Phew. It’s been awhile, huh?
Thank you for allowing me to take some time for myself during this start to the year. What a whirlwind it’s been. I wanted to write so many times about all the things I was experiencing and practicing and struggling with- but this past month and a half has been rather a lot like a mountain climb. Okay, maybe a hill climb. We certainly ain’t at the top of a mountain yet! But what I mean is that, while you’re on the trail, pushing through the uphill battle and the distance through the woods, you don’t exactly get a lot of perspective on where you’re going- or where you started out for that matter. It’s just trusting forward momentum and hoping that it won’t fade. After about a month and a half of serious steps forward, I feel like I’m finally able to get some lay of the land!
This is the most direction I’ve had since Mom died.
As I started to reflect, I couldn’t believe how eventful these past…. 51 days have been.
I did Whole30 (don’t ask how I got corralled into that) (And, like, I really did Whole23 because there was no way I was staying out of Super Bowl snacks). I started a photography business for reals. I began my certification to become a vocal coach!! I accepted a promotion at work. I’ve started consistent therapy, and, man, is it ever OPENING ME UP. I have read seven books already this year. I have started taking time out of my week to just sing again. I completely overhauled my whole planner/daily journal situation- which I’m definitely going to write about later. Oh, and I have consistently switched to working every weekday at 4:30 am. Every. Weekday.
Somehow, I managed to put a whole lot of fun and friendship in there, too.
I turn 26 in two weeks- woah. I can’t wait. I feel like I’m headed into this new age with more hope than I have had in years. I feel that in my bones.
So I’ll just give you a little catchup, huh? Summarize how all this goodness came about?
I revved up for 2019 when I started reading The Finnish Way back in December. I had bought the book for my grandpa as a Christmas present, since he is through and through a Finn, but I found myself stealing sneak peeks into the pages… and eventually just started reading it and bought him another copy!
I have always been in awe of my grandfather’s inner strength- something as mysterious as it is familiar to me. It seems silly to chalk up the source of that strength to be… cultural or genetic. But my mom had that same insane discipline and drive, and I have my fair share of it too. Even though it existed in me, though, I never fully understood it- even let it morph into something unhealthy from time to time.
Katja Pantzar’s book is literally all about the study of this unique, Finnish value of resilience- called “sisu”. Have you heard of the Scandinavian term “hygge” which became a fad in the US as of late? Well this is the Finnish version- to hell with your comfort, we’re gonna take ice baths.
You heard that right. Icewater bathing.
It is a common pastime of the people of Finland, when the sea freezes over, to cut a whole in the ice, attach a ladder to the side of the hole, and take a tip in that frigid water. I kid you not, I’ve started doing it.
Okay, so I don’t have access to a frozen sea, but I do have a shower with a cold setting. Every day, I give myself a good long shot of cold water- and you know what? It’s AMAZING. I’m sure there’s actually physiological legitimacy to it, but there’s also something psychologically powerful about a daily reminder that you can do things that are “hard” and beneficial. The challenge is the mindset. You can do anything for 30 seconds..
The power of this book, for me, is that Katja really drives home the fact that sisu isn’t some type of “grin and bear it” suppression of discomfort. It isn’t an aggressive gritting of teeth that gets the job done. Sisu is steady. It is calm. It is thoughtful. It is measured and sensible. The whole book is full of examples of ways in which the culture of Finland reflects this.
So, as you can see after my geek-out sesh there, I was stepping into January like, “okay, cool, ice baths and moderation! I got this.”
And in that moderation, I started to find actual grace. I found that when I gave myself permission to do LESS, I could actually do MORE.
I gave myself permission to make my efforts a give and take, a balancing act.
This more reasonable mindset made me wonder… if I innately had all that familiar inner resilience, why had my grief still been so rough on me? My experience had gone beyond mere loss and more into the heart of my own worth as a young adult trying to make my way in the world.
In my opinion, one of the foundations of sisu is self-respect. It requires a lot of pride, confidence, and trust in oneself to act with such fortitude. It takes a good amount of desire to muster up all that energy just to be a better person. So why did I feel… like I had let myself down? Self-respect seems like a fantastic trait to have, and IT IS. It totally is. But it also has downsides- a rigidity. An unforgiving standard. A duty to be moral, to not make mistakes, to be an example.
Because self-respect is not self-love.
I had gotten those two things confused.
I hadn’t loved myself through my grief. I tried to abide by the “sitting with your negative emotions, with your sadness and pain and fear and anger and letting yourself fully FEEL IT”- because everyone had told me that was the way to “do grief”.
But I had been fully focused on the feelings as a separate entity from me, as if they didn’t have an impact on my view of my identity or worth. I was still ashamed of my struggle, and utterly defiant to any weakness I associated with my situation. I was not loving myself with compassion and understanding. I was not giving myself permission to mess up. I was punishing myself for being affected by the emotions.
I was trying to fix myself.
I wanted to 1) work through the emotions, so that I could 2) fix the feelings, and 3) fix myself, and be utterly done with it. See? Linear pathway. Clear gameplan. One, two, three, go team!
But real love is unconditional, isn’t it?
I NEVER NEEDED TO BE FIXED.
What about that psalm about love, you know, the one that’s so overdone at weddings? Have you ever read it with yourself in mind?
I have done my best this year to slow down and just love myself a little more. Just a LITTLE MORE. And permission to be imperfect. That’s really hard for me.
On a day to day basis, it can feel like the footsteps aren’t adding up. Like you need to be going faster and harder. As if taking a little rest to catch your breath and sip some cool water is a luxury you cannot afford. (We’re back on this mountain metaphor, see what I did there?! 🙂) Not only can you afford to give yourself some love and care, you absolutely have to do it. Otherwise you’ll, like, die of heat stroke? Probably!
I challenge you to take a few minutes and realize everything you’ve already accomplished this year. Then think about the times when you weren’t accomplishing anything? I’m willing to make a high-stakes bet that you couldn’t have been half as successful without that balance.
Keep plugging away, my dears. And then remember to unplug. I love you all so much, now I gotta unplug too and get some rest.