Author Archives: Victoria

What If the Fear Isn’t Going Anywhere?

What if you knew, without a doubt, that the fear you feel about going after what you want isn’t going anywhere, ever?

Our lizard brains are experts at making us believe we’re in mortal danger if we even think about pushing through the fear, anxiety and adrenaline, aren’t they? No wonder we all try to wait until the fear is gone before taking a step forward with the stuff we REALLY want. I know I do that allthefuckingtime.

That’s why it took me 5+ years to go from wanting to become a coach, to becoming one.

And why it took me 2+ years from the time I graduated training to launching my business.

And it’s also why — to this very day — I have a hard time talking about what I do. I don’t know if it’s impostor syndrome or if I’m convinced I’ll be ridiculed for choosing such a non-left-brained profession (or maybe some of both)…all I know is that if I try to tell someone about what I do and how I help, it’s a full-on stumble-and-stammer-fest.

For me, and maybe for you, too, fear has become a false indicator of readiness, and even worthiness.

My reasoning goes like this:

I’m scared, so I must not be ready.
I’m not ready, so I must not have prepared fully.
I didn’t prepare fully, so I must not be taking this seriously.
I’m not taking this seriously, so I’m not worthy of getting what I want (so why bother trying?).

It’s an ugly chain of false beliefs, all starting with the assumption that it’s possible to be without fear when it comes to doing what matters most.

But what if that just isn’t possible? What if being afraid is part of pursuing something important? And part of being human? And the fear isn’t going anywhere?

If I wait for the fear to leave, I will never do the thing my heart wants, the thing I believe I’m here to do.

I’m left with two options:

1. Abandon my dream

2. Figure out how to step forward despite the fear

The idea of “feel the fear and do it anyway” is not a new concept, of course. For some reason, though, a conversation with Suzanne Ragan Lentz about this idea allowed it to sink more deeply into my bones.

So…if I know that the fear will always be with me to one degree or another, which option do I choose?

I want to go with the second one. (I may not always succeed, but that’s the one I’m committed to.)

I feel like I say this here all the time, but it’s a practice.

Just like in meditation, where you let your thought float by and come back to your breath, you let your fear float by and come back to the truth of who you are and what you want, and step forward.

There is no magic pill. There is no amount of time you can wait to avoid the practice.

You practice by doing. And by trying again even if you let fear drive the bus for a while.

How to practice this

But how am I going to practice this? How will you?

It will look different for everyone, and it’ll depend on what you’re afraid of.

For me, it will mean pushing myself to talk more about what I do, rather than hiding.

For you, it might mean hitting the publish button more, or saying no to opportunities that aren’t quite what you want. It might mean risking pissing off your family in order to do a better job of meeting your needs for self-care, or enforcing your boundaries with clients and co-workers.

Here’s what I want you to know

I know it’s hard. (Believe me, I know.)

It’s normal. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you or the thing you’re trying to do.

Being afraid says nothing about who you are or what you’re capable of. It doesn’t mean you’re not ready, or unworthy.

Fear just is, and we each have to choose, over and over again, to move forward in spite of it.

I’m tired of waiting for the fear to go away. How about you?

The right support can make it much easier to practice moving forward despite the scariness of it. Here are some ways I can help.

You Are Not Your Achievements

I’ve been avoiding writing this post.

Last time I said I’d talk about how to stop basing our self-worth on our achievements. I’m kind of afraid I won’t do it justice, but I also know this stuff needs to be said, so let me set the stage a bit before diving in…

First important thing: I don’t have this shit all figured out. I’m still working on it, too.

I struggle regularly with running my life as though I need to justify my existence with contributions, achievements and productivity. (Just last week I came down with a stomach bug and had a fever, yet I felt like a complete slacker for calling in sick.)

Second thing: You are not broken. And it’s okay to feel as though you are broken.

Our emotions are valid – always – and trying to trick yourself into thinking positively when it goes against what you’re feeling is a form of repression. Let’s be real, here, okay? We all have periods of time – some longer than others – when we wish we could just crawl under a rock.

Feeling like shit and admitting to it doesn’t doom us to a life of negativity.

But let’s also remember that we aren’t defined by our thoughts and feelings.

Third thing: The point of what we’re talking about here is not to make you a “better person.” (You’re not broken, remember?)

It’s about living with more joy and less suffering.

It’s about stopping the patterns of punishing ourselves for not accomplishing what we think we should as quickly as we should. And it’s about easing the pain of so-called failure.

