The Cold Comfort of Confusion

“I’m so confused.”

I hear people say it and I’ve said it myself.

blur-calm-waters-dawn-395198Confusion. Uncertainty. Fog. Swirling.

I have moments of it, usually when I’m down.

I’ve got tools, and usually I can navigate that space far better and far more quickly than I used to.

But I remember and I’ve heard from quite a few of you about that fog of confusion. I see the way it torments you.

“I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“I don’t know which way to turn.”

I have an answer, but you may not like it.

You may not like it because I think confusion is a lie.

Confusion is a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to face what is true, or when we don’t want to accept what has happened, or when we have forgotten how to feel what we actually feel or those feelings are too big and scary to experience. So we slip in a tape, we push the repeat on a loop icon, we create a fog of “I don’t know” to protect us.

It feels better to be confused than to be heartbroken.

It feels better to be confused than to be lonely.

It even feels better to be confused than to admit what we really want in a situation and to try to get it.

It feels better to be confused than to be vulnerable.

It feels better to be confused than to be accountable.

It feels better to be confused than to risk committing to a path that might end up in failure.

Confusion is the ultimate tool of the status quo.

Because when we are confused, when we are spinning, when we are sitting in the fog of uncertainty, we are actively changing nothing. Circumstances may shift in response to our inaction, but we’re not changing anything. We’re not responsible for what happens. We’re staying safe in the fog.

It’s just another trick of the mind, the mind that only knows survival and death.

If you’re alive, the mind says that’s good enough. That’s excellent. Let’s stick with that.

And there are times when just being alive is certainly something to celebrate, to venerate, to acknowledge with gratitude.

But our hearts…

adult-enjoyment-facial-expression-1037989Our hearts want so much more than that. They want to love. They want to give and receive and be thrilled and even crushed if that’s the price. Our hearts want to feel other hearts, touch other souls, experience the depth of really living, not just being alive. They want us to have all of the things we can only have if we let go of that fog, if we choose, if we commit, if we act, if we chase dreams and hope for the best.

The comfort that confusion brings is a cold one.

It comes with the pain of sleepless nights and that gnawing sense that there’s something else we should be doing. Confusion comes with the obsessive need to work at the problem while being sure not to ever actually see through it, and endless stalemate between pro and con.

Confusion is a lie.

Maybe it’s time to tell yourself the truth, whatever that it.

Maybe it’s time to feel how you feel.

Maybe it’s time to admit what you want.

Maybe it’s time to speak your truth and just let the consequences unfold.

If it’s too much, you can be confused again any time.

You can make that choice just as easily as you can unmake it.

It’s your story.

Pick up that pen.

 

xo,

julia

Recital Notes – A Fine Example of Living

My daughter had a violin recital this past weekend. She has studied the violin for two years. Thank you, your sympathy is gratefully accepted. I am happy to announce that we ARE definitively reaching the stage where some music is happening and it is not always challenging to listen to. Bless her.

concert-music-musical-instrument-111287The violin is a tough instrument. It is exacting in terms of your finger placement – just the slightest bit off and you’re off pitch. It is demanding in terms of your bow action – this is the reason for the screechy scratching sound that so many young students demonstrate for so long. It is also tough because it doesn’t get a lot of play in popular music (Thank you Lindsay Sterling for bucking the tide), so it is difficult to “play” with in the ways that students of piano and guitar might do. The violin is the instrument that the family studies together because it is loud and takes substantial time to gain even enough mastery simply not to offend others. Am I laying it on a little thick? I am LOVE with the fact that my daughter plays this incredibly difficult instrument. I chose the easy ones and gave up on the violin in a few months as an adult. She really does seem to love it. My swooning over that fact makes the test of endurance possible.

Back to the recital. If you don’t have a child, niece, nephew, beloved neighbor for whom you’ve attended a recital, I would recommend that you seek one of these students out. Recitals are a wonderful way to experience some music, but also to see young people striving, learning, and growing. It can be really touching.

