The Marines have something of an informal motto: “No better friend, no worse enemy.” Like the TV ads suggest, Marines take pride in that idea: running toward the sounds of chaos and the march of tyranny.
But many of us don’t need to look to foreign shores to find our enemies. Too many times we become our own worst enemy. Too often we hamper our lives with a blizzard of negativity and self-defeating thinking. Too frequently, we seek out things that are not right for us. Things that don’t square with who we really are. That don’t measure up to the standards we set for ourselves.
Whether it’s deliberate or accidental, the greatest threat that military spouses face is themselves.
We’ve become obstacles to ourselves. We can’t get past ourselves. We can’t get out of our own way. We seek out goals and activities that are inconsistent with our deepest values and beliefs. We dig many of the holes we find ourselves in.
Here are 3 suggestions on how to stop being your own worst obstacle.
1) Know Thyself. Perhaps the simplest yet most profound wisdom from the ancient world is often the most challenging and most elusive. Yes, knowing ourselves should be simple. “I” am the thing with which I am most intimately acquainted. But knowing who you are is not simply being able to recite your Social Security number or your date of birth. Self-knowledge isn’t about facts and details. It’s an understanding that you naturally gravitate toward certain types of things and away from others. The “I” is something like a chemical compound that naturally bonds with certain types of people or activities and repels (or is repelled by) others.
Ask yourself: When am I firing on all cylinders? When do I seem to rise to the occasion? What are those things which come naturally to me, and when do I typically see the wheels coming off? What are my joys? What are my moments of deepest satisfaction?
More than just facts about me, self-knowledge amounts to an acknowledgement that “I am this. Not that. This is where I flourish; this is when I wane.” To have self-knowledge is to know when your powers are at their peak and when your energies are misdirected or compromised.
2) Become Who You Are. It’s not enough to know thyself. It’s to nobody’s benefit to simply have a comprehensive understanding of your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Knowledge without application is trivia. Self-knowledge is an asset, a tool. But like any tool, if it goes unused, it’s just inventory taking up space. Even if you have the world’s greatest circular saw, allowing it to sit in the garage and collect dust makes it no more useful than that old sports equipment that taunts you with your idleness and lethargy.
Ask yourself: How can you implement that knowledge into the world? How can you channel that knowledge into pursuits that reflect your real strengths and true desires? What goals are right for you?
Direct your energies toward those activities which reflect who you are. Cast off the baggage. Other people’s strengths may be your weaknesses. Other people’s joys might be your personal hells. Don’t fight it.
Embrace it. Indulge it. Celebrate it. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And soon after, become an a-hole yourself.
3) Enjoy Thyself. It’s easy to find fault. It’s simple to curse the world. And it’s utterly unchallenging to list off the headache-inducing aspects of military life. Often times, it’s wildly tempting to throw in the towel and say “No mas.”
Ask yourself: How much of our time and energy is spent regretting past mistakes? Punishing ourselves for ugly words and nasty behaviors? Nostalgically longing for those glory days to reappear? Yearning for life to transform back to a simpler time, a time when you were prettier, more popular and more energetic?
Those days are gone. Yesterday is not coming back. Say goodbye.
On the other hand, how much of our time is spent worrying about what’s coming down the pike? What threats and headaches you’ll face tomorrow? What next year will bring? Will that promotion ever come around? Is there really a chance we’ll be sent there?
Idle worry is almost always a useless, counterproductive energy expense. It is all input and no output. Being proactive in dealing with upcoming challenges and obligations is fruitful and time well-spent. But idle worry drains your energy and leaves you with nothing to show for it.
Because with all of the time we may spend on regret and nostalgia or spend worrying about the future, we often forget to savor the only moment we actually have: the present. Relish your day. Savor the process. Delight in the journey. You are not a thoughtless productivity machine. You are not a robotic functionary. To have self-knowledge is to embrace the unique challenges and opportunities of your today. Of your moment. Self-awareness is about finding joy in the “everyday.”
Today is your day. Don’t squander it. Don’t let it be cannibalized by yesterday or tomorrow. The joy of your day is not about some objective standards of wealth or success. It’s about the attitudes and affirmations that you direct toward your life. Not anyone else’s.
Military life exacts a heavy toll, to be sure. Don’t compound your burden by trying to be someone you’re not. Don’t exhaust yourself by spinning your wheels pursuing those things that are not right for you. And don’t flush your energy down the toilet by letting the past or the future siphon your vitality, your optimism and your joy.