It’s all well and good to say that all failures are learning experiences, but it’s pretty fucking hard to benefit from the lessons when we believe the fact that we’ve failed means we are failures.

Now that that’s out of the way…

What do I mean by self-worth, worthiness, enoughness and value?

At the risk of over-simplifying things, I’m talking about the fact that each of us is born deserving to pursue the best existence we can. We deserve love and care and to do what’s best for us.

(I’m not 100% satisfied with that definition, but I’m trying not to get bogged down in semantics.)

The key point is that we’re born with inherent worth, and if you don’t believe me, look at any newborn baby.

Would you ever question their worth? Would you ever say that they don’t deserve love and care and to live at the highest possible level of Maslow’s hierarchy?

Because we’re born with our worthiness, I’ve come to think of our poor sense self-worth as a symptom of forgetting who we are. We were all newborns once. We learned to stop valuing ourselves.

Our worth gets covered up with layer after layer of bullshit and lies and misunderstandings and other people’s fears and insecurities that often become our own.

So decoupling our worth from our accomplishments isn’t about learning so much as unlearning. It’s about uncovering our true selves.

Rather than trying to build or gain a sense of self-worth, it’s more a matter of discarding the unhelpful beliefs that cause us to forget we’re worthy, simply by virtue of being alive.

So where do you get started with all of this?

1. Accept the fact that you have to choose it before you’ll feel it

You’ve got however many years of absorbing the idea that your worth is based on accomplishments.

Getting comfortable with our enoughness isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s more like a lifetime practice.

Regardless of how you feel about worth and where it comes from, you’ll need to choose to believe you’re enough, and you’ll need to remind yourself frequently. If choosing to believe it feels too difficult, choose to try to believe.

2. Start paying attention to how you respond to low/no productivity, failures and unmet expectations

Our constant need to be productive, contribute, achieve and improve ourselves is a sure sign we’re trying to earn our place in the world. So is our unwillingness to stop and heal.

Makes sense, then, that when our efforts aren’t successful, it can be downright devastating.

When are you forcing yourself to work when you should be resting?
When you “fail” what are the stories you tell yourself?

Before you can start shifting the pattern, you have to start catching yourself in the act of judging yourself unworthy.

3. Develop a regular practice of meditation or mindfulness or some way of connecting with yourself

It’s important to have a way to get to know your essential self, your soul or whatever you want to call it – that part of you that knows who you really are and what you really want. The part of you that isn’t trying to please others or avoid getting hurt.

The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to move from fighting against poor productivity and berating yourself for failures toward prioritizing self-care and accepting that you’re allowed to feel what you feel.

The more you can accept how you are now, the more you’ll be able to start actively appreciating yourself.

Slowly you’ll notice that when something doesn’t go as planned, you’ll still appreciate that you’ve put yourself out there in some way. You’ll remember that you are not your accomplishments.

(One easy way to start meditating is by signing up for the free option of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project. Her video teachings helped me to get a lot more comfortable with meditation.)

4. Surround yourself with evidence of your enoughness

Read people who help you see that you’re not your accomplishments. Stop reading stuff about kicking your own ass.

When you find yourself sending compassion to someone else, send it to yourself, too, because you’re just as deserving.

If the timing is right, we can also work together to shine a light on your patterns and establish new habits to be kinder to yourself and bring more ease to your work.

5. Try not to turn this into another way to beat yourself up

The reality is that you can turn any practice into a harsh metric of self-worth – even meditation and personal growth. Maybe especially personal growth.

There will be good days and bad days with this process. Just when you think you have it figured out, you’ll discover a whole deeper layer or other area where you’re tying self-worth to Doing rather than Being.

That’s what makes this a lifelong practice. It’s never done, it just gets easier the more you do it.

The last 18 months for me have involved a lot of work around being okay with where I am, shedding expectations and shifting my beliefs so that my life could feel a lot less arduous, so I know first-hand that this shit is hard work. I also know it’s totally worth it. I’m sending you lots of compassion and love for the road ahead.

What’s So Special About THERE?

In the previous post, I shared my tendency to try to press on and be as productive as possible, even when I’d be better off giving myself time to heal and replenish.

In a nutshell, the refusal to stop and rest is a sign of refusing to accept where I am right now. It’s a form of denial – if I can remain productive, then it must mean I don’t need sleep or rest or whatever, right?

But what’s beneath the refusal to accept where I am right now?

A clue to that lies in where I think I should be. Even as I write this, I think I should be done writing it. I should have the next move for my business figured out already. I should know how to manage my creative energy by now so that I can be more consistent. I should have already finished adjusting to my part-time day job.

