Navigating Growth: Extending Your Branches

I have always liked maps. I love to look at them, to imagine traveling with them, using them to find new and more interesting or pleasing ways to get somewhere. GPS is seriously useful, but not the same. There I said it; judge away. I like to hold and touch and SEE the big picture.

adventure-beautiful-bright-243597.jpgAnd I see that I have always believed that having that big map – the big picture with all of the details for how to get there – for all of my decisions was absolutely necessary. I mean how can you decide which direction to turn if you don’t know where you are going?

My recent experiences fly directly in the face of that idea and all of its conventional wisdom. It has thrown me for quite a loop.

You see, I’m building a community. The idea for my private FB group came to me in stillness (that’s meditation for those of you not allergic to the word – allergy sufferers forget I said anything). I got more inspiration on a walk. I got other pieces in the shower but it didn’t all add up to a map, a detailed plan. It was a little more loosey-goosey than that. So I held onto it, wanting to get the destination firmly in mind, perfecting the path.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think there’s good to be found in working on your vision, but sometimes we (I) can get stuck there, moving pieces around mentally and never getting to the trip. It’s like planning a dream vacation your whole life and never actually packing a bag. For many of us the dreaming is the safe space. It is where we can try to imagine how it should be without taking any of the risks associated with trying to make it so.

The dreaming space is where my son hangs out in preparation for Halloween. He LOVES Halloween and he spends months thinking about his costume. He wants it to be whatever he wants it to be: one year scary, another year clever and literary, this year I think he’s going for political satire (yes, that’s my kid) and he works at that vision. He sees the big picture – him going to the door, the adult GETTING it, the candy, the pride. He sees the impact he wants to have. He begins to think of the details associated with the costume. We talk about those details and invariably when we get to about 2 weeks out, he begins to have doubts. He begins to think maybe his idea isn’t so great after all. This year his big worry is: “What if they don’t get it?” Oh honey, I know. Then he moves into the familiar. Maybe he should dress up as something easy, something that comes in a bag with all of the pieces, something everyone will recognize right away. Maybe he’s got the destination all wrong. It is only the time pressure (and maternal nagging) and the siren call of the candy payoff that forces his hand, that moves him out of dreaming and self-doubt into action.

I began to feel this same thing happening with the idea of this community I wanted to build, but with no candy payday to push me forward. I was sort of sitting still fondling the vision, and the longer I looked, the more I noticed the self-doubt that was creeping in around the edges. I began to hear internal message and all of those messages boiled down to some version of “Who are you to do that? Who do you think you are?”

I began to wonder if maybe I needed some training. I began to compile a reading list. I thought of some other things I would probably need to do before getting started in order to be “ready.” Let me interrupt myself (again) by saying there’s nothing wrong with training, reading, or otherwise preparing yourself for a new venture, unless you are doing all of that as a way to 1) delay action indefinitely OR 2) feel good enough to pursue something to which you feel called right now. That’s exactly what I was doing.

The fix wasn’t in more school or a more specific vision. The fix wasn’t in reading the “right” books. The fix wasn’t in preparation. The fix was in releasing the need to perfect the big vision long enough to take the next small step. The way I chose to do that was to change the conversation in my head from “What do I want to do?” which is a super important but LONG conversation that gets all of those internal naysayers in full screech mode TO “What small step should I take next?”

WHOLE different question, right? Reflecting on what small step to take next is far less daunting and while it tends to generate its own mental obstacle course, that tends to look more like confusion than self-abuse which I would argue is easier on the spirit.

“I don’t know” feels better than “No you can’t” AND it can be answered by a question perfectly grounded in possibility and shared with me by a friend who learned it from Iyanla VanZant. “Well, what if you did know?” Pretend you do know what to do next. Now what’s the answer?

It’s such a wonderful question because it sidesteps the fog that our brains use to keep us still. It’s a wonderful question because it brings us back to stillness, to what we DO know, what we can know, what we ARE capable of and out of the hunting and overwhelming picture of the perfection we’d like to create.

I believe the answer to that question, the question of what to do next, is usually quite simple. It is almost always something we already know how to do, and if we can quiet our minds enough, we can access it – either right there in stillness or sometime after like on a walk or in the shower.

It is tempting, when we get an answer, when we see a step that is as small as writing an e-mail or making a phone call, to make it bigger, to turn it into more, to consider everything about it, another brilliantly executed stall tactic by the safety monitor in our minds.

child-costume-fairy-127968If instead, we accept that simple step and execute it, we build trust in ourselves, trust in the benevolence of the universe, and trust in the possibility that we can be enough right now. If we just get the costume we envisioned,  create the props that give costume clues, wear the long johns if necessary, the KitKats and Twix bars will flow and MAYBE next year we will remember that it is okay to do it just the way we want.