I’ve shared observations from my son’s piano recital and the community that exists in these events here and all of those same things are true in the strings community. I do have some fresh observations from this weekend’s event that I’d like to share.

  1. The Impact of Fear Diminishes with Experience. The biggest difference between the younger students and the older students was not just skill and difficulty of music as I expected, but the ability to perform without looking like you are going to vomit at any minute. My poor baby (who is 11 and still on the young side of this crowd) cracked nary a grin and really was kind of green by the time she was done, despite playing her piece better than she ever has. An older student complimented her playing and then asked if she was okay “because you looked like you were going to puke.” He was actually quite kind, and given the caliber of his performance, his compliment counted double.
  2. You Get to Decide How to Continue from Here. Accompanists always follow. When you are playing with one and you freeze or forget your part or foul up, they will wait. You get to decide how to proceed – whether you march forward or back up. Your accompanist will find you and help pave that road.
  3. Work and Artistry are Both Needed. When playing the strings it seems to me that one hand chops wood, the other turns it into art. The bow hand and arm moves almost constantly, for more advanced players that movement is fluid and doesn’t even necessarily seem to reflect the rhythm of what they are doing. The hand on the fretboard determines what the notes, and the quality of those notes will be. I know there’s a lot more nuance to this analysis, but this is how it struck me on this day. One hand chopping wood, the other carving the statue. It is critical to remember which hand is doing what AND to recognize that both must be done well for success.
  4. Doing It for Yourself. The performers that were the most enjoyable to watch barely seemed to notice the audience after their required entrance bow. They commanded the stage and the space naturally by doing THEIR thing. They allowed themselves to dive in and just play the music AND to experience the moment.
  5. Your Body is Part of Every Experience. Music is meant to be embodied. With experience and a growing comfort level, these students were able to leave the standing as a statue in an approximation of perfect string playing stance into one that allowed for a little more flow, a little more interaction, as thought the whole body was part of the production of sound.
  6. Creating Something Amazing Requires Leaving Worries Behind. No one is troubled by the wardrobe malfunction of a 17 year old violin phenom. One young woman’s blouse became slightly more revealing (not insanely so, but she noticed it and had a moment of concern) when she donned her instrument and began to play. Nobody reacted. We all just listened. No one would want to risk interrupting the amazing thing that was happening. I just wasn’t important in the face of what she was creating.

achievement-adventure-brave-6629I admit that I thought that attending these events would be hard, and it is at times. It is a long to sit still for those of us who are not native sit stillers. But the joy in it for me is ALL of the things that are going on: all of the music, all of the learning, all of the growth, all of the opportunities to watch young people being afraid and doing it anyway. What a fine example of living.

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.

Humiliation and Other Choices

A few days ago I stepped in it with a friend. I inadvertently hurt her feelings, and after she expressed that to me, I apologized. In explaining why I had upset her so much, she told me that she was COMPLETELY humiliated. I tried to put my coach ears away (they are often not helpful when interacting with friends and loved ones) and simply offer my regret at the way things went down. My intent clearly was not the same as the impact here.

adult-alone-beautiful-808711When the conversation was over, however, I had to cycle back to that feeling that she had, humiliated, and to consider what it has to tell us about our thoughts and our feelings. Let me start at the beginning. A lot of folks think that their feelings come from an external event. Something happens, and then we have a feeling about it, and then we have thoughts that come from those feelings or are about those feelings or something like that. But that model has the steps all mixed up. Truth is the feeling about an event comes from our thoughts about it, what we make it mean. The event is facts that we could all agree on. And then we think things about it. And then we have feelings because of those thoughts…. Yeah, okay Julia, so what. Who cares?

Well, I care, and if I tell you why, you might care too. The notion that our feelings come from our thoughts means that we have some say in how we feel. If we are simply reacting to external events all of the time, there’s not a lot we can do. We often can’t change external events; we certainly can’t change other people, so if we’re reacting to them all the time, we don’t have much wiggle room. But the thoughts that we have about things that happen? THOSE we can change.