Why is it so important to me to get THERE already? What’s so special about THERE?

I think for most of us, the real question is, Who do we believe we will BE once we’re THERE?

What I’ve seen in myself and in my clients quite often is that our desire to get THERE is really about earning love and proving our worth.

From the time we’re very young, we’re taught to believe that Achievement = Self-worth, aren’t we?

If we do the “right” things, we’re praised and rewarded. If we don’t, we’re punished or even shamed.

That’s hard enough, but it’s about a billion times worse when we do something that we believe is the right thing, yet the results feel like we’re being punished. You launch something and hear crickets. You try to exercise and eat right but you still feel exhausted most of the time.

We believe that if we do X, we’ll always get Y, until the day that we get Z instead, and then all hell breaks loose. Because we didn’t want Z at all, and oh shit, what does it say about us that we got Z instead of Y?

When my body was in rebellion and I was sinking into a Dark Night, I kept trying to work. I kept pushing. I kept telling myself that if I kept going just a little longer, things would turn around. My business would grow, life would get easier.

But it didn’t.

And when I was faced with that moment where I knew I could no longer keep pushing, I was filled with a deep sense of failure and shame.

Resting and surrendering were unacceptable because BEING is inferior to DOING. Doing is the only thing that leads to achievement and accomplishment that will show I am of value.

“See? Look what I did. Look how good I am. Look how well I contribute.”

But what kind of dynamic does that mindset create?

It makes the status quo infinitely more appealing than taking any sort of risk. (File under: The Devil You Know…)

It’s like trying to drive around with one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake.

We can’t rest because we need to get THERE.

But we can’t head THERE without risking the possibility that maybe we won’t make it. And that’s a crazy big risk to take if our self-worth hangs in the balance. (File under: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t)

The only way to stop the whiplash-causing herky-jerky stop-and-go is to end the inner conflict. And that inner conflict ends when we truly understand that it’s okay if we keep trying and it’s okay if we stop and rest.

We need to know that we’re completely and thoroughly OKAY regardless of what we do or don’t do.

And by “OKAY” I mean, you are fine, you’re whole and unbroken, you can accept yourself, you don’t have to answer to anyone about whether you are enough.

Isn’t that what we all want, deep down? To know that no matter what – no matter how badly we fuck up our lives and no matter how badly we flake out of opportunities that the Universe has gift-wrapped and handed to us – we are still OKAY?

Sad, angry, frustrated and uncertain at times? Of course. But still enough. Still OKAY.

Can you imagine what it would be like to know down to your bones that you are enough whether or not you ever make your dreams happen? That it doesn’t have any bearing on your worth?

That’s what makes it okay to be exactly where we are, and to let go of any schedule and expectations. (File under: Simple But Actually Ridiculously Fucking Hard)

But how do you do that, when you’ve spent most (if not all) of your life striving to prove your enoughness?

That’s what I’ll talk about next time.

In the meantime…

Here are some questions to ponder about acceptance and enoughness.

Where is THERE for you? Do you have multiple THEREs for different parts of your life (e.g., business, health, relationships)?

What’s your schedule for arriving THERE? Are you already late?

Where did your schedule come from? Are there particular people you’re comparing yourself to? (I often compare myself to people I went to school with, despite the fact that I don’t actually want what they seem to have.)

How do you feel when you’re reminded that you’re not THERE yet? Where do you feel that in your body? (For me this often feels like a pressure in my chest, a bit like I want to scream and yell about not getting what I want.)

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to know you are already enough, simply for who you are, not what you do. Where do you feel that in your body?

Again, no wrong answers. We’re just exploring, so be sure to breathe and be kind to yourself throughout this process.

Healing

I cut my finger the other day. We were completely out of band-aids, but it stopped bleeding quickly so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Yet because of where the cut was, I kept scraping and bumping it – even drying my hands after washing them was a problem.

Fast-forward a few days and I realized the cut still wasn’t healed. For how minor it was, it really should have been mostly gone already, but there it was, still hurting and occasionally opening back up.

I was prolonging the healing process by refusing to stop at the store to get more band-aids. I told myself I didn’t need them, that the cut would heal just fine on its own.

And yes, eventually the cut did heal on its own, but it took probably two or even three times as long by leaving it exposed to more damage.

How often do we do that to ourselves? We experience some kind of wound (physical or emotional) or illness, but we refuse to give ourselves what we need to heal.

By refusing to protect the area that was damaged, it takes longer to get better.