When You See the Cracks

This is the first week of summer break for my kids. So far things have been going pretty well. They’ve had volleyball camp for a couple of hours every morning and my husband had been doing pretty much ALL of the domestic heavy lifting in preparation for an upcoming absence. So, yeah, so far so good for me. No need to work out that balance when everyone else is doing the work.

adorable-animal-basket-167700Well, as luck would have it by the time he left my kids had worn themselves out staying up giggling (which they thought we couldn’t hear). I had worn myself out trying to get a bunch of stuff done in the evening. Even the dog seems tired. And we all know what a tired family means. Just in case it’s been a while for you, there’s a whole lot of grumpiness. In my case there’s a lack of good sense. I just don’t think as clearly when I’m tired and as a result everything seems to take longer. I make mistakes. And I’m not very nice about how all of that goes down.

Sounds like good old-fashioned summer fun, right?

I have a distinct recollection of my mother opening the door and telling us to come home when we got hungry.

We don’t roll that way as a culture anymore, and I’m not sure we’re better for that change, but that is a whole separate post.

I wanted to tell you about this moment I had today, in my fog and stupidity (don’t worry, I’m not berating myself, it’s temporary and totally sleep related).

It was when we got to the orthodontist’s office.

Back Story: I had always handled the visits to the orthodontist for my son. When my seminarian left his day job and I started working a lot more, we enacted a shuffling of the domestic realms of responsibility. Kid teeth responsibilities were part of that shift.

I’ve talked before about the importance of me acknowledging that running the household with all of its various parts and responsibilities is no small feat and I had a good long run at it. My efficiency rating, not my aesthetic rating mind you, was pretty darned high. I had several years to get good at all of it.

The reshuffle has caused some bumps in the road as has the further offloading of some responsibilities onto our growing kids. There have been several moments where I’ve had to put my standards, my expectations, and my even my desires in check because things just aren’t going to work that way. Please understand that I don’t say any of that as condemnation. We’ve got a lot of moving parts and in some ways dividing them up instead of having me as the domestic dictator makes things harder. Decision-making is less centralized. Scheduling requires more communication in less time. Keeping the larder stocked for all of the different kinds of cooking happening causes a level of inefficiency that makes my little teutonic soul cringe a little.

We’ve had some problems scheduling this particular orthodontist appointment. It had to be cancelled for one thing. It had to be rescheduled because of a traffic jam. It got so bad that the doctor called to see if we were actually going to bring him in. I admit I was a little embarrassed about that. I went ahead and scheduled an appointment. They slipped us in quickly, and today in the middle of a whole slew of prep for an out of town trip, we breezed in, on time, and as we were walking in my son said: “I forgot my retainer.”

I stopped in my tracks, right there in the parking lot. Mostly because I needed to take some deep breaths in order to not yell at him. It’s possible that a quiet “Damnit” slipped out under my breath. We went into the office anyway, just to confirm that there was absolutely no point in proceeding, which I knew but thought we’d check.

As we drove to our next of several thousand errands, I looked around at the lay of the family land and I’m seeing a few places like this, where the train is off the rails a bit, where we’re not quite making connections. Things are falling through the cracks.

A couple of years ago this whole set of observations would have created a shame spiral. I would have been furious with my husband for screwing it all up in the first place. I would have been furious for my kid for leaving his retainer at home. And all of that anger would have been a cover for feeling like a bad Mom, like somebody who couldn’t keep things together, like a failure.

Those of you who finished your intense parenting phase before social media might remember some pressure to get it all right, but I’m telling you June Cleaver and Carole Brady have nothing on Pinterest and the blogosphere full of amazing ways to make your family’s life enriching, engaging, and picture perfect. The comparisonitis that can develop when you’re tired or unhappy or unfulfilled or desperate to be good at something is pretty intense. And I felt a lot of that pressure.

boys-childhood-children-51349Today was a little different. Today I saw the gaps. I saw where our transition is not going very smoothly. I saw my part in that. I also saw other people’s parts but immediately saw them as learning curves rather than deficiencies. I also saw the grace we gained by allowing those gaps, the extra minutes spent reading, or sleeping, or NOT obsessively planning.

And so I sit here in this moment, really tired, but more than a little proud. I am proud of the work I’ve done to feel better about myself and my choices. I am proud of the shifts we are all making to grow and learn together. I am astonished by the changes we’ve made and am so delighted to be able to see our collective progress even in the moments when I’d really like to just rewind the clock a few minutes to retrieve an orthodontic appliance.

