I first heard that quote by the late great Maya Angelou years ago and in 2014 I adapted it to ‘Know better. Do better. Be better’ and:
- I felt super smart about the adaptation. Lol.
- Those six words became one of my (many) life’s philosophies.
The first step – know better – requires one to introspect. The Latin word introspicere means to look inside and that is what an introspective person does, metaphorically speaking. Which is why for introspection to be successful you need to be honest with yourself. I tend to caution the people in my life when I realise they are lying to themselves because it is one thing to lie to others, but lying to yourself, despite it being the easier route, never takes you very far. Acknowledging our flaws and shortcomings, whether quietly to ourselves or out loud to others, can be a very vulnerable thing to do. But only when you take ownership of your flaws and shortcomings can you begin the hard work that is “doing better”.
To think is easy. To act is difficult. To act as one thinks is the most difficult.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, yes? But it takes a lot of discipline, courage and resolve to do away with ingrained patterns/routines/behaviours that hinder more than help. Which is why the second step – do better – is ball-bustingly hard! It is where the rubber meets the road and if you are not careful it will be where all your good intentions plus all the promises you made to yourself and others go to die. The discipline to follow through on your commitments to yourself and to others is something most people struggle with which is why this is a running joke every year.
But here is the thing about discipline:
Discipline comes from doing the very thing you keep praying for the discipline to do.
I need to highlight the word doing in that Iyanla Vanzant quote. In primary school we were told over and over again that a verb is a doing word. A doing word means there is some sort of action involved and with time I have found that becoming the best version of yourself requires some “doing words” as well. What good will all your introspection come to if instead of taking action against the patterns/routines/behaviours that hinder more than help, you continue to embrace them like a lover.
Back in March I went for an industry event with colleagues that was fun at first, but as the night progressed I began to wonder what the absolute fuck I was doing there. Kwanza that was the night the guy I had a crush on at the time told me how I am too much of a slay queen for him.
I got home around 3:30 a.m. so of course I was late for work and I was so lethargic from the night out that I left the office at 1:31 p.m.! As in I barely clocked three hours that day 😐 Later that evening I had dinner with my sister at Jiko as we were celebrating what would have been our mum’s 60th birthday. And as much as I enjoyed it, especially because I had wanted to go to Jiko from the inaugural Nairobi Restaurant Week in 2014, I was not fully present as being out till 3:30 a.m. the night before will do that to you.
What is it that I am doing to create the present situation in which I find myself?
A word my BFF often uses to describe me is conscious as I am an extremely self-aware person, the product of introspecting all the damn time. So in the middle of March I “called a meeting with myself” to figure out what I was doing to create the present situation in which I found myself. It was then that I admitted that my partying was happening at the expense of my goals.
I said in a previous post that I do not regret my ‘party quarter’, that it was in fact quite necessary because 2018 was such a heavy year. But I also have a lot of things I want to achieve this year and I did not want to check in on my progress a couple of months down the line and discover that I have merely been treading water. I had been treading water in so many aspects of my life for so many years and this year I was determined to Michael Phelps the hell out of the swimming pool.
With that I decided to take a booze and kush break for Q2, a choice I did not come to lightly and only decided to go ahead with on the flight to Cape Town. I am a big believer in signs and I felt that the timing of the break was a major sign because:
- April 1st fell on a Monday and June 30th on a Sunday so I would start and stop my break on the first and last day of the week respectively.
- Q2 had a total of 13 weeks, a number that is now so ubiquitous in my life.
I previously disclosed that my only exception to the break was 420. Which was true, but only partially so because another exception I had was for if/when I got promoted to Media Director. That was one of the biggest goals I have this year (next week’s post) and I chose not to mention it because I did not want to jinx it.
Once I decided to go on the break I zeroed in on the problem areas that I needed to work on and when April 1st came around I took off guns blazing.
- My writing.
