We are Not Robots

Sometimes I have the expectation of myself that I’ll function like a robot. That no matter the circumstances, no matter how I’m feeling, I’ll be able to accomplish XYZ regardless. And if I’m not able to accomplish XYZ, then I beat myself up and make meaning from it like, “You’re so lazy.” This may sound silly, but what I often forget is that I’m a human and human beings are not robots. We aren’t able to show up the same way every day.

Something my therapist says is, “Everyone is doing the best they can at every moment and sometimes their best sucks.” Yep. I’m doing my best every day and sometimes my best sucks. Sometimes my best entails lying in bed under a pile of blankets watching terrible television because I can’t motivate myself to contact potential new clients. Sometimes my best means my bathroom mirror has flecks of toothpaste on it because cleaning it feels like too much effort.

I see this lack of respecting the natural ebb and flow of each person reflected in society. The other week I wrote about how people are turning into small children, throwing tantrums in grocery stores, and yes, it’s because many of us struggle with feeling our feelings, but I also think it’s because in the U.S. anyway, we forget we’re human and instead we’re being asked to function as if we aren’t. Your kids are home from school? You should be able to accomplish as much work as if they weren’t! Your colleague is out sick with Covid? You should still be able to meet that deadline! Um, no.

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They’re cute, but let’s not aspire to be like them. Photo by Eric Krull on Unsplash

The expectation that life can or will continue as normal even when circumstances change is absurd. We are not robots and it’s not feasible to “power through” everything. Furthermore, maybe we’re not supposed to power through! Maybe we’re supposed to be smart, adaptable human beings that fluctuate day by day. This is something living with a chronic illness teaches me over and over again. Some days I can go for a swim, write for hours, clean my house, make dinner from scratch, and connect with friends. And other days I’m only capable of getting dressed and heating up a premade meal. Both happen and yet I beat myself up on the days I don’t have energy to do as much as I’d like. A lot of it has to do with internalized capitalism, but it’s also because of the expectations I place upon myself.

What if instead I treated myself with compassion and understanding? What if instead I recognized that at some point the bathroom mirror will get cleaned and inspiration will strike to contact potential new clients? Because that always happens. It reminds me of a quote from the late, great, Thích Nhat Hạnh who said, “No one is more worthy of your kindness and compassion than you are,” and also, “Real love means loving kindness and compassion, the kind of love that does not have any conditions.”

Real love for myself and others means recognizing we each have good days and bad days. It means understanding there’s a natural rhythm and cycle to life. It means acknowledging as much as society wants us to be robots, we aren’t. We’re human beings and human beings fluctuate, make mistakes, and have limitations. For better or for worse, we show up differently every day and not only is that OK, it’s natural, normal, and to be expected because again, we’re not robots.

I dream of a world where we treat ourselves with love and compassion. A world where we reduce the expectations we set for ourselves. A world where we understand our best will change from day to day. A world where we remember we aren’t robots.

Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.

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