What’s in the Way of Better?

accomplishment-ceremony-college-267885When I was younger (said in my geezer voice), I had all of these ideas about when things would be better. First they would be better when I graduated high school. Then they would be better when I graduated college. There was some stuff about boyfriends and relationships all during that time as well – that would definitely make things better. THEN there was the things would be better when our band finally got noticed, when I figured out how to make a living, when I could get my own place (okay that one was TOTALLY true). Sprinkled throughout there was still more better when I don’t have to deal with so and so or better when I can tell that person what I really think.

The point is that place of better was always out there somewhere and the things that were getting in the way were everything. Time and age was in the way. Lack of money was in the way. Other people’s behavior was in the way. So many things that were in the way of my feeling better. Didn’t they all know that I deserved to feel better? That’s a whole separate branch of this tree and it deserves its own post.

This habit of delaying better and tying it to something I had no control over continued on well into my adult years (wait, that’s right, right? I am well into my adult years… holy crap). When I was struggling with infertility, everything would be better if I was pregnant. When I was pregnant everything would be better after my twins were born. When my twins were born everything would be better… yeah, I don’t remember what I thought then. Sleep deprivation is a killer. When my twins were toddlers, everything would be better when they were potty-trained, able to dress themselves, etc, etc, etc. Now my husband is in seminary and I’m sure everything will be better when he’s done. Except for all of the countless ways it will be exactly the same and all of the new ways it will be challenging.

There’s some sort of cliche older person talking to younger person lesson in here. Something about the more things change, the more things stay the same. Wherever you go, there you are. The grass is always greener… There are more of these but my caffeine hasn’t kicked in enough to access more of them. They are right on the money, but they also miss something crucial.

What we miss when we point out that the grass is always greener is that when we make that comparison, we’re spending a whole lot of time looking at someone else’s lawn. It’s not just that it seems better over there, it’s that we’re not looking at here at all. If we spent more time looking at our own yard, we might notice a few things we didn’t see before.

beautiful-flora-flowers-83118We might see the tiny flowers that pop up in the earliest Spring.

We might see the shells in the flower beds that we brought home from a trip to the beach with beloved friends.

We might notice the pair of mockingbirds that nest in the bush.

We also might see that we’ve let the weeds get out of hand. We might notice that some of those come up rather easily.

We might notice some vines are threatening the small trees on the border.

We see the details. We see the “good” and we see the “problems.”

We see it all and can get real about what’s in the way of what we think of as better.

Is it what we’re not acknowledging and celebrating?

Is it what we’re choosing to leave unaddressed?

Is it what we define as better?

When I think about it “good” can only really happen right now, in this moment. When it’s in the past, it is over and when it’s something we are predicting, it is not ours to experience it yet. Good is now and better is here, if only we can see it behind all of the things we’ve let get in the way.

 

The Sting of Rejection

“No, thank you,” she said and even though I know better, I STILL felt a little sting, that sting of rejection. When I think about it in my wise brain, I know that not everyone will like everything I do. In fact, I’m quite sure there will be plenty of people who won’t like anything I do and my wise self tells me that’s okay. That last bit there, that’s the part I struggle with sometimes.

And I think that struggle is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that, just like most humans, I want to be liked. I want the things that I do to be liked, and I want to please the people around me. I am a recovering people pleaser (with the caveat that there are some people who I’ve never once tried to please and I’m sure they would have liked a little more than that). I think I’ve moved steadily from wanting to please others, be the good girl, shine like a little star sticker in a piano music book TO just wanting to not be actively disliked (like it’s okay if you don’t think I’m the bees knees, but please don’t hate me or be mean) TO realizing that how you feel about me is your business and I and everyone around me are best served by my staying out of that and being the best me I can be. Sounds like a nice steady progression, right? But just like any growth, the motion is not always purely linear. We can be mostly mature about something and still have flashes of 7 year old. I really still would like a gold star every now and then.

The second reason I think my reaction to being refused is interesting is because in that reaction I show that somehow I’ve made everything I do/create/write/make the same thing as me. If someone rejects, dislikes, doesn’t LOVE something I’ve put out in the world, they are rejecting ME (in this way of thinking). That’s ridiculous. When I turn the tables, I can think of plenty of people who make/write/create/share things that I’m not wild about even though I really like the people. I’m sure they have an audience for their stuff; I’m just not a member.

So given that my wise self knows better, why the sting of rejection?

How to not be hurt so much by rejectionAnd THAT is when it really becomes intensely personal, which is to say that it is ALL about me and what’s going on in my head. The sting of the rejection has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with what it triggers in me. What do I make that rejection mean?

“I knew it wouldn’t work.”

“I was afraid of this.”

“Nobody’s going to want this thing.”

Those are just warm-ups; hang on for the big guns…

“Why can’t I get this right?”

“Why did I think I could do this?”

“I’m nowhere near good enough to pull this off.”

“I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”

“Maybe I should look into grad school…”

And still better…

“Nothing I do works out.”