It’s relatively easy to see how important that protection is if you think in terms of a broken bone or severe flu – of course you need to stay off the break or stay on the couch. It gets a bit trickier when dealing with something like depression or chronic illness or pretty much anything that doesn’t have a clear “do this and get better” method of treatment.

We don’t want to change our lives. We don’t want to alter the way we go through our day in order to facilitate healing.

Maybe we think we’re being stronger that way, or more productive. We believe we’re saving time or money or energy by doing the bare minimum. We’re refusing to give in.

We expect to be able to operate as normal, despite the fact that we’re injured or simply running on empty.

But the reality is that in order to heal, we need to protect the place of hurt. We have to stop doing the things that cause more damage, even if those things would be completely innocuous under normal, healthy circumstances. Once we’re injured or depleted, it’s no longer business-as-usual. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

But how do you go about shifting that pattern?

This refusal to give ourselves enough downtime to get better is deeply ingrained in our culture, to the point that “working through the pain” is a veritable badge of honor. It’s hard to catch it as it’s happening, but that’s exactly what we need to learn to do.

Believe me, I love the idea that I could follow steps X, Y and Z and turn into the kind of person who is always kind to myself and gives myself as much time as necessary to heal in just the ways I need. Oh, and never feel an ounce of guilt about it, either.

But the thing that my most recent Dark Night has taught me is that there is no 3-step process or 6-week program or fill-in-the-blank workbook for the really deep stuff that needs healing. It requires the thing that’s hardest to do – learning to notice what’s mostly unconscious.

The most obvious clue that I’m refusing myself time to heal is when I get frustrated at my lack of productivity and start telling myself I should be feeling better already. (Your clues may be different, of course, but I bet frustration is one of them.)

Regardless of what I’m recovering from, it points to an unwillingness to accept where I am right now. A lot like my unwillingness to buy band-aids and protect my cut finger.

But what’s beneath the refusal to accept where I am right now? Why do so many of us have trouble with this?

That’s what I’ll be covering in my next post.

In the meantime…

Here are some questions to help you dig in and explore healing and productivity.

What are some of the ways you heal and replenish? In what ways do you resist healing?

What helps you to be productive? What does productivity look like for you?

What are some of the things that contribute to being less productive than you’d like? (Illness? Depression? Family obligations? Lack of clarity? Utterly wonky hormones?)

Where do your expectations of how productive you should be come from? (Who has set the bar for what qualifies as “productive enough” for you?)

How do you feel and respond when you have a non-productive day, week or month?

How do you feel and respond when you are efficient and productive?

There are no wrong answers. At all. This is all about becoming aware of what’s true for you right now. I know that lack of productivity can be a source of pain and deep frustration. Keep breathing as you think about these questions, and as much as possible, meet yourself with kindness. (Remember – you are not broken.)

Power vs. Control

When we do something (create something, offer something, apply for something, etc.), usually we’re doing it because we want some kind of outcome – we want to receive validation from people we respect and admire, or be supported financially by our gifts, or quit our jobs, or have a certain number of people sign up for our class or buy our ebook.

It’s natural to want certain outcomes, but it tends to create a lot of problems and make life miserable.

Most of us believe on some level that if we take the right steps, we’ll get what we want. You pop leftovers in the microwave, push some buttons and you get hot food. We tend to think (or at least hope) that is how all of life works.

But the reality is we control a lot less in our lives than we think we do.

If you offer a class, you don’t control how many people sign up.
If you get a degree, you don’t control how easy it is for you to find a job.
If you bare your soul to a significant other, you don’t control how they respond.

And if you put a bowl of stew in the microwave, you might hear a loud pop and even though the microwave still runs, nothing gets hot anymore. (Ask me how I know this.)

Yes, taking the so-called “right steps” can increase our chances at getting the outcome we want, but in the end, it’s still outside our control.

It’s hard enough to deal with the disappointment of not getting what we wanted and expected, but where it gets excruciatingly painful is when we confuse our lack of control for a lack of power.

You try something, it doesn’t work due to something beyond your control, and then you think, “Well shit, I guess I don’t have it in me to do that.”

You’ve now interpreted that sequence of events as evidence that you are lacking the power you need to do what you want. But really, this was just how the cookie happened to crumble in this particular instance, and it says nothing about your power or lack thereof.

Power and control are two separate things. And if you confuse them it becomes really easy to give up at the exact moment you should lean in.

I struggle with this all the time.

I’ve had tantrums about my body and its various illnesses. And about how many people signed up for my classes. And about imploding real estate markets (to name just a few).

