The Self-Help Swiss Army Knife

I’ve been thinking about getting Swiss Army knives for my kids for Christmas, and I confess that this is likely a result of some ridiculously romantic notion of them cheerfully whittling on the back porch without cutting their fingers off and in lieu of some other pursuit that I find idiotic, but I’ve been thinking about it nonetheless. I have always been in awe of the massive amount of utility packed in such a relatively small container that is the Swiss Army Knife.

What tools will make me feel betterAnd then I got to thinking about that idea – a group of tools all hooked together and easily accessed, thus the idea of a Self-Help Swiss Army Knife was born. I began to seriously consider what tools in my toolbox I would recommend that people take on an adventure where outcomes are uncertain and pragmatism can be invaluable. And so, as a holiday gift to you all, I’ve come up with my Self-Help Swiss Army Knife (SHSAK) – although as I am a writer and coach and not a bookseller, it is sort of a DIY version (something I think I’d recommend against when it comes to an actual Swiss Army Knife – my Youtube search yielded lots of DIY to do WITH these knives and one actual “melee” weapon made of Legos).

So the Self-Help Swiss Army Knife needs to provide both the basic daily functionality of a plain old pocket knife and the extra bells and whistles (ok, corkscrews and toothpicks) of the real deal. Everybody with me?

Tool #1: A stillness practice. It can be meditation, but that word makes a lot of people anxiously flee (which they could prevent with meditation, but that’s not a helpful observation). The idea of and the procedures of meditation turn a lot of folks off, but there are many ways to develop a stillness practice – here’s one example, for more Google “sit spot”. What’s the point? The point is just like the one for the main blade of that knife. A stillness practice will cut away the crap. It gets you closer to what you actually want and need and gives you a break from the excess EVERYTHING. Sounds pretty good, right?

Tool #2: A body practice. What? Develop rituals, exercise, habits that put you in touch with your body. We spend so much time in our heads that we rarely give these amazing containers the attention that they deserve, and much of the attention we do give them is negative (a list of things we don’t like about them or recognition only when there is ailment). Paying attention to how your body feels and cultivating better physical feeling is both deeply rewarding and revealing about what is going on with you emotionally while you’re thinking about your holiday gift buying list. A body practice, like that nail trimmer on the knife, gets us focused on necessary self-care in a way that can only promote wellness over time.

Tool #3: Some method of journaling – this need not be written. If verbal expression isn’t your thing, maybe art OR maybe you hate to write, but love to talk. Find a way to express what’s going on in there in a stream of consciousness sort of way – no rules, no judgments, no grammar, no erasing, just get it all out there. Journaling is the can opener of the SHSAK. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.

Tool #4: Now that we’re taking a look. Let’s magnify that vision a bit. For this, I heartily recommend Byron Katie’s The Work, a process of inquiry that she describes in her book Loving What Is. The author teaches us how to ask questions of our beliefs and our assumptions so that we can stop being hampered, tortured, made anxious and unhappy by things that aren’t necessarily true. It is a great tool for taking a closer look at what we think and believe and how it is impacting us.

Tool #5: Brooke Castillo’s The Model as described in Self-Coaching 101. This book is amazing. In it the author basically describes how to identify and change thought patterns that keep us stuck, prevent growth, and cause misery. Does she promise a totally happy life? No, but she promises a conscious one, where you get to make decisions about how you think and feel. This is the wire cutter and wire crimper of the SHSAK. It can also take care of small annoyances like the toothpick. Now THAT’s a useful tool.

Tool #6: Once you rearrange your assumptions, you may feel a little adrift. Any time you’re feeling adrift Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star makes an excellent compass for finding your way home – or to a new home. Okay, most Swiss Army Knives don’t have a compass, but I think we can all agree that they should, so the SHSAK definitely has one and this book is it.

Tool #7: The Fear Chair exercise as described by Liz Gilbert in Big Magic. The author talks about the power of fear to stop us in our tracks, regardless of how excited we might be about our endeavor. The answer? To put fear in its place. It can be here. It can exist. But it cannot drive. It cannot make decisions. It cannot run the show. This exercise is a great screwdriver. Pull it together, make it functional and go.

Growing and changingTool #8: Recognition and celebration. Growth and change are hard – that’s why so many of us avoid it at all costs. Notice your progress. Notice your accomplishments. Notice the way your life changes as you become more yourself. Break out a corkscrew and celebrate with a glass of champagne, or curl up with your favorite blanket and a book at a time you wouldn’t normally allow yourself such a treat. Give yourself a pat on the back and a big hug.

