Come Home to Yourself

“You don’t need to change yourself. You need to come home to yourself.”

I was sitting in the grass listening to a talk by the Reverend John Scherer (mentioned in yesterday’s post) and this line really stood out.

It was not a new idea for me. Martha Beck, with whom I studied life coaching, often talks about coming home to peace as the foundation of personal growth and transformation.

The concept of improving things by coming home to peace, to yourself, is a game-changer, and it was a good reminder to me even now.

blackboard-board-chalk-21696I’ve been thinking about shaking some things up in my business, in my practice, and when I think about that really hard, which is my temptation as one who has regularly been rewarded for the thinking in the past, I am usually inclined to add a bunch of stuff, to seek out and take advice from the VAST multitude of business consultants out there (if you’ve never worked for yourself and seen this first hand, trust me you’d be blown away by how much money is changing hands learning how to make money change hands). I get really busy, big lists, big tasks. I check in with a lot of people: what do you think, how does this look, will this work, am I okay?

I spend a fair amount of time figuring out how to change what I’m doing, which sometimes morphs a bit into changing who I’m being. I know some of you feel me on this. We make concessions. They tend to start small, but can end up feeling really big when we realize that we’re proceeding in a way that we not only don’t really recognize but that feels foreign in a not exciting kind of way, that feels icky not just scary, that feels like a compromise with someone you really don’t like. We change to fit the world, or at least our understanding of the world.

It reminds me of my first couple of years teaching high school. I remember shopping for clothes for that job. I remember needing those clothes to look a certain way, some sort of picture I had in my head of teacher. It had nothing to do with modesty. It was just some idea of what I thought a teacher should look like. I also had ideas about how a teacher should act. I made my choices carefully (which isn’t always a bad thing – don’t misunderstand me). I SO wanted to get it right. As for the work itself, I worked my behind off. I was an excellent teacher. Or, I should say, the me that I constructed for the purpose of teaching, was an excellent teacher.

Because the thing is that I wasn’t really there. I was so busy making sure I was being right for the part that I forgot that I was not an actor. I forgot to bring my actual self to work with me.

And it broke me. There is little as draining as being someone other than who you are all day every day (especially when you have to get up at 5 am to do it).

I was so exhausted from all of that being perfect that when I got home, well, after I finished the part of the job that I did at home, which was usually at 9 or 10 pm (I am not receptive to comments about how easy teachers have it), I had no energy to come home to myself, to try to plug back in and remember who was in there, to find the parts of me that might help make things feel better.

And so I concluded that I just needed to get better at the job to feel better doing it. I needed to get better at all of the parts that teaching is made up of. I needed to get better at planning (I did, by the way). I needed to get better at creating materials (checked that one off the list too). I needed to get better at asking for help from colleagues (some progress). I needed to get better at organizing systems for the classroom (no progress, ever). I needed to get better at all of the mechanical elements that took up so much time.

It never once occurred to me in those first couple of years that I needed to pay more attention to my relationships with students. We had a good, working relationship. I was deemed “professional and friendly” in observations. Sounds good. Except that the relationships, and my capacity to be helpful to them was the thing that might have saved the entire experience.

It is easy to see this now as a life coach, someone who still teaches, and who is very clear on the fact that what I teach is only part of the gig. The relationships that come with the job and the fulfillment I get in being allowed to witness important transformations feed me.  It is easy, in retrospect, to see what might have made a difference in my early teaching experience.

It is easy because now, so many years later, I know that the trick is coming home to myself.

And yet, I am still tempted to just better myself, to get better at the mechanics of the job, to get better at marketing, to get better at organizing things (still a big zero on that front), and don’t misunderstand me, getting better at the mechanics is not a bad thing. It’s a question of how I make that decision.

If I come at improving myself from a place of fear and a willingness to be somebody different so that my world will not fall apart, so that I will win in some way that my culture defines for me, so that things will “work,” I just may get what I want, but it won’t feel very good.

alone-back-view-blonde-247195If I come at my work from a place of figuring out who I am and bringing that person to work with me, it’s still scary, because I’m a little afraid of letting all of you see her all of the time, BUT every decision after that is so much easier, and the results feel better no matter what they are, because I am home.

Are you home? Would you like to be?

