I have not made a secret of the fact that I am dealing with a divorce and that I’m sad about it. So, I get a LOT of people greeting me with a concerned look and the question, “How are you doing?” Well, early on I was likely to be open and thorough in describing my emotional state. But these folks have heard all that, so now I’m inclined to answer, “I’m getting by”. Which IS an honest answer – I’m putting one foot in front of the other and so on. But to me “I’m getting by” is shorthand for “It’s a struggle” or “I’m trying hard but not where I want to be” Something along those lines. Apparently, however, that is NOT what most people seem to hear. When I say “I’m getting by”, the most common reaction I get is “Good” or “Glad to hear it”. Like I’ve told them things are going well. I always wonder “Good? Compared to what – going crazy, committing suicide (or murder), maybe being homeless in the streets?” I’m perplexed.
You see, I’ve NEVER been a “getting by” type of person. I was conditioned from the start that only excellence and achievement were laudable – heck, even acceptable. I watched my father struggle against incredibly high standards, despite a sub-par education and many other challenges. And I saw the frustration (and rage) that resulted from his perception that he was falling short. I heard him and my mother relentlessly preach the gospel of excellence. I often experienced his disapproval, even when what I thought was a noteworthy achievement fell short of his expectations (such as, after I graduated from one of the best colleges in the country magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with a 3.8 GPA, oh, and as an All American swimmer, he told me I could have been Valedictorian if I had tried harder. That sound you hear is the air rushing from my body as I quickly deflate…). Now, I have by no means adopted my parents’ standards or expectations, but I have ALWAYS expected excellence of myself, applied myself to that end and often achieved it. So, to me “getting by” is far from attractive or “good”. Frankly, it feels pretty dismal to me. Come to think of it, it kind of feels like what my Dad so vigorously railed against all his life. Yeah, “getting by” seems like a pretty bad status to me.
But apparently not to others around me. They say “good” or “glad to hear it”. Maybe I need to understand why. Or to think about what it would mean if “getting by” became good to me. Would I be happier? Would I struggle less? I’ve thought a lot about this, and my best guess is that they are saying that as long as my health and sanity are intact, I’m ok and should be happy that I’m making progress and pushing forward. A friend of mine once stated, quite eloquently, “Being OK is underrated”. For me, “OK” was never the goal. It was never particularly desirable, either. Maybe I need to reassess that attitude. Like my father, setting expectations that are not realistic or achievable is probably hurting me – specifically, adding to my sadness and poor self image. And, right now, I really can’t afford that kind of impact on my mood. So, I’m going to work (for now; it doesn’t have to be permanent, right?) on learning how to accept and embrace just being OK. And getting by. That should keep me plenty busy. And challenged. Wish me luck! Talk soon.