When Old Lessons Need to be Relearned

2020 is kicking my ass y’all. I pride myself on being intelligent. Except for math, I learn things easily. However, I have come to recognize the difference between a lesson taught and a lesson learned. I can fully admit that over the years, there were a few life lessons that I learned enough to get through that period. In student speak, I learned enough to pass the test, but not enough to remember the material later. I know this because of the strange feelings I have now, and the resurfacing of questions I thought I answered.

I am referring to my limiting beliefs and my definition of success. I am also referring to my self-sacrificing behavior.

The interesting thing is, when I started writing this piece, it was about my hazy definition of success. With each word I typed, it became obvious that defining success was never my problem. There was a more significant lesson I needed to learn.

The absolute honest truth is this feeling of being back at square one is totally terrifying. I do not like the feeling of starting over. Still, I know that I have grown because I am not letting this period demoralize me. Instead, I am actively using what I know to work through my blockages.

Unsurprisingly, I was led to go back to things that worked. I am rereading books that sparked inspiration, reflection, and helped me heal the first time. I am meditating, journaling, and trying to unlock myself by simply being creative. I cannot let this season be like fractions, where I learn just enough to get a C on the test and remember how to do things on the calculator. It is high time I internalize these lessons and move on to the next chapter.

I will not lie and say coronavirus did not set me back a bit, as it has many others. However, my email, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages are full of busy, affected people who are still on course. Instead of gleaning inspiration from them, I became jealous. And even as the jealousy filled me, I felt convicted, and rightly so. I do not suffer from a lack of talent or drive. Truth be told, I don’t even suffer from lack of vision, fear of failure, or jealousy. What I have is misaligned priorities and an almost pathological need for security. How these have played out over the last few months has been fascinating. It has been quite a shock to see new manifestations of old issues.

The first thing I noticed was how I would self-sabotage by not posting for at least a week after a post got a lot of views. Content should not be an excuse because I have over 30 drafts right now. So, while I say that my craft is important and claim to want to grow from a personal blog into a business, my actions paint a completely different picture.

The same goes for my job. Over the last few weeks, I have spent 8 to 13 hours a day committed to a job that I have outgrown and grown to hate. Meanwhile, I’m exhausted during my precious few hours to spend uninterrupted time with my family and do the million other things I need to take care of.

What does that say about my priorities? Well, despite my proclamations, my priorities are work and family. I don’t prioritize myself, as evidenced by the fact that I am devolving into the before image of a makeover show. Hence, why old lessons need to be relearned. I feel myself slipping into an abyss, trying to find my footing—this time, I refuse to fall too far.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation and thought, I’ve been here before! Why am I back again? What immediately follows is a sense of failure or despair.

Why do we fall back into old patterns even when we know they do not serve us well? You were doing well for so long! When the car needed major repairs, you did not lose your cool. You shuffled some funds around, cut the cord, and only subscribed to two low-cost streaming services, borrowed a minuscule amount from a friend, and got the car fixed. You have handled whatever life threw at you and still found a way to hold on to your peace.

Then 2020 happened, and suddenly you are a little afraid to step on a scale or calculate how much you’ve spent at your local liquor store. And you’ve been wondering if you should just invest in Nabisco because double stuffed Oreos are now your major food group.

I think this year is showing a lot of people who they really are. It is pointing out unproductive coping mechanisms, strengths and weaknesses, resolved and unresolved issues, new and reemerging passions, misaligned mindsets, and hidden talents. And it is forcing people to clarify their values and perspectives. For those of you like me who believed you had grown and evolved past certain obstacles, this year is the ultimate test.

matryoshka, russian dolls, nesting
Photo by jackmac34 on Pixabay

Needless to say, I need a little improvement. Yes, I learned the tools and internalized them. I even use them regularly, but 2020 has given me clear evidence that I never changed my mindset. Foolishly, I believed that utilizing the tools was a sign of complete metamorphosis. Well, no, that’s not really how that works. First, I never comprehended that my mindset is survival over potential success. When forced to choose between the uncertainty of working toward greater success (i.e., money), I will choose the familiarity of survival. In that same vein, while in survival mode, I completely ignore my own needs and grow increasingly disgusted with the consequences. Through the years, I developed the mindset of not pushing too far past survival mode, lest the other shoe drops, and leaves me in a worse state. To be clear, that shoe has dropped multiple times, reinforcing my fears.