The Keys to Your Freedom

I still see Mel Gibson yelling Freedom at the top of his lungs, blue paint on his face, in his we didn’t know you were crazy and a bigot days. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you haven’t seen Braveheart, and in many ways that’s probably okay.

freedom-handcuffs-hands-247851The moment in the film is one where he’s motivating the troops to face a much larger, better equipped, and infinitely better trained army.  And he calls them to action, to sustained and courageous action in the name of freedom.

It’s been a clarion cry since people were people who organized themselves, since people tried to be in charge of other people, since the draw of other people’s stuff tempted the first guy to go take it with force. Freedom.

And it’s clear from history AND from the silver screen that the call to freedom gets people going.

It gets people motivated.

It gets people marching.

It gets people chanting.

It gets people fighting.

The call for freedom in our shared world is loud, persistent, and the consequences for NOT claiming it are all too often real and brutal.

What I’d like to think about on this independence day in the U.S. is the calls for freedom in our inner worlds, which are so often more subtle and more easily dismissed in favor of more “practical” concerns:

  • the cry for freedom that happens in your head as you drive into a job you can’t stand,
  • the cry for freedom that happens in your head as you tough it out in a relationship that doesn’t nurture you in the slightest,
  • the cry for freedom as you buy things you don’t need to feel better,
  • the cry for freedom as you search around for something to believe in that feels like a home rather than a prolonged punishment,
  • the cry for freedom as you hide pieces of yourself to fit in and please people.

Those are all real cries.

They’re not wearing blue face paint and riding a big stallion, but they will if you ignore them too long.

I used to ignore those cries, and I endured the loss of sleep, the anxiety, the gnawing hunger that came with that choice. I tried to move things around. How about this? How about a little graduate school? No, how about doing the same job in a totally different environment? No? I just kept plugging away in situations that were wrong because I was sure that the things that would make me feel free were not available to ME. Sure, someone else might be able to make that work, but not me. I didn’t even really think about it long enough to have an argument with myself very often. I mean, this was what being an adult was, right? You find something you’re decent at that will get you paid and you DO IT. How it makes you feel is just because it’s a job… “That’s why they call it work.”

I rode those feelings in to a job that was draining me of everything I had until I started to have heart palpitations, and until my doctor told me that there was absolutely no way I would ever get pregnant in that condition. I was 37. I believed I was running out of time – another idea that enslaved me.

I ignored the cries of freedom until I could literally physically not ignore them anymore.

I see people do it all of the time. You see we all have these ideas, ideas about what’s possible and what’s right and who we are. Some of those ideas help us feel free and some of them keep us in prison.

So I ask you on this day of independence in the U.S., are there cries for freedom that you are ignoring? Are there signals you’re getting that tell you something’s not right? How loud will you let them get before you listen?

Sometimes after turning a deaf ear for a long time, we don’t even know how to listen anymore. We don’t recognize the call. We don’t recognize the cry as one we can do anything about. It just turns into a sense of how things are wrong and will always be the way they are. It just turns into a sense of impossibility and stuckness. It turns into hopelessness and repetition, stress eating and drinking, suppressed emotions and weariness.

back-view-blonde-hair-countryside-757056Freedom doesn’t feel like that. And sometimes it involves changing your circumstances, but before any of that happens, it involves finding those chains in your head and your heart so you can see them.

Sometimes all you need to do is see them beloveds because you hold the keys.

I’d love to help you find them.

We Get So Attached to the How

I have been, historically, a very goal oriented person. It has served me well in many ways. I did well in school and got letters and accolades to reward me for that. I have some degrees. I landed roles in plays and sang in bands. I got jobs and finished projects. I became a homeowner and saved for retirement. Check. Check. Check.

calendar-checklist-list-3243Looking back, I would say that only a relatively small percentage of that time, when I was checking off so many boxes, did I focus on what I thought that box would get me. I thought my education would get me a good job and the good job would make me happy I think. I think that’s how it went, although I suspect “happy” included some other more complicated dark stuff like “prove I was worthy,” “show what a good person I am,” “make other people approve of me,” but I digress because if you can actually believe it, that’s not what I want to talk about today (WHAT?!).