So if we feel humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed – there is a sort of family of feelings here – are we simply reacting to the event? No, we are reacting to what we think about the event. Stuff happens and then we think, what? For humiliation, maybe something like: “I look like a fool. I look like I don’t know what I’m doing. People think I’m not good enough.” It’s all about how people perceive us. And maybe, if we’re really practiced at humiliation, embarrassment or shame, we skip the other people part and go right to some ugly thought about ourselves: “I’m not good enough. I’ll never get it right. I always mess up.” The bad feeling comes from the thought.

In addition to being a life coach, I am a musician. I know a lot about that humiliation/embarassment business. I used to be a total perfectionist about preparation and performances because I was terrified that I would make a mistake, that I would look foolish, that I would be not good enough to perform in front of other people, much less get paid for it. I was sure that the level of scrutiny they were giving my performance was similar to my own, that they were judging each note, each phrase, every strum. I was sure that their attention was solidly focused on what I was doing, rather than on their food, their drinks, their date, their friends.

guitar-music-musical-instrument-34074.jpgWhat I found over time is that if I allowed myself to relax into it, if I stopped worrying so very much about what they thought about me, if I released my version of their assessment of my performance, I could actually enjoy myself much more. This is the moment where making music for me becomes about more than the actual music. It becomes magic and it involves the way that I feel, the way my singing partner and I feel together and the way I see THAT experience float out into whatever audience might be there. It feels entirely different. When I make mistakes from that space, they seem such a small thing, a brief millisecond that passes almost as soon as I notice it. When something doesn’t go as planned, it’s within the creation of this new thing, this new moment that will never happen again.

And here’s the really cool part, when I stop worrying so much about what everyone thinks of me, I feel more joyful and THAT makes everyone have a better time. I am humiliation-proof AND I create an experience that everyone can enjoy. THAT is the magic of paying attention to what you think. That is the magic of minding your own business.

Do you. Engage with it. Be there in the moment. What they are thinking about it is none of your business, and likely is nowhere near as bad as you think it is. What moment could you make if you stopped worrying about it?

xo,

julia

When We Start to Fall

Last night we watched an episode of Planet Earth II with the kids. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend. It’s a series by the BBC, narrated by David Attenborough, and has some incredible footage of animals doing their thing. Really stunning.

Last night’s episode on mountains featured a group of Nubian ibex. I’m going to go with ibex as the plural of ibex because I can’t bear to say ibexes. I hope I’m right because I really should be. In any event, the point is not about the word, the point is about the animal.

Juvenile_Nubian_ibex_(50822)The sequence showed how these ibex live at altitudes of about 8,000 feet on cliffs that offer little in the way of easy travel. They are safe from predators at those heights, but need to descend to get water, and that’s where things get hairy, especially for the ibex kids. We were on the edge of our seats watching a red fox stalk the ibex kids as they nervously and inexpertly navigated the craggy cliff face. If they moved to safer ground they were at risk of being caught by the fox. Climbing further up moved them away from the water that was their goal and from the parents in the herd who waited for them on the bottom (a little Mom judging there on my part I confess).

The ibex kids ran just far enough for safety and then found themselves cornered in a spot where the next ledge down was 30 feet below and the fox was working his way up to them. And they began to slip, lose their footing. We were all holding our breath (except for my son who had his fingers in his ears, his eyes closed and was chanting: “Tell me when it’s over. Tell me when it’s over.”).

And then you know what those ibex kids did? Are you ready for it? Just as they were starting to slip and it looked as though death was certain in one way or another… they leapt. They jumped right into that 30 foot space and flew down to the ground. They were so young that they likely hadn’t used their ibex jumping skills yet, but on this day, they got the lesson swiftly. They felt themselves falling. They felt themselves in peril. They were terrified (the noises made this clear), so they turned to instinct and they jumped.