I realised that I was not writing as much as I ought to because I was getting high almost every evening, but if I intend to write for a living I need to put in the work because there are so many excellent writers out there, my talent alone can only get me so far. So in week one I resumed my 4:20 a.m. (hehe) wake up time but I scrapped it in week two because I quickly realised the fact that I am no longer getting high in the evening means I have time to write. Plus I have said before that my best ideas come to me like a thief in the night, something that is both a blessing and inconvenient because of my 8:30 to 5 job. But while my best writing is done at night, my best editing is done in the morning with fresh eyes and a fresh mind because the magic is in the rewrite. Unsurprisingly, that fresh mind only comes about when I get some A1 sleep. For anyone who may not know, alcohol adversely affects quality of sleep. It may help you fall asleep faster but it also leads to lighter, more restless sleep as the night wears on, diminished sleep quality, and next-day fatigue.
2. My weight.
Booze is empty calories, I think we all know that. I had been trying to get my weight down for a while but it was not working because, among other things, drinking the equivalent of a bottle of wine every other day is extremely counterproductive. And whew chillllllleeeeee do not even get me started on the munchies! Munchies are the yum to my taste buds but the yuck to my waistline. Lol.
Earlier in the year when I was doing my annual health check-up I saw a nutritionist. Shame is not an emotion in my repertoire but as the nutritionist analysed my body composition and assessed my eating habits I have never felt as much shame in my 31 years as I did that day. I will never forget the look on her face when I told her I can go almost a week without eating a single fruit or vegetable. To say she was shook is an understatement. After our session I vowed to finally do better w.r.t my eating habits, especially because I have a follow up appointment on July 23rd. So I put down the booze, joined a gym and committed to eating clean 80% of the time. And after just 20 days of doing all that there was such a difference in my waistline and thighs that when my waxing lady came to wax me on 420 she could not stop gushing over how much weight I had lost. The gym and the clean eating were a factor, but I believe putting down the booze is what made the greatest impact in those 20 days.
3. Am I happy or just high?
This was the fundamental problem area and consequently forms the bulk of today’s post.
You know that I’ve got whisky with white lines and smoke in my lungs
I think life has got to the point I know without it’s no fun
I need to get in the right mind and clear myself up
Instead, I look in the mirror questioning what I’ve become
I love that lyric from Eraser by Ed Sheeran. I have never done white lines but I was drinking and smoking up a lot in Q1 and while I was having the best time I was not sure if I was truly happy or if I was just high. Like Ed, I also was not sure if fun could be had without getting high but after that night out in March I decided I need to get in the right mind and clear myself up. So for the sake of my mental health and general wellbeing I decided to do away with any mind-altering substances for 13 weeks and figure out if was happy or just high.
The first month or so was the hardest.
- I was irritable AF.
- I missed my mum intolerably.
- I was beyond bored at work.
- My OCD flared all the way up.
- I had to work so much harder to find my happy.
But I soldiered on because I needed to figure out a way to celebrate all the big and small wins that will come my way in my life without getting high. I soldiered on because I was tired of making the same choices and wondering why I was treading water.
“You need to find a way to heal enough to believe that you are worthy of joy and happiness and ease in this life because you are. But somehow, I’m thinking because of trauma, war, pain, ugliness and PTSD, somehow you’ve come to believe that you aren’t deserving of those things so you keep making the hardest possible choices … Owen you’re not well. Do the work to fix it.”
That is a conversation between Meghan and Owen Hunt in Grey’s Anatomy S15E20 where she encouraged him to resume therapy. That scene (check it out here) really struck me because I have had similar conversations with myself as well as with my loved ones. How many of us are just like Owen in that we claim we are happy but when you sit back and analyse the decisions you make you realise they are inconsistent with someone who is actually happy? My therapist once told me that people (or was it Kenyans?) have three main painkillers: alcohol, religion and sex. How many of us drink too much because we would rather not face our difficulties head on? How many of us avoid dealing with the issue at hand because “my God is able”? How many of us engage in all of the casual sex because being alone is deeply uncomfortable?
