Whose Battle Are You Fighting?

There have been a lot of hard things lately.

The news has become excruciating.

Some of our relationships are strained by p

olitics.

We’ve got problems and we can’t seem to even agree on what those problems are.

Our thoughts create problems

And that’s just the big stuff.

That doesn’t even get down to the every day hard, the busyness, the job, the elusive work-life balance.

It doesn’t even cover our romantic (or not romantic) relationships and our parenting.

It doesn’t even cover our chronic illnesses and hurts.

Things seem really hard.

And saying that there are difficult circumstances doesn’t begin to account for how difficult they can become due to the way we think about them.

 

How We Make Things Harder

During the last few months my husband and I have been attempting to renegotiate the division of domestic duties. Let me give you a little background. 10 years ago I decided to stay home with our twins and the I made that choice, I assumed most of the domestic responsibilities (because raising twins was clearly not enough). My husband became the breadwinner and I became the bread maker. We plugged along like that for some time. And he got busier, adding a side hustle (out of love) and eventually adding grad school (also out of love). I also added work (out of love) and eventually he whittled his way down to two occupations (side hustle moving forefront and grad school). As I began to nurture my practice and continued being the everything to all people, we felt the need to redistribute the burden.

Our acknowledgement of that need, however, didn’t make it easy to do.

We stalled.

We delayed (him I think because it was not top of mind for him and me perhaps because it seemed easier to just do things than to have a hard conversation about them).

We bickered about the bits that were falling through the cracks.

And I felt resentment growing, like an invasive weed.

And as my resentment grew, I thought of my mother and the women of her generation, so many of whom nurtured a garden of invasive resentment weeds because they felt that they had no choice. I thought of how much my position FELT like that. I thought about how things SHOULD be. And I fumed, growled, and cried, and left things undone out of spite. I grew short with him and with the kids. And I buried all of that in getting busy doing all of the things that poor me HAD to do. No time to be polite. No time to really engage. No time to have a real conversation.

And the a friend said just the thing I needed to hear. Actually 3 friends said similar things on the same day, which even I must concede sounds a little like divine intervention stepping in. All of these wise women asked me to reflect on my husband’ nature. “Is he an old-fashioned guy?” “Does he think you should have to do everything?” “Is he so swamped that he can’t even see what’s happening?”

Leaving the Story Behind

Arguments about HouseworkTheir wise questions pushed me to step out of the argument that I had created and to step back into a conversation with my reality, not my mother’s reality, not women’s reality, not a previous generation’s reality. I suddenly realized that a big part of what was making this so hard was me. I was turning a problem, a challenge, into a full-on ideological issue. I was defending women everywhere.

There was no need for me to do that in THIS particular case.

And when I stopped arguing for everybody’s reality, we were able to have a conversation, a real conversation. I was clear. I was heard. I was acknowledged, and now there’s a plan. When I stopped dragging all of these other people into the issue, when I stopped thinking it was bigger than it really was, when I adjusted my story to account for the reality of who my husband is, who I am, and how we operate, I was able to articulate my needs and my feelings and they were met with exactly the kind of reaction that I would have hoped for. It turns out I didn’t have to fight the power this time.

Why does that matter? Am I suggesting we all stop fighting for the big ideological issues? Absolutely not. Anybody who know me knows better than that.

What I am suggesting is that some problems, some challenges, some issues are just not that complicated or that hard. We get it all tangled up together. We come to the problem with our politics, our feelings, our baggage (and usually a few other people’s baggage as well) and we make it so complicated. Some problems just aren’t that hard.

Rest Into The Problem

I got a little e-mail from one of my mentors, Martha Beck, earlier this week that suggested that when you are stuck and things seem difficult, maybe it’s time to rest into the problem, to stop pushing so hard. And this feels like THAT to me. “Renegotiating” our domestic division of labor was something that I was pushing very hard on, not just because I wanted it done, but because there were principles at stake.