There you have it; a toolkit for self-transformation. If only I could fit them all into my pocket or yours.

 

Living YOUR Life

I was listening to a conversation between Oprah and India Arie the other day while walking my dog (okay, can we just pause in awe of the miracle of technology in that sentence). For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, India Arie is a musician who had a meteoric rise to fame about 15 years ago, took a break from music, and then returned on her own terms.

Being a perfect daughterIn discussing this time with Oprah, Ms. Arie said that she realized that in her early incarnation in the music business, she was not living her own life, but was rather inhabiting the one her mother wanted for her. She was doing all of the things she knew her mother would want her to do so she could have all of the things she knew her mother would want her to have. She was living her mother’s imagined daughter’s life. BAM. It was a revelation that pointed the way to an obvious set of next steps, starting with figuring out what she wanted independent of all of that.

It was a great conversation and as I listened I reflected on all of the different ways that we can live someone else’s version of our own lives. When I went to college, I was at something of a loss for what to study. My best times in high school were spent on the stage: singing and acting. I told friends I wanted to be a history teacher, but I think I really wanted to keep being on stage.

But somehow, I became convinced that this was not a pursuit I was meant to undertake, and when I let that super secret dream go, I was adrift. I enjoyed my history classes, but not enough. I began to take political science classes, a “more practical” version of history was my justification. In truth, I had grown up in the D.C. suburbs, and my understanding of careers included a lot of folks who likely studied political science, either formally or on the floor of the buildings in the capitol. I began to sketch out a version of myself that I think had everything to do with people I’d seen and admired and not much to do with where I felt on fire. I began to tell myself what people wanted for me, what my parents would respect (I didn’t ask them mind you, just decided for them) and charted a course that worked and got me finished in four years.

I was living someone else’s life – one that I made up for them. I was meeting expectations that were purely fictitious. And over time, the gap between my fictitious life and the one in my heart or the one I had yet to discover demonstrated itself in a variety of ways. I tried jobs on. I tried ideas on. I switched around, moved house, changed coasts. I kept shifting back and forth between doing what felt right and doing what “WAS RIGHT.” And if you’d asked me where that pressure was coming from, the pressure to do anything other than live my own unique life, I would have cited external sources every time.

Finding a pathI didn’t have the maturity or wisdom or emotional honesty to realize that I had done it to myself. A pushy parent or overbearing spouse can only go so far in taking us away from our path, as demonstrated by the fact that I had neither. To really diverge from our path, we have to submit to the desires of others (including the desires we imagine they have) and resist our own inclinations. We have to subvert our internal wiring and discipline ourselves thoroughly. We have to stop living our own lives and live someone else’s. Having a deeper, fuller, more satisfying time on this earth requires us to live our own lives.

These ideas we have about why we don’t do that very thing: other people, practicality, reality, logistics, responsibility… they’re all baloney. They’re all there to keep us from having to face what we really want in the world and find the courage to do that. When we give our choices to other people, when we make them responsible, we give our power away wholesale. We surrender everything we need to be our best selves.

“But,” you say: “I DO have responsibilities…” Yes, you do. Where on that list of responsibilities are YOU?

Boom.

I love you.

j

Deep Authenticity

It’s been said so many times that it has nearly become meaningless. For the last few years I’ve heard lots of people talking about being “authentic.” And it is a fine conversation in the sense that none of us really likes someone who is phony and fake. We generally appreciate people who are straightforward in their dealings with us, whose motives are transparent and intentions are clear. So we strive to be more authentic and we seek out others seeming to do the same.

We try to say more of what is on our hearts and minds, without editing too much to please people. We try to relax and be ourselves around others. We maybe take risks in clothing choices that more accurately represent who we are. We try to become more careful custodians of our time. All of these are worthwhile, and can be challenging, but I would suggest that this is a shallow understanding of authenticity.

Wanting everyone to be authentic?Within the confines of shallow authenticity, I can still ignore a whole lot of my own personal experience and the world, because shallow authenticity focuses on my expression to others – literally how I express myself to others. I can be authentic. I can say real things. This requires things of me. It requires dropping shields. It requires accepting vulnerability. This requires courage. So, when I call it shallow, please don’t hear that as easy or cheap. All shallow means here is that there is another layer – there is a deeper understanding and practice of authenticity that we can aspire to and reach (with practice).

