Image: By StooMathiesen – Flickr: Railway tracks 2 028, CC BY 2.0
The S in CAST stands for shift, as in shift perspective.
I didn’t understand until this last year what it meant to focus on myself. I mean, I knew on the surface that I had to get my shit together, move away before I disintegrate, get a job, a place to stay with my kids. Had to try and not sink into the quicksand of grief and shame of abandonment.
Beyond that, the idea of focussing on myself was tainted by vapid slogans and memes that painted self-care as all bubble baths and prosecco (not that there is anything wrong with these two things—I am a big fan of both). Like the only way to focus on myself was to treat myself like a coddled, spoiled child.
But, like most of these concepts, there are layers to them, and the more I practice them, the deeper I understand. I might reach a plateau for a while and I think I’ve gone as far as there is to go and then wham! I realize I’ve barely touched the surface.
Wait. What? I am the Hero of my own Story?
For most of my life, I think I was under the impression that I was a secondary character in the lives of other people. You know, the shy friend, the supportive wife, the loving mother, the quiet sister who stands on the sidelines cheering people on. I was someone who showed up in other people’s narratives; I did not have my own.
But of course, that is ridiculous. Like everyone else, I am the hero in my own journey.
It might be a cliché, but it is also a very powerful idea that eluded me until about nowish. I think like most people, I go from decision to decision, reacting, adapting, adjusting to forces outside of me without ever stopping to consider that I am in the middle of writing of my own story, that I have some control over the story arc of me, the main character.
My life is my ultimate creative act.
Shifting my focus on to myself is less about decadent spoilage and more about being intentional about the decisions I make. It is about taking the time to imagine a vision for my life and then to embrace the creative tension between my current reality and where I want to be and pull myself closer to the vision.
Switching Tracks from We to Me
But first thing’s first. To be intentional about my life, I can’t keep spinning on the hamster wheel of abandonment, the one that makes me relive J’s leaving and betrayal over and over again. The only way I’ve found to stop myself from spinning out of control is through consciously shifting perspective.
It is simple, really. When I think of the J of the last few years, I feel heavy and constricted and small, like I have turned into a mouse with a respiratory problem.
When I think about what I want for my life—what I want to accomplish, what I still need to work on, where I would like to be in a few years, I feel alive and galvanised.
Now, when I notice that I am beginning the hamster wheel monologue in my head of everything I want to say to J, I shift gears and ask myself, what about me? What do I want from my life? What do I need to focus on today to make those things happen? What am I grateful for?
Asking myself this out loud, helps me to stop the hamster wheel in its tracks. It is my switch lever, if you will, that allows me to go in a different direction.
Practice May Not Make It Perfect, but it Does Make It Better
The other day, I was waiting for a friend outside our local grocery store and watching some skateboarders. This one kid was using the new bench-like structures with a submerged garden part in the middle to flip up onto the structure, grind along the edge of the submerged part and then land back on the sidewalk. The first time I watched him, he got to the middle and then fell off his skateboard. The second time he got to the end. The third time he actually made it off the structure but screwed up the landing. Each time he would attempt it, his friend recorded it. He would watch what he did and then go back and try again. I was watching the fun he was having, doing the same thing over and over again as he got closer to his goal and was struck by the sheer persistence, the fixation on getting it right. For what? I can imagine simply for the pleasure of mastering it, of landing that trick consistently over and over again.
Shifting perspective like this requires practice. It is not only learning how to do the trick, but how to get on the board in the first place. I have spent so long focussing on other people’s needs that to focus intentionally on my life and what I want is going to be a lifelong practice. What I have found so far, is that even in these beginning times, where my focusing on my life is as clumsy and awkward as a toddler learning to walk, I am seeing some major benefits.
To focus on what I need to do to make my life what I want it to be, I have had to set some boundaries. These boundaries both protect me from wasting my energy on quick band-aid solutions or things that are not mine to fix, and protect my loved ones from my good, but judgemental intentions, from my maternal savior complex.
As I get better at practising this shift, I also find that I am able to break down some of those self-made barriers I have created around my writing. Basically, it is helping me face the fact that I want writing to be a central part of my life and that if I truly want to be the hero in my own story, I can no longer ignore this. Any decisions I make for the future must consider this long-term vision of being a published author. Though I get scared about the money situation and want to distract myself by resuming the never-ending hustle, I am stopping myself, taking some deep breaths and trying to focus on the long game. This is hard and scary but I’m taking it one day at a time.
After all, it is my life. And when I turn eighty, I am banking on the fact that what will make me most proud was not that I was able to balance a budget (though that would be nice too) but that regardless of whether I am successful at all, at least I made a stab at making my dream of being a writer come true.
And that’s what I call focusing on me. Of course, I don’t say no to the occasional bubbly and bubbles either…