Brave Enough

I do a lot of talking about fear and getting past it, working around it, not letting it make your decisions for you.

boy-child-clouds-346796And I think sometimes that makes it sound like I want to just see you being super brave all of the time. Like, we identify the fear and then we just leap tall buildings in a single bound kind of brave. Sometimes when I’m listening to another coach or an inspiring human, that’s my reaction.

Like, “Well, I’m glad you figured out how to be brave enough to swim the English Channel, but hells no I’m not going to do anything like that or be that brave EVER.”

My relationship with fear is old and it likes to tell me that I will never be brave enough to do anything worth talking about.

And when I think about bravery and being myself and taking risks as something that I need to don a superhero’s cape to do, it is so much easier to give in to that belief that fear wants me to have. It is so much more tempting to shrug off my preferences and dreams and just stay with caution, nice sweet status quo occasionally soul-sucking caution.

But there’s this thing, something Cheryl Strayed reminded me of this morning.

You don’t have to have the courage of an entire platoon of people liberating a European village in WWII. You don’t have to try to leap a tall building in a single bound. You don’t have to decide to swim the English Channel to take a step forward. You just have to be brave enough to take one step forward.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what’s going on with you.

You have to be brave enough to be honest with yourself about what you do and don’t want in your life.

You have to be brave enough to keep wise counsel as you make these considerations and not let other people’s opinions hold TOO much sway.

You have to be brave enough to listen to yourself: not the nattering voice that wants you to grab a bag of chips and the remote because it’s scary out there, but the voice that is calling you into integrity, that is encouraging you to be more yourself. You have to listen to what that is.

You have be brave enough to act on what you discover in the realm of soul truth.

You have to be brave enough for those things, but you don’t have to do them all in the same moment.

beautiful-calm-coast-358480You only have to be brave enough to take one step, whatever that might look like.

Maybe it looks like writing without ceasing for 10 minutes about whatever’s going on in your head.

Maybe it looks like talking to a trusted friend about the things that you’ve been afraid to reveal.

Maybe it looks like getting really, really quiet so you can hear.

You don’t have to take all of the steps at once beloveds.

You only need to be brave enough to take one.

If you need some support, I’d be delighted to walk with you.

XO,

julia

No Matter What They Think

Yesterday my fifth graders participated in a Living History Museum at school. It was a project they’ve been working on for some time that started with a question: what historical figure (who’s had an impact) would you like to know more about? They did research, prepared display boards about their chosen person, and then they were tasked with writing speeches to deliver AS the historical figure.

blue-sky-camels-desert-71241My daughter chose Marie Curie. This is not a surprising choice for her as she is quite the scientist. She was excited to play an important female scientist for her project. My son, who has always been really into ancient history, chose Ramses II (sometimes called Ramses the Great), an Egyptian pharaoh. Again, he stayed true to form in his choice.

I watched them both struggle with finding the information they needed. I quietly observed as they tried to find stories that would make their presentations particularly interesting. I listened to them practice their speeches (from afar – no peeking allowed). Everything was going swimmingly, until we got to the costume phase.

My daughter had no problem. She looked at a bunch of photos of Marie Curie, noted that in all of them she was wearing a lot of black, that she wore dresses and that she wore her hair in a bun. She was able to abstract an idea of what she should wear that would give the overall effect, and that she already had in her closet. Easy peasy. You have to know what’s coming…

My son didn’t seem to register that costumes were part of this whole thing. He caught on eventually as his classmates began to talk about their preparations. I kept approaching him for a conversation about what he might wear. The problem with an ancient historical figure is that there are no photos. There are guesses, approximations. My son really doesn’t like guesses and approximations. He also wasn’t thrilled to discover that much of what was available to us in the way of guesses looked like dresses to him. Being an 11 year old boy can be a rough road.

After he rejected a few of my homemade notions, we ventured out to our local Party City, the only source for costume type items when it’s not Halloween. He was visibly horrified by his options. I attempted to logic him out of that. He became downcast. I got impatient. His sister played helpful clown for us (and I mean that in the best way) by demonstrating some truly ridiculous options. As he withdrew, my daughter and I assembled some pieces that we thought would reasonably approximate the ancient ruler. He finally rallied a little to examine what we’d chosen. He agreed that we had done the best we could with what was available and was even enough of a sport to try some things on before we left to make sure it would all work out, but the energy about the project had left the building. He was visibly upset about the whole thing.

Later, when his sister was elsewhere, I asked what was bothering him, why he’d gone from SUCH enthusiasm about this whole thing to seeming like he’d rather do just about anything else. “It’s the other kids Mom; they’re all going to laugh at me.” And I saw it in his face, the fear that idea creates. The sentence sort of echoed in my head. It really is at the heart of most of our fears, isn’t it? “They’re all going to laugh at me. They’ll hate it. They won’t like me. Nobody will want to be/play/spend time with/work with/marry/date me.” Rejection. Dismissal. Humiliation.