When faced with those situations, I wanted to crumple. I felt beaten down, and like my attempts at doing the right thing to the best of my abilities were in vain.

I felt powerless.

Sure, you could argue that not having control is a form of powerlessness. We’re powerless to control the outcome.

So then what is it to be powerful? What does it mean to use our power?

Power is nothing more than exercising our ability to act.

And it’s important to remember that taking action can happen on the physical, spiritual, emotional or mental plane. Even making a choice counts.

It’s not dependent on getting the desired results.

The truth is that even by making the attempt, you’ve already exercised your power. It was already a great feat of strength and courage.

Here’s what I’ve been trying to remind myself lately:

Even though I wish creating stuff and sharing it with the world worked a bit more like a microwave with predictable results (pop in a bowl of new stuff, push some buttons, and wind up with hot business growth), the truth is it’s more like making a phone call.

When I make a call, the person I’m trying to reach may not answer. And I might feel disappointed or frustrated about that, but I don’t hold myself responsible. I don’t blame myself for it. I work through the emotions and try again later, because I know I’m not in control of what’s happening on the other end of the line.

Similarly, when I create something and put it out there, I can take it as far as picking up the phone and dialing. The rest is out of my hands.

Sure, it still hurts if the call doesn’t go through in the way that I hoped, but it’s less painful when I remember that I used my power to do my part.

For further exploration

When you look back on a situation where something you tried didn’t go the way you planned or hoped, what did that disappointment say about you? What did the outcome say about you or your power and ability to make stuff happen?

Can you appreciate your power, even while feeling disappointment that you couldn’t control the outcome?

When Nothing Works

Can I just say that all of this being conscious and mindful and taking ownership of our lives is really fucking hard sometimes? Maybe even most times?

I’m not saying there’s never any ease or joy, but sometimes I find myself in a hellish season and it feels like it’s never going to let up.

Being online in those times can be excruciating. There’s no end to the posts and updates and suggestions and sales pitches that say, “Here’s what you need!” and, “Just do this and you’ll feel better!”

If reading those things help you, that’s fantastic – you’re getting what you need.

But if reading them makes you want to gouge your eyes out or burn down the entire internet, you’re not alone. Sometimes all they do is remind you of everything that isn’t going right in your life.

Sometimes things are just hard. Sometimes no matter what you do, everything hurts and it feels like nothing works.

And what makes those times even harder is the sense – and the overt messages – that you should stop focusing on how bad you feel. You should focus on what you’re grateful for, and what you’re trying to create, instead.

Again, if that kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps approach works for you, great.

But even if it would help, sometimes it’s the hardest thing you could possibly ask of yourself.

There’s a fine line between accentuating the positive and ignoring your own pain.

Sometimes you can’t shift your focus away from what’s not working until you really acknowledge it. Really sit with it and hear what it needs from you.

What if those emotions keep coming up in such demanding ways because they’re asking for something from you?

What might those parts of you need?

Maybe they just need to hear you say, “I’m sorry, I love you.” Maybe they need to know that you see their pain and share their sorrow, and that you love them regardless of whether they’re having a hard time or not.

In my experience, the only way to move out of a difficult time is to accept where you are and let go of your desire to change it. (How’s that for damned near fucking impossible?)

But you don’t have to do it perfectly. I’m constantly letting go of my frustration and then picking it up again. And then finally wearing myself out once more and putting it back down. Repeat ad nauseum.

Try to remember that having a hard time doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

It’s another way we’ve been taught to believe we’re broken, but we’re not.

Of course none of this makes it suck any less. I get that. Completely.

If you’ve decided to walk your path while awake, foregoing a constant state of detachment and numbing out, then there is no easy answer.

Offering yourself compassion may not be the express lane out of your dark night, but it will always move you in the right direction.

Truly Believing

I’ve been thinking a lot about beliefs lately.

For one thing, I believe we can change our beliefs. (Ooh…meta!)

But I’ve been very aware lately that my responses and reactions to various situations don’t seem to line up with what I believe.

For example, if I believe that the process of creating something is more important than the results, why does it feel like an unrecoverable disaster when I launch something that falls flat?

That sense of failure is a big struggle for me.

Intellectually, I know that none of that effort is wasted. There’s learning and experience woven throughout, just waiting to be assimilated.

I found myself asking, though, when would I reach the point where I would feel it in my bones? When would I know it so well that a setback was no big deal?

But asking that question means there’s an underlying assumption that’s gumming up the works.

The assumption I’m making is that if I truly believed that none of my efforts were wasted, I wouldn’t feel disappointed.

