The Scorecard

I’m reading Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes for a bookclub I’m in. I’m also, honestly, reading it because it speaks a lot to the rebalancing of my own personal yes and no distribution as mentioned here. Ok, I’m also reading it because it was finally so cheap on Kindle that I figured I would save myself the inevitable library fine and just read it digitally. (Are you deeply saddened to find out about my consistently poor library record?)

As I was reading, just before I allowed myself to doze off for a brief afternoon siesta, I read her description of The Mommy Scorecard.

The Mommy Scorecard is a thing I keep in my head. On it is an imaginary series of zeros and tens that get dished out by some imaginary judge-y bitch who looks an awful lot like me. The zeros hit the card when I fail: when I miss a recital because I’m traveling, when I forget that it’s my turn to provide food for preschool snack day, when we don’t make it to a birthday party because the introvert in me just can’t face the magnitude of all the social interaction.

She continues to talk about The Mommy Wars (where women argue over what the BEST way to parent is in excruciating detail) and she caps it with this: “The only mommy I am ever at war with is me.”

Boom.

I had to breathe for a minute after I read it. This is one of my big bugaboos. I’ve been working on it, but it’s, well, BIG so it’s going to take some time to unhook myself from all of the insane ideas I’ve fed myself about parenting, setting up nearly impossible to meet expectations even as I feel the pain of failing to meet the ones I set up yesterday.

Today I took a nap, even though I had work to do, even though I was resisting it with every fiber of my being, even though I didn’t want to need a nap. But I was SO tired. So tired I couldn’t think clearly. I gave the scant energy I had this morning to a client (and we got some amazing work done, BTW), and after that I felt like I was walking on marshmallows and thinking through syrup. Even if you’re a big sugar fan, you have to acknowledge that that situation doesn’t sound either pleasant OR productive. And the reason I’m so tired? Well, one of them anyway, is my Mommy Scorecard.

pexels-photo-531970My husband is away for January term at seminary in Chicago. He is in Chicago in January, so I’m pretty sure that’s adequate revenge for leaving me to hold down all of the forts. But the part of that calculus that I haven’t been paying attention to is what I do with The Mommy Scorecard when he’s out of town. I realized that I feel like I need to UP my game. I pay more attention. I interact more. I allow things that I don’t usually and sometimes they’re even things that get on my nerves. I set things aside that I would normally finish before I attend to my children. I try to cover all of the emotional bases. My Mommy Scorecard gets WAY more judge-y when Daddy’s out of town.

Yesterday I realized that my daughter’s recital rehearsal falls on the day that I am leaving for Dallas for a quick professional development trip. I tormented myself for a couple of hours in bed trying to figure out how to make it work, who I could ask for help and if that wasn’t really too much to ask and I should really be the one doing this, after all didn’t I miss the rehearsal (not the recital mind you, the freaking rehearsal) LAST year? My Mom is staying with the kids, but she won’t want to do that and it’s a lot to ask to send her to the violin teacher’s house when it will be mobbed with people she doesn’t know and maybe I should ask my sister, but she’s already helped me this month and maybe we should skip it but then she won’t be prepared. I don’t feel so good. MAYBE I SHOULD JUST STAY HOME.

The looming zero on the Mommy Scorecard was just too horrible to face. As I’m writing this I still haven’t figured out what to do about the rehearsal, but I’ve not canceled my trip (deep breath) because that would be ridiculous. And while I wish my reason was better, more grown up, more enlightened, like my time is important, my needs are important, spending time on my coaching practice is important/fulfilling/heartfood, right now recognizing the ridiculousness of canceling is going to have to do.

Having gotten to the other side of the nap, which helped tremendously (thank you Amy English for urging me to sleep), I see what I’m doing to myself. I see how insane my standards are. I see how much time and energy I STILL put into making sure I’m doing things just right for them. And I have to ask myself when enough is going to be enough. What is it that I think will happen if I don’t do it all? What will it mean to them? More importantly I suspect, what will I make it mean about me?