When I rest into the problem, when I get quiet, when I quiet the clamor of ideology, culture wars, activism and outrage, I see things differently. I don’t become a Stepford wife. I become the me who KNOWS how committed my husband is to equality. I become the me who KNOWS how hard it is to take on domestic tasks when you’re out of practice. I become the me who honors the scope of the work I’ve done for these 10 years by not imagining someone could just scoop half of it up and do it efficiently at the drop of the hat. I become the me that KNOWS that we, individually and together, are okay.

Rest can bring truth
When things get hard, what can we do? Rest into it. Get quiet. Reduce the clamor from the outside world. And from THAT space, learn what to do next. Learn what feels like ease and clarity and love and freedom. Learn what feels like truth that is only YOURS.

 

Rethinking Rejection

Ugh, the R word, rejection. When I talk to friends and clients, and when I dig down to my own motivations and rationales, so often there is, at bottom, a fear of being rejected, of not being liked, of being left, or being laughed at and thought foolish, or being deemed unlovable, unworthy, or thinking those things ourselves. There it is, right? One of the big ones, the big fears, the ideas that keep us up at night and make us want to stay in bed in the morning, just the same in adulthood as they did when we were in middle school. If I dare to ____________, I will be rejected.

Slide1We don’t want that – and hey, we’re only human. Our need for inclusion in the group is totally natural, evolutionarily reasonable, time tested and thorough. And so when we sense that possible rejection (whether we are right or not), we shrink. We shrink from possibility. We shrink from inspiration. We shrink from the limitlessness of our capacity because we are afraid we will no longer be loved, be included, be deemed worthy, be part of the group, be allowed to sit by the fire when the nights are cold and the days are difficult. We shrink from who we could be. We shrink from who we would be. We shrink from who we ARE already.

I heard a story on the TED radio hour (during a long car drive, so I didn’t get all of the details) about a man who decided he’d had enough of his overwhelming fear of rejection. He set out to intentionally get rejected, as an exercise of facing his fear and reducing the meaning of each rejection because he knew that many more had already happened and many more would come. What he discovered is that rejection was not nearly as wounding as he thought, and that when he was SURE he would be rejected, his request was met with curious agreement. In other words, he got a WHOLE lot of what he asked for, even though he really didn’t expect to. But those surprises really weren’t the point. The point was to reduce the sting of rejection.

Our reaction to rejection is complicated, and it is SO far reaching. She said she wasn’t interested. She didn’t ask me to collaborate. He didn’t call. He didn’t laugh when I thought I was funny. We take ALL of that and we make it mean the worst things we can think of. We interpret their “no’s” as more than just: “No, not that specifically, not now.” There are a variety of problems with all of this interpreting.

Firstly, what if most people are being upfront and honest and what they really mean is only: “No, not that specifically, not now”? What if we took the risk of taking adults at their word so that we can get on with things, so that we can be told “no” without it shaking us to the core, so that it doesn’t have to mean that lack of interest in one project is a statement about worth and value? What if we just decided to ONLY hear what is being said without filling in all of the spaces? If that’s a groundbreaking idea for you, I suggest you run at it full speed right away.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, what would happen if we remembered that, as Brooke Castillo says, adults get to do what they want? What does this mean in this context? It means someone gets to say “No” to you without it being a major drama. And you know why that’s really great? There’s more than one reason: 1) it means you won’t be stuck in some weird relationship or project with someone who doesn’t want to be there; 2) it means when someone says no, that’s the end of the transaction, no leftover trails or wanderings – it’s just a simple no; and finally 3) you also get to say no when you want to and therefore you get to curate the way you spend your time, the projects you are involved in, the e-mails you receive, heck just about anything – without, that’s right WITHOUT drama or interpretation on the part of the other adults involved. If we decide that saying NO doesn’t mean everything when people say it to us, it’s reasonable to conclude that it doesn’t mean everything when we say it to them.

Slide2The interesting thing is that stepping out enough to risk rejection might bring on some rejection – I don’t want to lie about that – but it also brings SO much freedom. You can be yourself. You can see who stays, who goes, and you can take some of those “No’s” as surface, minute, and temporary, just as they are meant.

