how to make peace with the past

When people start getting into self-help, inevitably they examine their family of origin. Where did I learn these patterns? Who taught me to be afraid? Why do I keep doing this thing, over and over, even when I try to stop?

“My mother always told me to be realistic, so that’s why I have so much trouble taking risks.”
“My father left when I was two, so that’s why I don’t trust men.”
“I was abandoned and put up for adoption, so that’s why I can’t form deep, personal connections.”

Here is the duality to hold:

The people who raised you absolutely did instill belief systems and habits that affect you in the present day.


You deserve better than a life spent blaming your parents for your current-day problems.

Important: this is nuanced. You really do need to hold both of these concepts, at the same time. Otherwise, people tend to fall into two polarizing camps.

Camp Parents Done Me Wrong endlessly investigates the past and spends untold hours and thousands of dollars with helping professionals trying to figure out the whys of it all–and even if they say they no longer blame their parents, a little digging usually reveals that yeah, they totally do. The sadness lays at someone else’s feet. The anger isn’t usually far behind.

But in the other camp, Camp Get Over It, there’s a lack of compassion for the past. They look at anyone processing past issues and think, “Why can’t they just get over it and move on with their lives?” All the while, people who rigidly spend time in Camp Get Over It often push their own personal pain farther down, making it harder to directly access, and the pain leaks out in small, subtle ways such as an inability to deeply connect with people, or low-grade anxiety or irritation.

Both camps are using a defense. One is using the defense of victim, and the other is using the defense of putting up a shit-ton of armor. Victims are feeling everything (and feeling decimated by the overwhelm of what they feel), and people wearing armor are desperately trying not to feel (and living half a life, in the process).

Getting Confrontational

When someone is squarely in one camp, any helping professional who confronts their old pattern will be suspect. Camp Parents Done Me Wrong will feel betrayed and furious with a therapist, coach, or friend who suggests that they are in charge of their lives, now, and are empowered to do something about it.

They’ll feel betrayed because after all that time being listened to and understood, now someone is suggesting that they take an action that all past experience has suggested really isn’t possible. Take responsibility for my life? After all that I’ve been through? How could you suggest that, knowing what you know about my past?

Camp Get Over It will use every defense in the book to avoid feeling their feelings and examining the past. I’m not into this woo-woo stuff. The past is the past, so leave it be. What’s the point of bringing up feelings about something that happened years ago? Camp Get Over It usually only ends up in therapy because their partner dragged them to it when the relationship is on the brink of divorce, or substance abuse has threatened a career, or when life throws a curveball they can’t control and suddenly they are haunting the hallways of their houses every night with insomnia.

The Power of “And”

You need to know why your past influences your current patterns, AND you need to take responsibility for making different choices.

You need to feel your feelings about your past, AND you need to cut the shit and be intentional–stop ruminating on what happened to you, years ago.

It’s not an either-or equation when you’re figuring out how to make peace with the past . Knowing why you feel fear, hesitate to take risks, and all of the Stories that play in the background when you make a decision is valuable information. Seeing the patterns clearly helps you to recognize when you’re about to go back into one, purely by default.

Just take care that you add the “and.” You understand what happened then, AND you’re choosing differently, now.

Right here, right now, you’re an adult. You’re probably not living underneath a parental roof, anymore. You decide how you spend your money, what you put in your mouth, whether or not to take that drug, whether or not to stay in the safe job or strike it out on your own.

In other words, you’ve got the keys to your own freedom. Not your parents. Not your past. Not the stuff that happened to you, then.

You’ve got the keys. You’re the only one who can use them to unlock yourself from whatever you don’t like. So do it.

your time is limited. stop settling.

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“Well…this is what I have to work with,” I’d think, followed by a heavy sigh. Money, friends, jobs, time–not enough, it doesn’t feel quite right, but…this is what I have to work with. Whaddyagonnado? This is…it. Another heavy sigh.

Life had a lot heavy sighs, delivered daily.

Now, from a purely pragmatic perspective, we need to find ways to work with what we’ve got, and still be happy, because life does dish up some dozers and losers. Our grandparents are on to something when they shake their heads at us crazy kids (!), endlessly unsatisfied with our hungry ghosts and search for meaning. Keeping yourself from being happy until all of the pieces are perfectly in place is just perfectionism.