Deep authenticity requires us to face reality within and without. It cares less about our expression in the world and more about our acknowledgement of what IS in the moment. What does it take to practice deep authenticity? It takes a willingness to see that there is good and bad everywhere. It takes a willingness to acknowledge the limits of our own ability to impact every situation. It takes a willingness to admit that our own existence will be filled with moments that can’t be scrubbed clean with a positive affirmation. It takes a willingness, and you have to know this was coming if you’ve been following along, to feel all of our feelings, to stop resisting the dark ones and making them far worse than they are through that resistance. It takes accepting that the dark moments provide us with insight, prompts towards growth, and the motivation to do the work to get where we want to be. It takes accepting that no matter how much we improve ourselves, we will still feel bad sometimes.

Deep authenticity requires us to be honest with ourselves and accepting of reality (which is not the same as not wanting to make the world better, by the way). When we can do that, when we can live in deep authenticity, we are far better prepared for authenticity in our interactions with others. If I can face my fear of being rejected and feeling lonely, I don’t need to hide who I am. If I can face my fear of looking foolish in front of people I admire, I can be vulnerable in front of peers and mentors who can help me get where I want to go. If I can accept that some days will just feel bad, I can let that feeling in and STILL do what I want to do in the world without being phony, just being in a bad mood but productive.

Shallow authenticity seems like an easier place to start, because it allows us to demand the same from others: be real with me; tell me the truth; let me get to know you; let me help you. Deep authenticity means we drop our demands from others because we recognize our shadows in them. Deep authenticity means we believe they should be who they are, their real selves, which may mean that they don’t give and share as much as we want. Deep authenticity means we connect with ourselves and our own spirits so we feel less of a need to make demands of others and worry less about how they receive us.

The truth is that no matter how you slice it, if you live in the world, you’re going to see some things that aren’t beautiful and amazing. You’re going to see some things that are disturbing and dark. The question is whether or not you will engage. The question is whether or not you’re ready to meet those things with the depth of authentic feeling that you are capable of having. The question is whether or not you’re ready to be fully you even when its not pretty.

Deep authenticityDeep authenticity is not a small challenge, and it’s not something that many of us are taught. It is inconvenient and uncomfortable. But through that deep authenticity comes freedom: the freedom of being firmly grounded in reality, the freedom of knowing who you are and being able to follow your inner guidance, the freedom of not being afraid to feel any feeling and be yourself.

If you find yourself craving honesty and connection from others, if you sense that there’s something you want to express in the world but can’t quite put your finger on it, maybe it’s time to be with ALL of yourself. I’d love to help.

Keeping the Door Open

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. I am both a life coach AND a musician. I have not always been a life coach, but I have always been a musician. In the past I saw the line between my work (my paying work, let’s be honest) and my music work as the line of creativity. In this part of my life I am artistic, creative; in this part I work. I kept it all separate and had a pretty shallow definition of creativity.

I didn’t see the class assignments and curriculum decisions I made as being creative. I didn’t see the writing I did as creative. I didn’t see the decisions I made to gut and renovate a home as creative. They were all just work (notice the “just” there, too). I didn’t really acknowledge my own creativity across the board and in retrospect I suspect that the sharp dividing line caused me to miss out on opportunities to be even more creative in those “work” situations.

A friend shared a quote from Martha Graham and it really helped me to acknowledge what has been a shift in my thinking, and gave me a push to really think about creative force and how I allow, dismiss, and use it in all of my life. Here it is:

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it! It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You are miraculous.I want it on a poster. I want it stitched on a pillow (a big pillow). I want it in neon lights that only light up when I’m closing up like a sad, finished flower. I love this quote because it has it all in there: you are a unique expression of biological miracles and happenstance; only you can do what you do; comparison with others is a waste of time and should not be allowed; you have to allow inspiration for it to work. LOVE!

Here’s the thing, though, we see the word channel and people get a little iffy. What am I channeling? Where’s it coming from? Is this some sort of new age woo woo whackery? Yeah, I don’t know. You don’t have to believe that the channel is open to spirit, to ancient wisdom, or to universe juice to consider the idea that our being closed or open is what makes the primary difference in whether or not we try new stuff. What if the channel is just a gate to the part of you that is always experiencing, always feeling, always knowing, and always creating when you are busy working? What if it’s all in you and all you have to do is listen? There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I do know this: we are the gatekeepers of the flickers of brilliance that come to us – from wherever.