The time had come to get to the bottom of why I continue to make choices that are at odds with the person I am evolving to be, and I wanted to make those discoveries with a mind not altered by any substances. Because only then could I be completely confident that what I discovered was the naked truth.
By May it became very apparent that there were certain things and/or people I only put up with because I was not sober 100% of the time. The clarity of mind that comes with not using mind-altering substances cannot be overstated and as a result some of my budding friendships fell by the wayside.
I also realised that I want – not need – to go back to therapy. I paused therapy after my mum died in 2017 but I did two sessions in 2018, one in January during my unpaid leave and the other the day before my mum’s 10 month anniversary. I was meant to resume in January 2019 but it was hard to consider doing therapy when I was just so happy. But now I know that I am one of those people who may need therapy for a really long time, not because I have major issues (though I do have issues) but because sometimes my brain needs a little help not being sad.
As Megan also told Owen in that episode, she does therapy because she wants to be as happy as she can for the life she has left. Same Megan. Same. I plan to resume therapy after my 32nd birthday next month.
So, the million dollar question, was I happy or was I just high? At the end of 13 weeks I am glad to note that I am truly happy 60 – 70% of the time. That may not seem like much to some people but to me it is a BFD because I have known more unhappiness than happiness for most of my life. Sometimes my unhappiness was because of things I did not have a choice in, other times it was because of the choices I made. In the beginning of the Pretty Hurts music video when the character Beyoncé plays is asked what her aspiration in life is, her response is “to be happy” and I still feel that so deeply. This year I challenged myself to embrace the concept that you are the architect of your own happiness and as a result I am the happiest I have ever been.
Of course none of this was easy but doing the hard work to make yourself better never is. That is why therapy is so difficult. It takes so much grit, strength, courage and determination to dig into your wounds/hurts and pull out all that pain/trauma/ugliness that is holding you back.
The plan for Q2 was to “treat my goals like property, collect them like Monopoly”, and in those 13 weeks I:
- Got promoted to Media Director.
- Lost weight.
- Won a flash fiction writing competition and had my story published in Yummy Magazine.
- Won a cheese hamper from Sirimon Cheese (because when the universe decides to reward you she can be such a show-off).
- Participated in the first panel of the PursePective Podcast with Scheaffer Okore, Mariga Thoithi, Marcus Olang and Adelle Onyango.
- Read more and I am four books ahead in my reading challenge.
To anyone reading this who may be inspired to do better I would urge you to really give it a go. An earnest, honest, from-the-depths-of-your-soul kind of effort. The kind of effort that gives the universe no other option but to take notice because we owe it to ourselves to be the best version of ourselves. It will not be easy but it will not be impossible either. For anyone interested, I use an ‘SSC model’ whereby I evaluate what I need to Start, Stop and Continue doing. It serves me well and I hope it works for you too should you be so inclined.
The break was one of the hardest, most rewarding things I have ever accomplished and so for me this arrangement is now mostly permanent. Will I still be down for a fun night out? Of course! Will I still drink wine and smoke up every now and then? Of course! The keyword being every now and then because it would be unequivocally criminal to go back to my previous ways after the giant steps forward I made in just 13 weeks.
3 thoughts on “Know Better. Do Better. Be Better.”
My best read yet Val!
“…we owe it to ourselves to be the best version of ourselves…”
Thank you for writing Ma. I mean it. It may sound a little odd saying this but your writing is a gift not only to yourself but to many. So, I thank you for not only writing but being consistent while at it.
Thank you for letting the world into your own world. This world needs more people like you.
“..extremely self-aware person, the product of introspecting all the damn time..”
“..the magic is in the rewrite..”
“..we owe it to ourselves to be the best version of ourselves..”
The phrases that stood out most for me👆
I need to improve my self introspecting skills for sure.
The clarity of kind that comes with letting go of some things is unexplainable. I relate to that ALOT.
Thanks for being vulnerable and for putting this out here.