The president of my company made an analogy recently that really clicked with me and the kind of pressures I’m currently undergoing. He was praising our business at a fall luncheon/celebration for getting through all of our fall events with even less staff than ever, but it’s true on a personal level as well.
He said that there are three trains. One containing the monster that we’re currently battling—which we have to keep on course even when it feels like it’s going to be wrenched off the tracks at any moment. The second is the train with our everyday duties and responsibilities—something that seems insignificant in the face of the Monster Train, but is in fact, no less important. We still have to keep it up and running to survive. And the third train holds plans for the future. Eventually the first Monster Train will be tamed and if you’re not currently working on the Future Train now, you’ll be left with nothing before you realize it. Essentially, you’re always responsible for looking towards and building your future.
Sometimes when I hear things that I really relate to, a little alarm goes off in my head: “This is you! You know this exactly! Don’t miss a thing!” And that’s exactly what happened for me during the president’s speech. I’m struggling to keep all those trains running and on track in my life right now more than ever. And boy, is it frustrating! So much so that I feel like I abandon my trains most of the time and collapse on the side of the track and find something distracting to invest in.
For example, take how I handled last week. I have so much going on right now that I really need to be using every available moment to work on my Monster Train and my Future Train (and even then I’m just barely getting by with my Every Day Train); however, last week when I finally had a bit of an opening time-wise, I decided to use it not to tackle those trains, but instead to make a Halloween costume. Now did the creation of that costume boost my self-esteem and make me feel like an accomplished DIYer? Absolutely! Did I utilize the time to help out my Every Day Train? Yes! I filmed it so that I could use it for a weekly video on my YouTube channel. Two birds with one stone!
IT WAS A PRETTY COOL COSTUME THOUGH, RIGHT?
But like my therapist pointed out, while it’s not a bad thing to work hard and be creative on a costume (especially when you’re an intensely creative person trapped in a non-creative environment), it was a purposeful distraction from dealing with the stress and drama of the Monster and Future Trains. And I’ve been doing this more and more frequently. Essentially, the more complicated and daunting my Monster and Future Trains get, the more likely I am to abandon ship, put the problem on the backburner, and invent a new problem that I know I can fix for myself (e.g. like needing a Halloween costume). That way I feel like I’ve accomplished something rather than the repeated feeling of failure that accompanies focusing on Three Trains of Life. It’s a problem that I wish I knew how to fix. All I know is that when I focus on one or more of the Trains, I spend 98% of my time one step away from having a panic attack. My chest is tight. My head aches. My mind can’t stop racing. Thoughts of suicide start creeping in as the only viable option for escape.
And I don’t like those feelings. Those are not healthy feelings. That’s not how I should be living my life at 25. But I’m at a loss for how to fix it. According to my company president, you just keep riding the trains because “that’s what you gotta do!” But I don’t think it’s actually that simple on an individual level. It’s too easy to create rewarding distractions for yourself rather than facing your actual problems. Please tell me I’m not the only one! But what are some actual strategies other than “doing it because you gotta do it?” How can I pull myself out of my distraction land and actually apply that creative energy to the Monster Train and even the Future Train. I feel like I’m getting left behind on the tracks these days and I can’t just run to catch up. Those trains are too far ahead of me now, and I’m much too weak and frustrated to make it by running. The Three Trains of Life chug on without me. I’ll have to find a way back onto them eventually, but for now I don’t have any solutions. Just made-up problems in the Desert of Distraction to keep my mind busy and help me feel like less of a failure.