In other words, it’s not okay to be disappointed in how a project turns out because then it means I don’t really believe the process is more important than the results.

But is this true?

What’s true is that I feel disappointment.

Part of that is coming from not getting what I want. And sure, part of me does feel I’ve done all that work for nothing.

But the rest of it? I think it comes from what the “failure” says about me.

It’s about the meaning I attach to failure.

A disappointment turns into a disaster when we assign meaning to it in unhelpful ways.

And it doesn’t much matter what it is – if I make a plan and that plan doesn’t go the way I want, it cues a chorus of loud, angry voices saying things like:

I’ll never figure this out.
This is too hard.
I’m not good at this.
I’m not cut out for this.
I should just give up.
I should have known better.

But does a mishap or setback or disappointing outcome really mean any of those things?

Drawing those conclusions from a setback (however painful) is really a form of self-sabotage. If I define myself as a failure ever time something doesn’t go my way, it’s way too tempting to give up.

The truth is that a disappointing outcome is nothing more than a disappointing outcome. It’s okay to want something to turn out in a certain way. And it’s okay to feel disappointed when it doesn’t.

It’s okay to grieve and even throw a tantrum.

(I think there’s a lot of drivel out there that implies if we’re “doing self-development right,” we’ll never feel negative emotions. On an unconscious level I’ve bought into that, but it’s complete bullshit.)

It’s not easy – at all – but I’m working on remembering that the only person who gets to assign meaning to my setbacks is me.

Since we were all taught what meanings to assign various outcomes from a very early age, the grooves in our brains are well worn. So we can’t expect to unlearn them overnight.

Just like meditation, it’s a practice.

As you meditate, your mind wanders and you just keep going back to your breath, time after time.

The goal of meditation isn’t to reach the point of not having thoughts. In fact, the more you try to stop your mind from wandering, the more it will happen. Rather, you’re trying to meet your mind’s tendency to wander with kindness, letting go of the thought and returning to your breath. No matter how frequently it happens.

In the same way, when dealing with the fallout from a setback of some kind, you’re not trying to squelch the disappointment (or anger, sadness, grief, frustration) you feel. All you can do is meet the sad parts of yourself with compassion, while choosing the meaning that works for you. Over and over again.

I’m choosing (well, trying to choose) to see setbacks as a necessary step along the path. And slowly I’m learning to meet the accompanying emotional upheaval with acceptance. To allow myself to experience the emotions without believing they define me.

It’s completely counter-intuitive, but the more I accept who, how and where I am, the more quickly things shift.

Do the setbacks still hurt? Yep. Do I still wish I would “just get over it already?” Yep. And then eventually I remind myself that the meaning is what I say it is. Again.

What meaning do you assign to setbacks and disappointments?

How would it feel to choose a more supportive meaning?

Loosening and Letting Go

Once, a long time ago, I changed the strings on my guitar and was in the process of getting it back in tune.

I kept cranking on the tuning heads to tighten the strings, but before I could get all six strings tuned, a few of them would slip and go out of tune again.

I could feel the sense of panic tightening my chest. I’d never had that happen before.

Even worse, what I didn’t realize was that every time the strings slipped, the neck was actually curving forward a little bit.

All I could think was, “WTF?”

Also, “Shit, shit, shit!” because I had no idea how to fix it and no idea if I’d already ruined my precious guitar.

Thankfully a friend knew what to do. The first thing he did was to tune down all the strings until they were completely slack.

Then he adjusted the metal rod inside the neck of the guitar to straighten it back out.

Only then did he tune the strings back up.

*****

Sometimes, the only way to move toward your goal is to go in reverse.

Of course, going in reverse looks an awful lot (or exactly) like moving away from the goal, so you resist.

But if you continue to push forward in ways that don’t work, eventually you will cause damage. You’ll realize you’re exhausted and heart-broken. Or maybe depressed and cynical. Or ill and in physical pain because you’ve worn your body out.

It’s not easy to move away from your desired destination in the short-term so that you can get there in the long-term.

You need an enormous amount of trust. Trust that even if you have to take a detour, you can still get there. Trust that you can know the difference between a necessary course-correction and a backing-off out of fear. (Nothing wrong with feeling afraid, mind you, but changing course isn’t the best remedy.)

Trust that even if you never get there, you’ll get someplace else just as good, if not better.

Even deeper than that, often we’re unwilling to stop pushing because we’ve tied our self-worth to accomplishing our goal.