I also know, from my own experience, and from friends and clients alike, that we spend a whole lot of time and energy reinforcing that closed gate. Why do we do it? Why do we keep the guards at the gate, blocking out new ideas, new thoughts, creative approaches, solutions that aren’t fully formed yet but that are there – flashing at the corners of our attention?

I think we have sort of inflated expectations where creative inspiration is concerned. I think we’re expecting a burning bush, a whole novel, a complete song, a totally clear direction or plan. We think if it’s real inspiration, it ought to look biblical or at least vaguely miraculous. I guess that happens sometimes, but in my experience, mostly nope. Glimmer, work, fail, refine, crash, glimmer, refine…. Yay? That’s not exactly a burning bush but it IS something so long as we notice it.

I think the other big reason (and I think there are many little reasons) that we shut out our creative inspiration is fear. Plain and simple. It displays itself in different ways. It comes out as perfectionism. It comes out as “busy-ness”. It comes out as sheer rigidity and discomfort at changing plans and approaches. It comes out as our desire to fit in, meet social expectations, and not buck the system.

being more creativeWe shut it down. We close ourselves off. We dig into our tried and true routines. Our brains, which are really happy with us surviving and not taking risks, breathe a sigh of relief. But what if letting that inspiration in WASN’T risking everything? What if letting it in could make everything better, more interesting, more fun, and CERTAINLY more you? What if all you’re doing is closing yourself to yourself? Breaking yourself into little manageable pieces that don’t work together to really get fully engaged with anything? What would it feel like to open, just a little?

A year or two ago I was following a guided meditation series (Oprah and Deepak Chopra, they are periodically free and very useful) and the instruction was with each breath to open yourself just a little bit more. I had been working with a coach at the time and we had noticed that I tend to “armor up” at time, lots of good self-protection that was keeping me from being all the way “in” for anything. And so, as I meditated, I consciously pictured removing my armor, opening just a little more with each breath.

And you know what? It felt great. There’s a whole lot to this life that you can miss out on if you won’t let it in. How’s your armor? Need a safe place to take it off? Wait, that sounds bad. Want someone to help you listen? I’d love to help.

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Eff My Fitbit

Years ago, after my twins were born, I bought a pedometer. It was just a simple thing that I attached to my clothing so I could keep track and I committed to myself to increasing my activity level, in hopes of speeding up the return to my pre-baby weight. I think my first goal was 5,000 steps. Over the years since then I’ve graduated from that simple pedometer to my Fitbit which, in addition to tracking my steps, let me know how long I was sleeping, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really pay attention to. I used the Fitbit to keep track of my progress toward that 10,000/day goal. I enjoyed that Fitbit when we were in Rome clocking 20,000 every day surrounded by ancient architecture. Here at home I kept the dog and I moving in precise ways for specific amounts of time to meet my goal.

This relationship with my weird watch seems pretty reasonable if we make some basic assumptions. The first assumption that we have to agree to is that more activity is always an inherently good thing. The second assumption that we have to agree to is that measuring is the way to get that to happen. The third implied assumption here is that if we didn’t use some device to spur on a competition with ourselves, there would be no change.

self-love for weight lossThese assumptions make the Fitbit just one more in a long line of devices and strategies used by women to make our bodies “better,” “right,” “more beautiful,” which means: “smaller.” The goal of being smaller is assumed. We agree that measuring (and shaming) is a good way to get there. And we are certain that without some sort of external discipline giver, there will be no change. We will be hopeless.

I had bought in. I’ve judged myself in the mirror based on size. I shuddered at the “big boned” title I bore in earlier years. I have been an external discipline-giver extraordinaire. I’ve used all manner of measuring (how many steps, how many miles, how many calories, how many inches, what size number, what BMI, what heart rate). I’ve created a variety of rules for myself (no fat, low fat, high fiber, no meat, clean meat, whole grain, no grain, less sugar, no sugar, no dairy, no soy – no these weren’t all at the same time). I’ve assumed that if left to my own devices nothing would ever change.

