I had a dream. This is what it taught me

Recently I had a dream so potent that it has stayed with me for more than a week.
I was walking with some people I used to know, who are very sophisticated and elegant. ­­We were heading towards one person’s home, then they fell into a conversation I didn’t understand, and started to gain pace. Suddenly it was like my legs had a rubber band around them, just above the knees. My legs would only take small steps forward, and I couldn’t separate them enough to lengthen my stride and catch up with the others. I was shouting at them to wait for me but they were too engrossed in their conversation to notice me. 

Soon they progressed so far ahead I lost sight of them, and I didn’t know where I was going. I became hopelessly lost, and got stuck, briefly, trying to climb over a seawall. Eventually they realised that I didn’t know where I was going and came looking for me. I was quite distressed abut the fact that my legs had failed me and that I hadn’t been able to stay with them. “I just couldn’t keep up with you,” I said to them sadly.
I just couldn’t keep up with you.
This is the line that has been bouncing around my head ever since that dream. I wrote it down in my dream diary when I woke up, but I didn’t really need to – the meaning is so obvious. When I tried to follow other people’s path, I lost my way. 
Wanting to keep up with other people – specifically, people I perceive to be cooler, hotter, more successful – is an old pattern of mine. It’s that whole ‘fitting in’ strategy we adopt in our teenage years and often results in us overspending on material goods in adulthood (keeping up with the Joneses, in other words). It can also result in us painting the picture of a perfect life on social media – and Brisbane model Essena O’Neill, 18, certainly did a brave thing this week by admitting her Instagram shots were faked in order to cast herself as someone to envy and admire.
For me, the urge to keep up with other people is problematic for several reasons. The first is that it’s based on comparisons. It involves me assessing other people, concluding that they are superior to me for whatever reason, and putting them on a pedestal. This is unwise, given I have no idea what is actually going on in people’s lives beyond the surface. Are they good people? Who knows! Are they happy? They probably have the same problems as everyone else. Are they better than me? Well, no, actually – since life is not, whatever Nike would like us to believe, a competition. I love this line in the 90s hit Sunscreen Song: "The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself." 
There’s another problem here. Worrying about what other people have, look like and appear to be doing takes my focus away from where it needs to be: on my own growth and development.
This dream has been a wake-up call (literally!) that I need to address the way I compare myself to others, and also the way that I measure my own value. This is not a new lesson; I’ve referenced my struggles with comparison and self-worth in many previous posts. But just like those angel cards that keep recurring in the daily readings I do for you guys, these messages will keep coming up until I can truly take them on board and move on. The Universe will not stop throwing these messages at me until I learn the lesson.

I can’t keep up with other people, and I don’t need to. I am enough. 

We have insurance for fire and theft, but how do we insure against emotional crises?

Woman holding umbrella against deluge of waterI am insured for all sorts of disastrous events that are highly unlikely to happen – touch wood! – but no one is offering me insurance against the sorts of things that are actually likely to derail me throughout my life. There’s a good reason for that – any company offering insurance against heartbreak, friendship breakdowns, career crises and cripplingly low mood would go bankrupt. But as I went through the process of assessing my insurance arrangements recently, I started thinking about whether I’m doing enough to insure myself against the highly damaging events that we’re all subject to, at one point or another. A sort of emotional insurance, I guess. Obviously nothing can prevent tough times, but there are lots of ways we can minimise the damage, and bounce back more quickly.
Here are a few of the things I came up with. Some of these I am already doing, others I need to make a better effort at.

