In the summer of 2015, I visited one of my clients in a semi-urban town of inner Maharashtra, India. She was the wife of a convicted felon, waiting for her husband’s parole. It was a one-room house shared by four family members- the woman and her three young daughters. She greeted my senior and me with black tea and insisted that we have lunch with them. She was my first client while training to be a correctional social worker, and also my first big takeaway.
One of these days, my husband and I were deep into a conversation about goals, ambitions, challenges and failures. During PMS, my tendencies to incline towards negativity is annoying. But he always tells me one foundational truth about human behaviour…
We tend to focus on everything we don’t have instead of focusing on everything that we do.
It is a simple thought which means that it’s quite easy to forget, and it ties back to my first real lesson in the field- strength matters most. My client’s daughters were out of school because she could not afford the fee. She was out of milk because she could not afford to buy it from the market. Her circumstances were out of her control and so she focused on things that were. That is the essence of the strengths perspective in social work practice- to be able to recognize your abilities and work around them for your benefit.
That is also the essence of yin-yang- the ancient symbol of harmony, reminding us that life is a balancing act and most fulfilling when we learn to embrace its dualities- the ups and the downs, the good and the bad times, and the joys and the challenges.
Now, of course, it is not the easiest process to sustain that thinking. But I’m here to help. I do the following to embrace the dualities of life while remaining motivated (and trust me, it took a while for me to keep at it). Ask yourselves these questions, and sometimes it is alright to not know the answers. The process of finding answers is how you develop your own strengths.
- What is your purpose/goal/ambition?
Why is this important, you ask? Because it is crucial to have a starting point. If you go to therapy or start a challenge, you plan what you want to achieve at the end of it. Your goal or purpose could be anything- from a career move to learning a new skill. Once you’ve decided on the goal, it’s easier to work your way backwards.
- What do you need to do to achieve those goals?
Define these activities. Be as descriptive as you can. Treat this process as you would treat a task at work or at school. The objective of this step is to categorize your efforts and the returns you get from them in order to come up with a solid strategy. See this quadrant? I plan my day according to this. Its helpful in prioritizing tasks according to their immediate returns.
- Identify your strengths and changes in your context
Once you’ve categorized your efforts according to those fields, identifying strengths becomes easy. It is perhaps a cliched process but it truly is the most integral part of this process. That categorization should help you come up with two-three skills for each quadrant and then build your way up.
My goal for the next one year is to excel in an impending course. The strengths that I identified are- keen learner, observant, analytical and good communicator. However, I need to enhance them to suit my situations that are constantly changing. Once I have this knowledge, I will retain my motivation to keep doing better.
- Keep track of your progress and struggles
The internet is filled with articles and listicles on why it is important to embrace your struggles and failures. It is, no doubt. But practically speaking, one cannot always be on top of their game. In such a situation, it is important to keep a tracking system handy. I use my journal for it. By documenting each milestone crossed and each struggle faced in crossing it, I am preparing a training manual for my future self. When I do face new challenges, I would have elaborate notes to self to help me come out of it.
There is no one-size-fits-all scheme when it comes to strategizing your life. Catching a moment to relax and chill is crucial for you. You owe it to yourself. There are days when I do not make a journal entry or do not make a plan for the next day. I take days off when I indulge in a good book, good food and great company. Those are rest days. Remember, your mind is a muscle and it needs those days to build more muscle. So take a chill-pill, lower down your guard, believe in yourself and slay
These are only suggestions based on how I am embracing the yin and the yang in my life. You will have your own behaviour and thought patterns. All you need to do is learn to accept yourself without passing any judgements. The world is hard enough anyway, be nice to yourself.
Thank you for braving a long post. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Like, comment, share… Feedback is important 🙂
Psst… follow the Facebook and Instagram pages for The Narrative of Life for regular updates or just follow the blog via email. It’s free!