As big Parks & Rec fans, and as someone who may share a few personality quirks with Ron Swanson, I was super excited when Marcia surprised me with tickets to see Nick Offerman. While his comedy can be a bit blue (he opened the show with a song about his inability to work PG-13), he manages to pack some good truth nuggets in amongst the laughs and it ended up being a very enjoyable night, even if I was completely exhausted the next day from being out past 10 on a school night…
One of the bits that he did that really resonated with me was about how he, Nick Offerman, was not Ron Swanson. He talked about how people project the traits of his character onto him and how impossible it would be to actually BE Ron Swanson in real life. You can’t actually eat steak at every meal, sometimes you need to eat salads.
I feel like a lot of times in life there’s this weird dance that exists between what other people think of us, what we think of ourselves and who we actually are. Trying to live up to other people’s unrealistic expectations for us is a surefire way to end up burnt out. But equally dangerous is listening too much to our own thoughts about ourselves, especially when we’re struggling with any sort of depression or anxiety.
Recently, I had the epiphany (with some help), that my thoughts about myself aren’t instantly true just because I have them. This particular epiphany came after a dream in which I had to chastise Taylor Swift for flirting with me because I was a happily married man. I realized that the same brain that cooked up that ridiculous scenario was also responsible for every thought and feeling I have about myself. And just like TayTay and I casually hanging out at a party isn’t reality, neither are some of the things I end up thinking and believing about myself.
Something I’ve been working on unpacking lately is the idea that feelings don’t exist in a vacuum. Feelings start out as thoughts that then get put through emotional filters. If I’m feeling sad, it might be because I’m thinking about a loved one struggling with illness. If I’m mad, it might be because I was cut off in traffic and I’m thinking about what a bad driver that other person is. The idea that my feelings aren’t just something that drop on me from out of nowhere but are rooted in my own thoughts, which I have control over, is a pretty big shift. If I can start to process those thoughts and assign the correct importance to them, I can start to change how I’m feeling and have control over my moods. That’s a pretty big deal.
I don’t think we’ll ever find happiness or peace in life trying to live up to artificial expectations for our lives, whether they come from other people or from the corners of our own minds. As we navigate life and develop identity, it’s worth taking stock of what voices get input into the process and what vetting occurs in that process. It’s worth the effort to weed out the junk because the reality of who you are is WAY better than what others project on you or even what you’re projecting on yourself at times.