Branching Out: Building Confidence

“If only I had more confidence, then I could do things like ______ and ________. My life would be more _______. Things would be better,” said plenty of people lots of times.

It was a theme for me too, for so many years, and it is a place I still occasionally find myself. I can still look back and see all of the ways that confidence, a shift in my temperament, would have helped me. It would have helped me in graduate school – seeing myself as just as deserving as my peers of my place in my program. It would have helped me in college and high school in trusting friendships and not needing so much affirmation through romantic entanglements. There is no question in my mind that more confidence would have changed my experience as a professional musician.

But I did not develop that confidence until much later because I had a fundamental misunderstanding about how confidence would come. I thought that at some point, someone in a position of some authority would recognize something good in me – would tell me that I was great at whatever. I would be acknowledged for the good things and THEN, having earned the needed recognition, I could be confident. The stories of Hollywood starlets being discovered at the lunch counter sounded just about right to me. Someone was going to find/see/acclaim my good qualities and then I could act with confidence, do things I dared not do otherwise.

It took me a long time to discover that my thinking was absolutely backward not on one, but two, counts.

In the first place I came to understand that true confidence has nothing to do with anyone else’s recognition of your gifts and good qualities, but lies in your own ability to see, claim, and appreciate those qualities.

bar-blue-business-533347Childhood lessons on humility made it difficult for me to recognize, claim, and celebrate my gifts. It was good to be good at things but not good to make too much of a fuss (or expect too much of a fuss) about them. The fantasy of someone else “discovering” me would let me get around the moral minefield of bragging – my genius would be pointed out by someone else. Aside from the obvious drawback that lunch counter discoveries of talent are rare indeed, they also put all of one’s sense of being enough in someone else’s hands. They put a tremendous amount of personal power in the hands of strangers.

The other thing that I had all wrong was the relationship between confidence and doing the things I wanted to do. I thought the confidence had to come first. It never occurred to me that I had the capacity to develop that confidence by taking action on my own behalf while I was still unsure, unsteady or even scared to death. I didn’t understand that waiting until I was “ready” to do the things I most wanted to do was really just me delaying BOTH those experiences AND the opportunity to develop my sense of confidence by taking risks, by taking action.

All of those steps I was delaying seemed too big to me, too scary. I was all caught up in a story that I didn’t have what it took to complete them, that I needed something else first. What I really needed first was a belief in my value as a human (worth conferred at birth by the way) and the willingness to act while afraid.

I needed the strategy of breaking big steps forward into tiny micro-steps so I could build confidence in my capacity and trust that 1) I will do what needs doing and 2) I will be okay even if those things don’t go well or create the results I am looking for.

adult-beautiful-close-up-936065-2I have those tools now. And I know I will be okay. I see that I have something to offer and I am building confidence every time I act in courage – taking steps when I am afraid. The fear doesn’t really go away if I keep reaching and growing but my increased confidence allows me to gather that courage and do it anyway.

Taking those steps, no matter how small, feels like reaching out with root and branch in a burst of self-supporting growth and bloom. It seems to me that the best parts of our life do this; they look like expansion and nourishment at the same time, and they are holy, sacred, and available to all of us. Even me. Even you.

Growing Roots (A Series): Part VI

black-and-white-black-and-white-busy-735795Rooting in Goodness

My culture applauds motion.

You must be moving, making, doing.

The measure for “good” is productivity.

You don’t have to have this said to you as a child to intuit it, to infer it, to read it on the wind and digest it with your dinner. It is in the things we say. It is in the way we schedule our time. It is in our satisfaction when we check off an item on the ToDo list. Productivity is good. To be good, you must be productive. Simple.

The problem with this whole cultural idea is that it assumes NOT goodness at the outset.

Yep, I’m going there.

When we need to be productive to feel good, to be considered valuable, to be good, there is an assumption that we are not already, good.

When we really lay that out there it is clear why we would busy ourselves so intensely. Who doesn’t want to be good? I guess I shouldn’t assume this is a thing for everyone, but speaking solely for me and all of the people I grew up with, we all really wanted to be good. And in doing all of the things we individually thought we needed to do to become good, we inadvertently let it slip that we were pretty sure that we were not, in fact, without a lot of work and effort, good.

There is this assumption that we must escape our natural state, who we are without goading, without discipline, without force. We must leave that bad old her behind in order to achieve “good.”

You may be nodding along like, “Yeah, and…” It is a deep cultural norm, the idea that left to our own devices we will NOT be or do good, the idea that if given real freedom we would all be eating fried Oreos and washing them down with classic margaritas (no salt, lots of ice) and reclining on a beach eternally – just me?

Just for the sake of potentially altering your entire reality, play along with a little thought experiment with me.

Imagine that we flip the script so that you are already good.