Now I’m looking at the paragraphs above this one and seeing all of those highly charged run on sentences representing my neurotic scrambling and I worry for a minute that you will just think I’m nuts, but I’m going to publish this anyway because I KNOW I’m not the only scorekeeper out here in the big world. Maybe yours isn’t a Mommy Scorecard. Maybe yours is a Good Girl Scorecard, a Good Son Scorecard, a Great Employee/Team Player/Brilliant Colleague Scorecard. Maybe yours is more basic. Maybe yours is a Good Person scorecard.

pexels-photo-545016And I want you to know that I’m not suggesting that it’s terrible to strive to be a good ANY of those things. But when, oh dear lord, WHEN is enough going to be enough? When, in all of the millions of decisions you make every day, can you make the one that will allow you the freedom of just being okay, good enough, not bad, heck even sub-par and then just getting on with it? Will it be the imperfect meal you serve? Will it be the disappointing a parent by missing a family event? Will it be the B+ work you turn in (and are later surprised you got an A- and no scorn at all)? Will it be the time you DON’T volunteer to pick up all of the pieces? Will it be the silence you allow at a meeting when you COULD be solving all of the problems single-handedly? What would happen? Can you let it go? Can you let it be? Can you let yourself off the hook – maybe even only because you know hanging on is ridiculous? What would it feel like to believe you’re enough without getting ALL perfect scores? From one scorekeeper to another, I want to tell you that getting a full night’s sleep is well-worth the attempt.

Concerning Resolution Bashing

I’ve seen a lot of memes out there… I could probably start many different blog posts with that same phrase… I’ve seen a lot of memes out there taking a poke at the idea of making a resolution or starting afresh in the new year. And I get it.

pexels-photo-221247I think I’ve probably been in the resolution bashing camp in the past. I’ve decided it was silly to make myself a promise of change just because the calendar says it’s time to and when I know that in the past those promises have worn out by mid-February. So I get it. I get that hearing someone declare that they’re going to be a new person in the new year makes some folks roll their eyes and maybe even utter a chuckle or a sigh. I get that we know that those kinds of promises can be hard to fulfill. I get that so many of our good intentions don’t turn out the way we want them to. I get that seeing someone rearing with enthusiasm we don’t feel can be uncomfortable. But really?

Are we really against the idea of someone deciding to try to change, even if it’s never worked before? Are we really wanting to mock someone who’s trying to improve themselves? Are we so sure that you wouldn’t succeed that we’ve decided the whole enterprise is ridiculous? I think there are lots of reasons behind this resolution bashing thing, but I can only talk about my own.

When I was a resigned resolution basher, it had everything to do with previous failures and being terrified of success. When it came to my weight I didn’t want to make a resolution because I knew my enthusiasm would wane in a few months. Why make a promise I can’t keep FOREVER? When it came to changing some of my habits, I decided that “I yam who I yam” (even if I don’t like it very much). When it came to taking some risks in my professional life, well, yeah, no resolutions there because that’s just WAY too frightening.

I’ve done some work on all of those things – without resolutions, and looking back at those moments from the other side makes me wonder if making a resolution is all about success. Maybe there are other things to be gained in that whole process. Maybe trying and failing is better than staying firmly planted exactly where we are. Maybe a resolution is an opportunity to force a little action, and sometimes a little action is all it takes.

pexels-photo-636243The truth is that this opportunity of celebrating the new year with a new goal is one that shouldn’t be missed. Maybe you’re not interested in buying a gym membership that you will only use for a month. But maybe you DO have a super secret goal, a tiny burning desire that you haven’t told anyone about. Maybe this moment in time when we get to start new things on a clean page of a fresh planner is a great time to ask yourself what you can do today to get just one step closer to that super secret goal. And then tomorrow? You can take another one. Maybe that’s all it needs to be. You don’t need to tell anyone. You don’t need to declare it on Facebook. Maybe you just need to say it to yourself so you can stop hiding it from your heart and from your amazing brilliant brain. Give that dream some energy and some air; maybe something can come of it after all.