So we talked. We talked about why he chose Ramses II. We talked about his character. We talked about how excited he had been. We talked about the historical figures the other boys had chosen (“All of their people just wear suits. They all picked famous businessmen.”). I reminded him that he chose someone interesting to HIM. I reminded him that he chose someone he wanted to know about. I reminded him that he gets to be who he is and be interested in who he is. And then, just for good tween measure, I threw in the fact that probably most of his classmates would feel awkward and silly in their costumes too. They would all be nervous about giving speeches. “Did you like learning about Ramses?” The answer was a resounding yes. He liked learning about ancient Egypt. He liked the historical figure he chose. It was all about the laughing.

I comforted him. The Mom in me nervously assured him that people wouldn’t make fun of him as they would likely look silly in one way or another, but I knew that might not be true and that it also wasn’t the point. It was just that moment.

So I tried my best to do the other things he needed me to do. I tried to let him get it all out – all of the fear, all of the worry, without talking him out of it the whole time or making him feel silly for having it. And then I tried to make him feel good enough, wonderful even, for being exactly who he is.

It worked well enough. He put on his full costume (which I’d show you but both of my kids have recently banned us from sharing pics). My seminarian and I went to school at the appointed time so we could see the presentations. They were great. All of the kids were dressed up and had obviously worked very hard.

When I went to my young man and pressed the button that was supposed to animate his historical figure I was delighted to hear a fact-filled and really funny speech. I was so proud and he was all smiles. I asked later who his favorite was (he said: “You mean besides my sister?”. He replied, of course, King Tut.

acid-citric-citrus-997725He was who he is. He got scared. He was afraid people would not like it or him and would embarrass him, humiliate him. None of that happened (although it could have). But he got to the end of the day proud of himself and thoroughly engaged in his learning. It was a thing of beauty and a great demonstration for this light worker that the fear is never enough reason to stop being who I am, no matter what all of the other kids might think.

When We Hide Things

In all of this hue and cry for authenticity, it’s fair to question who we should tell what and how often. Vulnerability is one thing; martyrdom another altogether.

I’ve been thinking a bit about it though, and have some thoughts about this very human tendency to hide bits of ourselves from the world.

What I’ve discovered in my recent vulnerability experiments, in which I reveal more than I usually do and wait for the other shoe to drop – very scientific, is that an interesting thing happens when I let more of me up to the surface.

bottle-close-up-focus-905894Aside from the obvious win that I don’t get pointed out and laughed at like some recurring nightmare about a high school play gone wrong (is it just me?), when I bring more of me to the surface, barriers lift. I don’t really understand why it works, but I’ve come to think of it like this. When I hide parts of myself, to protect me OR to protect the other person, what I really do is create a wall. I’m only hiding the details. That person likely knows I’m not all in – if we’re not close they just think I’m reserved (if I’m lucky) or maybe even snobby. If we ARE close, that person knows I’m keeping something from them. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know I’m holding back. They know I am not fully engaged. They may even know what some of those thoughts and feelings are by virtue of knowing me so well, but when I hide them I shut those folks out. I am not protecting them from anything. I am letting them know that I don’t trust them with me. I am not just keeping something private; I am limiting engagement.

So what’s the thrust here, tell everything to everybody? No. Clearly not, unless that’s who you are. First tell yourself. Tell yourself what you’ve got hidden away. Unpack those boxes and bags and filing cabinets. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve put in the attic. Some of it may not really even be worth hiding anymore, kind of like old Aunt Gertrude’s ashtray. Some of it may have been hidden so long that you forgot it was up there; some of that might be things you really could use now, like a small box of keepsakes from your mother-in-law who has since passed away. What do you have in perpetual secret storage?

After an initial inventory, you might find it interesting to pull some of those things out and take them for a test drive. Gently share some piece of yourself with someone you love. Try on an old hobby or pastime. Find those pieces you’ve kept hidden and see what you can do with them in the light of now.

bonding-daylight-enjoying-708440.jpgAnd as you do, notice what happens to your sense of connection. Notice how you feel being around other people. Notice what it’s like to be in a room without quite so much to hide. Notice what it’s like to have a conversation without checking yourself every 5 minutes to be sure you haven’t revealed yourself. Notice how problems become problems you can tackle with others and grace becomes a divine gift to be shared and enjoyed rather than just a moment of isolated forgiveness.

It is true that not everyone deserves your story. I believe that. I also know that keeping too much of that story inside is like keeping yourself locked in a tower. Are you sure you don’t want the key?

 

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.