Life Behind the Boat
If you’ve ever been boating on a lake, you know what tubing is. It’s that giant water tube that’s attached to the boat by a long rope. You throw on a life-jacket, hoist yourself onto the tube, and hold on for dear life as the boat journeys across the lake. Some people enjoy water tubing and some do not. However, I believe your satisfaction with this experience is solely based on the driver.
There are 3 subgroups of boat tubing drivers.
The first type of driver likes to take you on a sweet, merry ride. Imagine the boat ride your 2-year old nephew or 89-year old grandmother would want if they hopped on the tube.
The second subgroup of boat drivers might make you grab on tightly for a few minutes. But before you know it, you’re back on the wake, laughing and yelling for more.
Then, there’s the third subgroup of boat drivers. It doesn’t matter if you need to finish putting your hair in a pony tail or if you’re still trying to find the other hand strap. The second your butt hits that tube, the boat is flying and there’s only one goal in sight . . . to throw you off the tube.
Those who have been on a tube with the last type of driver know the simultaneous feelings of elation and terror that this joy ride brings. So often, this type of ride is exactly what my life feels like – my legs slamming on the tube as my body flails up and down, riding the waves as they hit. Each wave hitting harder than the last.
The problem with having a peaceful life and a peaceful tubing experience is the same – both depend greatly on who’s driving the boat.
After speaking about this feeling in detail with my therapist, I’ve realized that oftentimes the emotions and opinions of others are driving my boat. Perhaps for you, it’s the obsession with success that is driving yours. Or proving something to another. Or your child’s needs. Your parent’s wants. Your friends’ approval.
Whoever your captain may be, I’d love to walk you through three ways I’m learning to mutiny my current captain and take charge of my own life.
1. Drive your own boat.
If anyone apart from yourself is driving your boat, it’s time to throw them overboard. When someone else – even someone you love – is dictating your mental state, actions, or reactions, it can wreak major havoc on your body.
This is something I’ve done all my life, not realizing it was unhealthy until having a major panic attack last weekend. By deeply attaching myself to those I’m closest, I empathetically ride the waves of their lives, forfeiting control of my own boat. No longer am I driving my own ship. I’m allowing the rocky winds and seas of those I love toss my ship every which way. The truth is that we must learn to healthily compartmentalize the needs of others so we can take care of our own needs first.
One thing that is important to note is that the person or things you’ve allowed to drive your boat is not at fault for the rollercoaster they’ve taken you on. Only you are in charge of your boat! You are the one in charge of how your ship will be steered. Rather than blaming the person that is stressing you out, remove them from the helm and anchor yourself in the captain’s seat.
A final truth to note is that it’s actually healthiest for all parties when you drive your own boat. Did you know that by taking on the emotions and problems of another, you’re robbing them of emotional growth? Just like we grow from facing our own problems, others grow that way, too. You are doing what’s right by everyone when you choose take charge of your own life.
2. Take care of yourself before the problems come, not after.
So often, we wait until situations are at an all time high before we take care of our bodies and minds. But then, it’s too late. You’re already having a panic attack. You’re already rolling your eyes. You’re already yelling at your kids. You’re already ready to quit.
In a world where “self-care” has become a meaningless cliché, I encourage you to re-think what it actually means.
Consider the idea that self-care means doing the hard thing now, not later. Maybe it means intentionally putting margin in your schedule this month, rather than waiting until next month. Perhaps it means tidying the house today, not tomorrow. It might mean going to therapy this week when everything feels fine so that you have the tools to respond when everything doesn’t feel fine. You see, when it comes to taking control of your life, self-care simply means taking care of yourself before problems arise, not after.
3. Remember that words matter deeply.
To become the captain of your own boat, it’s crucial that you take the words you read, hear, and speak seriously. Start by clearing all the words off your walls or refrigerator. Replace them with meaningful ones that encourage you to boldly approach the circumstances of your life. Today, I cleared the six-month-old words off my letter board and replaced them with ones that target my current life: “Dear guilt + shame . . . Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” For help brainstorming a new mantra or phrase, you’re welcome to download this free Create a New Mantra Worksheet.
The words we tell ourselves and listen to also matter deeply. I’ve had to un-learn things that I have told myself for too many years. Things that good people should believe like, “You’re not doing enough” or “You can do better.” While these sentiments are challenging and thought-provoking, they can be toxic to an already-conscientious human. These phrases had to be replaced with affirmations like, “I am enough” and “I’m not what I do.”
Above all, know that while this article might make it sound like a “one and done” thing, you and I both know it’s not. And while some might make you feel like this is easy, know how deeply I understand that it isn’t.
Your stress is validated.
Your anxiety is understandable.
Your concern for others is admirable.
At the end of the day, we’re all simply sailing along. And you know what?
You’d make a lovely captain.