The point here is that in deciding what was going to deliver the desired state of mind or being, I became exclusively focused on the HOW. This is how I’m going to get THERE, instead of remembering to look for the THERE here. What? I know, too many vague words. I’ve got you.

I have heard this story a few times, and I don’t really know where it originates, so if you told it to me and you wrote it, I am super sorry for not crediting you. Shoot me a note and I will fix that. The story is about two fishermen.

One of the two starts his day at sunrise, catches as many fish as he can all day long, often until dark. He keeps the fish he needs for his family and sells the rest to friends and neighbors. He saves the money so that he can buy a boat to expand his fishing territory and hire some help.

He notices (and shakes his head at) the second fisherman who usually arrives at their secret fishing spot at around 10 am. The second fisherman fishes for a few hours and usually packs up when he has enough fish for his family plus one. He then, by mid-afternoon at the latest, packs up his things and returns home.

One day, the second fisherman surprises the first by asking what he does with all of the fish. The first fisherman explains that he has nearly saved up enough for a boat and he hopes to hire a second fisherman so that he can catch even more fish. “And what will you do then?” The first fisherman explains that he will then buy a bigger boat, and then maybe a second boat so that he can catch even more fish. He will increase his profits and expand the business as much as he can. “And then what?” asks the second fisherman, as he slowly reels in one of the four fish he will likely catch that day. The first fisherman explains that if he grows his business enough he will then be able to save enough money to retire and spend time with his family.

The first fisherman is pleased with his plan, and glad the second fisherman asked because maybe hearing about his ambitious plan will help the second fisherman realize how much more he could be doing. The first fisherman is very curious about the second and asks: “What do you do when you’re not fishing?”

action-beach-brother-749079The second fisherman explains that he wakes up and takes a walk first thing in the morning, eats breakfast with his family and then walks his children to school. He returns home and he and his wife spend some time together before he gathers his equipment. He fishes and when he is done, he returns home in time to play his guitar for a while before he meets his children after school. He plays with them and then he and his wife cook together, experimenting with all of the different ways they can enjoy the fish he has caught. Sometimes in the early evening, the family will walk together or even go down to the shore and swim before retiring for the night.

The second fisherman smiled, enjoying his own vision, his own story, his own reality now.

The second fisherman never lost sight of what he was trying to create, what he craved, what he wanted. He looked around and found that happiness, ease, and community were all already available. The only “HOW” in getting them was being clear enough to see what was right in front of him so long as he did not fill the time with some other how.

It is so easy to get attached to the how. It is so tempting to create that list with all of the check boxes. It is REALLY satisfying to check boxes (I know I’m not the only one). But what if you’ve made the HOW the goal? Worse still, what if your how is getting in the way? What is it that you really want?

Personally, I think I am going to need to schedule a check my HOW meeting with myself. What do I want? Am I sure that what I’m doing is about that? What would happen if I let a solution present itself? What would happen if I believed that being happier, feeling better, being connected and awake could just be easy?

Fish for thought.

With so much love,

julia

The Grind

grinder-hitachi-power-tool-flexible-162529I am writing this on a Monday morning and once in a while on Mondays I’ll sort of float the thought: “back to the grind,” in solidarity with everyone returning to work. But I don’t really think that at all and in fact, it is so far off the mark that it often makes me giggle a little. I never feel like I’m going back to the grind on Mondays.

This is not to say that I don’t sometimes find my job exceedingly difficult. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have days that are chock full, one thing to the next, a little frenzied. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have days that are all about massive productivity, sort of grinding things out, but it never feels like a grind and on the surface, I think that’s because I LOVE my work.

I have had many jobs. I come from a crew of multiple career folks; it seems to be in our genes to make major shifts more often than most, and I did my fair share of that. And it is tempting to say that NOW I found it. It certainly feels like that’s true now, and maybe it is true forever. Maybe this job is THE JOB, but I think my happiness with my work is more complicated than that and I think that complication might be useful to those of you for whom Monday really is a grind.

You see I had no intention of choosing this work. When I first began trying to make a decision about what to do for work after my kids went to school, I fully intended to go back to the classroom and things only got difficult when that idea started making me want to throw up. I think that’s a step beyond “the grind,” but maybe I’m just being dramatic.