And they made it!!! We all cheered as they jumped again and again and evaded the fox and caught up with the herd. Go baby ibex!!!

It got me to thinking about the amount of time I’ve spent on those rocks. When I’ve backed myself into a corner through inexperience or uncertainty and I look around only to find that it seems all of my possible roads are full of peril. I look around and see only impossibility. I look around and become paralyzed, bleating and wishing for a wiser human to save me. Paralyzed by my fear. Paralyzed by my perception of inexperience. Paralyzed by all of the what ifs. So much time and suffering on those rocks.

And then I think about the times I leapt.

Twelve years ago Scot and I were on year 6 of our “infertility journey.” I almost threw up in my mouth saying that. We seem to think if we attach “journey” to words describing a shitty time in our lives it will be less awful. That may work for some people – not so much for me. At any rate, we had pretty much given up because our previous attempts had been so heartbreaking and, in one instance, nearly lethal (that’s a story for another day).

We were considering adoption (everyone referred to this as “just,” as in why don’t you “just” adopt – as though that is a small thing, again a story for another day) and we were also wondering just being the aunt and uncle who travel a lot and give great gifts. And it made for a great story. Even now, that’s a life story I can get down with. But I didn’t really buy it. I wanted to be a Mom, and I wanted to have kids with Scot. The struggle that we went through to make that happen was dreadful. And one New Year’s Eve, when I’d had too much to drink and was sitting with a trusted friend, I told her I was standing on the rocks. I confessed that my great travel and gift-giving plan wasn’t working for my heart. I admitted what I really wanted and cried because it seemed impossible.

And she said the thing that my own instinct was no longer able to say: “What if you just try one more time?” We talked about a doctor she had heard of, a miracle worker. To be honest, I’m not sure exactly how things went after that, because it’s all a bit of a blur and it is a blur because I leapt. I stopped letting my fear STOP ME and put myself in the hands of the miracle worker. I put all of my learning into action and made the rest of my life work along with this final attempt. I minimized my stress. I even changed jobs in order to do that. I did the whole thing.

In this case, my leap got me the result I wanted, twice over. I have 11 year old twins who are most definitely my and my husband’s kids. But the point here isn’t really that my dream came true. Because this dream, of being parents, has perils of its own as so many of you know.

child-costume-fairy-127968The point about the leap is that it ended the self-imposed torture of standing on the rocks and trembling in indecision. Even if our final attempt had failed, I think I would have felt better having finally gone to the miracle worker people were talking about. I would have felt like I had given it my all and that I needed to check in to see if there was a new dream I could sink my teeth into. It was the sitting on that rock that was so, so terrible. And my guts knew I wasn’t ready to give up, which would have been a perfectly acceptable choice really – a leap of it’s own in releasing that desire in favor of building something new.

So I guess I’m just wondering how sure your footing is these days. Do you feel yourself slipping? Do you feel like you’re on the rock? What would a leap look like for you? I’d love to help you fly.

SaveSave

Building Trust

This weekend I did something that was really hard for me.

I took my kids to the march on Washington.

My husband is out of town, and couldn’t be with us, but my church chartered fancy buses and when I realized I could be with a big group, I decided that we would go. The kids wanted to go. They felt strongly about it (although in retrospect they really didn’t know what that being there would look like). I wanted to support their participation and I certainly felt that it was important for myself.

pexels-photo-93490But the crowd thing. That’s a tough one for me. I’m an introvert by nature, so really groups of more than like 50 are really never on my short list of great places to be. I also am SERIOUSLY sensitive about noise, people accidentally touching me or bumping into me, and just the energy of ALL THOSE people. This is just me. I completely and totally accept all of my unique unicorn-ness.

Knowing these things about myself helps me make good decisions, AND it helps me to make difficult situations just a little bit better.

