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When NOT to Trust Your Feelings

Darth Vader

Steamy Darth Vader! Photo credit: Flickr/The Official Star Wars photo stream

[WARNING: STAR WARS GEEKERY AND MOVIE SPOILERS AHEAD. But surely you've seen the Star Wars movies, right? I mean, is there such a thing as a Star Wars spoiler at this point?]

Search your feelings. You know it to be true. When Darth Vader gives advice, it’s gotta be good, right? Turns out he was spot on: Luke’s feelings brought him to the terrible realization that Darth Vader was indeed his father.

But are one’s feelings always the best pointer to the truth? After all, Anakin Skywalker’s fear and eventually, his hatred and megalomania, led him down the dark path to becoming Darth Vader.

It’s a paradox. You must know and trust your feelings to show you where your values and priorities lie. But you must also question your feelings when they get in the way of your growth.

I was reminded of this paradox this week. I did something huge and celebratory on Sunday: My coauthor, Christine, and I turned in the manuscript for Minimalist Parenting. A day ahead of our deadline, even! Cheers! Confetti! Balloons!

And yet…I was beset with anxiety. Alongside the relief and pride was a nagging fear that I had messed up by not keeping up with everything else in my life while I was busy with the book. I haven’t called my friends enough. I haven’t called my mom enough. I haven’t blogged enough. The rational side of me knows there are only 24 hours in a day. When you’re doing a project that consumes some of those hours, they’re temporarily unavailable for the other stuff that used to fill them. But I fell into the trap of thinking that, with the right slice-and-dice productivity system, I could somehow wedge everything I usually do into the same amount of time. Silly, right?

The result: when I was done with the book and my time opened up again, I turned back to my normal routine. But instead of feeling the pleasure of returning, a little voice nagged me. “You’re behind. You’re letting people down. You should have been able to do it all.”

Doing it all. Such a catchphrase in the parenting media right now. I’m not a perfectionist (at least I don’t think I am) so I’ve never been one to flog myself over not achieving or doing enough. I’ve also been fortunate to be married to a person with a paying job, so I’ve had plenty of wiggle room. But here I was, thinking I screwed up.

The world often knows what we need before we do, so the world sent me to Alice Bradley’s blog, Finslippy. Her latest post is about the little hater, the voice inside her head that fills her with guilt and self-doubt when she goes off her regular blogging schedule. She also included this video by Jay Smooth of Ill Doctrine:

Raise your hand if you identify with what he’s saying! (*Raises hand.*)

Should you trust your feelings when they sound like a little hater? (No.)

Thanks to Alice’s post and Jay’s video, the spell was broken, and I flicked my little hater off my shoulder. All sorts of ideas for new posts and projects filled my mind, and I felt that rush of joy I usually feel when I do what I do around here.

I’m not saying I never screw up as a friend, daughter, wife, mother, or blogger. I do, and when I become aware of my screwups, I try to accept responsibility and fix them. (I sometimes screw up on that, too.) But when my feelings tell me I’m screwing up on everything, it’s time for a second look.

In short: Trust your feelings. But challenge your fear.

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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