can laugh at it now because, trust me, I’ve messed up many times and far worse in the last decade. This story doesn’t even make my list of regrets anymore. But it is a good illustration for self-compassion.
We are so good at taking incidents we regret, mistakes that we’ve made and making them a part of who we are instead of just something we did. We lay in bed at night obsessing over our missteps and using them as evidence for our lack of worth.
Why can’t we show ourselves some compassion?
I’ve found one way to get better at it and it actually starts by practicing compassion for others. I’m reminded of the quote;
“When someone does something wrong, don’t forget all the things they did right.”
Nowadays, I am in charge of all the group classes at the Y. Every once in a while, an instructor sleeps through their early morning class and I am the recipient of that panicked, embarrassed, shame filled text or email message.
The funny thing is I actually love when this happens. The group fitness manager part of me doesn’t love it but the human part of me does. I love that I get the chance to show compassion to another human who is probably not expecting it.
I know from experience that they’re already beating themselves up so I can skip that part. All I need to do in that moment is remind them that they’re human and that yes, they screwed up, but they don’t deserve the punishment they’re giving themselves.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts the other day (Happier with Gretchen Rubin) and she said this;
“Part of being an adult is living with regret.”
Wow. Isn’t that the truth? Just face it. You’re never going to stop messing up. You’ll never be perfect. Neither will the people around you.
Giving someone else compassion, especially when they aren’t expecting it, feels nothing short of heroic. A day or two after I’d shown compassion to an instructor who’d accidentally slept through her class, she sent me an email thanking me for my words that day. How easy was that?
So if you’re in a position to take someone’s burden off of their shoulders, do it immediately if not sooner. And while you’re at it, why don’t you also do the same thing for yourself?
Be your own hero.
Show yourself the same compassion you would show to another. Stop looking outward for absolution and just give it to yourself. Because the truth is, we’re all doing the best we can. Sometimes the best we can is good enough, sometimes it more than good enough. But other times that same “best we can” misses the mark. Why can’t we let that go?
The truth is, we can let it go. We just have to change the story we tell ourselves. The story that who we are is a sum of the things we’ve done. We aren’t the incredible things we’ve done and we aren’t the terrible things we’ve done either. We’re so much more than that.
You make mistakes but you’re still a really good person just like I make mistakes but I’m still a really good person.
In my self-confidence course for women, I talk a lot about self-care. Self-compassion is the ultimate form of self-care.
I don’t have the keys to unlock women from their prisons of guilt and shame but throughout my course, I give them tools to help them look within themselves and remember where they hid those keys. That way, they are able to unlock themselves and finally be free.