But there’s a difference between deciding, “I’m going to work with what I’ve got” and…settling.

How do you know the difference?

First: “I’m going to work with what I’ve got” and “Well, this is what I have to work with” carry completely different energies. The former reflects a choice, the latter a heavy sigh and throwing up one’s hands in futility.

Second: Settling carries with it the implicit assumption that better options don’t exist, and you can’t create them. It’s a scarcity mindset of epic proportions, and when it infuses your life, you start seeing everything through dull, settling-tinted glasses.

Why We Settle

We settle because we’re afraid. When you’re settling, you’re afraid of being left with nothing. Faced with the possibility of having nothing, the voice in your head goes: Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. Maybe this isn’t a big deal. I can figure this out. I’ll try harder. I could be wrong, I could be missing something. Maybe if I rework this in my head, I’ll find another option.

We’d rather stay with what we know and convince ourselves that we must have it all wrong, than step out and take a massive risk–the risk of doing everything, differently.

I’ve done this with jobs I hated, friendships that weren’t working, and assuming that the numbers in my bank account couldn’t go any higher than Just Getting By.

I can’t quit the job–what if I’m left with nothing?
I can’t quit that friendship–what if I’m left with nothing?
I can’t take that financial risk–what if I’m left with nothing?

Clearing Space

Being “left with nothing” creates a temporary empty space. You leave that relationship? Empty house at night; no one to call if the shit hits the fan. You leave that job? Empty bank account. You stop doing things according to habit and routine? Well, then, what would you fill the hours with?

We’re afraid to clear that empty space because we don’t know what is on the other side of that wide expanse.

Most of us use pain as a motivator. We put up with the stuff that sucks, until it gets bad enough to reach a breaking point, at which time the empty space seems like a respite. When the relationship sucks enough, an empty house feels like a respite from being on the Crazy Train with your paramour. When the job sucks enough, you’ll quit and live off of a severely reduced budget or credit cards if you have to, and the interest will feel worth it until you find something that is your true calling.

The most successful people, however? They’re the people who are willing to step out into that wide expanse, and they don’t wait for things to get intolerable before they do. Yes, they’re afraid–we’re not talking that bullshit fearless stuff–but they know that settling is a self-imposed punishment.

They also understand something else: no one gets to circumvent the growing pains of change. The thing is, the people who wait until life gets intolerable before they take a risk aren’t coming out ahead.

Waiting until the shit hits the fan before you’ll take action is like putting yourself in front of a firing squad before you’ll decide to really, value your life. You have a lot less time.

Stop Settling

You don’t have the time that you think you do. None of us do.

Every day, someone is waking up to a life that they regard as totally ordinary–leaving pajamas on the floor, grabbing a cup of coffee, heading out the door–and not all of them are coming home. And chances are good that not many of them are thinking, “If I knew today was my last day, I’d pay a helluva lot more attention.”

I’m going to hazard a guess that you woke up this morning without that thought crossing your mind, either.

The awareness of our limited time can cause us to shrink in fear, or cause us to expand with courage.

When you expand with courage, you step into creation: you create the escape plan, you create the new blueprint for where you’re headed next, you make the amends, you stop telling yourself that what you want isn’t possible.

You’ll still be scared shitless. Absolutely. But life will feel radiant, awake, and full of possibility.

the truth about life coaching

Here is the truth about life coaching : Great coaching is art. It’s like painting, writing, dance. It’s intuitive, fluid, creative, adhering to a structure, yet leaving room for the un-contained. The boundaries of it are difficult to articulate; when I’m in session with a client I feel into the edges on a somatic level, knowing that they are there yet not there.

Good coaching feels alive, because it is alive.

Good coaching is about the art of being human and being in a support role with other humans–emphasis on the word “being.” We’re talking about truly being. Truly meeting. Truly listening. Truly breathing with. Truly walking with and through someone in the experience of being human.

For all the problems that yes, do arise in any industry where there’s a lack of formal certification, I’m glad that there is no strict standardization. I spent a semester in graduate school to become a therapist, and it was the longest six months of my life. Lifeless. Dead. I asked the students who were a year ahead of me in the program if it got better. Not one person I spoke with felt lit up about working with people, and all of my classes seemed to keep coming back to the relentless topic of adhering to state and BBS guidelines.

I meet coaches who tell me that they want strict standardization in the industry, so that they can have “credibility.”