Additionally, I do not have the mindset to put myself first, no matter the situation. Yes, I believe in it so much that I teach it, and when life is normal, I live it. But the last six months have not exactly been typical, have they? I am dead last on my priority list, and my body is starting to show it.

Admittedly, I did learn to be kinder to myself and not push so hard. On the flip side, I quickly learned that being kind to oneself and caring for oneself are two very different things. Again, I believed the two were synonymous and assumed that once I mastered one, the other would naturally follow.

I recognize that coronavirus and shelter-in-place have put an enormous strain on everyone’s energy, which was then compounded by the protests. These world events are mentally and emotionally taxing and spiritually crushing, and everyone deserves a little break. It is easy to forget how quickly we revert to survival mode and how hard it is to override those basic, instinctual needs to protect oneself. What I did not fully anticipate were the ways in which my survival mode would change tactics.

If you feel like you are experiencing a setback, do not despair or get distracted. Instead, try to view your situation with fresh eyes. How did you react when this problem arose? Did you fall back on familiar survival tactics, or use the productive skills you have honed over the years? An excellent example of people using honed skills to deal with a difficult period is the multitude of people who dusted off sewing machines and started a business of making masks. Trust me, if any of my sewing lessons had stuck, I would have been one of these fabulous people. They saw an opportunity, maybe experienced a financial setback, and found a practical solution to a global problem.

It is true that mindset matters, both your subconscious and conscious mindset. All this time, I had been working on a conscious level. It never occurred to me that my subconscious thoughts a) were a problem, and b) would sink my progress and mood faster than the Titanic. Sometimes, we find that the resolved issue was only logicked it into manageable pieces, and you barely scratched the surface of the subconscious feelings and beliefs. Mental and emotional trauma and stressors are often like Russian nesting dolls. People open the first doll, confront and heal the trauma, and see the second and do the same, and stop there.

Think of the person who is afraid to swim. They have a hard time floating and have had three close calls, even with instruction. The water is cold and causes too much anxiety to be fun. Determined to conquer the fear, the person decides to get a pool membership and a float. They never stay in the water for more than 15 minutes and only get in with the float. They are sure to not visit the pool during peak times to increase their chance of getting saved if something should happen. However, the mention of actually learning to float on their own, play a game in the shallow end, or learn to swim produces deep anxiety. While this person is brave for even getting in the pool, they have only addressed the fear of the water, not the fear of drowning.

This is an oversimplified example of how and why trauma and symptoms are Russian nesting dolls. Each negative experience in the water compounds the problem, creating another link in the mind. This is why it seems we have to learn the same lessons over and over again. We are not always relearning the same lesson, but rather further unpacking the root cause. It’s like that game, Minesweeper. Each time you play, you get the same simple rectangle with the same number of odds of blowing up, but each time is a little different because the bombs are never in the same spot. Hopefully, the more you play, you get better at strategizing and reducing your chances of blowing up. If you do not strategize—if you just go clicking around and do not mark potential landmines or try to figure out a pattern—you will just keep blowing up and assume the game is pointless. See the parallel?

If you find yourself thinking, how did I get here again, look at the situation with a critical eye. You may be tempted to think you did not learn the lesson the first time, but it is more likely that you only resolved part of the problem. The lesson will resurface until you’ve done the deep inner work to resolve the root cause once and for all. So, as hard as it may seem, keep being brave and hunt for that last tiny doll. And no matter what, be kind to yourself.