What I didn’t realize is that I was never actually left to my own devices because I was not paying attention to the best device I had. I was not paying attention to how I felt. I was not paying attention to how foods felt in my body. I was not paying attention to how different kinds of exercise felt to my body (hello bone spurs and surgery). I was not paying attention to the good feelings I got from healthful foods and stopping eating when I was satisfied. I was not paying attention to the energy and lightness of being that I felt after exercising.

tracking steps for weight lossI needed the external device because I wasn’t paying any attention to the guidance I had all along. I needed the external device because I was determined to look how I “should” and I was sure I couldn’t be trusted to handle that mission.

As you can guess if you’ve been following along for a while, things have changed a bit. Now the internal guidance IS the device. It is where I turn for instruction on how to take care of this body. It is where I turn to hear the signals and feel the signs. It is where I turn to take note of what works and doesn’t work. It is where I turn to decide what weight feels good, what exercise feels good, what kind of food feels good.

THAT is what being left to your own devices can be, if you learn to listen.

I was still wearing my Fitbit until a couple of days ago, mostly out of habit. The toggle button had fallen off a while back, so it’s functions were more limited, but I kept on charging it up and putting it back on. I would occasionally look at it while walking, but more and more often I noticed that I wasn’t using that information to make any decisions.

More and more I was using my own feedback and considering factors like the weather and the capacity of my aging canine friend. We go longer on good days, shorter on bad. The pace and the path are determined by what I and he need. Whether I listen to a podcast or not is determined by whether or not I need quiet. My other exercise has been figured out by trial and error – what makes me feel strong and capable, what makes my body feel good, what leaves me feeling energized and satisfied.

And so a couple of days ago I took that Fitbit off. I set aside its measurements and its task of inspiring me to compete with myself (and others). I set aside the ugly band that I hated seeing. I set aside its online awards and graphs. I am left to my own devices and boy does that feel good.

The “If…. Then…” of Relating to Other Humans

“If I don’t take care of this…”

“If I don’t get it right…”

“If I decide to just be myself…”

“If I choose what I’d actually like to do…”

“If I say what I really think…”

“If I wear the clothes I want to wear…”

“If I hurt his feelings…”

“If I do anything less that A+ work…”

Then what?

What if they don't like meThen they will all find out who I really am? Then they will all find out I’m not perfect? Then they can choose not to like me anymore? Then they will know the thing I’ve always known, inside, that I’ll never fit in, I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll never be safe just being myself here. Then they will know and I will know that they will know and that will be so painful.

But my dear darling THIS is already so painful. I know because I was a master of the double life. I discovered early in my teenage years that my grades were the barometer that my parents used to discern whether or not I was “okay” in the world. If I kept my grades up, I could get away with a LOT. And the longer I kept my grades up and did all of the things that a high-achieving student would do, the more trust they gave. More weekends away, fewer questions about my destination and my company, more really bad explanations for things accepted without further question. I had parties (big parties). I smoked cigarettes in the car. I skipped classes. Even now I’m uncomfortable writing this because there are family members for whom some piece of that might be new information. I took full advantage of the freedom that was given to me.

And the whole time, and for many years after, I was stunned by the fact that nobody was calling me on it, that nobody was catching me, that nobody actually KNEW what was going on and tried to stop me. I had built a double life. I was really good at it. I tried to fool them, and it worked. So yay! Yeah, not so much.

Not so much because the whole time that I was enjoying my secret life, what I really wanted was for someone to know me. I felt so lonely (maybe just in a 17 year old girl way, but it seems deeper, even in retrospect). I so wanted to be all of the parts and have it be known, even if there were consequences. I so wanted to ditch the fear that if they found out they wouldn’t love me anymore. My double life made me complex and cool to my friends and still allowed me to win gold stars with my family. I got all of the “awards” I was looking for and it just didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because what I was hung up on was how they felt about me. All of my secrecy and all of the entertainment I provided for my friends was to ensure that they all felt good about me. The entire “If… then…” world that I had built up failed to acknowledge the depth of feeling anyone had for me (like they actually love you kid, even if you screw up or aren’t cool). And to make matters worse, not one bit of all of that effort did anything about how I felt about myself.

imposter sydromeIt’s easy to see this in a teenage story, because we have myths about how insecurity is a natural part of being an adolescent, that somehow just dissipates as our bodies mature. But the truth is that for many of us this “if… then…” way of relating continues long after we reach the age of majority. We make so many decisions based on how other people will feel about us. We act in ways to shore up public opinion, as though we will appear on page 6 if we get it wrong. We fear that we will be fired if we make the smallest error at work. We’re sure that our upcoming presentation might be the breaking point when everyone will find out how unqualified we really are. We just know that if we relax and show our true selves that we won’t have any friends left. If… then…

