Not the sleepless, overworked kind of tired. Weary might be a better word.
I've felt stretched thin for a few weeks now for a number of reasons, not the least of which includes the overlap of losing my grandfather and moving my parents out of my childhood home in Pittsburgh and to a new place in South Carolina.
I've felt the weight of my own mistakes, big and small. I can hear the hum of the coulda/shoulda/woulda's trying to break into my headspace.
I've felt out of control. The past ten days have been a gauntlet of unpleasant circumstances and events that I've had little to no say in.
These are crucial times—these punching-bag seasons when we know better than to ask, "What else can go wrong?" because another sucker punch is probably on its way.
This isn't my first rodeo. I know it's not as bad as it feels. I know it all feels raw right now. I know it won't feel that way in a little while. And, most importantly, I know that no matter how little control I've had in preventing the negative situations the past few weeks, my decisions now can make a huge difference in how I move forward.
This week, I'm going to write about a few of the ways I've learned to deal with times like these. I don't have the art of dealing with negativity perfected, but I've got at least a few tricks I hope are helpful to someone else. (I need to remind myself anyway, so if no one else benefits, at least I win.)
Here's the first thought I have about picking myself up:
I want to quit "doing the right thing." I have to remind myself not to.
This past month, I've felt like I've been in a perpetual state of scrutiny and losing in the face of that scrutiny.
It's good that I'm not famous because I don't think I could deal with the pressure. So much of my life is already public—I'm a teacher at a public school, I'm on staff at a church of over a thousand people, I have a blog and a podcast (and I know I haven't recorded an episode in ages—just another thing weighing on my mind).
I'm someone who cares, probably too much, about my reputation. I don't want everyone to like me, but I do want everyone to think I'm a good, caring person. I take my responsibility as a person in the public eye seriously—I watch what I say in the classroom, I'm careful about what I post online because I know students and parents and bosses and people in my communities are watching, I put great care into what I write and attach to my name, and I basically assume that someone's watching everything I do, everywhere I go.
Here's what I've been reminded of recently: it doesn't matter how much I try to do the right thing or use the right words or be an appropriate role model—someone will find something about me to misinterpret or use against me or judge me for.
For example, I had a person bring up to me a short snippet from one of my podcast episodes, a story I told about an interaction I had with a troll online, and he used that little snippet to make a wholesale judgment about my character. He told me had read several of my blog posts, listened to all of my podcast episodes, and despite all of my thoughts on hope and making healthy decisions and living a better life, that one thing is what he chose to focus on. He didn't say, "Paul, you strike me as a guy who stands up for other people or tries to focus on what's good." He said, "Paul, I have to wonder if you're a guy who refuses to take criticism."
He had misinterpreted my words, of course, and I explained myself to him, explained that I am a person who can take criticism—I take it all of the time, from multiple people, and I even welcome it and it's one of the reasons I have any of my success—and explained to him the entire context of my comments, and we came to an understanding. I know it doesn't seem like a big deal, but still—it was just another log thrown onto the fire, another example of the many times I've had people take these little snapshots of my words or actions and create some version of me that I don't even recognize. It was a realization that my fear of being misunderstood is a reality, that people will misunderstand me almost no matter what.
It makes me want to shut down all of my accounts, take my website off the internet, and move into the middle of the wilderness where only some birds and bugs and an occasional moose can judge me.
It makes me feel weary. It makes me wonder why I bother with any of it.
This weariness applies in other areas of life. I've experienced it, and I know the people I love have experienced it, too. It's tiring to feel like you're doing the right thing, you're doing what you're supposed to do, and instead of being rewarded, it feels like you're being punished.
Here's what I know, though: the weariness is temporary and feels disproportionately powerful in the moment, especially in the wake of some pain or disappointment.
The truth is, for me, it's a privilege to be in the position I am. It's a privilege to have influence in kids' lives, to have influence through my church, to have influence through my words online. With that privilege comes the responsibility to consider what effect I want to have on people.
If I'm reckless, if I'm a jerk, if I'm self-serving, it's not going to help anyone. And I want to help people. If I wanted fame or power or glory, then I guess I'd have to be okay with the collateral damage. But I want to help people, and so I'll accept the responsibility and the hardship that comes with the privilege of doing what I do.
I want to keep going, even if it means being unfairly judged from time to time, and my reputation isn't what I want it to be to everyone. But my reputation is different from my calling.
My reputation relies on how other people receive and perceive what I do. My calling is all about what I choose to do for fulfillment and purpose, regardless of anyone's response.
There's a verse I love that gets me through times like this, from Galatians: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."
I do get weary of doing good, especially when the immediate results don't seem to pay off. When I treat someone with kindness and they respond with apathy, I get weary. When I try to be careful with my words and someone only hears what they want to hear, I get weary. When I work hard to do the right thing, but someone focuses on my flaws instead, I get weary.
But the reality is that, despite a few bumps in the road, I've seen so much good come out of doing good. In fact, the amount of good I've seen makes me feel a little embarrassed that I ever forget about it. It's pretty easy to amplify the negative voices to the point that they sound like the roar of a crowd, but really, they're just a few.
Once I can turn the volume down on them, I realize all of the good that's there, like the soft lapping of the ocean waves on a calm day—understated and underestimated, but constant and powerful.
I know it gets tiring. I know it gets rough. I know it gets frustrating. But I know enough to not quit doing what's good. I know it's worth it. I know there's an ocean of evidence to back me up.