Rampant in our culture is the belief that racking up achievements is how we prove that we’re worthy of the space we occupy in the world. So not pushing means risking non-achievement, which means risking not being worthy.

So we hold on and keep pushing toward our chosen destination. The thing is, sometimes you just can’t get there from here.

*****

Loosening all your metaphorical strings feels excruciatingly painful. Initially it can feel even more painful than continuing to push forward.

How do you know it’s time to take a big step back? When it feels like stepping back would be a disaster, the end of the world. When you repeatedly catch yourself getting frustrated but tell yourself to keep trying just a little bit longer. When denial is part of your daily routine.

How do you go from pushpushpushing to being willing to let go?

Sometimes the transition happens out of necessity – burnout, depression, and fatigue are great catalysts.

Whether the catalysts are there or not, whether you’ve been pushing for a long time or not, you start by being willing to feel your emotions without dulling them.

Follow the threads of frustration, sadness, anxiety, anger, fear…they may point to some reality that doesn’t look the way you want. Or to some outcome you’re unwilling to let go of. It’s not about eliminating these emotions, it’s about listening. Your emotions are messages about what you want and need.

Then, connect with unconditional love. Imagine your heart filling with it. Imagine what it would feel like to experience it.

Unconditional love is what will make it easier to stop and heal if necessary, because you don’t have to do anything to be worthy. You just are.

From that place, it will be easier to see what next step will be best for you. Trust your heart – it won’t lead you in the wrong direction.

Letting go in this way doesn’t mean abandoning your dream. It just means learning to move toward it in ways that don’t cause damage. And in ways that honor your worth and who you really are.

You Are Not Broken

image: cracked heart

For most of my life, I believed I was broken.

  • My emotions were a sign of weakness; they were too intense and needed to be stifled
  • My resentment at having to follow stupid rules or do meaningless assignments meant I was difficult
  • I needed too much information before making decisions and cared too much about getting them right, so I was wishy-washy

I spent a lot of years beating myself up for being the way I was. I was constantly trying to hide those parts of myself and re-shape them into more acceptable traits.

Especially when I entered the corporate world. I felt like I didn’t fit, but I thought it was because there was something wrong with me.

Then, during my fourth traditional corporate job, I noticed I hadn’t made any progress with changing myself into a good, happy worker-bee.

I realized that giving myself some kind of lobotomy – shutting myself down so I wouldn’t care whether my work was fulfilling – just wasn’t an option.

I wanted more freedom. More sovereignty. More say in what I’d create and how I’d create it.

I knew on some level that changing companies and job titles wouldn’t be enough. By definition, a job (working for someone else to further their agenda, as noble as their mission may be) was never going to cut it. I’d have to build a business and it would have to come from my heart.

But what was really in my heart? After years of shutting off the parts of myself that didn’t fit other people’s views of how I should be, I didn’t know my own heart anymore.

And even if I did know, I had no idea how I could turn it into a business.

That was when I really started learning about myself. Connecting with myself so that I could know what I wanted and what I needed in order to be happy and thrive in my work.

I had tried to change myself to fit their requirements and it was a complete disaster. Not only did it not work, it created a hell of a lot of pain and self-loathing.

That was when I stopped believing I was broken.

Partly I stopped believing it because the belief itself was a source of pain I was no longer willing to carry around. It was a belief that was handed to me at a time I was too young to know any better.

But I really grokked the truth that none of us are broken when I noticed that so much of what I regarded as unacceptable about myself was actually just inconvenient for someone else.

  • If you have a strong sense of self, you get called stubborn
  • If you are highly sensitive, you get called needy and high-maintenance
  • If you are an idealist who wants to make the best possible choice, you get called indecisive and wishy-washy
  • If you bristle at stupid rules and busy-work, you have a bad attitude

Whether it’s inconvenient because it makes someone work harder to help us thrive, or asks them them to reconsider their own worldview, or maybe something about us simply forces them to feel something they’d rather not feel, the result is the same. We’re the minority so we wind up feeling as though we are the problem.

But here’s the thing:

Not only are you not broken, but the parts of yourself you learned to despise are most likely the very parts that hold the key to finding your Thing, creating work that you love and changing the world.

It took a long time, but eventually I saw that my sensitivity is what helps me to connect with my clients. And my intolerance for bullshit is what led me to the path of entrepreneurship. And my careful decision-making is simply part of the way I think and operate.

Those traits I was trying to squelch were all signposts leading me toward what I wanted to create and how I needed to create it in order to thrive. They were never flaws that needed to be banished or rejected.