You can take the chance on showing up, showing you, being seen, and in my experience so far, the people who matter most will not only sill be here, but will be delighted to SEE you. And others will show up; your tribe will find you. You will not have to sit away from the fire, in the cold dark night. You will be at home, as yourself, with people who love who you really are. What are you NOT doing because you’re sure you’ll lose them all? What are you still doing to stay safe and warm, even if it means you are not even a little bit yourself? What would it take for me to get you to try a little rejection? I’ll talk you through it.

Who’s Pushing Your Buttons?

I have a confession. When I was working through my life coach training, there was on teacher who kind of irritated me. When I saw her name on the roster, I rolled my eyes and sighed and figured it was going to be a waste of my time. I still attended those classes, but it was with a sense of duty and obligation, rather than curiosity or joy. I listened with maybe 60% of myself and got through it. I checked the box. Why did I react that way to her?

I think there were a few reasons, so I’ll give you the surface ones first. First of all, I just wasn’t ready for the part of the course she was teaching. I was still working on some things that made it hard to hear what she had to say. Secondly, the material she was teaching was stuff I didn’t feel as naturally drawn to – had already decided it was not my strong suit, so I probably wouldn’t enjoy it or benefit from it. Now with just those two surface reasons, there’s plenty of room to talk about how I was limiting myself and how I got in the way of my own experience. Yes, yes, yes, all true, but I think the bigger issue for me with this amazing master coach and teacher was that the way she presented and held herself in the world was immediately off-putting to me. You say: “Wait, that’s not the surface reason?”

Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. And I’m saying that because my reaction to her and the way she walks through the world had zip zero to do with her and EVERYTHING to do with me. What you may not know is that I’ve changed. For a long time, I was keeping an awful lot to myself. It was easier to just go unnoticed than to jump into the fray and risk failing or looking stupid, or just having some kind of negative attention come my way. It felt safer to just muddle through, get done what I needed to get done. I was okay after all, and that’s good enough, right? Right? right? right…

Slide1Not for that coach it wasn’t. Just okay was definitely not good enough. She was so out front with herself that she was like a bullhorn for strength, power, and joy. I didn’t realize the bullhorn she was toting (metaphorically, she’s not THAT out there) had a message just for me. And that message said: “Where ARE you? Why are you hiding? Why are you playing small? What happened? Where’d you go? You didn’t always do this. What’s changed? Won’t you come out and play? Won’t you come out and BE YOU?” So, I ignored her. Yep, I did. I admit it. Just decided she wasn’t my cup of tea, played myself some soothing music, made sure I was calm and moved forward with my day.

Yes, it’s true, I have from time to time ignored messages that I would benefit from, but I wasn’t ready. I just wasn’t ready. And that’s okay. The thing is, I began to change anyway. I began taking risks. I began being more assertive with my opinions (rather than forgoing or taking a passive aggressive stance – “Why don’t you guess what I’m thinking?”) I began moving forward on silly domestic projects that had been stalled for weeks, months, some even for years. I began sharing more of the hard stuff. I began asking for help when I needed it. And as I did these things, a whole lot of other stuff changed too.

I found myself craving new music. The well-known soothing soundtrack that I’d arranged around me for years grew tiresome. As I reconnected with myself I felt moved to reconnect with music that inspired action, that expressed anger, frustration, and motion. I reconnected with dreams and desires I’d long put out to pasture as unrealistic and therefore not worthy. I got out in front. I even put myself first (whoa!) and decided not to apologize about that (double whoa!). I established my practice to help other women start to do the same, to reconnect with their core, to wake up to their own capacity, and to get out in front.