Happy New Year Friends.

xo,

julia

Yes You Can

My son had his first piano recital yesterday.

He is NOT someone who relishes being in the spotlight, on stage, watched intently in any way.

It was a big deal.

As I watched him and the 24 other students perform, I found myself overcome with emotion many times, not just maternal pride, but something deeper, something that wasn’t just about me and my boy.

It think what I was sensing is all of the ways a GOOD recital reflects the best parts of our world, and I don’t know about you, but I could use a little reminding right about now of some of the best parts of our world, not so I can ignore the bad, but so I can remember WHY I care about the bad, so I can remember why hope and effort matter so much.

Life Lessons in the Recital Hall

1. Community Matters. We all know this, but sometimes we get so involved in our own stuff that we forget. We forget about the people who make some of our own stuff possible. When we arrived (early so he could see the room, get comfortable, maybe even run through his piece), the performance space had been completely rearranged and decorated to provide the best experience for performer AND audience. Tables were set up and decorated and treats arrived with each family so that everyone could enjoy something afterwards. It was festive, and it took work. Community matters.

2. There will most likely always be someone who is better than you. When we arrived yesterday, my son walked into the sanctuary of the church where the recital was held to find a very advanced student warming up on her piece. He had hoped to sit at the grand piano for a minute to see how it felt, but quickly lost his interest in playing anything after she was finished. He didn’t want to be compared to her AT ALL. He was already doing enough of that himself. He didn’t tell me so, but I know he was afraid that all of the other performers would be more like her and that he would be the only beginner.

There is no shame in being a beginner3. You are never the only beginner. What he discovered when a family friend (who also was there supporting a performer) clued us in to the other piano in a more private location where he could practice is that he was far from the only beginner, and perhaps more importantly, he was not the oldest beginner. The recital featured students of all ages at all stages in the learning process. It is much easier to be kind to ourselves as beginners when we remember we are not alone.

4. Everyone makes mistakes. Of the 25 or so pieces that were played, I think there were 2 in which there were no mistakes I could discern. All of the students made mistakes – different levels of mistake, but mistakes nonetheless. And you know what happened? Not a darned thing. Nobody asked them to step away from the piano. Their teacher did not get frustrated. Their parents did not shame them. They had the grace of the group to handle their mistake and finish the piece they had prepared. The audience cheered for everyone because everyone makes mistakes.

5. A corollary: being perfect is not the point. When students prepare for a recital, they are sure that the point is to play the piece flawlessly, but I am pretty convinced that this is not the point at all. The recital offers an opportunity that is far greater, far deeper, far more important for the development of the self and the soul than playing a piano piece perfectly. The point of the recital is to share yourself, and to do without being deterred by fear or flaw. The point of the recital is to take a moment to acknowledge growth, development of skill and to grow and develop as a human by keeping fear at bay and getting to the finish line no matter what. Being perfect was never the point.

6. It is never too late. My son was so sure he would be embarrassed by his beginner status ate the ripe old age of 10. Amongst the students yesterday were several adults. Some were very advanced. Some were not as advanced, but they reminded us all that it is never too late. It is never too late to try something new. It is never too late to improve a skill. It is never too late to spend time on something that fills your heart. It is never too late to share yourself. It is never to late to have another chance to put fear in its place and go through with your plans as you made them. It is never too late.

7. The audience wants you do well AND wants you to feel good. They want you to do well, but not really because they don’t want to listen to poorly performed music (although there might be a little of that). They mostly want you to do well because they want you to have a good experience. They want you to feel proud of yourself. They want you to have concrete evidence of the growth and courage that they see when you walk to the front of the hall. The audience even loves you, not just your parent. They are all holding you in hope and compassion as you take that risk.