I think that the highest form of credibility is not found in pieces of paper but in clients who tell you, straight up, “Working with you made my life better. Thank you.”

I think there’s something bold and beautiful behind the renegade, “fuck proving my skill-set to any authority” rise of coaching. Yes, swindlers and charlatans exist (of course, they exist in any industry). But what I see most is the rise of a tribe of people who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and they see that one way to do that is to help people heal on an individual level so that we can heal the collective.

I see a tribe of people–women, in particular–who truly do treat coaching like an art form, a craft that they are honing and co-creating with every client.

I don’t say any of this to condescend the work of therapists and social workers. I believe that there are many art and meaning makers among their ranks. I just don’t believe that the only people qualified to help someone walk through the toughest challenges of life are those who have gone through a credentialing program. I’d like to see therapists open to the work of coaches, and see coaches stop diluting the power of therapy in their marketing.

Speaking of opening doors, let me speak to the money for just a moment: people criticize how much coaches charge. Well, if the day ever comes when the many social service agencies out there are willing to open their doors to someone who is a coach, when their HR departments no longer require an MFT or MSW, I’m there. If insurance companies ever have an openness to subsidizing co-pays for clients who want to hire coaches, I’ll fill out all of that pain in the ass insurance paperwork so that I can take on clients who need insurance in order to receive personal help.

The system needs to change, removing some of the gatekeepers and coming up with other systems for evaluating whether or not someone can work with clients aside from fulfilling credentialing requirements, if coaches are to be able to take salaried positions. Until then, coaches charge roughly what therapists in private practice charge, per hour, without any possibility of utilizing insurance companies to help clients with the payments–which then pretty much pigeon-holes coaching into a higher-end category.

In other words? Most coaches I’ve met wish they could find salaried positions, where someone else brought clients in and handled marketing, admin, paperwork, billing, and the rest, and then they could simply work with clients. Those positions don’t really exist, and it’s not the fault of coaches that they don’t exist.

Coaching could be part of a revolution. It’s a revolution of people who are waking up to themselves. The best coaches know that revolution always starts with your own personal evolution. We’ve got to let go of our own limitations, to do the work of loving ourselves wholeheartedly, getting vulnerable, creating deeper connections, and all the rest of it, if we want to have a shot at helping anyone else.

I’ve seen coach trainees in the Courageous Coaching Training Program get raw n’ ruthless with their limitations, feel devastation, feel lost, feel-feel-feel and then get challenged to dig deeper…and I’ve watched as a fierceness emerged from them: I’m on this. I’m shifting. I’m digging deep. I’m transforming. There is no other path for me, because I’m choosing this one where I look at all the stuff I don’t want to look at, and then I choose to love it, and then we laugh, together.

I see them supporting clients who are finding their way through all of that, too. That’s how we wake up to ourselves: being seen, held, and cared-for as we look at all the crap we don’t want to look at, and then decide together, “I’ll choose to love it, and we’ll laugh.”

People can come to this business because they see a Facebook ad promising that they’ll easily make six figures while working from home, or they can come to this business because there is no high quite like the effervescence of having truly connected with another human being. There’s art in it, and magic, and for some that’s just way too precious of a comparison, but anyone who has experienced this level of support knows differently.

We are a world that is dying to wake up. We want to wake up, together. Coaching is one way for that to happen.

Not the best way, for all people. What arrogance, to preach coaching! It’s one path among an infinite number of paths–one that I have chosen and highly value, but it’s not for everyone.

I raise an eyebrow when coaches bemoan the tough state of trying to convince people of the value of coaching.

Convincing ain’t selling.

People are convinced of the value of coaching, when they see you living an amazing life.

Not a perfect life. Not a life devoid of problems.

But rather–an amazing life. My own amazing life includes days where I cry, say mean things to my husband, or resent the demands of parenting. Why? Because I’m human.

My own amazing life also includes an incredible amount of laughter, authentic and true apologies, and a love beyond anything I’ve ever known for my baby girl. Why? Because that’s part of being human, too.

An amazing life isn’t a perfect life. It’s a life that makes space for all of it.

This is the truth about life coaching .That’s what I think that the best coaches are trying to help their clients to find: a life where there’s room for all of…life. Space for the joy, space for the pain, and always–always–space for love.

Courageous Coaching Training Program