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Some Holes Just Don't Get Filled

At the risk of exposing myself to colleagues, friends, family, and others who are close to me, I share this personal struggle. I suspect I'm not alone.

There’s already a hole. It’s evident. I’ve tried filling it time and time again with one thing or another. For a while, it seems like I’ve got the hole nearly filled in. Just a little more effort and I can finally relax! Inevitably, as I get closer to filling it, each new scoop of “one thing or another” seems to blend in with the other. The hole remains unfilled.

I’m pretty familiar with the “one thing or another” elements I’m adding to the hole. I’m way more familiar with them than I am with the hole, itself. All these filler materials fall under the well-marketed category of self-help. You know, being grateful, meditating, exercising, dieting, journaling, improving my finances, finding ways to avoid being an asshole to people, being kind to myself, etc. If one were to look at my online past, they’d see strong efforts on my part to improve all these areas of my life. They also might think I was doing all of these things for the right reasons. Let me recap some of these efforts.

I journaled extensively for almost two years. I even did it publicly for 365 days in a row, and I didn’t miss a single day. Daily gratitude helped with the asshole thing I mentioned in the introduction. I also kept a personal journal. I planned and reviewed my days meticulously. This routine helped keep me organized.

I dieted and exercised. I lost 60 pounds when it was all said and done. I regularly read about health-related things to stay motivated. I joined and participated in martial arts. I was also doing yoga at home in the evenings. My waistline started shrinking, and my clothes started fitting better. I even felt a bit more confident. The compliments on my appearance were a nice by-product of my efforts.

I calmed my inner chatter by meditating every single day. I even went as far as to invest in learning transcendental meditation. Twenty minutes, twice a day, you could find me in my chair, internally chanting my mantra. I think this also helped with the asshole thing I mentioned in the opening paragraph.

I have worked hard to become debt free. We have no student loans. Our vehicles are paid off, and we are on track to finish paying off our house in just a couple more years. We have money in savings, and our 401K’s are growing. My wife’s job positions us well for health care in our golden years. And it also pays for college for our kids (should they choose to go this route).

Sounds great, right? I’m doing all the right things. Unfortunately, I’ve burned the fuck out. As much as I see the value in each of the activities I’ve mentioned above, I don’t feel like doing them anymore. I’m mentally taxed. I’ve hit a wall, or plateaued, and now all these activities feel like a burden. Despite the data that proves otherwise, I’ve even convinced myself that this is all just a bunch of bullshit.

Why was I doing all this stuff? Was it because I wanted to be healthy? Did I want to be financially secure? Did I want peace of mind? Yes, yes, and yes. I think we all want that. But, I don’t think that’s why I was doing any of it. Why then? And why did I burn out?

I think I am addicted to self-improvement. And when my self-improvement endeavors stopped yielding the buzz or the high, I convinced myself they were utterly useless. As opposed to doing the things above because they were “good things to do,” maybe I was using them to fill or mask the hole of addiction. So, what does any self-respecting junky do when his fix is no longer producing the high? He ditches it and finds another fix.

And that’s what I did. A little over a month ago, I left my martial arts class to find something “more interesting.” I stopped seeing my life coach. I stopped paying attention to what I was eating. I stopped journaling. I stopped doing all the things that were actually making me feel better than the day I started doing them. I stopped because I got used to them. They weren’t producing enough of a high anymore. Didn’t matter that I was receiving tons of other benefits from the activities.

I could see all the stuff I was doing was no longer satisfying the real reason I was doing the activities. I didn’t care about losing weight, or journaling, or finances. I cared about overcoming the challenge of those things. They served as a fix. They masked a constant feeling of “not being good enough.” And I imagined that once I got good at them that the feeling would go away. It didn’t.

I’m guessing the “not good enough” or “not worthy” hole will never be filled. I want to be free from the need to stop shoving self-improvement bullshit (or anything else) into this hole. It’s exhausting, and I just want to relax. I want to be free of the need to find the next self-improvement strategy when the last one stops working. I want the freedom of not living in fear that I’m not good enough and that I need to improve at every single life endeavor. I also want to be healthy. OK, I need to be healthy. I need all of the things I was working to achieve. I just need to quit bullshitting myself about why I’m doing them.

So, what now? What’s the next step? I mentioned the “stop bullshitting myself” part. That’s a good start. Stepping back into these activities with the right frame of mind, and in moderation, is probably the way to go. I can do this. Hell, I’ve already done it. And it’s only been a month or two since I stopped. I’m capable. I’ve proven to myself that I can do things that I need to do to live a healthy life. Now, it’s time to get back in the business of taking care of myself without laboring over this hole that will never, ever, not in a million years, get filled.

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