Facing the Music

I have a phone call with a master coach today.

blank-branding-identity-business-6372It is a follow-up call for training I received.

I am dreading this call.

I am dreading it because I am ashamed.

I am ashamed at my “lack of progress.”

I am ashamed that I haven’t put all of her teaching to good use.

I am afraid of admitting that I am unsure what I’m doing and why.

I am afraid of facing someone I respect with my interpretation of the current facts.

There are so many parts of this story that are wrong (and I hear you being oh so kind about them – don’t worry my self-abuse is temporary and not terminal), including the voice in my head, the old adolescent voice, who is so afraid of facing the truth that she is desperately trying to reposition. “I didn’t do these things because… I couldn’t do them because…”

Excuses.

And I say that not like a personal trainer might while urging me to go to the gym (not gonna happen, BTW). I say that as the wise woman who sees that repositioning is merely a distraction, an attempt to dodge the point, a failure to learn the lessons by avoiding the truth of the matter (which I’m not entirely clear on and that’s okay).

There are things I have not done.

I can sit here and fight with that and simultaneously feel ashamed OR

I can accept that I have not done these things – it is past. I cannot do them all by the time of my call. Those decision moments are behind me.

I can forgive myself, because really, what choice is there? I can keep beating myself up but that is not proving to give me any kind of result other than not being able to act for a new set of reasons. Forgiveness is the only choice that will create space for progress.

I can then pick up that list (color-coded even) and look at the items and be brutally honest about why they are untouched. What have I left undone and why? All answers are allowed without judgment.

I can get clear about the thoughts and feeling that are preventing me from acting.

I can take those to my master coach because really, like so many others, she only wants to help.

I tend to think of responsibility as meaning I do everything I’m supposed to do, but I think that there is more to it than that, because humans. None of us do everything we’re supposed to do, at least I haven’t met those people. And that’s because there’s an awful lot that goes into the determination of what we’re “supposed” to do.

There’s the whole part where that list gets made. Some of us are really good about being focused and clear during that part. Following our gut-level intuition, using our prior knowledge and experience, thinking about what it means to be love in the world, taking into account the hours in the actual day. Can you tell I’m maybe not so great at this part? Who can think of all of those things at the same time? I frequently rely on some interstellar guidance at those moment because good grief my emo-intellectual cosmic calculating spreadsheet only has so many columns! So that list is the first place where slippage can happen because sometimes the things that make on the list don’t belong there. Sometimes things that do belong on the list get left off. Sometimes we lose the list.

blur-close-up-handwriting-131979Where else does it get messy? Well, with the giant chunk that follows that – the execution. There is a bit of an intermediary step in prioritizing, but I’d say that falls prone to the same problem as I just described in the whole list-making phase. Execution is where the rubber hits the road, or where we stay in park. Maybe we’re in park idling, just not moving. Maybe we keep trying to go and the kids keep hopping in and out of the car needing assistance and snacks. Maybe we’re driving a few inches forward and then backing up, never really completing anything but dipping our toes into all of the items on the list. Maybe we’re just sitting in the damn car with the keys in our fist crying because we remember when we crashed. So many things can get in the way of execution.

Humans are messy. Doing things is far more complicated than it sometimes appears, and far more involved than we give it credit for when we beat ourselves up for inaction. To say that we are irresponsible when we don’t do it all seems unnecessarily judgy and mean to me. I think a human standard, one that acknowledges imperfection and complexity, focuses more on responsibility as being the moment when you honestly face what you have and have not done and what’s going on there; when you look at your decision-process and either make a new choice or sort out what’s going on in your head; when you let go of the crap that didn’t belong on the list in the first place and you add the things that you were crazy to leave off. That sounds responsible and real to me.

Or maybe that’s just a story I tell myself so I can get on with things. And really, that’s okay too.

What do you make responsibility mean? Do you use it as a weapon against yourself or do you let it help you grow? There is a choice there. Every day.

What’s In Your Attic?