Just sitting there reading this interminable post, you are good. You were good when you woke up. You were good when you went to sleep last night. You were good before, during, and after yelling at your kids last night because they were singing the song about poop again. You were born good, and you are allowed to believe that, to even say it out loud.

What would you do then, if you believed that you were, are, and will always be good?

What would you give up and stop doing? What would you do that you haven’t allowed for years? What new experiences would you seek out?

How would you deal with stress and strain?

afterglow-backlit-beach-797394-2.jpgIt seems to me that our biggest problems/worries/concerns/tangles/messes in life are likely far better addressed with a few minutes of standing still than with hours of busy rushing trying to be good.

If I am already good, then I can stop, take a breath, look around and really see.

I can see that in spite of all of the problems of daily life, I am okay in this moment.

I can see that a great deal of the drama around my troubles is how I let them get to me.

I can really see I have choices, including the choice not to act in this moment at all.

We spend so much time fixing, repairing, preparing for the worst.

So often a solution is already in the works. So often time is a key ingredient. So often what is missing is the perspective we can take or the awareness we can bring if we just stop moving for a minute.

If we are already good, we don’t need to measure, we don’t need to worry, and we don’t need to fix. We can stand still and let things develop.

We can take the time to see and address problems and troubles in ways that nobody else would – and we can see that perhaps this is why they arise in the first place, as a an opportunity to exercise our unique genius in real time.

When we can stand still it is infinitely easier to ask what we can learn from our troubles rather than reacting out of sheer panic.

If we are already good, we can stand still.

If we are already good, we can pause.

If we are already good, we can breathe first, last, and in-between.

 

Friends, we ARE already good.

YOU are already good: no matter what mistakes you’ve made, no matter what has happened to you, no matter what.

You are good. You are worthy. You are enough.

There is no committee to whom you need to prove it.

There really are no gold stars waiting in a desk drawer somewhere.

beautiful-beauty-brown-eyes-1065084You just need to begin to believe it.

And I know that’s not a small assignment.

So I’ll give you a smaller one.

Stop moving. Breathe. Tell yourself: “In this moment, I am enough.”

I think you’re far more than that, but it’s a start.

With so much love,

j

Kitchen Wisdom

I looked up from my laptop and noticed quite a lot of smoke in the house. That sounds like a moment to panic, but it wasn’t quite THAT kind of smoke, and I’d been in this same spot just about 10 days ago.

berries-blueberry-breakfast-718739You see my daughter likes to cook. She’s 11. She’s got a few things down. She REALLY REALLY wants to master pancakes. She wants to make light, fluffy, perfectly brown pancakes in her mother’s cast iron pans.

She objects to some of my methods. And that’s okay because if she wants to learn it for herself I am down with that, until it sets off the smoke alarms, which it has twice now.

You see pancakes require at least two things to work reasonably well: a pan that is actually hot all the way through AND just the right amount of fat on that pan.

There’s a lot of room for error in that sentence, like a lot. How hot? How much fat? What KIND of fat?

I didn’t realize how many variations there were because I automatically made some choices that I knew would work well.

She needed to experiment.

And that’s when the pan heat being too high and the choice of butter as the fat combined to make for a smoky mess.

Now I don’t want to go all Alton Brown on you, but I will share the short version that different kinds of fats respond differently to different temperatures. It’s called “smoke point.” Each kind of fat has a different temperature at which it just creates nasty smoke and gets spread all over the house and wakes everyone up and gives the aging dog anxiety.

Once I realized what was happening (again), I quickly intervened: helped her cool the pans down a little with some water, gave her two better options for greasing the pan, and assured her (she was drowning us in apologies) that everything was okay. It was just something she needed to learn. It was okay. A little noise wouldn’t kill us. It was okay. She got to see the lesson in action instead of just listening to me spout on about it. I’m pretty sure she’ll make different choices next time. In fact, in true Life Coach kid fashion, she wrapped up our conversation by saying: “Next time I will not heat the pans so much and I will use coconut oil instead of butter.”

Awesome. The dog may live a while longer just because of that.

What I found interesting later in the day, when looking back on the incident was that nobody got upset with her. And once she had apologized a few times, she was completely open to the information about what would help next time. She was an active participant in learning a better way to do it next time. She just wanted to get the lesson – well, and eat her pancakes.

Once she had apologized she didn’t beat herself up profusely for “doing it wrong.” She didn’t rehash and revisit the great pancake debacle for hours or days, although I imagine there is the possibility of some teasing in her future on this front. She didn’t just collapse and cry about what a terrible cook she is. All of those options were available to her.

blond-blur-fashion-415263.jpgWhat she chose to do was to figure out what the lesson was and to get the people around her to help her learn it and to clean up the mess learning it made, something we did without complaint or even a heavy sigh.

How much easier would things be if we treated all of our mistakes this way?

How much more quickly would we learn?

How much more willing would we be to take risks?