Sometimes my “special traits” still bump up against life in a way that feels inconvenient and painful, like everything would be so much easier if I could just not be that way, at least for that situation.

But I’m learning that the more I meet all of myself with acceptance, compassion and curiosity, the more I’m able to build my business around who I am.

We’re born with a unique set of traits and characteristics.

And the traits that not everyone understands are the ones that get deemed inconvenient, unacceptable, not ready for prime-time.

It’s because those traits aren’t for everyone. They’re gifts to your Right People. (Is it any wonder why it’s so draining to hang out with Wrong People all day long?)

Maybe all of this is hard to believe right now. I get it.

How can something you learned to believe was a flaw – which caused you so much pain and kept you from fitting in – be a gift?

Suppose it were true just for a moment.

What would those unacceptable parts of yourself tell you about the kind of work you’d really like to do and the kind of people you’d really like to work with?

How would it feel to stop fighting against who you are and instead build your work around it?

What gifts are you withholding from your Right People?

(Image credit: Ellipsis-Imagery)

Loosening the Knots

image: knot

Have you ever gotten a knot in some thread or yarn you were trying to work with? Or worse, in a chain necklace?

You can’t untangle it by diving in and tugging and pulling on it. That will just make the knot tighter than it already is.

It’s a delicate process.

You need to go slowly and work your fingertips into the barely-visible crevices.

It’s a process of making tiny movements. And if the knot is really tight, the movements will be so small that you’ll be convinced that what you’re doing isn’t working.

But that’s when you need to keep going. Even though you can’t see or feel the difference, the knot is loosening. Even if it’s just at the microscopic level.

Eventually, you feel that fabulous sensation of really being able to grab hold of one part of the knot. From there, it’s a cakewalk. You might have been struggling with that knot for hours, but once you reach the point of the first major shift, it only takes a few more minutes for the whole knot to be gone.

It’s the same with shifting a belief that holds you back.

We all have them. I’ve got tons – tons! – of them.

Here are some of mine:

Other people know what I need more than I do
My ideas aren’t very good so I should wait until I’ve developed them more before talking about them
I absolutely must Get It Right

Noticing the belief-knot is the first step. But once you’ve become conscious of it, you can’t force radical change.

If you’re like me and believe that mistakes are to be avoided at all costs, the step that comes after realizing the belief isn’t helpful is not to go out and make the biggest mistake you can possibly think of.

Or if you believe that other people’s projects (OPP!) need to come before yours, running out and telling everyone you come first is probably not a wise move.

Doing either of those would be the knot-equivalent of tugging on the ends and making everything tighter because all your resistance will get triggered.

Safety

The belief is there because it’s keeping you safe from some perceived danger. It doesn’t matter if the danger is real or not.

You need the safety of those tiny movements to loosen the knot gently.

(To bring in another metaphor, when you’re learning to swim, you don’t start in the deep end, right?)

If you grew up witnessing a family member fail at one or more entrepreneurial ventures, you might feel that starting your business or leaving your job is too risky.

The knot-tightening method would be to invest all your savings right away or quit your job with very little savings in the bank.

But what would the knot-loosening method look like?

A few possibilities would be to start your biz with as little up-front cash investment as possible, or to start socking away several months of savings, or to go part-time rather than quitting outright.

What’s important is that you’re taking small steps toward what you want, in ways that feel safe for you.

Proof

If you believe that failure is catastrophic, you don’t just wake up one day willing to take all sorts of risks. You need to learn that failure isn’t actually dangerous, and that you can survive it without sacrificing too much.

The way you do that is by building a body of evidence that supports your new belief.

The best evidence is when you try something and experience for yourself the fact that you survived just fine. And that goes right back to safety – it’s crucial to find ways to take steps without freaking yourself out so that you can experiment with your new belief.

Will failure still hurt, or will you still feel scared? Yes. But the amount of emotional management required before taking a risk will decrease. And the time between getting an idea and acting on it will shorten.

Perseverance

Some beliefs are knotted more tightly than others. They’ve been part of your reality for longer, or there’s more pain associated with them.

If you’ve got one that’s really tight, it could take a long time for it to unravel.

It might not feel as though the tiny steps you’re taking and the evidence-gathering you’re doing are making a difference, but I assure you, they are.

(Yet another metaphor: Just like a seed that’s been planted, lots of stuff happens underground before you ever see the green above the surface.)

Remind yourself why you want to shift the belief. And what you hope to achieve as a result of choosing a new belief instead.

Keep working at loosening the knot while being gentle with yourself along the way, and soon it will unravel.

Image credit: turbo.beagle