My employer recently sent out an e-mail praising those who have “gone the extra mile” during COVID-19 season.
Whatever his motives, that paragraph felt like a slap in the face to me. A lot of us showed up, did our jobs to the best of our ability, but dragged ourselves across the finish line with bloodied elbows and knees. We gave everything we had just to survive the first mile and had nothing extra to give.
But my sense of falling short was eased quickly, when I remembered several of the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years: Not to compare myself to others. To be content with the knowledge that I did my best, even if that looks different than someone else’s best. To fight for my mental health and maintain my boundaries, even when that means not meeting some arbitrary definition of “going the extra mile.” To reaffirm that I’m enough, and that who I am matters more than what I do.
Fuck the extra mile.
I’m saying this not just for myself but on your behalf, too. This year has been horrible and brutal, and if you’re still standing at the end of it, then you should be proud of yourself. Don’t let anyone manipulate or coerce or compare you into feeling like you didn’t do enough, or you didn’t do it as well as someone else, or you ought to be coping “better” than you are. Because if you made it to this side of 2020, then what you did was enough.
Forget some mythical extra mile. Let’s celebrate the positive things we did and the negative things we didn’t do. Here are a few of mine:
- I clarified and maintained boundaries. I worked hard and I worked a lot, but I also took Sundays off. On weekdays I went on long walks with the dog and took time to cook dinner, and I read for a few hours before bedtime. In other words, I refused to allow work to permeate the times and spaces I had set aside to nurture myself. These aren’t decisions that most employers support (although the best managers I’ve had recognize that employees who take care of themselves are better, happier, and more productive workers). And although I set up profiles on several dating apps, I practiced my boundaries with the men I encountered, and I didn’t get into an unhealthy attachment just to avoid being alone.
- I showed up, and I kept showing up. I spent more time prepping classes this semester than I ever have. Yes, I fell behind on grading — I always do — but I came into every class meeting with a plan, with course content to cover (usually in colorful slide presentations) and activities to try to keep the students engaged. It didn’t work perfectly, but students noticed that I was trying, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many let me know they appreciated the effort.
- I kept exercising. No, I didn’t maintain my usual gym routine, and I have a few extra pounds to show for it. But I walked regularly and took advantage of the fitness trail. Working out was an important part of my life before quarantine, and the habit stuck.
- I rescued a cat and officially became a two-dog person. The cat had been abandoned at the park, and finding out her history and learning I could keep her was a mini-adventure. The dog started as a foster, but at some point you figure that when an animal has saved your life, the least you can do is become his forever person. So…
- I struggled with some of my old vices — but struggling meant I didn’t fully succumb. Those aforementioned extra pounds? Dr. Pepper and Chick-fil-A. And book-buying, which has been my go-to escape since I was about seven, proved dangerously alluring with all that empty time stuck in my apartment. But I’m trying to give myself grace. On the scale of dysfunctional behaviors, those are relatively innocuous compared to some of the coping strategies I’ve employed in the past. I did not indulge in my darkest, most damaging and destructive vices.
- I got out of bed every day. Some days, that’s about all I did. Some days, I made it into the shower and then just sat on the floor and sobbed while hot water washed over me. But there was not one day during this entire COVID-19 ordeal where I didn’t at least get out of bed.
- I formed, maintained, and deepened friendships. Text messages, virtual happy hours, online discussion groups, hand-written Christmas cards, care packages, socially distanced outdoor meals, group chats — all of these have been lifesavers. And reminders of the many wonderful people in my life. I took too many of them for granted before. That’s a mistake I hope I never make again.
- I strove to be authentic and vulnerable. This is always a balancing act. Sometimes my “authentic” feels so dark that I’m scared of dragging others down. And every time I post something vulnerable, I watch the number of my Facebook friends tick lower. But I’ve also been touched at how many people have privately messaged me — to thank me for being honest, to say they feel the same way, to offer encouragement or commiseration. Not everyone is here for my real, and that hurts more than maybe it should, but the people who have stuck are the ones worth having around.
- I accepted help. I think I’m good at asking, but I often feel like a burden when I need help. I’m learning to receive, though, to let other people help me without guilting myself or thinking I’m a flake or beating myself up for not being able to handle everything alone. And this has brought blessings into my life: road trips with my parents, a Christmas bouquet from a new friend, gifts from other friends, honest conversations, badly needed encouragement — and chances to be there for other people in meaningful ways, too.
- I kept seeking God. My faith was often tenuous and uneasy before COVID-19 hit. Since last spring, it’s been tempestuous and anguished, outraged and despairing. Sometimes I shout at God. Sometimes I feel so deeply betrayed that I can’t talk to God for several days at a time. Sometimes the love feels warm and present and almost tangible. Sometimes I feel abandoned and forsaken. But I think what matters is that I’m still seeking. Still fighting to believe. Still holding on.
What are you proud of during this season? Forget the extra mile: Whatever you’ve done is enough. And more importantly, who you are is a blessing and a gift. Share that blessing. Celebrate that gift.