How much more connected would we be to others?

How much more full and delicious would life be if we could treat the hard stuff like a failed batch of pancakes?

When Your Belief Falters

This sounds like a title for a totally spiritual post, and in some ways I suppose this is, but the beliefs I want to address aren’t just about whether or not there is a divine force in the universe and what the true nature of humanity is. Don’t get me wrong, we can totally have those conversations. I’m the daughter of one and sister of another Episcopal priest. I am also married to a Unitarian Universalist seminarian. I can totally go there. What I wanted to say up front is that if that’s not your bag, you still have beliefs that this post applies to.

adult-blur-burn-783200I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve been having a tough time of it. I suspect a hormonal element, but don’t want to get diverted by a conversation of peri-menopause, because yeah, I don’t have many words about that that anybody wants to hear. Point is, in this tough time, I felt some beliefs shaking a bit. Some of them were new beliefs – things I’ve worked out, chosen, built up in the last several years. Some of them were old beliefs that I’ve been rediscovering. They all, collectively, felt great. And while I was feeling great I kind of forgot that beliefs and faith in just about anything don’t register at the same level on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual basis. There is a bit of an ebb and flow here. We wrestle with our beliefs and our faith in our minds. When we decide what we think about something, that’s not usually the end of the story. Old ideas re-emerge to challenge our decisions. Circumstances around us prompt us to doubt. The failure of the world to bend to our will and reflect our cherished positive beliefs can shake things up too. Ebb and flow.

I was discussing this shakeup with a trusted mentor and she asked me an important question: “What anchors do you have for when things get tough?” In other words, what can help buoy you? (I am avoiding an urge to talk about the spelling of that word.) Note that the question wasn’t: “What makes everything better? How do we add glitter to that? Where do you keep your rainbow unicorns?” It was “What helps keep you steady when the seas get dark and stormy?”

I thought about it and was able to answer with some daily practices that I usually participate in: prayer, journaling, exercise of some kind, and meditation of one form or another. Yes, it’s a lot. But it’s also not. THAT is probably a separate post.

The point is that these are the things that I’ve found that help to fill my cup when I am empty, that make my body feel good and my mind feel more peaceful, that bring clarity and oftentimes a sense connection that I crave. These are the things that keep me anchored. And so I have entered into a covenant with myself; I have promised to pursue these practices and, more importantly, I have acknowledged the increased importance of performing them when the legs on my table feel a little shaky.

It is the practices, the deeds, the daily devotions (or routines if you’re more comfortable with that, it’s just words) that create the bridge between ecstatic certainty and a return of hope. It is keeping the practical promises we make to ourselves when we are most connected, most certain, most sure that allows us to ride out the storm of uncertainty. It is the practice, because that’s the word we use right – practice, that allows us to refine our understanding of acting in faith even when our faith in ourselves, the divine, or the world falters.

A mentor of mine wisely encourages people to write these things down: to write down the promises you make to yourself about what you’re going to do to keep yourself anchored (even more structured people might even suggest you, gasp, schedule that ish). It’s not just spiritual practices, it’s decisions, ideas, projects, things you think might help/feel good/make your world better – all of that needs to get written down because stress wipes the slate clean. The cortisol hits your bloodstream and you become an idiot. I guess I should say that’s what happens for me – maybe stress makes you smarter, although the scientific literature suggests that’s unlikely.

That brain wipe thing, that’s pretty much what happened over this last dark spell. I had a pretty significant and exciting list of both devotional/mindset/get right with body and soul practices AND plans for business going into that space and then – brain wipe. All of it disappeared. What was I going to do next? What was that great idea? Who was I going to talk to about collaborating and why? What? Why on earth am I spending so much time on all of this meditative hooey? What’s the point? I couldn’t remember any of it. I broke all of my promises to myself. And I say that NOT as a form of self-flagellation. Self-forgiveness has already been applied. It’s just interesting to notice how it all devolved.

I hit a rough patch, my beliefs felt challenged. That scared me. I got stressed. I dropped several of my daily devotions and I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing in my work. BOOM. I don’t want to say it all could have been avoided, but I do think the bottom, when I finally hit it, could have been higher… and who doesn’t want a higher bottom? (Yes, I amuse myself.)

beach-clouds-colour-674320I’ve been rambling for far too long here, and I’m trying desperately to bring things to a close, but I can assure you that there is no close on this particular topic. The relationship between me and my faith and between me and what I believe about myself and the world around me is an ever-evolving one. The covenants I make and the practices I keep may well need to shift over time as well. I’ll keep working at it. I’ll keep practicing. When it all goes in the tubes, I’ll try to keep my promises. If I forget again, I’ll remember the bottom line. Sometimes the best we can do is to care for the body, be gentle on the soul and wait for the tide to shift.

In love,

julia

 

Behind the Self-Sabotage Curtain

I have a photoshoot scheduled for later today.