Because let’s face it, I could have just decided not to go. I could have decided that it would have been too difficult for me to provide good parenting for my kids when I would be a little energetically impaired. I could totally have decided that. OR I could have decided to just gut it up. I’m going to just do it and be miserable and push through.

Thing is, I didn’t do either of those things. I decided to go, but to make sure that I was making that just a little bit better. How did I do that?

It started with that decision to ride the chartered bus – no long drive and parking nightmare in DC, no mob scene on public transport, no traffic jams. I then made sure I was going to be on the same bus with my sister and her family. More adults who love my kids in a mob sounds like a perfect setup. We also joined forces with another family while we were there and it was so HELPFUL. Huge high five to Elaine Gleaton who co-navigated the whole getting the kids to the port-a-johns and then losing our group and finding our way back to the buses thing… tangent.

That wasn’t all I did. I made sure I wasn’t going to be cold, because I really, really hate to be cold. I also made sure my kids dressed reasonably so they would also not be cold and whiny because I am not always super compassionate in response to whining. I wore clothes that made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I wore a little jewelry that made me feel plugged into myself. Bits and bobs that had special meaning, like talismans of connection and protection. I packed a lunch so that we wouldn’t have to add to whatever else might be going on by relying on street food and whether it was easy to get to or whether or not they would have ANYTHING my daughter would actually eat. I packed water bottles and snacks, and a deck of cards because I always pack a deck of cards.

I attempted to get a good night’s sleep, but was foiled. I also took a little bit of a supplement that is calming to me as we got onto the charter bus. I did everything I could think of to make myself as comfortable as humanly possible. I took excellent care of myself and my little people.

And doing all of that made it all a little better. I discovered some more tricks that I will remember for the next major crowd scene. I do best when I face the other people I love in a crowd, so instead of facing the Jumbotron, I just listened to the speeches. Really, that was more than enough and it felt good to me to be looking at my people instead of the screen and the backs of hundreds of thousands of heads. This also allowed me and the other parents to create a bit of a circle that we put the kids inside of so that they would not be bumped into as regularly. Adults are better at holding the physical space claim than slim 11 year olds.

It sounds like a long list I’m giving you, like I’m prepping you for your own protest with kids, but that isn’t really what this is about.

blur-body-care-161608What this is really about is me making a decision and then being really honest with myself about what parts of that decision were really going to challenge me, me honoring my own tendencies and my own needs in as many ways as were humanly possible. What this was really about was both not allowing myself to miss out on something really important AND actually doing what it took to make it okay to be myself in that situation. It was okay to be an introvert and stand with nearly one million other people. It was okay to take my kids to an event like that. It was okay for the whole thing to jangle me a little bit because I can and DO take care of myself. I can and DO treat myself as one of my loved ones.

See how that works? Being honest about what the challenges would be and taking care of as many of them as possible was like a signal to my sensitive self that she is heard, she is cared for, and there really is an adult up in here who will make sure she is okay. There is someone who wants things to be just a little bit better, even when it’s not an ideal situation. That message is so calming, so soothing, and so confidence-building. I can trust myself. I can trust myself to take care of myself and my kids. I can trust myself to do what’s right and not let it kill me. I can trust myself to make good decisions small and large. I can trust myself and that scared girl who’s in there and gets rattled by events like the rally on Saturday, she sees that and takes a deep breath and says: “Thank you.”

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.

SaveSave

30 Days of Freedom

I’ve been doing a little experiment, 30 Days of Freedom. It was all on Facebook, so if you haven’t seen it, find me and friend up! It has really been an interesting ride and frankly, I can’t recommend my experiment enough. The idea was to consciously choose an action every day that made me feel more free.

Choose to feel freeSome of the things that I chose to do were concrete, tangible, like jumping on my kids’ trampoline. Other actions really brought me face to face with how I think and how that makes me feel. And that’s the real lesson here for all of the freedom assignments I gave myself. The real lesson lies in the conscious examination of what was going on in my head that made me feel constrained, confined, limited. It’s life coaching 101, and I got a thirty day dose. I claim feeling more free as my goal, which means consciously looking in the spaces of constraint and limitation is a must.