I’ve been deconstructing some of my if then thinking over the last couple of years. And I want to tell you a few things about that:

  • I’ve never been fired, even when I make mistakes or tell the truth.
  • I still have friends, maybe even more friends, certainly deeper friendships.
  • I’m not so very tired after every social engagement. I’m still an introvert, but I’m not working so hard all of the time.
  • I feel free to try new things, risk things personally and professionally because I’m not so worried about what everybody else thinks.
  • Paying more attention to what I think of me has been the greatest gift I could possibly give myself.

Are you living a double-life? Maybe yours doesn’t have house parties and hidden cigarette butts – maybe yours looks more like putting things off until you’re sure you can get it perfect; maybe yours looks like constantly putting your own needs on the back-burner so you won’t seem selfish; maybe yours looks like waiting for the other shoe to drop at work, at home, with friends. Aren’t you tired of it all?

What would happen if you just decided to be a little more yourself? Dipped a toe into the water of telling the truth and doing what you want? Maybe it’s time to find out.

Are You A Heretic?

We don’t hear this word much anymore, despite the significant play it’s gotten in the past. In days of yore (whose?), being called a heretic could end with some kind of jail sentence on a good day. Now? I can’t remember the last time I even heard the word. Well, until Sunday when there was discussion of the anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s okay. I promise I’m not about to go all history teacher (even though I was one) or theologian (even though I’m married to one) on you. It’s that heretic word that I’m interested in. And I’m interested in it because my very scholarly minister told us that heretic, translated in the ancient Greek, just means one who chooses. Huh. All of this trouble in our collective history over people who choose.

Are you pleasing people?I started thinking about that yesterday and I was immediately aware of how many of my clients experience discomfort, shame, family conflict and oceans of self-doubt because they are choosers. These are women who have decided that the script that society provides for all of us doesn’t work for them and so they have chosen (as one so aptly put it) to live off-script. They have chosen to consciously do something different. They’ve chosen not to marry. They’ve chosen not to have children. They’ve chosen to outpace their partners financially. They’ve chosen to be the working parent while a partner stays home. They’ve chosen to change career paths, pursue higher education at inconvenient times, become yogis and healers. They’ve chosen to leave marriages that other people think are just fine. They’ve chosen to stop giving a crap about tablescapes (yes, that’s a thing) and perfect dinners and what the neighbors think. They’ve chosen to do them instead.

There is no death sentence awaiting them. They won’t be burned at the stake for deciding not to marry or have children. They won’t be jailed for choosing to pursue the arts as a profession. They won’t be interrogated for having a messy entryway. But they will feel the weight of discomfort. And in my experience, they will believe that the discomfort comes from the judgments that other people will have about them. “My parents really want me to be married.” And maybe they do. I have no idea. “My parents want grandchildren so bad they can taste them.” That’s gross, but I get it. “My family can’t believe I’m leaving him.” Yes, there is perhaps judgment out there.

What matters, though, is what we do with that perceived judgment.

One of my marvelous mentors, Martha Beck, (I almost left out the comma so that marvelous mentor Martha would just flow better – it’s a sickness) has a sentence that I just love for these kinds of situations. Actually she has more than one, and I’ll share the two that are top of mind right now in case one works better for you than the other: “I respectfully don’t care,” and: “They just get to feel that way.”

These sentences represent one way that we, as choosers (I say “we” because I can assure that anyone who has the title of “life coach” is a chooser for sure), can respond to these judgments, complaints and discomfort in others when we encounter it. We can respectfully not care and we can acknowledge that they get to feel that way.

Making Hard ChoicesHow does this help? This helps because it keeps us from confusing their discomfort with our own. It keeps us honest about the location of our difficulties when we walk down the chooser path. In my experience, it is not the judgments that others have of my choices so much as my reaction to all of that that causes me to suffer. It is only when I take their judgment and turn it into crippling self-doubt or insecurity that I have a problem. It is only when I use those judgments as stand-ins for my own self-judgment, self-criticism and fear that I get into trouble.

