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The one bad habit I’ve never been able to kick (and why now I don’t want to)
Why is it that we are so good at giving advice to other people but terrible at taking it from ourselves?
I’m a textbook case.
I’m a senior marketing executive at a large, global, publicly traded company. On paper, it would seem that I am respected, liked, and highly regarded. My teams perform well. I’m sought out to lead strategic projects, and for the most part, I get good reviews from my boss.
People think I have my shit together.
What they don’t know is that I have a silent, self-destructive habit that I have been trying to hide all of my life.
When I’m stressed, nervous, or downright frustrated – I pick my fingers.
I know, it’s disgusting. I can’t help it.
Let me give you some background. Before I was a finger picker, I was a finger sucker. I know what you are thinking. Thumb suckers are repulsive. I agree. Sucking your thumb is just gross.
What I did with my adorable digits was much more refined. And given my cultured upbringing, I knew to hide my loathsome routine behind my trusty pink Blankie.
My mother, who I love to the moon and back, played a key role in helping me transition from the unsanitary practice of being a finger sucker to the more age-appropriate – but equally unseemly habit – of picking my fingers.
She threw away Blankie “by mistake.”
It took her three attempts to jettison beloved Blankie from my life. The first two times I tracked her from behind, in stealth mode with my imaginary invisible cloak, and retrieved my treasure from the trash when she wasn’t looking.
But one unfortunate afternoon, when I was only five years old, Blankie met its final demise.
I was mindlessly digging in the dirt outside. I thought Blankie was warm and safe upstairs. Mom, however, had other plans. She took advantage of my fascination with mud pies and the moment the garbage men pulled up to our house, she grabbed my faithful companion from my room. And with the confidence of pre-Bucs Tom Brady, she threw poor innocent Blankie directly into the menacing jaws of the frightful garbage truck.
I’ve had decades to get over it. Unfortunately, I haven’t.
Instead, to fill the hole in my heart from losing Blankie, I pick my fingers.
When I get stressed, my ten digits fall victim to my insecurity and self-doubt. Sometimes, I pick at them without paying any attention and then I’m surprised to see the destruction in my wake. Other times, I’m so fascinated by fidgeting with those tiny shards of skin that I ignore everything else around me including my fellow human beings.
I transfer my anxiety into my unsuspecting digits. It’s a way that I keep up my facade.
Most people think that I am a balanced and calm person.
They haven’t seen my fingers during a bad week.
If only it could be different.
There are days when I wistfully stroll the aisles of nail polish on display and long for beautiful nails. I dream of the confidence of fiery red lacquer or the meticulous elegance of a carefully crafted French manicure. I drive by the buzzing nail salon where women share confidences with their manicurist and their new best friends while waiting for their nails to dry.
It seems so simple. If only I could speak my truth, I could proudly walk into the local nail salon and choose that latest berry shade. But instead, I suffer alone in silence defeated by my shameful habit.
If I was talking to a friend or a colleague, I’d never run out of pieces of advice to help them break their destructive habits.
I’d challenge them to find their voice.
I’d point out their strengths and tell them to lean into them.
I’d remind them that we control how we navigate the world –– that we are active participants, not passive victims.
So why don’t I listen to my own advice? Why can’t I cut my own nail-biting addiction?
The answer is two-fold.
First, I think it’s because I don’t have as much confidence in myself as I have in other people. I see what they possess inside even though they can’t see it for themselves. It’s like I have X-ray vision and I can see their intelligence, grit, and wonderous ability. But for some reason, I can’t apply that X-ray vision for myself.
And secondly (and this is where the lesson comes in) I’ve reached a certain level of maturity in my life and I’m done beating myself up. I kind of like the fact I’m not perfect. Picking my fingers makes me human.
When I’m stressed, I pick at my fingers. Is that so bad?
So while others look calm, cool, and collected on Zoom waving their perfectly manicured nails from left to right as they pitch their new idea, I’ll continue to smile and speak confidently while right below the viewers’ line of sight I fidget with my fingers.
If you were looking for a post on how to navigate stress, this may not have done you much good.
But maybe it did.
Maybe the freedom to be yourself makes you breathe a little easier.
So thanks, Mom. After all of these years, it turns out, I didn’t need Blankie after all.