On Ne Peut Pas Tout Avoir
I was transfixed by the care and precision with which Corinne arranged cherry red tomatoes on brownish-yellow phylo dough; originally a cream colored pastry transformed by Dijon mustard that Corinne had applied in even strokes with a spoon. I continued to watch, as she sprinkled Gruyere on top of the tomatoes before closing the tart for baking. On ne peut pas tout avoir (sounds like on-ni-poo-pah-too-tav-wire) is what she kept repeating. On ne peut pas tout avoir. On ne peut pas tout avoir. In my recollection, she must have said it a dozen times before I heard it in its entirety. On ne peut pas tout avoir is an old French proverb that says you cannot have it all. Unlike the American version, (which speaks mostly to material things), the French saying emphasizes the individual’s inability to possess all physical and spiritual attributes.
It had been a struggle to work on a Master’s Thesis in a foreign country, manage friendships, recover from heart break, date, and help Corinne raise her 7 year old daughter. In fairness, raising Clemence was more like raising 100, 7 year-old little girls. She was impatient, broke things and screamed when she was overwhelmed or could not get her way, and seemed to be filled with boundless energy. To her credit, she was also smart, caring, and profoundly aware of the people around her when she needed to be. Only 3 people could calm her when she was truly upset, and only two of us were around during the day.
In managing these many lives, I had backlogged some difficult thesis work, and ruined a potentially good dating situation. Clemence had a tough week and needed new shoes, so I made her the priority. I would never have blamed Clemence for my troubles, so instead I wished for character traits that would have made me immune to them. Without disturbing her careful tart work, Corinne simply keyed in on what I had taken for granted to give me the space to acknowledge my suffering without wishing in a way that was causing more.
Corinne, herself a writer, cut right through the existential wallowing with one simple question, Who would have taken care of Clemence this week if this other you was here instead? She was right. The other me I had been describing did all things in equal proportion. He never would have risked failure or loss in many life areas to focus intensely on one. I can never know how important that week was to Clemence. I do know that 18 months made us a family; Corinne and I became siblings, and Clemence became my niece. I also know that even 12 years later, when Clemence contacts me to tell me about her life and how much she misses me that she recalls every moment she can from the year and a half I helped raise her. There will always be more opportunities to learn and make friends, but there will only be one Clemence.
Self-Compassion for Self-Doubt
How many of us have a tendency to look at our weaknesses during difficult times, and magnify them? How many of us wish to have other people’s characteristics or even be other people when times are hard? Looking at evolutionary psychology, this makes sense. You have needs, most of which are vital to survival. When you do not meet these needs, you need to take a hard look at the characteristics required to meet these needs. As much as we have evolved in the time that has passed, it is easy to forget that genetically we are still very similar. This similarity is due to the fact that we lived in survival a lot longer than we have lived in relative affluence (at least compared to those times). Some of us are still living in survival. So, when you begin to struggle it is perfectly normal to consider ways to become more successful.
However, when we start to give away our well-being by wishing for others’ qualities over our own; it is time to stop and get a more realistic view of the landscape. One of my favorite mentors often says, “I am so glad that x person does this, so that I do not have to.” This is shorthand for accepting that we are all necessary in our capacities. We are vital for what we have to offer and simply for being, and others also make important contributions and are invaluable simply for being human. I don’t know about you, but I am glad that the person who makes fireworks is often different from the one who cooks meals. I prefer to have everything that explodes occurring outside of my body rather than in.
The Self-Compassion Process
When you begin to stumble down the path of disavowing yourself and your contributions, simply notice that it is happening and be kind to yourself. Here I go again, listing all the things I am not, and wishing for the things I don’t possess. Then, just let it pass. Resist feeling like you have to create a story about it. It is just a thought that you have, and like lots of other thoughts you let it pass. Trust me. If it is that important, you won’t be considering all of the ways you have fallen short, you will be coming up with an action plan for a reasonable way to solve a very clear dilemma. Problem solving rarely requires some specific trait that 3 people in the world have. Normally, you have what it takes.
So, trust yourself to let normal worries arise and pass away. If you need a guide to discriminating between normal and abnormal worries, know that normal concerns will almost always feel like the wind, and abnormal worries will almost always feel like lightning. For everything else, we have friends. If your friends are like mine, they will definitely let you know if your concerns are worth extra-worrying or action.
Once your thoughts about self-doubt have passed, you can acknowledge the things you have been able to do. However, I would resist doing so. It will likely feel like you are apologizing for feeling like a failure sometimes. There is no need to apologize for that. We all have self-doubt. I am told it shows up to remind us how valuable other people are. Hey, if you could do everything yourself, what would you need other people for!
Take some time every night to extend gratitude towards yourself for what you have done to be kind and helpful to yourself and others. By waiting until the end of the day, you are simply practicing gratitude, which will remind you during your practice and after of your ability to help yourself and others. It will not be confused as compensating for self-doubt. Additionally, when self-doubt arises self-agency will also be more accessible, so it will be harder for self-doubt to live in a vacuum. It only seems fair. If we have to make room for self-doubt, it should probably make room for self-agency. Sharing is caring!
Tying It All Together
Your friends and family are glad you are who you are. They don’t want to be this imaginary person’s friend. If they do, get rid of them! They were never your friend to begin with. When self-doubt occurs, make room for it. It is your body’s way of grieving loss and disappointment. Do not dwell in it. It is a symptom not a solution. Let it pass.
Allow yourself to feel however you feel, then extend your awareness to take in what else is occurring in that moment. This will ground these difficult feelings, and bring you back to the present. You might notice a bird in a tree or children playing or monkeys doing backflips. They can do backflips, people! I have seen the videos. At the very end of your day, do some self-compassion gratitude practice by acknowledging a few ways in which you have helped yourself or others.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 68. In the Books.