I’ve been reading a book by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She is a Lutheran pastor who is down to earth, funny, and unapologetic about all of the ways she doesn’t match the stereotype or the idealized version of a Christian minister. I find her work funny, meaningful, and incredibly inspiring. One of the reasons I like her so much is that she always makes the connection between the theological or the biblical and every day life. Now, I’m not going to do the same here as I have no interest in schooling you on the Bible or claiming any kind of theological authority, but this idea that Bolz-Weber put forward kind of stopped me in my tracks (metaphorically, I was reading on the couch, already stopped).

She’s writing about Advent, and I won’t go into it in too much depth (I do talk about Advent here, if that’s of interest to you), but she and a congregant begin discussing an idea about a practice for Advent, the time leading up to Christmas. She proposes to her friend that they make lists for Advent, you know like a Christmas list, but so not. A Christmas list includes everything you want to bring in, to add, to receive. An Advent list, on the other hand, includes everything that you’d like removed, everything (in her words): “we want Christ to break in and take from us. in the hopes he could pickpocket the stupid junk in our houses, or abscond with our self-loathing or resentment…” I am completely in love with this idea. I am so in love with it I needed to share it with you when the holiday season is half a year away. Patience has NEVER been my thing.

background-bags-bows-1050244This whole idea of the Advent list really got me to thinking about how we see “better.” When we think about things getting better in our lives, we often focus on what would add to them: more stuff, more space, more vacation, more clothes, more shoes, more good food, more time and always ALWAYS more money (me too, yes please).

In my own personal development and growth these last few years, however, I’ve seen that my greatest happiness, my biggest joys, my clearest leaps forward have all been as a result of removing something rather than adding something new. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go all minimalist on you because anyone who’s seen my house knows THAT’s a laugh. The point here isn’t about the stuff, the cars, the house, or even the shoes (no, not even the shoes).

The point is that when it comes to our selves – our souls, our personalities, our essence(s) – it is rarely an addition that is needed.

Alright, WTH am I talking about. Let me share a little story.

Years ago, when I began to see my coach (yes coaches have coaches), I had a specific goal in mind. I wanted to figure out what to do professionally. The kids were growing up and I wanted to get back to work in some capacity. It was clear that the previous plan (me returning to the classroom) would not work when I began to feel nauseous (not in a nervous but more like a oh please no kind of way) every time I thought about it or got a call to substitute or did work towards renewing my certification. Every time. I decided to listen to the old God pod and explore other options.

My coach listened intently to my conundrum, the background story, the questions, the circular thinking, the distrust of my own preferences and she said, brilliantly: “I know you have a really specific goal here, but sometimes before you can deal with life on the first floor, you’ve got to clean out the attic.”

I laughed and shook my head, having known this was coming and not wanting anything to do with it. And yet, it was time. It was time to find the way forward by removing the impediments. It was time to find the way forward by dropping the shield. It was time to ask the questions WITHOUT having pre-scripted answers to run into. I needed things to be taken away. My relationship with religion has been somewhat spotty, but I do know miracles from humans when I see them. The work that my coach and I did together was nothing short of magical. She helped me find the junk that was in the way. She helped me clear the road, unclog the pipes, and clean out the attic. How’s that for whole lot of cleanup in a mixed metaphor?

agriculture-box-container-5841If you measure my life in material terms, it’s pretty darned good, and has been for a long time. Since my seminarian and I embarked on our mid-life crises simultaneously, that material reality has changed. We have less. But what we’ve really done is changed the internal landscape so dramatically that the shift in our income matters far less than it would have years ago. We have less in the attic: less self-doubt, less resentment, less certainty about what can’t be, fewer fearful voices, fewer rules, less need to fit in, less desire to compete, less need to buffer ourselves against the dissatisfaction we created. We have less. Those boxes have been sorted through, the gems moved into places of prominence and the tattered dregs tossed to the curb.

We have less, and so we find that we are able to be more, and that’s all we ever wanted.

What’s on your Advent list? What do you want taken out of your head, your heart, your life? You have several months to answer that question. If you’d like, I’d love to be part of your decluttering team.