How Hard Times made Me soft
January, 2019 - Issue #172
courtesy of Shutterstock
courtesy of Shutterstock

Life, at least the last half of it, has been hard. It doesn't matter why.

And at the start, I welcomed the trials. They made me stronger, I told myself. I was resilient. A fighter. Capable and impressive, despite the challenges. I rolled with some punches, threw back a lot, too.

I was tough - and tough on others. My mindset was simple. If I could work well into the night and perform exceptionally the next day, so could they. If I could get everything done ahead of schedule, even with knee-shaking personal problems, so could they. If I could look put together, even though I was living out of a "go bag," so could they.

I gossiped. I was often snide. My sharp tongue drew blood of people who didn't have much to spare.

My expectations were high; my readiness to give grace... too low.

And I was that way because I was under the false impression that because life was hard, I had to be, too. Call it a defense mechanism, or a logical response - or call it what it really was.
"And I was that way because I was under the false impression that because life was hard, I had to be, too. Call it a defense mechanism, or a logical response - or call it what it really was. WRONG."

Because it was. Being hard made things harder - on me and everyone around me. It set marks that were bound to be missed. It made people feel bad for being "less than" when they were more than enough.

But I didn't realize any of that at the time. Not until life went from hard to Hard ™. Not until I started slipping. The occasional missed deadline. Greasy hair and unkempt buns. Struggling kids. Worries that turned into panics that turned into paralysis. Illness that lingered.

Irony of ironies ensued; the grace that I didn't give enough of, I needed in spades. It didn't always come, despite how many "perfection points" I had thought I'd accumulated after all those years of being Flawless ™. And when the, "It's Ok's," "we'll make do's" and "I love you anyway's" didn't flow, the forgiveness I tried so hard to give myself would stop, too.

I don't remember a lot of specifics during the Very Hard Time™. But I remember that consulting client who wrote an e-mail saying, "You are so, so good at what you do. Take all the time you need. We're happy to wait." I remember the doctor who sat with me and held my hand when it would have been more expedient to write a script and go. The teller who helped me count coins I fished out of the bottom of my purse because I couldn't find my ATM card. I remember just how good, how soul-quenchingly delicious, it was when someone was soft with me while life was hard.

Luckily, life got easier - and so did I.

In my trials, I learned that sometimes all anyone could do for me was be a soft place to fall. And as I tumbled, those extra kindnesses padded my descent. I stumbled - but I didn't break. I cracked - I didn't shatter.

And it was not because I was tough or capable or smart.
It was because of the soft people.

Those human versions of bubble wrap who hugged, encouraged, forgave, listened and related... those down-pillow people who reserved judgement and spoke softly... they got me through.

It wasn't always easy for them. Patience takes more energy than lashing out. Giving forgiveness is initially more work than holding a grudge. They taught me that being soft can sometimes be really, really hard - but it's worth it.
I think of myself as a recovering hard person these days. When you spend years and years holding yourself to an impossible-to-maintain standard of perfection, being soft can feel unnatural. Mostly, it's hardest to be soft to myself.

But I'm not going back. Being soft has totally changed my most important relationships for the better. My children, who inherited my perfection-minded personality, are learning earlier than I did that self love is the most important of all - and how to be soft with their peers and each other. My family and friends know that my razor-sharp wit won't be weaponized in times of conflict.

Being soft is hard. I'm still new at it and I occasionally slip into my old patterns, especially when I'm around hard friends or feel like I have something to prove. I'm committed to this softness, though - because life is hard in one way or another for everyone - and there are worse things to be than someone's soft place to fall.
Therese is a publisher of Inside SCV Magazine.
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