I know that a recital is not the world at large, that a smaller group of people with similar interests might be different, kinder to one another, special, but isn’t it possible that these things are or CAN be true everywhere, especially if we look for it, if we don’t imagine that they’re not true or only notice when people behave badly?

Just do youIsn’t it possible that there is a safe space in the world for you to share yourself, to acknowledge what you’ve been up to, to give of yourself, to set fear aside and just do the thing so we can all cheer for you?

I’ll be the one in the front row with an inappropriate noise-maker and glittery signs.

Go do that thing.

Are You Aware of Your Mastery?

 

She said: “I’m not an expert” and then told me, as an aside, how she was quickly able to answer a potential client’s question – no hesitation. Her client walked away from that exchange with information that could change her daily life. And my client walked away without the confidence that her training and years of preparation should afford her.

There’s a thing that can happen with mastery. When we study something deeply, or at least repetitively for a long time, it becomes part of who we are. We can act on that mastery without thinking about it. And THAT can get us into trouble.

Acknowledge what you're good atWomen are not always encouraged to reflect on, celebrate, and talk about their mastery. They’ll even give credit for their work away to others (especially to male colleagues at work). So even though they achieve these levels of ability and skill, they don’t share that with others and after a while, they sort of forget that there was mastery involved at all. Let me give you a few examples.

Example 1: This is about yours truly, but I KNOW it applies to others because I’ve heard it. I stayed at home with my twins for 10 years. I did do some part-time work in there, and the amount of work time increased in the last several years as I pursued my coach training and established a practice, but for all of those 10 years I was the chief cook and bottle washer. I was squarely in charge of our entire domestic scene. This was a job I took on willingly, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t wear on me. As our employment picture has shifted, we have worked toward rebalancing the domestic load, my grad student and self-employed husband taking on more and entrepreneur and musician me casting off tasks. And for some time this shift caused a great deal of discomfort. He didn’t do things right. He took forever to complete tasks I could whiz through. He didn’t see the messes and the problems that were screaming out for attention. And it drove me crazy, until I realized that this whole domestic scene was an area in which I had achieved mastery. While I didn’t love a lot of it, I had become extremely efficient. These tasks were second nature. I could execute them quickly, without even thinking about it most of the time. My irritation with him both shortchanged him of the room to grow and learn AND failed to acknowledge the amount of learning and skill that went into my handling of these tasks in the first place. I had achieved mastery. My execution of that role had become intuitive, could be in flow, and was a demonstration of hours and hours of practice.

Example 2: I have a friend who has always been interested in health. She is constantly reading about nutrition, alternative therapies, anything she can get her hands on that describes things people can do to take better care of their bodies. (I actually have a handful of friends that fit this description now that I’m thinking about it). She is also a nurse by trade and is in graduate school. I turn to my friend when I have physical and medical questions, which as someone with an undiagnosable joint problem, I do with some regularity. And I can see the wheels in her mind turn as we discuss whatever I’m asking about. I see her accessing all of those cerebral files. I see her deciding what’s relevant and what’s not with lightening speed. I take her recommendations seriously because they have not yet failed me. And yet, she regularly tells me that she is not as smart as _____________. Her mastery goes unacknowledged internally. Her ego doesn’t even get the boost of feeling proud of all of the value she offers the world on a regular basis, because she doesn’t recognize her own mastery.

Example 3: I have a new part of my practice, helping coaches and other service professionals to create a signature program so that they can serve their clients in deep and meaningful ways. This development is a mastery story in two way. First of all, I had to acknowledge my own mastery of curriculum planning – my deep understanding of how to teach – in order to offer this as a service. It struck me during a conversation with a fellow coach that I had knowledge and skills, mastery, that might be helpful to others. The second way this is a mastery story is that this process requires my clients to acknowledge their own mastery. What do you know about/know how to do that the people you want to work with don’t? Where is your flow and who needs that? Who do you want to work with and what can you offer them? These questions always remind my clients that they DO have mastery, that the skills and knowledge that they take for granted are taken for granted because they’ve mastered them. When they acknowledge that mastery, our work together takes off like a rocket.

