“Flogging a dead horse”

26 June 2019

Week 4

This idiom is just an old English analogy meaning to “try very hard to make an impact but failing anyway”.  Knowing the exact point when one is indeed attempting to make a dead horse run faster by beating it, is a masterful craft that many of us do not have. How DO you know? Isn’t it every success-seeking person’s goal to “try, try again”, to aim high and keep on “having a go”? When and how do we step back and realise that the path we are on may not be conducive to our well-being, or is a step in the right direction towards success? Speaking with successful people and discovering that they too have chosen dead-end paths, sometimes many wrong turns which brought them to the brink of bankruptcy, reading endless accounts of the endeavours of others is a sure way to begin to judge for yourself.

Alone time

Yet, there is no “how to” manual, no definitive guide for each person’s life choices and while one person may have success at something in similar circumstances, we ourselves may fail to achieve the same results. Knowing when to pull back and re-assess where we are headed is a very complex task and can depend on personal circumstances, knowing one’s self, trust in one’s self, good judgment, and sometimes plain old exhaustion can play a part.

In my own case, I have recently had two week’s holidays from study, from work, from looking for work, from exercise, from all the daily and weekly tasks I have steadfastly repeated on my path to finding stability in peace of mind, my health and financial resilience. It was my first holiday in over three and a half years, I had no big plans, just wanting to catch up with my family and loved ones, but I got sick on the first day with a very nasty flu and have spent the whole two weeks not feeling quite right.  So, in this delicate situation of being run-down and eventually spending time totally alone with no work to go to, no family to be with, no friends around me, I began to feel full life-sadness. I let myself actually and fully “feel” what I was feeling for a day or two, unbound by the need to get up and perform tasks in fitting in the workaday mould.

We humans generally hide our emotions because we must soldier on, we must get on with life in a happy state or the world turns their back on us. Nobody truly has the emotional capacity to be around someone who is perpetually sad. We protect ourselves from societal isolation by seeking happiness, seeking mind-numbing or fulfilling work or cheerful activities to plug the hole, seeking purpose to fill our days so we do not have time to feel the gnawing sadness.  Yet emotions are so very important in our human psyche; they are what set us apart from undertaking base animal actions.

In allowing myself just to “feel” I explored the powerful effects on my thinking. Some would call it self-pity; I call it self-empathy. My strength is always going to be more powerful than my weaknesses, I know this of myself. Many do not have this fortitude, and I have personally witnessed self-destruction in people I love. In constantly feeling sadness and letting it win over, we are self-destructing. However, in feeling sadness in suitable measure, in appropriate situations, it can help us to think, to make decisions about our life goals and to make changes objectively.

Today, I am re-assessing the direction of my study, as the past two years have taken me away from loved ones and from my passion for art and nature. With four more years of part time study on the cards with the university course I have chosen and with my life situation demanding I can only study part time, I have now had a chance to realise that this is not taking me where I want to be. I could not have realised this is a “dead horse” if I had not allowed myself to feel emotions fully.

Be kind to yourself too.



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