This week I finished rereading the second part of the book ‘A Man Searching for Meaning‘ by Viktor Frankl. His story as a Holocaust survivor is really inspiring and it makes me wonder every time I start spiralling downwards. The question I put myself is this: Is my life being threatened? No, it isn’t. So why do you feel so annoyingly miserable? Good question. I would say there is nothing to feel miserable for, but there must be something.
Earlier this morning I received an e-mail from Brazil inviting me to think about my values and how they play an important role when we decide we need to change our lifestyle. The question is, actually, quite simple: Are your values aligned with the changes you want to see in your life? I haven’t thought much about my values lately. I doubt I have paid much attention to them or even spent time thinking about them. The e-mail got me thinking though. From it came an insight which had been building up inside me throughout the entire week.
Here is the insight. The life I want to live is aligned with my values, I don’t have any doubt about that. In order to write, to teach and inspire a new consciousness of wellbeing, I need passion, freedom and optimism. However, and because I haven’t really been thinking about my values, I never saw them as a source of self-empowerment. I never made the link between my mood and the extent I’m consciously embodying my values in a daily basis. Moreover, I had never done the link between how I feel and the moments in which my values are denied or limited.
Let me give you a concrete example. This week I found a job to apply for in London. When I read the job description I said to myself I could do this, this is what I do every day for my blog. Next, I searched to know more about the company and their culture. The message they convey to the world is one that I believe in. It’s possible to have happy employees as long as we know what makes them tick and as long as we care about them in a genuine way. So here is a company that is the embodiment of the message I have been battling to get out there and here is a job position that has nothing to do with my previous job (academic researcher). That’s the most important part, because although I love conducting research, I can’t live accordingly to my values. When you are an early researcher for a living, you have to play by a great number of invisible rules and you don’t have much freedom or room to conduct the kind of research you’re passionate about.
Reading through that job description made me feel like I was all sparkles and fireworks. For a moment, I was alive. There was a glimpse of hope, a job I could happily do and even make use of my three university degrees. So I shared the word with G., the man who says to love me and who sent me an enormous bouquet of roses two weeks ago. My intuition advised me before hand that it wasn’t a good idea to tell him, because his response would not be one that would propel me forward. Deep inside me, I knew his response would throw me back to that miserable, depressive mood which makes me feel worthless and on a road with no exit. Yet, I told him in hopes the turnout would be different. The response, however, was the usual one: a fake positive reinforcement followed by an advice to back up and solely focus on writing my thesis so I could then find a nice job.
In that moment, the passion, the freedom, and the optimism abandoned me. I wasn’t so susceptible to other people’s influence before, I used to be tougher and more daring. My reaction would be an internal dialogue of You will see! and They don’t know what I’m made of. The truth is that I let G.’s reaction affect me, a bit like the time in which my ex had a similar response when I reached him all excited about my first online magazine cover (back in 2012, I founded and edited a free Portuguese online magazine called e-Optimism). In a nutshell, my ex told me, with a depreciative tone, that my cover looked like a Jehovah witness’ booklet cover.
Of course the cover wasn’t the best cover in the world. The letters were not the best, but it was my first cover and I was very excited about my new project. I had been receiving and editing other writers’ contributions, creating different layouts for each piece and trying my best to make it appealing. I wanted honest feedback, I really did, and then work through it, but I didn’t want someone to crush my aspirations completely. When my ex’s words hit me, I felt sad and reduced to a black hole. The same thing happened this week with G., with my parents four years ago when I told them I had won an international doctoral scholarship, and with my supervisor who didn’t really show much care for the social value of my data.
I know, we must not be discouraged by other people and I think I used to be good enough at dealing with discouragement or, more accurately, the lack of encouragement. Being a coach, I know that too well and I always make sure my clients get the motivation and support they need from me. However, when you live from battle to battle in your life, you get worn out and that’s actually one of the reasons why I sometimes feel miserable in this stage of life. I’m a high performer who most days is mentally exhausted and climbing the mountain with a backpack full of helplessness.
To give you the real picture, I’m practically an unemployed millennial, who hasn’t had a stable relationship for more than four years, and who is overqualified to be accepted in any coffee shop or restaurant. Plus, I can’t humanly continue as an academic researcher, because although you get a good amount of money, the working environment might well steal your overall sanity. And since that’s what I have done in the last five years of my life, it is also difficult to be accepted in other types of jobs. If that wasn’t enough, I still have to face all the hard facts of living abroad and being an expat, while also struggling daily with a heart too full of dreams and almost no empowering voices around. If I think about it, I might have reasons to get the blues every now and then.
I know though that all these facts and details of my life are greatly responsible for the kind of coach I am. I’m well aware that there are more critics than encouragers in the world and I know too well how only one voice may be the difference between still wanting to live or decide to end our lives. Thankfully, I was never one with suicidal thoughts, but I sadly know that for many people suicide seems the only way to end the pain. That’s also why I believe coaching can save lives, because although a psychologist or a counsellor may give us some perspective, a coach is right there by your side to design a plan, to check on you and to create a compassionate space to effectively work through failure.
Hence, there is a certain art behind giving feedback to people. A good coach knows that human motivation is precious and fragile. A good coach will let you know what needs improvement, but a good coach will also know how to conduct his or her speech so that you never feel powerless, disempowered, or discouraged. On a personal note, I do think that if we worked this skill in ourselves, we would all be much better friends and partners. It doesn’t mean that people who don’t know how to give feedback don’t love us, but we would have better relationships and we wouldn’t probably struggle so much with anxiety, stress, and depression in general. Sometimes, the difference between a smile and a tear is someone’s words of encouragement.
And on that note I must thank you all for your endless words and positive comments. I must thank you all for contributing to this space, filling it with compassion, love and your own unique stories about life. You have done the difference and although people may come and go I carry each one of you with me. Thank you for being my source of encouragement and, please, let’s remember that whoever and wherever we are, we got this and we are all doing the best we can.