How to feel more confidentAnd I say all of this to give you a moment, a chance to pause and really take a good hard look at yourself. Because I’m betting there’s some mastery there. There’s something (probably many things) that you do and do well without even thinking about it, and that you’ve done well for so long that you think everyone can do that (or knows that or thinks that or makes that). You’ve forgotten that your mastery is, in fact, YOURS. You’ve forgotten to remember the ways that you shine, and by ignoring your mastery, your sparkles have grown a little dim. Nobody can see what you can do and learn from you, be inspired by you, find courage to shine themselves when you extinguish your light.

What are you a master at? What can you do without really breaking a sweat? Take a moment and see it, see your own mastery, your own unique blend of skill, learning and intuition. See it and remember that you can shine and others will bask in that light.

If you need some help polishing your glitter, please do get in touch. I’d love to share my shine with you.

If You Can’t Do It Right…

Why bother?

Forget it.

Delay.

There’s no point.

It will be terrible.

Don’t do it at all.

Really?

Don’t do it at all?

I’ve seen this so many times – in myself, in clients, in former students…

what do you give up for perfection?I had a student many years ago in a World History class. We were studying Medieval Europe and I had asked them to draw a castle. The castle had to have a list of features labeled and explained, the point being to understand the true military function of castles and let go of romantic ideas of what castles were all about. I got a variety of products (as was always the case). The artistic students went to town. The less artistic students focused on the parts of the assignment that appealed to them (detailed descriptions, adding architectural features, 3 D effects). One of my students didn’t turn one in.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. He was not a stellar student. He frequently missed assignments and struggled on exams. I was working with him on these things, suspecting some reading issues. I was disappointed that he didn’t turn the assignment in because he’d been making progress. In my mind: “Here we go again.” I pulled him aside and asked what happened. He said he wasn’t done with it. I told him to bring it to me. He reached in his backpack, where he apparently was carrying it around all of the time. He had a piece of poster board carefully rolled and tucked into the corner. He pulled it out gingerly, careful not to catch the edges on anything.

He then unrolled the board, revealing that he had burned away the edges to make it look like parchment. And as he lay it down and carefully placed books on the edges to hold it flat, I was astonished. It was beautiful. The artwork was amazing – pen and ink and so detailed. The features were carefully rendered and labeled. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t turn it in, and then I noticed the size of the stones he was drawing. They were so small, a sort of pebble castle. And there was a big section that he hand’t completed. I can’t imagine how much time he had put into this piece of work. I wanted to frame it.

“Why didn’t you turn it in?” “I didn’t have time to finish it.”

“But Tommy, it’s amazing.” “But it isn’t finished, and it’s not all that good anyway.”

We went on to have a conversation about grades and how some grade is ALWAYS better than a zero, even if the grade reflects being turned in late. I told him I wanted to hang it up; he made clear that that was not an option he would be comfortable with.

It took everything I had in me to get that young man to let me grade his work. I don’t remember what he got, but I know it was WAY better than zero. I also know it was probably the only time he ever saw a teacher (besides an art teacher) be amazed with his work. It was probably one of the longer conversations he’d had with a teacher who wasn’t threatening to prevent him from playing football, his other great love. He talked me through the work he had done, so I got to see how much of the material he really was taking in at a deep level – and he got to demonstrate mastery. So much he and I both could have missed out on had I let him go through with his plan of simply bypassing the deadline. In his mind it was better to get the zero than to turn in something that was not perfect. It became clear to me how much strength he showed when turning in other assignments, especially given what I suspected about his reading ability. What a risk he took every time he gave me his work. He wasn’t playing to his strengths, though, and maybe that’s why he could tolerate the imperfection in those other assignments. And he knew he had to keep his C to play football.