It has been many, many years since I had a photoshoot.

bass-guitar-blur-close-up-167483The last one was during the tail end of my professional musician era and included lots of guitars, sunglasses, and highlighted hair. I knew exactly who to be for that one. And no, this isn’t me, but my seminarian is looking for the shots from that day for our collective amusement.

The photoshoot prior to that was my wedding day: June 5, 1999. That photoshoot featured unseasonably warm temperatures (I think it was about 150 F) and humidity that would have made Louisianians (it’s correct, I looked it up) uncomfortable.

We (my female posse) spent time getting my hair and makeup just right and after about 15 minutes it really didn’t matter. The careful curls were gone. The skin was a little too shiny to be cute. There was dripping.

But none of that is the real reason that I’m approaching this photo shoot with some trepidation. The truth is that for many years I was THAT mom: the Mom who avoided being in the picture at all costs. My inner critic was so merciless that any picture of me was unacceptable.

And here I am thinking I’m on the “other side.” The inner critic has pretty much left the building, although she makes the occasional appearance.

And so in scheduling this photoshoot, I had hoped to be excited about it. I had hoped to really be looking forward to it. I had hoped to get a little giddy in preparation mode – really girl-ing out.

But I’m not.

I thought about buying new clothes for it… and waited… so didn’t.

amplifier-analogue-audio-306088I thought about making a hair appointment for it… and waited… so didn’t.

I thought about getting a mani/pedi (my guitar playing nails are long right now for some reason)… and waited… so didn’t.

So there’s something in there that’s making me screw this up.

There’s something in there that has gotten in the way of my making this as fun and special as I possibly could.

There’s something in there that has told me to tone it down.

And in toning it down, I have let the air out of the proverbial tires.

I have toned it down, and now it doesn’t seem like it will be much fun, or like such a great idea, and hey, it’s probably going to rain again anyway so maybe I should just cancel.

There’s a little cycle happening in there. And I didn’t see it until just now.

I felt it as I worried with my hair the last few days, in our endless rain with a chance of lightning and flooding weather. I felt a kind of inadequacy. “This is never going to work, so maybe I should just skip it. I will never be happy with these pics, so why go to so much trouble?” And so I didn’t go to any trouble. And now I’m stressed and grouchy and pretty sure that all of that is what’s going to be on my face. I’ve never been very good at making the face say something radically different than what’s going on inside.

I know what my friends would say. It would be something nice about me being gorgeous and it will be great. And that’s nice, but I’m not feeling it. I’m feeling like a frizzy headed poor planner who’s going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing.

AHA!!! I found it. Thank you for playing backboard.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to act like someone else to make a go of this thing, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve done enough of that. I’ve done enough of that for a lifetime. It’s why it was okay to have a photoshoot in the armpit heat on my wedding day AND why I struggled to be in photos when my kids were young.

On my wedding day, there was no question of who I was going to be. I have always been myself with my husband, bless him. I wasn’t thrilled that I wouldn’t have a Pinterest perfect wedding picture, but I didn’t really care because I was there and I knew who I was and what I was doing.

When my twins were younger I was only one thing: really tired. And I didn’t want to be really tired Mom in the photos. I am in a few, and of those, I’d say 75% show really tired Mom. Like really tired Mom. I didn’t want more evidence of how I felt. I thought I’d have to be someone else to make a nice picture. I thought I’d have to act to have pictures that my inner critic could tolerate.

So there it is. Two pieces: my pictures have to be great (a thought) and I can’t be myself to get great pictures (also a thought). Well, no wonder I don’t want to do this.

What I am going to choose to believe is that I can be myself and be successful (including on my photoshoot).

What changes if I believe that? I relax (which means I’ll feel better and maybe smile without strain). I also remember that I hired a photographer to take a whole mess of pictures so we could be sure to get some shots that even I am happy with. As I believe I can be myself the worries of what to wear and exactly what to do about my hair diminish. Because no matter what I do on those fronts I will still be me, and I just need to remember that that’s okay, like really deeply, fundamentally perfect. Really.

What signals do you get when you’re engaged in a little self-sabotage? Do you procrastinate? Do you diminish yourself/your work/your talent/your beauty so that if the results aren’t what you want you won’t be disappointed? Do you tone it down and then find that you’ve let all of the air out of the tires?

If that sounds like you, I want to ask, what are you thinking? Not like what are you thinking in Mom voice as rhetorical question, but what are you thinking as in what’s the thought that’s at the bottom of that mess? Is it a fear of success or failure? Is it some notion of not being good enough as you are? What if you’re more than that?

coat-dancing-face-794062What if you are more than that and you’ve never had the chance to see it because of all of that toning it down? What would happen if you went full-volume?

I’m going to go listen to some music and pick out some clothes, both at high volume.

XO,

j