At any rate, when I was trying to sort out what to do, I just kept looking at my options and their trade-offs and benefits. I kept sorting through the logic of all of it. And I kept bumping up against really old ideas about what I could and should do. “I couldn’t possibly… I HAVE to… What if I fail?” But that bumping was so old and practiced I didn’t even notice it any more. I just hit that imaginary ceiling, my self-imposed limit, and stopped, convinced I had laid all of the options on the table and I now needed to choose the one that was the best of the awful. And that made me want to throw up, as choosing the best of the awful is likely to do.

So I worked at all of that. I figured out where those limits were. I dug down to see what kinds of stories I was telling myself and there were quite a few there. Some of them sounded like my parents (although an old, more stressed out and judgy version of my parents). Some of them sounded like my siblings. And some of them sounded like the meanest version of myself. And I went through the process of unwinding it all.

SAMSUNG CSCAnd when I did that it was like opening a door. No, it was better than that. It was like suddenly removing the top of the building so I could see the sky (in a non-dangerous, totally non-creepy way). It was like looking up and seeing space and openness, limitlessness and freedom rather than seeing all of the reasons I couldn’t change things and THAT, that feeling changed everything.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had been able to do that work WHILE I was still in the classroom. It’s not regret or self-abuse; it really is just a wondering. I don’t know that I would have stayed in teaching, but I know I would have felt differently. I know I would have experienced the difficulties of the job differently – and I’d say that about any of the jobs I’ve had. I would have been different in them if I had been able to free myself from the mental baggage that was weighing me down, chaining me to whatever desk I occupied. I would have been free and felt more like I was choosing, and freedom and choosing – they don’t feel the grind the same way. Freedom and choosing find opportunities for growth. Freedom and choosing feel like power. Freedom and choosing are possible, but may require that deep internal work to find. And that deep internal work can work wonders on moving toward freedom and choice in the larger world. Liberation from the grind is a two step process. I suggest you lead with your mind. If you need a guide, I’d love to help. If you’d like to work on changing those thoughts on your own, I’d like to recommend my mini book, How to Rewrite Your Story.

So much love,

julia

When We Fail

Sometimes we fail.

How to fail wellWe do.

The thing we try to do doesn’t work.

The job we thought we’d love is really awful.

The marriage we so wanted to work out or fix ends.

Sometimes we fail.

 

The question is not whether or not it’s going to happen.

It’s going to happen, that is if you make any attempt to grow, reach, stretch, be more – failure will happen.

The question is not if, but what you will do with it.

The motivational crowd will tell you to get right back on that horse.

I’m going to ask you to check your course.

“But wait,” they say: “You can’t get mired in self-doubt.”

I say this is a reaction.

I say our fear of getting stuck in self-doubt after a failure or a less than stellar outcome is a dodge, a deflection, an extremely sophisticated way to get out of feeling the failure.

Because that’s what I think we should do.

I think we should feel it.

I think we should sit with the failure and let it be with us, cry if we need to, destroy a pillow if that’s better, but be with that feeling of failure.

Why? Why on earth would I want you to do that? Am I just a sadist?

No. I’m really not.

That feeling part, the part we dodge and weave to avoid, the part we look for quick fixes, buffers, distractions for? That’s our most delicate and informative equipment. That’s our navigational hardware. That’s how we really stay on course. If we avoid it all of the time and just get back to forging ahead we’ll be going in circles or headed to a destination we don’t really want.

So what do we need to do? We need to feel the failure.

Does that mean we need to change course? No, maybe, I don’t know for you. Only YOU know for you and the best way to access that knowing is to be honest and the way to start being honest is to feel how you feel, get through the peak of that and then have the conversation with yourself, check in with your internal navigation, after you’ve given it a moment to recalibrate.

what will you let failure teach youYou may then decide to get back on that horse and just try again. You may try again with a variation. You may decide it’s time for a new horse. The point isn’t always whether or not you persist in what you were doing, but in what you learn and what you allow with the failure. The point isn’t always getting up and trying again, but in trying better, trying different, maybe even trying new.

Failure will happen.

If you risk anything worth risking, if you step beyond where you are at all in hopes of reaching something more, failure will happen.

What will you make from it? What will it teach you? Who will you become after that?