For some reason, we tend to be great at looking after other people and really crap at looking after ourselves – women, especially. I’m certainly not going to hold myself up as a model of good behaviour. I know how important it is to eat well, drink plenty of water and get enough exercise and sleep, and although I fall down in one or more of these areas at times, I think Im doing a pretty good job overall. I dont practise self-care out of a sense of obligation unlike the types of people who make a show of eating a salad 'to be good', as if trying to win brownie points with their body  I do it because I know how much better I feel when my body is getting what it needs. If I feel like a chocolate bar Im going to eat a chocolate bar, and not feel guilty about it self-care is not a slavish devotion to healthy living. 
Choosing something to aim for – running a marathon, setting a savings goal, shooting for a work promotion – does a lot to enhance your emotional health. Firstly, it lifts you out of a sense of feeling stuck and dissatisfied with your life. Secondly, backing yourself to strive for something reinforces your sense of self-worth. And finally, the sense of satisfaction from achieving a goal further boosts your self-esteem. Having healthy self-esteem is a big, big deal it means you’re better able to weather difficult times and more likely to form healthy, nourishing relationships. 
Look, I know I talk about meditation a lot, but honestly, it is the best tool I have in my arsenal for staying calm and focused. That doesn’t mean I don’t lose my shit sometimes, but it does mean my emotional baseline is higher – I can return to a calm centre more easily, and from there my intuition is more accessible. Deepak Chopra says that meditation isnt about making your mind be quiet, its about tapping into the quiet that is already within you. I love that.
Heart connected by two chains
This is a big one for me, because I’m introverted and have a tendency to isolate myself. For the most part that is not a problem, however, if I become totally reclusive that’s unhealthy. Why? Because it’s our relationships to others that give our lives meaning. Spending time with people we love is consistently rated as one of life’s most enriching experiences. And no, connecting on social media doesn’t count.
Connecting to your community, too, is hugely beneficial for your emotional health, through volunteering, joining groups and attending local events. This is an important way to protect yourself against feeling isolated and lonely.
Another thing I bang on about – for good reason. Across the board in positive psychology research, gratitude is consistently associated with happiness. Reflecting on what’s great in your life, instead of what you perceive to be wrong, in a sincere way – not a vapid "beyond blessed" way, a la celebs on Instagram – will always bring you back to a state of contentment. If you’re aware of how wonderful your life truly is, you’ll treat yourself better, will make better choices and you’ll commit to overcoming obstacles with a greater sense of resolve. I have no research to prove this, I just know that this is true. Kinda makes sense, if you think about it

The best part: there are no pricey premiums on this insurance policy, and the payoff is readily accessible.

Does social media make us narcissists? No, but it can reveal a lot about how we view ourselves

social media obsession self-esteem
When it comes to narcissism, there is perhaps no more endearing example in the world than Kanye West. Pop culture’s king of self-aggrandisement once declared that he wished to describe his profession as ‘creative genius’ on immigration arrival forms – but he didn’t know how to spell the word ‘genius’ (lol). 
Narcissism is something I’ve been thinking about lately because I’ve seen a few columns fretting that our obsession with selfies and documenting the minutiae of our lives online is creating a generation of narcissists. I don’t agree. 

Firstly, a definition – because narcissism is not, despite popular belief, the same as arrogance or just plain bad behaviour. During a discussion at the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival, social commentator Anne Manne (author of Life of I: The New Culture of Narcissism) offered these defining characteristics (among others): having a sense of superiority; a sense of entitlement; a feeling that you’re entitled to exploit others; and a desperate desire to gain attention to prove you are really significant – which is where social media use really comes under the microscope.
Brene Brown, leading researcher in the field of vulnerability, describes narcissism as “a shame-based fear of being ordinary”. At its core, she writes, narcissism is driven by a fear of not being enough.
I’m not sure what this says about the industry I’m in, but I’ve worked with more than a few people who fit into the narcissism category. And I’ve certainly seen people – from differing age groups – use social media as a platform for relentless self-promotion, which can be uncomfortable for me to observe. But even though many commentators have identified a correlation between social media and narcissism, I don’t think that means social media *breeds* narcissism, as such.
My opinion is that although there’s a good argument for all of us pulling back on our social media use and engaging more in face-to-face interactions, wanting to showcase your life online isn’t necessarily unhealthy. That said, if you feel like you are reliant on multiple ‘likes’ to feel valued – and feel like you don’t matter if you don’t achieve that – you could probably do with asking yourself some reflective questions. The way you use social media might be a symptom, rather than a cause, of a disconnect between what you think you have to offer the world and the unquantifiable, exquisite value you bring to the world every day simply by virtue of being yourself.
Social media self-esteem approval
I did a social media detox a while ago and although it was short-lived (obviously) this did change the way I approach Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in a lasting way. Thankfully, I’ve never had the problem of aligning my sense of worth with my social media ‘reach’ or approval ratings – but my sense of self-worth has certainly struggled as a direct result of how I was using social media. The result was me feeling deeply inadequate for not having a life as glamorous or as exciting or as love-filled as other people ‘appear’ – and the key word here is ‘appear’ – to have. The good thing is, I was able to recognise that although Instagram et al were making me feel crap about myself, that was really a result of my low self-esteem – social media was merely exacerbating an existing problem. Which I’m taking steps to address, BTW. Understanding and honouring my value as a human being, and not using other people’s lives nor societal expectations as a yardstick for that, is an ongoing process for me.*
By the way, going back to the narcissism thing (in case you needed some reassurance)... if you’re worried you’re a narcissist, you’re not. Because if you were a narcissist you wouldn’t have enough self-awareness to even consider yourself one. (Good to know.)
I’m not really sure where this leaves Kanye, but I love his music, regardless.

* Read my blog post on comparison syndrome in relation to social media here.