Slide2And then one day, a little video showed up in my Facebook feed. It was her, that coach and teacher who I’d written off before. I clicked on the video and was delighted to find she was speaking to me, and I was hearing it. I no longer found her anything but helpful, inspiring, quite amazing really. All that lukewarm negativity I’d felt before (but kept to myself, BTW) had nothing to do with her. It had EVERYTHING to do with me and the part of myself I saw in her, the fear I felt at the idea of being more like her, the lengths I’d gone to to stuff my own amazing because I’d tried and failed, or I was too tired, or I couldn’t possibly do all that, or “that doesn’t work for people like me.”  So much of what I thought was a reaction to her was just an old, tired conversation I’d been having with myself for far too long. Seeing her, and knowing she was fabulous whether I admitted it or not, pushed my little light-hiding buttons. But I don’t need those buttons anymore. I imagine I’ve sewed on some new ones, but THOSE buttons are gone. Game on.

Who pushes your buttons? How much of your reaction has nothing at all to do with that person? How much of your reaction has everything to do with some story you’ve told yourself about who YOU are? What could you learn by listening to the button pusher? What could you learn by really seeing the button pusher in you?

Soul Sisters – How to Get Some

Just got back from a whirlwind training and retreat in Savannah, GA. While we were there, my new friends and I were marveling over how well we got along, how easy it seemed to open up and share, to spend time together, to accommodate each other, to spend time in common space. These are things that have not always been easy for me, and yet I came away from my 6 day trip with soul sisters. I shared things with this group of women I hadn’t told anybody before. And then I came home, and found them all online where we gather every day to greet, share, and encourage. And I stand in wonder, so tempted to think it was the way we came together. It was the power of the gathering that made the difference… but my wise self knows better. Continue reading

Let That Dissatisfaction Heal You

slide1Yesterday we held my father’s memorial service. During the service, rather than a eulogy or a homily, my three siblings and I took the opportunity to share stories and memories about Dad, who he was, who he was to US. At the reception that followed, I had many people tell me that they were moved by my remarks. Many others expressed that they found them helpful, that my story about my Dad shined a light of hope on family conflict, illuminated a path to breaking destructive patterns or to healing hurts so that relationships that are just okay can become deeply fulfilling. My Dad and I walked that path. Continue reading

Relationship Transformations

I wish that I could count the number of hours friends, well and me too, have spent trying to figure out WHY their partner does X. We speculate, we run hypotheticals. We call friends and get them to participate in speculating and running hypotheticals. All the possible variations, all the possible explanations, all the ways the past gives evidence to whatever theory we’re developing.

slide1And it’s not just the speculation. We THEN make all of those speculations and hypotheticals mean something as though they are fact. The “could be” becomes the “is” somewhere between our heads and our hearts. “If this is what’s going on in his head, he really doesn’t love me at all.” “If he doesn’t understand what I’m saying, he doesn’t care about me.” “If he can’t answer this question, we really have no future.” “If she…” okay, I admit I was going for gender neutral there, but do men do this? It’s an honest question. If they do it, they don’t include me in those conversations. Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t include me in them either. I’m not much fun to have around if what you are really looking to do is get yourself good and worked up over a hypothetical. I imagine my girlfriends will give it up soon as well.

Why? There are two reasons I’m not down with the hypothetical relationship analysis: 1) there is no point in reacting to a hypothetical as it potentially has absolutely no basis in reality and 2) engaging in all of this speculation and hypothetical meandering is entrenching yourself in the part of your relationship that is none of your business. WHAT?! Yeah, that’s right I said none of your business. Continue reading

Holiday Conversation Survival Guide

slide1TV, movies, holiday stress – it all tells us that these revered holidays aren’t always all they are cracked up to be. Sometimes it’s because of the workload associated with the whole thing. Sometimes it’s because we surrender all of our own preferences in favor of traditions that got started by people we never even knew. Sometimes it’s because when we are with our family of origin, we all revert to being about 12 years old. Truth is, holidays can be complicated, and if we’re already having a tough time in any way, holiday conversations can be tricky.

For your use, I want to throw some phrases at you that might prove helpful.

About food:

  • No, thank you. (you don’t have to explain your dietary restrictions and feel judged, just say no)
  • I’m sure it’s delicious, but I’m fine.
  • I really appreciate all of your hard work.
  • That is an amazing table.