These are the corners perfectionism puts us in. We don’t even try, or we try but give up before anyone can benefit from our efforts. We don’t invite people over because our house isn’t clean enough. We don’t host holidays because Pinterest pictures make us think we need homemade napkin rings (Homemade?! Napkin rings?!) We don’t take the solo because what if we mess it up. We don’t take the risks because we might not get it right.  We see every family gathering as a nightmare because of the amount of preparation we will do to get things just right. We believe that if we don’t do it perfectly, we might as well not do it at all.

And that right there? THAT is a thought. And it’s a b.s., life-stifling, procrastination producing,  gift-hiding, intimacy preventing, joy avoiding bummer of a thought.

Accepting what is good enoughWhat would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly? Who would you see more of? What would you be less nervous about? What risk would you allow? What could be good if you didn’t need it to be perfect?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s always nice to have a little more of the good.

All we need is a new thought. How about this one: I and the things I produce are good enough, and that’s pretty great.

xo,

j

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.

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.

 

Freedom From Failure

A big part of my job as a life coach is to help people who feel “stuck.” Now stuck can mean a lot of different things. It can mean: “I don’t know what to do next.” It can mean: “I know what to do, but don’t want to do it.” It can mean: “I don’t believe I can do it.” It can mean many, many different things to different people. One of the things it seems to mean pretty regularly is: “I’m afraid if I do the thing (whatever the thing is), I’m going to fail.”

Well boy howdy do I know what that’s all about. If I’m really honest I’m afraid I’m going to fail every single day. Wow. I never really think about it that way and just saying that out loud felt pretty awful, but it’s true. Starting a business is no small thing, and you have to do a lot of new stuff that makes you uncomfortable, and you have to do it even when you think you’re going to fail. The same is true lots of places, though, isn’t it? It’s not just all of us loony self-employed people who face this.

Failure is part of doing something bigger than what you're doing now.Anybody who wants something big, who wants to get to the next level in their own personal and/or professional development is going to have moments where they think they could fail. I experience it as a musician. We try harder songs; we use more complex arrangements. We choose styles we’ve not worked with before. We don’t do that ALL of the time. We have a base of stuff that we do with confidence, and then a couple that are heart pounders until we’ve played them enough that they become part of the base and we choose a new really hard song. THIS is how we grow.

This is how we grow unless we quit before we get anywhere. See growing, changing, being more, feeling better, feeling different, expanding, evolving will ALL lead to fear and discomfort. They will. As evolved as we may be technologically, our primitive brains are still pretty simple and clear about what they’re interested in: survival. How do we survive? Well, we stick with what’s working. Never mind if it is not fulfilling; that is not the question your brain is interested in. For your primitive brain, only one question matters: has it kept us alive? Yes? Great – that works. Don’t change because THAT might kill us. Done.

So when we move to change, to grow, to experiment, our brain unleashes every story it can think of to keep us from moving down that road. Some of these are subtle: “But you’re really great at what you’re doing right now.” Some of them are not: “If you do that you could lose EVERYTHING and then we’ll be homeless, and then we’ll die.” We are so afraid to fail that we quit before there’s even the slightest possibility of failing. And as a result, we stay the same. We don’t learn new skills. We don’t learn to conquer (okay, manage but conquer sounds so glorious) our fears. We don’t learn how to be even better than we are.

You get to decide what failure is.The thing about failure is that we can be free from it without quitting. Brooke Castillo recently reminded me (and whoever else was watching) that we each get to define what failing means. You cannot fail anywhere but in your own mind, because you are the one who decides when you have failed. You are the one who decides that what you have done isn’t enough or has no value or isn’t just the rocky beginning to something new and amazing. You get to decide what failing looks like and THEN you get to decide what to do when that happens. Failing is both inevitable and totally optional. You have total control over failure. How’s that for some freedom?