If I can, instead, acknowledge that they get to feel how they feel and that I don’t have to care about that I save myself one layer of discomfort, and I push myself toward the emotional honesty that comes with saying: “Sometimes being a chooser is hard. I am tired. I am afraid. I worry this won’t work out.” I push myself toward allowing the feelings that come with doing hard things and releasing them. I push myself toward a place where I can acknowledge what I’m thinking and all of the ways I’m getting in my own way. And once I’m there, I can make a different choice, because that’s what choosers do. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge my own strength. I can use my choosing skills to acknowledge how far I’ve come on my path. I can use my choosing skills to make my own evaluation of how it’s working, knowing that at any time I can make a different choice. I am free.

If you feel like a heretic sometimes, if you’re a chooser and see the holiday season coming at you – full of opportunities to give everyone evidence of all of the ways you aren’t measuring up, take stock. Remember that the opinion that matters most is yours. Work on that one instead of trying to prove to everyone else that you’re okay. They’re going to think whatever they’re going to think. You can still be happy. You can still be free, even if you’re a heretic.

Miracles Big and Small

“Shhhhhh,” I say.

“We’re right here,” I remind.

“Maybe you could hum a different song?” I suggest.

“Alright, alright, take a breath and then tell me; it sounds awesome,” I interrupt.

You don't have to fit inI hear myself making them small.

I hear myself asking them to shrink for my comfort.

I hear myself limiting them, insisting that they be aware of how others feel, asking them to read the room.

I hear myself asking them to mind other people’s business rather than relying on other people to tell them when enough is enough.

I hear myself making them fit in better.

And then I stand back and I just look at them.

They are miracles. They are miracles of science. They are miracles of nature. They are miracles of stardust and happenstance, extraordinary timing and good fortune. There will never be another like either of them, much less both at the same time but two minutes apart. “I see two butts Julia. Which shall I take out first?”

They will never be again. They will never be just as they are in this moment again. Perhaps I can do more to face my own discomfort, to inquire of it and release it so that they can just be and grow strong in trusting the universe to hold the magic that they are in every single minute.

I will try harder to let them be as big and miraculous as they are, even if sometimes it takes my breath and makes me cry in the best possible way.

I will try harder to show them that it’s okay to be big. It’s okay to fill a space. It’s okay to trust that others will be themselves. It’s okay to feel like a miracle.

It's okay to be bigAs for you? I want you to know that you can be big too. You can fill a space without shrinking or apologizing. You can repeatedly sing the theme to The Pirates of the Caribbean if that’s your thing. You can pirouette across my kitchen and land on me with a hug because you are a miracle. You will never be in this moment, just as you are, again. Trust me with your bigness and I’ll try to do the same; we’ll spray glitter all over the place.

xo,

julia

When We Fail

Sometimes we fail.

How to fail wellWe do.

The thing we try to do doesn’t work.

The job we thought we’d love is really awful.

The marriage we so wanted to work out or fix ends.

Sometimes we fail.

 

The question is not whether or not it’s going to happen.

It’s going to happen, that is if you make any attempt to grow, reach, stretch, be more – failure will happen.

The question is not if, but what you will do with it.

The motivational crowd will tell you to get right back on that horse.

I’m going to ask you to check your course.

“But wait,” they say: “You can’t get mired in self-doubt.”

I say this is a reaction.

I say our fear of getting stuck in self-doubt after a failure or a less than stellar outcome is a dodge, a deflection, an extremely sophisticated way to get out of feeling the failure.

Because that’s what I think we should do.

I think we should feel it.

I think we should sit with the failure and let it be with us, cry if we need to, destroy a pillow if that’s better, but be with that feeling of failure.

Why? Why on earth would I want you to do that? Am I just a sadist?

No. I’m really not.

That feeling part, the part we dodge and weave to avoid, the part we look for quick fixes, buffers, distractions for? That’s our most delicate and informative equipment. That’s our navigational hardware. That’s how we really stay on course. If we avoid it all of the time and just get back to forging ahead we’ll be going in circles or headed to a destination we don’t really want.

So what do we need to do? We need to feel the failure.

Does that mean we need to change course? No, maybe, I don’t know for you. Only YOU know for you and the best way to access that knowing is to be honest and the way to start being honest is to feel how you feel, get through the peak of that and then have the conversation with yourself, check in with your internal navigation, after you’ve given it a moment to recalibrate.

what will you let failure teach youYou may then decide to get back on that horse and just try again. You may try again with a variation. You may decide it’s time for a new horse. The point isn’t always whether or not you persist in what you were doing, but in what you learn and what you allow with the failure. The point isn’t always getting up and trying again, but in trying better, trying different, maybe even trying new.

