WHY THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE BOTH WIN
PSYCHOLOGY + THE FINISH LINE
Gosh there is a lot to say. About last year, this year. Last week, this week. And all the things. Mostly though, grief. And we will get to that. More than a million times. It’s coming, I promise. But for now, I want to circle back to thoughts of intention and offer a few ideas regarding the time honored tradition of viewing the new year as a time to reflect, be present, and look ahead. If we all require a specific time of year to do that, fine. But honestly, we should be practicing the concept of insight far more often than once a year. If you can add one regiment to the list of quote unquote improvements for 2021, make self-reflection and presence a daily idea. PS, my book THESE THREE THINGS is a really great place to start.
As I have watched this podcast grow in scope and in listeners these past months, I see JOY IS NOW as being both an ongoing conversation about emotion and being human, while also filling a void in the psych landscape and existing as a kind of emotional encyclopedia. Which if I do say so myself is very much needed. A guidebook so to speak. A not so much how to get rid of this feeling, or hold on to that one, side note: enough of that please. We and I mean all of us, are smarter than that. 10 steps to get rid of anxiety. 5 failsafe ways to attract happiness. Shut the fuck up. Here’s the thing, we feel ALL the things. One more time. WE FEEL ALL THE THINGS. And this is good. Trust that it is. When we don’t, we suffer immensely and go to great lengths to feel all the things. You want to feel all the things, trust me. It’s healthy. And these things, they are not to be gotten rid of or conversely, permanently hooked to our veins. Emotions come and go. Sometimes they feel great. Sometimes they feel like shit. Sometimes they last longer than we would like. Sometimes we need help to move through them. It’s not so much about tricks and tips to not feel some and always feel others. It’s about growing our capacity to endure. Be Resilient. Get help. Understand. And be open to thinking about them, alone and together.
So how do we do that? Well, there are many ways. Many different ways. But let’s start with letting go of a concept I like to call the finish line. I begin nearly all of my psych education talks with this idea. Sometimes it's good to start at the end. So here we go.
I’m sure at one point during your education, you were either read to or assigned to read the Aesop Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. It’s a popular one in early education. Meant to be a cautionary tale to children in taking their time. Looking before leaping. Slowing down. And also vanquishing every single creative impulse, and out of the box ingenuity. But by all means, let’s read this to children. The overall messaging of The Tortoise and The Hare, is don’t rush, don’t move too quickly, don’t go your own way- god knows we hate that. And if you are a girl, well then you better not do that. For god’s sake don’t be ambitious. Those qualities make a fool. Look at the wise tortoise, moving slowly with intention. A measured pace. He is so wise. Slow and steady wins the race. Oh my gooooood. Seriously, fuck you.
Ugh! I hate this story. And here’s why. To start, the idea that there is only one way to win is crap. If fables are meant to be life lessons, then this one is a dumpster fire. Life is not a race or a thing to win. Nope. It’s not. It’s just not, no matter how much some people want it to be. Yes, there are races and competitions. We love those. Hooray for that shit, but life, you - who you are- your soul- what you feel, how you make others feel- your gifts to share- that’s not a race or a competition. That’s growth and process and that shit happens on its own time. That’s the big one.
Second, the idea that there is only one pace at which you can be successful and move with intention is infuriating. Reading this story as a young child practically ruined me for school. I only know one speed. It’s fast. That’s it. And instead of being taught to honor my speed, manage my pace, and set myself up for success as a hare, I was taught that there was something wrong with moving swiftly. No slow and steady for me. Even my slow, is fast. Well, I’m still a hare, even now, and I think I’m doing okay in terms of my life goals.
The truth is, the hare and the tortoise both quote un quote win, Neither one is more wise, neither pace is superior. In fact, if you can get in touch with who you really are, how you learn, how you succeed and what pacing makes you feel good, then you can always win. But instead of emphasizing on getting to know your pace, doing some internal work and really understanding how you best cross the finish line, the assumption is there is just one way. And truth be told, there is never really just one way to do anything. Damn if it feels safer and is way easier to believe so, but nope. A million ways to do pretty much anything.
So why bring up the finish line now? Well, we are about to embark on what I believe to be a year ripe with perceived finish lines. Emotional, logistical, relational, financial. All of the ways. Most likely, the race, this process of recovery, both emotional and structural is going to be longer and require more endurance than any of us would like. And that’s okay. Grief has no determined finish line. I can promise you that. And when we sort through all of the things, emotions, questions, answers, at the bottom of this shit pile, lies grief. It always does. Massive, larger than life, inconceivable grief. And it hurts. Ouch. Big time fucking ouch. And that’s the answer everyone really wants. And by the answer everyone really wants I mean THE answer all CAPS. In therapy, in partnership, in parenthood, family, childhood, in life. When you have ever been searching for an answer, most likely deep down at the bottom of your question is, when will the grief, when will it be over?