You may decide that failure doesn’t exist at all. You may decide that failing at new things is the best way to figure out how to do them. You may decide that building up some grit by failing a few times will help you get through the work to follow. You may decide that failing is a thing, that you will do it and that when you will do, it will be your job to figure out what did and didn’t work and to see if there’s something you can do different, better, if there’s a thought you can take away from it that will change how you interact with the world. You are totally free from failure, because each failure is our own. We define it. We react to it or embrace it. We recover or retreat. We are free.

What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?

Are You Hanging Out On the Sidelines?

September 5th was the first day of school for my twin 5th graders, and just like all parents on the first day of school, I had a morning full of disbelief and wonder that they are already this age, that time is going just as fast as my parents and grandparents always said it would, and that the work I needed to do this morning to help them get there was decidedly less than it has been in the past. As their needs change, I have the opportunity to notice patterns that have developed, scratch that, patterns that I have chosen over the years. I’ve seen it all summer. I have chosen on many occasions for the past 10 years, to sit on the sidelines.

I noticed when we were at the beach with old friends and the other Mom quickly volunteered to go in with all four, because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it at the pool with my fabulous sister-in-law when she volunteered to go play sharks and minnows with our kids because in the past I have not wanted to. I noticed it when my kids were surprised at the amusement park when I went on all but one ride with them – they had forgotten that I actually like roller coasters and expected me to sit this one out as well.

Slide1Now, to be fair, raising kids can be tiring. Raising twins (especially the early years) can be insanely tiring. Raising twins as an older Mom – you get the picture. So I think a fair amount of my sideline sitting was initially an attempt to just grab a few minutes of peace while they were available to me. Everyone is happy, occupied, and cared for. I’m going to just be for a minute. I think maybe this was the intention, but I don’t actually recall ever really doing that. I don’t actually recall ever consciously choosing to make peace in that moment.

I remember worrying: watching the water, noticing their interactions, repositioning umbrellas, watching for sunburn, making sure the lunches were in the shade, wondering if whichever adult they were with was watching (they always were), running through the plans for the rest of the day, being mindful of pitfalls and problems that might arise, looking for lips turning blue, looking for missteps, watching for… This was one popular version of taking a break. I think another popular version involved me reviewing all of the ways I had been burdened.

I do tend to be the planner and preparer in the family, so I could bathe in some resentment about that. I could reflect on the injustice of all of the work I did to get us to that point in the day. I could reflect on the lack of worry on my husband’s part as evidence that I was STILL doing more than my share (my share of the neurotic worry pile). I’m pretty sure the times that I actually used my time sitting back, out of the fray, to REST could be counted on one hand, and that’s a 10 year period we’re talking about. I held myself back and then used that time to make myself feel terrible; sometimes I even just took the simple route and made myself feel terrible about holding myself back.

For the past several days I’ve been doing a freedom challenge. Each day I take some action that feels a little freeing, that makes me feel more free, less constrained, less confined, maybe even a little less tame, and it has made me think a lot about my time on the sidelines. Where were those choices coming from, if they weren’t really about rest and a breather? Why couldn’t I just use them as rest or a breather? What was I doing on the sidelines? Did it all just become a habit? Was my non-participation a default that then made me so uncomfortable I had to be miserable about it?

There are long answers to those questions, and considering them as I do my freedom challenge has really opened up some space for me to move, to feel, and to choose how I WANT to engage. I can still say no – as I did to the last roller coaster of the day when I felt like my head would explode if I allowed it to get rattled around again.