Failure will happen.

If you risk anything worth risking, if you step beyond where you are at all in hopes of reaching something more, failure will happen.

What will you make from it? What will it teach you? Who will you become after that?

 

When Something’s Not Working

I get a lot of advice in my Facebook feed and in my inbox. This is what it’s like to be in the self-help industry. The algorithm bots have me all figured out and there’s mountains of well-intended advice, guidance, and helpful tips coming my way all of the time. And I’ve noticed something really interesting.

Failing and Persistence

Many acknowledge the importance of failure as a learning tool and as a measure for the fact that you’re actually doing things, trying new stuff, taking risks. The idea is that we need to stretch ourselves to really find out what we’re capable of and sometimes that means failing.

Doing big things sometimes means failingWhen I was about 6 my Mom enrolled me in swim lessons at the local YMCA. I had some experience swimming (the youngest of 4 can’t really opt out of the pool successfully for long), but really wasn’t to the point where Mom could relax at all, so off to lessons I went. I struggled. I didn’t like the water in my face. I didn’t like the water in my ears. I didn’t like the sounds of the pool when underwater (still don’t, really). I struggled to follow instructions. I struggled to make my limbs (already long and gangly) do what I wanted them to do. But I muddled through the class (having no option). When we tested at the end, the instructor told my Mom that I should not advance to the next level. I was livid. Even at that young age, I had already experienced the joy of making the grade and I was furious that my efforts and struggle had not earned me the rank I believed they deserved. I didn’t really care about the results. I had worked really hard. I had taken a risk. And, at least in my eyes at the time, I had failed. I informed my Mother I would not be taking any more swimming lessons. My mother chose to let that stand. (I can swim, today, just so you don’t worry.) I had stretched. I had struggled. I had failed. And really, except for being angry that afternoon, I was okay. Learning to swim that way, or maybe at that time, or maybe in that timeframe was NOT working for me.

Go Get It!

If my mother and I had followed another constant theme that comes tumbling across my feed, we would have persisted. There is a continual drum banging for persistence in the self-help community. If things aren’t working, you need to keep trying, stick with it, check out your thinking and get back into the arena. Rest for a minute if you absolutely must, and then get to it. Go get it. Do it now. Do it all. Just do it!

Get back in the pool.

Ignore the pounding in your eardrums from the water pressure.

Force a level of physical coordination that is currently not available.

Think positive thoughts!

Stick with it!

What To Do With Failure

Thinking about these two concepts together makes me want to scream at all of the persistence pushers: “What if this is one of those moments you said I would have where the risk I’m taking isn’t working out?” What do I do?  Do I decide that those are all just thoughts I’m telling myself and I need to jump back in, get busy, go get it?

Maybe it’s not the right thing. Maybe I made a bad choice. Maybe instead of going and getting it, I need to take a breath and take in the failure. Maybe I need to acknowledge that this wasn’t the right moment, the right path, the right decision and figure out what there is to learn. Maybe in all of my frenzy to go get it, I forgot to see if “it” was what I really want and need right now. Maybe I ignored signs that were trying to point me in other directions. Maybe I forgot to listen to my feelings, my joy, my inner-most compass in my desire to just do it. Maybe it should really be okay to fail.

When I do decide that some effort of mine is a fail, maybe it’s okay to feel that, to be sad, to acknowledge that I feel foolish or incompetent or far more like a novice than is even remotely comfortable. Maybe when I fail it’s okay to just admit it and breathe and just be as alright as I am or as I’m not without even trying to figure any of it out. Maybe it’s okay to declare what I will or won’t ever do again and slam my door. Maybe I don’t need to do anything.

It's okay to failIf failure is really okay, if it really marks a growing capacity to take risks and stretch our boundaries, we need to accept it when it comes and stop pushing to make it something that it’s not. We don’t need to keep striving to turn it around. We don’t need to go get it. Maybe what we need to do is just don’t “it” for a minute. Just be.

In all of our desire to be better, to do better, to have more, to succeed, maybe failing is a way to take a moment to breathe. And after we’ve caught our breath, we can see what we’ve learned, check in with our hearts, and choose the next big thing. When we’ve taken a moment, we can decide how and when we want to get back in the pool.