Who’s Driving The Bus?

I’ve had something come up in a LOT of conversations lately – both professional and social, so I get this sense that maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to talk about.

blur-book-girl-373465And because you know I like to make everything about me, I’m going to start with a story. I’ve been a little low in the last month (mentioned it a few times, I know, experimenting with vulnerable transparency – how am I doing?). There have been days when it just feels like a cloud in the sky – a partly to mostly sunny day. I’m still doing most of my things – maybe a little less social, maybe a little more tired, a little more inclined to pick up a book than have a conversation – you know kind of cloudy. Other days have been this swell mix of medical woes and misery that have been full on incapacitating storm conditions – like when all the power is out and you can’t leave the neighborhood, except without the nice part where you discover that taking a break from social media is a good thing.

Storm conditions when it is very clear that none of the things you planned yesterday are going to happen, and you can’t really remember what they were anyway. The ones you kind of remember seem stupid and you feel too sick to do anything about something that seems stupid. Yeah, like that. You’re down to one flashlight with batteries and into the canned goods. THAT kind of bad day.

Mercifully, it seems that both the physical and the emotional aspects of the storm are easing, and that has been an incremental kind of thing, each day finding one more battery, remembering the granola bar I hid for emergencies, reconnecting with one really good thing I wanted to do and feeling its importance deeply. And as I make this transition, I wonder about the difference between these two states. Some of it was purely physical. I won’t go into details, but it seems that everything that bothers me in a low-level chronic kind of way decided to show up at once at higher-levels. It’s been really fun. And the physical stuff certainly fed the emotional component. It’s hard to stay optimistic when your body is basically giving you the finger (and yes, that’s an intended pun for those familiar with my arthritic hands). It’s hard not to let your whole outlook be determined by your physical reality. And so, I gave up the keys.

A few weeks ago I decided to let my discomfort, my frustration, my pain, and my pessimism drive the bus. “I quit. Here you go. You do it. This is too hard. I’m too tired and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so I forfeit. You drive.”

This was not a conscious decision. And let me be clear. I’m not just talking about surrendering to feeling bad, because I think that’s necessary. I think all of those feelings need to be felt, honored, seen, heard – all of it. But that’s not the same thing as letting them drive.

In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes how fear can totally inhibit the creative process. Her remedy is to imagine that fear has a seat in the car of your process, but it does not get to drive. Others have expanded on this idea. A 5th grade art teacher worked with her students to create a painted chair that holds all of the fear while they do their work. I have a chair in my office that is designated the fear chair. I send fear there when I have something big and important that I really want to get done. She doesn’t have to leave the room. I hear her. I know she’s there, but she doesn’t get to make the decisions because if she does, I won’t do any of the amazing things that I am here to do.

We can all agree, I think, that fear is something that we sometimes need to put in a chair. What I think we’re not as clear on is the difference between putting something in a chair and stuffing it way down deep (think passenger seat instead of glove box). What I think we’re not as clear on is the kind of route that holding two disparate feelings and opinions sometimes requires. I also just don’t think we pay attention to what part of us is holding the keys. They just get tossed around willy-nilly like a hot potato and whoever has them when it’s time to move, well, that determines what happens next.

abandoned-automobile-broken-53161For me this month it was disappointment, discouragement, general darkness. For so many others it’s fear. And fear drives that car in some really strange ways. Fear can decided to just park it because it’s a big world out there. Fear can decide to give us lots of reasons to do sub-par work so we can blame our lack of progress on something other than finding out if we’re really up to the task. Fear can make us worry so much about what’s coming down the road that we miss seeing the horses running in the field right next to us. Fear is a shitty driver. Disappointment, discouragement, and general darkness really aren’t so great either.

We can have all of those feelings. We can feel them, honor them, notice them, respect them, have conversations with them. We can allow them to inhabit us, feel them in our bodies, notice what they are. We can do all of these things without letting them drive. When we feel them in the quiet, when we honor them but don’t make them all of us, don’t make them everything, we can hear that at any given moment, there is more, maybe a small still voice, maybe just a deep breath waiting to be taken. There is more and the way clear, the road forward will be there, the route will unfold. We don’t need to let fear drive just so we have somewhere to go.

XO,

julia

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 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.

 

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?