That’s the question we all ask, and that’s a finish line question. So let’s loosen our grip on it a little bit. That question, the idea that things have an organized conclusion. A singular victorious finish line. In this race, this process, there are going to be many different paces. There will be impacts now, later, and I mean from days to years. We will all be going at this at our own pace. It is recovery and asking when will the recovery be over, is also a finish line question. You don’t finish recovery. There’s no trophy for crossing that line. Recovery is it’s own race, it’s own process and it's ongoing. This race, the one upon us now, whether we call it covid, or pandemic, cluster fuck, 2020,and on and on and on whatever words define the one we have been participating in for nearly 10 months now, will not end with a simple suringe to the arm. Does that help - hells yes, but it’s deeper than that. This process is less about things being over or crossing the finish line and more about our own internal capacity shifting while we run the track. It’s like with grief, grief is not something that ends, but it changes, or better yet, we change and our ability to live alongside it shifts. A lot of time with the deep, hard, uncomfortable emotions, there is no clear finish line, no winning, no completion. We just get better at pacing ourselves and cheering each other on.
So how do a bunch of grief stricken traumatized hares and tortoises and everyone in between work this process? With forgiveness for one. Remembering that it is all, 100% about grief. Really, 100%. Start there. Remember we are all sad. And we all respond to grief, recovery, and trauma at our own pace. And a lot of the times that pace looks like rushing ahead only to need to rest under the shade of a tree for a few miles. Other times it looks very slow and measured. Sometimes It looks like getting nearly all the way to what we think is the finish line only to have to start over from what feels like the beginning. The cool thing is that while we may seem to falter, or retrace our steps, get stuck, we are more knowing the second time around. In mind and body. It’s never a true repeat. We return with a gained knowingness. Even through grief. Even through trauma. It’s a process and all process honors this knowingness. Again, all process honors this knowingness.
Still, there is no one singular prize for Best at Grief. No bright blue ribbon. No Nike endorsement. (Although that would be kick ass and Nike if you are listening I’m totally up for a winning at grief shoe). And if we are getting specific I’m thinking a custom SB Dunk low. And if that’s what gets you through then yeah, make yourself the medal, get the trophy engraved. Sign the endorsement deal. Because now and for a while, we will all be with grief. This is a race, a process that there is no other way but through. You can run from grief, but ya can’t hide. I’ve tried. In this grieving process, we will all get tired, have bursts of energy, get sore, hit a second wind at different points. And honoring the difference in pacing is the best way forward.
What does this look like in real time? Well for one, it looks and feels like loosening our grip. Especially around the idea of there being a clear and distinct finish line. Like after this point or number of miles, it will all be over in one single moment. It won’t be. We just keep going, not knowing that. And that can feel scary and also sad.
So Let’s try this. Allow those we love and sometimes, maybe sometimes, extend that allowance to those we don’t, the grace of participating at their own pace. At the beginning of the pandemic in conversation with a psychologist friend, she so beautifully pointed out that , me, Lisa, will be frustrated. “Your ceiling is higher,” she said. Not everyone has been in a room all day with a 12 floridly psychotic teenagers. Theres’ things that you know how to navigate. There’s other things you don’t. So Remember that not everyone will be able to proceed at your pace. Shes right. My ceiling is high here, but way lower other places. A really good reminder. Allow that grace. When you don’t, apologize.
And here’s how that sounds.
I’m so sorry. Let’s start over. That didn’t sound like me. This all feels really new and uncertain. I’m sad and that feels new too. Can we start over?
Ouch that hurt. I know you didn’t mean it like that. I’m sad and overwhelmed too. Can we start over?
Or Ooops. Ooof. Shit, that was a mess. Can we start over?
I’m sad and that is coloring everything right now. I’m not sure what I will say and do sometimes. That’s not what I meant to say. I’m sorry. Let’s start over?
Please don’t speak to me that way. I didn’t like the way that felt. This is all new to me too. I’m doing the best I can also. I know you care about me, let’s start over.
Or, my favorite,
I’m sad too. Let’s be sad together. Let’s start over.
The truth is, the tortoise and the hare need each other in the race. Especially this one. This race, this process is collective, not individual. And that’s big. And it’s a good big. Collective grief is different than the individual or community grief we often feel. Collective grief is everyone. And this time really truly everyone. Everyone alive. Like it’s seldom been this big before. While this might sound overwhelming, scary, sad, it also gives me great hope. The collective continuum always allows for forward movement at different levels of capacity, or different ceiling heights if that metaphor works for you. Collectively we need the person who recovers more quickly, we need the person who is able to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, even if part of that optimism pops up as denial later. We need the contemplative empath who can sit in the sorrow and fully process it. We need the mom who holds it together all day and then goes out to the garage every night to cry alone in the car. One needs to go slow and steady, be predictable, take fewer chances. And one needs to plow ahead, look for new ways of doing things and turn the whole race on its head. All these different kinds of coping help all of us, when the process is collective. We all help each other through this no matter our own capacity. In collective processes, we all need each other. The difference in pace allows us all to win, together. Because when the finish line is just a concept, we all need each other to endure the race ahead.
Thank you for being here.
Listen to this episode of JOY IS NOW here.