In the case of disagreement that is brewing but not openly hostile:

  • That’s interesting. Why do you feel that way?
  • What outcome were you hoping for?
  • Wow. I see that totally differently. I’d never considered your approach.
  • Thanks for sharing that with me; can I tell you how I see it?
  • We agree on so many other things, I’m surprised we differ here.

In the case of inappropriate intrusive questions:

  • Thanks for being interested, but I’m not really ready to talk about that here/now/at all.
  • That feels like a super personal question to me. Can we talk about something else?
  • WOW. Going right for the big stuff are we? I think I’m going to need a warm-up period.
  • Committee’s still out on that one, but thanks for asking.

In the case of full-blown hostility:

  • You seem very scared/angry/frustrated. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I don’t agree with you.
  • That really hasn’t been my experience and if we can turn it down a notch, I’d be happy to share my perspective.
  • I’m not sure you understand why that troubles me. I can explain it or we can drop this particular subject.
  • “I respectfully do not care.” This a quote from Martha Beck.

slide2Now, go forth. Do your thing, whatever that might be and if your holiday plans are NOT to your liking for whatever reason, I implore you to carve (like that turkey reference?) out some chunk of time in which you will do something you absolutely do want to do and that you will relish that time. You can be late. You can leave early. You can make your shower as long as you need to. The world will keep turning. The dinner will wait. Spend a little of that time on you – it will make the gratitude part of this whole shebang oh so much easier.

peace,

julia

Calling Out or Calling In

outin2My super smart reverend said something that really stuck with me today. He was talking about the difference between calling people out and calling people in. He discussed this in reference to supporting minority groups and working against oppression. When we see something happening that contributes to oppression or systemic injustice, we may feel tempted to call that person out. We may feel tempted to use all of our righteous indignation to label their behavior as racist, sexist, classist or whatever else it might be. In fighting against these cultural problems, we may feel tempted to whip out our high intensity label maker and sort everyone according to their misdeeds. There’s something really satisfying in identifying the wrong in others; there’s also something divisive, hurtful, and counterproductive in shaming someone this way.

My ministerial pal encouraged us, rather than calling people out, to call people in. There is more than one way to skin a cat (why do we say this, it really is gross), and shaming someone is not the only way to address something they have said or done that is hurtful or unjust. Continue reading

Whose Business Are You In?

I was listening to a podcast today, while “watching” my son’s soccer practice. True confession here: I am not overly engaged in my children’s athletic performance. I hope they have fun. I peek up from time to time to see that THEY are engaged, because that’s all I really care about. So anyway, the point was the podcast. It was a goodie – Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lessons with Glennon Doyle Melton as the special guest. Yeah, that’s a party I’m attending.

I’m rolling along soaking up the fantastic conversation and Glennon Doyle Melton lays out the application of a fundamental life lesson that I’ve only come to understand in the last couple of years. She’s describing how she began blogging (Momastery – it’s fabulous) and her commitment to finishing a piece of work and letting it go. She just hit that publish button and that was it. She was done. It was not her job to babysit the art once it was created because it was none of her business if anybody liked it or not. Did you get that? It was none of her business if anybody liked it or not. Whoa. (Yes, bloggers, that means NOT checking your stats – WHAT?!) Continue reading

5 Ways to Be a Better Parent

  1. Slide1Get More Sleep
  2. Eat Healthy Foods
  3. Remember to Ask Yourself What You Need and Want
  4. Schedule Social Time with Other Adults
  5. Include Personal Quiet Time in Your Schedule

“But wait a minute, Julia, this whole list is about me. I thought you were going to tell me how to be a better parent? Everything you mentioned is about taking care of me.”

Yes, yes it is. Because I believe you are exhausted, overwhelmed and starved for time loving and taking care of you. I believe you are already a great parent. I believe you love your children and know how to care for them in almost every situation, or that you can figure it out when you need to. I believe it can all be better, and I believe when you are more you, you will be a better parent. You will be a better person. You will be a better you. Your kids need YOU. (If you need more convincing that these steps will make you a better parent, I’ve got more on that.) Continue reading