I’ve seen a lot of memes and posts that encourage us NEVER to sit on the sidelines. Be the Mom who’s in the water. Be the Mom who finger paints. Be the Mom playing on the floor. Be the Mom who’s in it. And I think there’s some value to that message for people who need some encouragement, but I think what really matters when we notice that we’re on the sidelines is our reason for being there and how we treat ourselves as we sit. Are you choosing it? Does it feel like freedom, like rest, like a pause rather than a default? Does it feel like a self-imposed sentence, something you “have” to do because…, something that allows you to hide?

Slide2The sidelines exist for a reason, and that’s because we all need to take a break once in a while. We all need to come off the field, hydrate, catch our breath, figure out what’s next. Some need to be there more than others. If you’re spending a lot of time on the sidelines, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if you like your reason. Maybe it’s time to get back in the game. I’d love to help.

The Earth is Slippery: Aztec Wisdom… Yeah, You Heard That Right

A few weeks ago, on our annual nerdy vacation at The Chautauqua Institution, we got to hear some really great lectures. Well, we always hear really great lectures, but this year I was paying extra special attention. I even took notes – yeah, I was serious about the nerdy vacation comment. As the weeks have gone by since we were there, it’s been interesting to see which ideas have really stuck with me. Some lectures seemed really great when they were delivered, but didn’t really have any staying power; others seemed kind of so-so when I was listening, but took root. One of the ideas I heard was both – it struck me at the time and it keeps coming back because I find it just so darned useful.

The speaker was Sebastian Purcell, a professor of philosophy at the State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland. His presentation was on Aztec philosophy as a a guide for happiness in the modern world. I admit I was skeptical, because the idea of looking to the Aztecs for guidance on happiness didn’t really fit with my limited understanding of Aztec culture. So I guess I was ripe for the picking. The idea that got me was this one: The earth is slippery.

You’re like, really? That’s the big idea? That the earth is slippery? And what the hell does that mean anyway? What?

Slide1Yeah. That’s it. It was a core part of the Aztec worldview to believe that the world is slippery, which means we will fall down. We will make mistakes. Things happen that are out of control that will push us over. Bad stuff happens, and sometimes its our own fault, and sometimes it’s not. The earth is slippery. We can only take so many steps without risking a fall every now and then. Can you see where we’re going here? Professor Purcell pointed out that this idea meant that bad or unpleasant things that happen can often be chalked up to error rather than a lack of reason. In other words, sometimes stuff just happens and everyone makes mistakes no matter how hard they try, no matter how good their intentions, no matter how right their purpose.

Is this revolutionary? Well no, if we’re focused on the messages we explicitly give our children when they are hurting because they’ve messed up and we’re trying to comfort them, but ALL of the OTHER messages (that we give them AND ourselves) are pretty different aren’t they? The messages we send and receive say that the world is drowning in opportunity, that all you need to do is work hard enough (well, and harder than the person next to you), and you will succeed. This very American dreamy message is complicated. There’s an element to this lesson on perseverance that I am TOTALLY down with. Pursuing your thing doggedly is the best way to “succeed” at it – whatever “succeed” means. There’s also a dark side to our failure to really embrace the idea that the earth is slippery.

The dark side of not embracing the slipperiness of earth is that when things go awry, it is all our fault. When things don’t pan out, we are flawed. When we’re not achieving what we want, we need to reexamine everything from our actions to the very foundation of the dream itself. These are all versions of the big one, the giant yuck, the grandaddy of all self-abuse: when bad things happen, I deserve them because I’m not good enough. If the earth is not slippery, we fall because we are clumsy, careless, lazy. If the earth is not slippery, we fail because we are not determined, because we aren’t smart enough, because we are unworthy. If the earth is not slippery, our blame can only be placed on ourselves.

Slide2There are times we are at fault. There are times other people make things hard for us. There are times our institutions fail us. There are times when bad things happen that have nothing to do with our worth. There are times when things don’t work out. There are times when the earth is slippery. If we can just acknowledge that, we can get on with the business of our recovery, our work around, our new approach, our get back up and try again without the full on inquisition of our souls. Sometimes we fall because the earth is slippery.