You’re not who you were before—and that’s ok

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I’ve been struggling to acknowledge that I’m still me. I think we all are right now.

For all of 2020, I kept telling myself I’d get back to my usual self soon. On hard days, I’d tell myself things like, “I just need to hold out a bit longer.” I thought we were “in the home stretch.” I was convinced that I’d see my usual self in no time. I just needed to stay strong!

In retrospect, despite how delusional it all sounds, this may have been the single most significant thing to get me through 2020. Well, this thought pattern, Trollis, and Justin Bieber’s new albums.

But this vision of my “usual self” is an unrealistic view of who I used to be. And there’s a good chance I can’t go back.

Wait, though—who are you actually?

You might be thinking: Chels, you’re amazing, clearly, but I don’t know you—I’m just some person who’s reading your article. I have no context. Who even is your usual self?

Great question!

My usual self has the energy of a hummingbird and also the appetite of one (they eat half their weight in sugar daily, just like me). My usual self loves to work tirelessly and to spend time learning all of the things. My usual self has no problems working way more than what is reasonable to expect from myself each day and each week.

At Zapier, every employee writes a weekly Friday update. I recently looked over one of my early posts, and wow—it’s different from who I am now.

A screenshot of an enthusiastic internal blog post from Chels

I keep imagining that, at some point, things are going to get back to “normal,” whatever that means, and I will instantly become the person who thought like that. Sometimes I feel like I’ve already gotten there. But I’ve reached a point where thinking in this way is hurting me so much more than it’s helping me. It’s giving me unrealistic expectations of who I am and what I can accomplish. I’m setting myself up for failure.

I still provide deadlines for myself based on my “usual self,” this person who I’ve seen no sign of in over a year. When I fail to meet my expectations, I get disheartened and hard on myself.

If I don’t immediately understand something, I become confused, unaware of why that is. I become so focused on the fact that I’m not doing well with things that generally come with ease, that I self-sabotage. I lose sight of the good things I accomplish, and I become entangled in negativity. Continuing to think this way is wishing for a “me” that is, at best, not returning any time soon.

While this thought pattern indeed served its purpose, and it got me through some of the more trying times of the pandemic, it’s like expecting our day-to-day to return to “normal”‘ as we viewed it in 2019. It’s simply not going to happen. I don’t even want it to happen, if I’m being honest.

This has been a brutal time for me, but I’ve also learned a lot about myself. And you know what? My usual self isn’t a healthy version of what a person should be at work, and I’m grateful for the mess of the past year and some change for showing me that.

Do I still get excited about a lot of things? Yes, obviously. Do I still have goals and ambitions, and do I still occasionally find myself perusing random API documentation when I should be out having a good time? Guilty. But I’m not the person I was before.

Change is the only constant

I do still love to work, but I love to live my life so much more. I’ll always give my absolute best during my workday. It’s simply who I am at my core. I’m always going to have ambition. When aligned with my priorities, I’ll take extra time to learn, help, and finish things.

However, my norm has shifted. Now, when I log out each day, I’ll enjoy my life with all of the boundaries that should have existed years ago. I’m entirely at peace with the fact that this means my goals may take longer to reach. Because by accepting this, I’m making time for myself to recoup each day. I need to do that to be a better overall person, colleague, and friend.

That’s how I’ve changed. I’m sure you’ve changed too. Embrace that. If you’re still expecting to be who you were when this all started, and especially if you’ve stayed at the same company during the entirety of the pandemic, I would highly encourage you to reflect on how you view yourself day-to-day.

It’s entirely ok not to hold yourself to standards you set when you had more energy, less stress, and less overall mess occurring around you. It’s ok to set the bar lower. You’re not a low performer for it. We’re all tired—we need to give ourselves some leniency.

I’ve told my coworkers this: if you’re expecting me to be who I was when this all started, please know that my boundaries, though set, are very weak right now. Please help me stick to these boundaries, and I’ll help you stick to yours. I think we’ll all be happier, more productive, and better to one another if we do.

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