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Don't judge the size of your dreams. If you do, you'll be teaching yourself to hide them.

Message 13, January, 2021

Dear Guest,

“Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” - unknown (See a beautiful poster of this quote, illustrated by Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils, here)

We start learning to judge everybody, and to judge them all by the same standards, from the time we are very little. No, it’s worse than that. We are taught that everybody can and should be measured in the exact same way, regardless of their gifts and talents and access, and that we have a right - maybe even a duty - to hold others to our expectations. We learn it in school (holding ourselves to a rigid subject list and grading system? Yikes, that drills it into us) and we also learn it from our families.

The problem is, these universal standards don't work. Not in school, not in families, not in our workplaces, and not for caregivers. When we don’t measure up, we learn to hide the things about us that are not judged to be acceptable. 

I need to tell you a story from my own life, to help this make sense. Back in February of 2008, I was in a terrible car accident. The details aren’t that important any more, other than that I was struck on the highway by a pickup that crossed the median, and nobody died (I still thank God for that). My leg was broken in several places at the knee and ankle and my sternum was cracked by the seatbelt (also, thank God for the seatbelt). 

But my injuries were mostly hidden under my clothes; with the exception of the casts on my leg, it was hard to see how badly I was injured. Here are some of the things I wanted to do on my own but couldn't: climb in and out of the tub by myself, go to the kitchen on my crutches to make my own dang sandwich, and hold my baby son in my own two arms. And I wanted to be able to walk. 

At the time, our good friends lived 7 houses further down the street from us. I remember how I cried from pain and joy when I was finally able to go all that distance on crutches. I remember how I was so excited when I was able to go there using the baby's stroller as my walker while I began to relearn to walk without crutches. And it felt like such a victory when I could finally walk the distance using just a cane. And I remember when my friends and I laughed and cried together on the day I walked there, holding my son's hand.

But I know that, once I was off crutches, I must have looked ridiculous clutching onto a stroller or using a cane on those good sidewalks. I looked young (about to turn 35) and I certainly didn't appear to be injured. But my starting point had been zero - I had to retrain the muscles in my leg and learn how to walk all over again. Even then, once I was walking solidly again, I developed a pronounced limp, which was surprisingly hard to correct.

In fact, nobody except my physical therapist, my yoga teacher and my husband ever knew how many hours I was putting in doing my exercises so I could get rid of that limp. I hid that from people because I was afraid of being judged for having such a “small” dream. 

And I see so many caregivers hide their “small” dreams from everyone, too, out of fear of being judged for either wanting something that isn’t related to caregiving, or for failure to achieve their goals.

The problem with hiding our so-called tiny dreams - things like losing a little weight or having a better relationship with a spouse - is then hiding all of our dreams becomes a habit. First we hide them from other people, and then we start to hide our dreams from ourselves. And then we totally forget that we once had an audacious dream to start a business or go on an extravagant vacation or go back to school.

I know this is going to sound blunt, but we are measured harshly by our society and by our communities. Society has a very real standard they expect caregivers to live up to and it really doesn’t include going after our dreams or living a fulfilling life according to our own ideas.

We are told that our dreams aren’t just impossible, but we shouldn’t expect to have any. Not small ones, and certainly not audacious ones. 

I don’t think it’s up to anybody else to judge the size of your dreams* and whether or not you are supposed to have them or go after them. You are the only person who can decide what a fulfilling life looks like for you.

You aren’t a bad person if you don’t like doing a lot of the stuff that caregivers are expected to do. If you want to get help with all of the stuff you don’t like, you can work on making that happen. The cultural standards that are held against caregivers don’t have to matter to you if you don’t want them to. You are a person and your dreams count, no matter what size they are.

In the next message, I’m going to tell you part two of the story of my unlikely complete recovery from my car accident, so stay tuned for that. 

Please let me know if you can relate to this, or if you have any thoughts or  questions, by leaving a comment here.

Kay Coughlin

*If you want help noticing your thoughts so you can figure out what dreams are hiding in your mind, take a look at my free “Thought Download Cheat Sheet” for caregivers.  


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Copyright 2020, Facilitator On Fire, Galena, OH, 43021, 614.426.8062

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