Jumping on my kids’ trampoline wasn’t about having fun, although it was, mostly, fun. It wasn’t about looking silly, although that was surely part of it as well. It was about challenging my tendency to dismiss moments of silliness and play in favor of productivity and work. It was about finding the playfulness that I forget is just as important as the other things I feel. It was about firmly telling my inner timekeeper that I really DID have 10 minutes to go outside (without walking the dog) and simply play. This is a thought that I need to consciously practice. I could come up with a neat explanation for why my head works that way, but it’s not really the point. What’s really important is seeing what I’m thinking and challenging it, questioning, asking if it serves me, and if it doesn’t, trying on a different thought.

The importance of the thoughts over the actions I was choosing to take became crystal clear to me over the weekend. My sister and I had cooked up a long weekend at the Delaware shore with our families. My kids were really excited to see and get in the ocean, and I was excited to see it and spend time away with loved ones. As we prepared for the trip I began to think about my freedom challenge, and my recent lack of enthusiasm for really getting in the ocean (beyond say calf deep). It occurred to me that this could be a great freedom challenge. I used to get in the ocean. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that. At some point I became more aware of large and dangerous sea creatures and that combined with a growing sense of my own mortality convinced me that calf high was just about right. But that policy felt limiting. It felt uncomfortable. I felt like I was missing out. So I hatched a plan to really do it this time, to get in, to share the ocean with my kids the way my Mom shared it with me, fully immersed and jumping over waves.

The first day we were there I sort of used as my prep day. I stared the ocean down a bit, while marveling at the beauty. I felt myself get used to the chilly water. I felt the salt on my skin and in the air. I watched my kids and my nephew and remembered how much fun it was. I prepared. On Friday, I vowed, I would get in. I would challenge this fear to release myself from it. I would be more free… tomorrow.

And so Friday came, and with it came monster waves. I have NEVER seen waves like that in the Mid-Atlantic. They were Hawaii quality waves. They were giant. They were relentless. The undertow was VERY strong. The red flags were up on the lifeguard chairs down on the guarded beach. And so I sat with my challenge. And I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed of being afraid. I felt ashamed of waiting to claim a little freedom. I felt ashamed of the fact that I did not want to get in that ocean. I felt ashamed of reigning my kids in and limiting their experience, afraid I was just foisting limiting baggage onto them. I got myself pretty hemmed in with all of that shame and fear. It felt pretty awful.

And then I remembered. I remembered that my freedom challenge wasn’t about doing things I was afraid of. It was about the reasons. It was about the thoughts. It was about the stories I tell myself about what I choose and don’t choose. Watching grown men and women exit the ocean out of breath and a little scared proved to be all the data I needed to snap out of it. I wasn’t letting fear RULE me, I was choosing. I was choosing for me and choosing for my feather-weight kids. I was choosing based on the information that was all around me, not because of my ancient distrust of sharks. I was CHOOSING. THAT is what it feels like to be free, I just didn’t recognize it. I got so caught up in changing my behavior I forgot to look at what I was thinking. I have been afraid of the ocean because of sharks. This weekend I was afraid of not being a strong enough swimmer to guide myself and my kids through the roughest surf I have ever been in. THAT is different. I looked around and noticed that all of the other Moms thought it was different too.

true freedom is an inside jobThe only thing that was keeping me from being free in the surf this weekend was me. I set myself up and then tore myself down for being a responsible parent. I set myself up and then forgot about the whole point. I forgot that I have the power to choose the story I tell myself. I forgot that I have the power to make decisions as I like, as they serve me, that I can choose to feel shame or I can choose to simply choose presence in the face of the sand and surf. I can choose disappointment for my children or I can choose gratitude for the experience that we WERE having, which was pretty amazing. I can choose what I call freedom for me and choose how and when I push those boundaries. I can choose. Free.

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?