“Everyone else has it all worked out. I never will.”

“There must be something wrong with me.”

“I am not enough.”

If I let it, my brain can go from offering someone my work to crippling self-doubt in three steps. And the most important part of that sentence is the first part, the “If I let it.” A mentor of mine refers to the unobserved brain as a toddler with a knife. That brain will think and think and think and think, and it will think you into very safe corners that you most likely have no desire to inhabit, if you let it. If you choose to let your brain interpret the world as it chooses rather than the way that you choose.

When I choose to observe my descent into self-doubt, I can see it with compassion. And then, I can challenge it. “Really? One ‘no’ is evidence of your lack of worth?” I get a little loud with my brain sometimes. Other times: “There, there. I see you’re upset and I know this all feels big and real, so go have a cry if you need to and then we’ll talk about what’s actually going on here. Just take a minute. I’ll wait.” There will be plenty of opportunities to use both of these approaches.

Rejection is not deathBecause rejection comes in so many shapes and sizes. And it can mean everything or nothing. It is so rare that the person who delivered it is still thinking about it at all, because to them, it was just a “no,” a “no” that they have a right to deliver, to express, to use to dole out their time and talents in the way that is best for them. It was just a no.

You’re okay.

A Passport to Your Best Life

A friend shared with me that he is in the process of renewing his passport. He shared that he was being particularly careful as some of the rules regarding travel, even with passports, have become more strict, more complex. He also reflected on the number of people in the world who can’t travel freely. It all got me to thinking about this idea of a passport.

What does a passport do? It allows you to go to places that are otherwise unreachable for you. It allows you a measure of freedom that would not be available without it. It also marks a plan, even if it’s only a vague desire, to move – to travel – to change and be changed.

emotional maturityWhat do passports communicate? They say that we are who we say we are. They authenticate our identity (yup, we checked, it’s her). They indicate that you ARE (at least in your home country) free to move about at will. They suggest that you are not a known threat of any kind. And they give a sort of unofficial nod tot he idea that you can be trusted in a new territory. No official would ever suggest that the passport does that – it would be claiming far too much in the way of responsibility should something awful happen, but that’s pretty much what the assumption is. You have a passport, you must be okay at some basic level and you can be trusted to be in a new place.

I love to travel (not the the actual act of the travel, which I detest, but the being in new places). I like to make lists of places I’d like to go and occasionally re-order them according to something that has shifted for me. I like to imagine the circumstances that would make it possible for me to check one of those boxes. I like to experiment with the idea of being in other places, of being the curious and willing foreigner.

When it comes to my own life, however, my imagination and my curiosity sometimes fail me. When I imagine being in new circumstances and spaces, I often draw a blank (which I think is just total brain shutdown). I talk myself out of the appeal of those possibilities. I don’t even get to the point of imaging the circumstances that would make those new spaces habitable, enjoyable, as exciting as a foreign city.

Being BraveAnd I think, really, it’s because I haven’t yet administered myself a proper passport. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to new experiences in life, we are the ones who administer our own passports. I hear you arguing with me, well at least some of you. I didn’t used to believe this either. I put my parents in the uncomfortable position of being the passport office for a long time. I sought their approval (and they are very different, so pleasing all 4 is no small feat) for each plan, every idea, all of the notions that I experimented with. I wanted them to make me strong enough from the outside that I could be brave on the inside. I wanted their approval to form some sort of exoskeleton that I could use to shield myself from the pain and difficulty of trying new and hard things.

stop people pleasingThis version of me, the one who was not yet ready to write her own passport, didn’t meet the criteria. I could not be trusted in new territory. I was not read to administer and sanction my own great adventures, so I didn’t take many, and the ones I took were pursued in a pretty random fashion without any confidence or self-assurance. I never committed fully, and so never achieved the things I set out to do. I was not who I said I was because I was always trying to be the person I thought someone wanted to have around. I was not free to do anything because I was paralyzed by self-doubt and loneliness (because of never being myself). I was a known threat, at least amongst the young men I tried on during this period. I could not be trusted in new territory. If only there had been a guard at the beginning of each adventure checking my criteria and sending me back to improve my game before I got started.

But this is how it goes I suppose. We just keep getting to the edge of the nest and hoping we’re not so high up that it kills us when we don’t fly so well. I think emotional maturity is our internal passport office. When we take responsibility for our own happiness, when we pursue our own goals in order to please and satisfy ourselves, when admit what we want and commit to it fully, then we get a passport.

Then we are who we say we are.

Then we are free to make changes and move at will.

Then we are not a known threat to others, or even to ourselves anymore.

Then we can be trusted in new territory, because our capacity grows as we learn to meet our commitment.

What new lands await you?

Are you ready to give yourself a passport?