All of these things are great, but they’re not the be-all-end-all of success, living well, or making your dreams happen. So here are ten things you don’t need in order to be successful (with success being defined in whatever way you choose):
1.) An organized desk. “My desk is so disorganized,” someone says, as if that’s what keeps them from any hope of seeing their dreams come true. But I think that the hyper-organized types in our society are few and far between. With those few exceptions, the idea that organization is tantamount to success is something that people use as a delay tactic to get started. And the grief so many of us give ourselves because we aren’t “more organized?” Goodness. Let’s just save that energy for something else.
2.) A specific, step-by-step plan. I believe in specifics, and I even believe in step-by-steps and plans. But if there’s too much rigid attachment to the step-by-step, lovely diversions along the way can be missed. Far better to go by instinct. Learn the art of following your inner YES.
3.) Schedules. I’ve been interviewing people for Across Mediums, and one question I keep putting into these interviews is how they make time for artmaking and creativity. I’ve been asking this because I consider myself to be someone recovering from the land of “if you’re serious about something, you make a schedule.” I have a theory that this emphasis/pressure on scheduling our lives down to the minute as a measure of discipline or aptitude has something to do with school and how we did math at 10:00 followed by reading at 11:00 followed by lunch at noon and…you know, it’s taken me years to stop eating at noon just because it was noon, and start eating when I was actually hungry.
4.) A perfectly clean diet. Good grief, the energy I’ve put into finding the perfect diet, thinking that once I found it I would have boundless energy and no stress. Just recently, I started avoiding refined sugar and I feel so much better, but of course what really brings a quality of calm to my day is how present I am in it, and whether or not I’m making a choice to be passionate about whatever it is that’s right before me.
5.) A private office. I love my office. It’s yellow and beautiful. But I spend a fair amount of time writing at my local library, and if I spend too much time in here, I start to feel nuts. In fact, a home office makes self-care harder–because there’s always that thought, “Oh, I could head in there and get this or that done…”
6.) A meditation practice. Meditation is great, but presence is better. Noticing is better. Watching those judgements and opinions and where they create drama and disconnection in your life–all better. Meditation is a great vehicle for learning how to get good at the noticing and watching, but if you’re not making the time for it each day, far better to funnel the energy of beating yourself up into just noticing, watching, and being conscious about your choices.
7.) To work for yourself. There are so many people out there who have great 9-5 jobs and then they do something more creative in a freelance capacity, or not for any money at all, but just for themselves. Your life is a success because you say it is–because you claim your choices and are behind them. Working for someone else is not tyranny (unless you say so). Your life is not a success because you are the next “I quit my job and followed my dreams” poster child on the internet. (If you are that poster child, that’s great–I totally support you. I just don’t believe that it’s what works for all people, and want to support those who are feeling stuck with the Story that they have to quit their job in order to do what they love).
8.) A lot of money. The quality of our lives depends more on how we claim our lives and our choices than it does on the money. Next time you’re worrying about money, consider asking yourself where in your life you aren’t “behind” your recent financial choices. What financial decisions have you made lately that you have a nagging feeling about? Which ones didn’t feel really great to make? Cut those out of your life, and you cut out a lot of the pressure to come up with a lot of money.
9.) To live an esoteric existence. I don’t like the emphasis people put on material things. I’m all about sustainability. I support people who make choices to have few or no possessions if that’s a match for them. I even agree that saving money in all of those areas means more money available, and that this causes less financial stress. However–every choice we have has its flip side. For instance, Andy and I chose to rent our own, stand-alone house. We’re paying more rent this year than we have in years past, at a time when the economy sucks. Of course–We could save money by living in the places we’ve lived in in the past, with shared walls. But then there was stress in other areas–like when the neighbors blasted their music during the day, or woke us in the middle of the night. I like books, comfy chairs to read them in, and chai. I feel more financial stress making things work with this home, but my home is one that I genuinely enjoy being in, so it’s worth it to me to do what it takes to pull in a bit more rent money. In essence, let’s strike a balance between excess and minimalism.
10.) Constant internal monitoring. The inner critic/Ego/fear-based self, whatever you want to call it, that lurks within? Let’s soften that. Let’s have some gentleness. Let’s sink into the choices we make and get behind them, and then accept that some people will look at those choices and write a blog post on “10 Things You’re Not Doing That You Should Be Doing” and maybe those 10 things will be “Get organized!” and “Make a Plan!” and “Set a Schedule” and “Eat Right!” and all of those things. You get to decide what resonates with you, which of them will be necessary for making your life workable.
What would you add to this list? What’s something that you feel you’ve been oft-told is necessary for success (any kind, whether entreprenuerial or otherwise) and really, it wasn’t absolutely necessary?
So I did this kind of nutty thing about six weeks ago: I stopped eating refined sugar.
I started this little experiment because for the longest time ever, I’ve felt as though something was “off” with my body. Just generally, lots of achiness. Tiredness. And the dogged and persistent acne–good grief. It is embarrassing to still be breaking out in your thirties. Ridiculous. I’ve been on every pill, every medication. It’s not hormonal. My bloodwork is fine. Like everyone else, I could stand to lead a more Om Namah Shivayah kind of life, but frankly, I don’t think self-care is exactly my weak spot. Are we forgetting that I spent last summer in Italy? I’ve tried letting go of dairy. Wheat. I’ve been on a raw foods diet (an experiment I can’t imagine I’d ever take up again, not because it doesn’t work but because good golly, I simply can’t spend that much of my life planning meals).
So I decided I’d try the one thing I’d never, ever tried before: letting go of refined sugar.
Now I commence with telling you that I finally understand the true nature of addiction.
Speaking of this, as part of my sugar detox, I was not doing honey, either–or agave nectar (which I’ve since learned through various and sundry research, agave is not actually this all-natural superfood, and it’s terribly environmentally offensive because most agave is grown in Mexico and then trucked/flown thousands of miles away to the United States). For fourteen days, I had zero refined sugar, and no foods that spike insulin levels when the body converted it to sugar–such as anything with flour in it. No wine. When I shared this with my dear friend Margo, over lunch (salad for me…) she said: “Oh my god. What do you eat?”
Answer: Lots of things. Carrots with hummus. Brown rice and lentil soup. Lots of steamed greens. Quinoa–oh, I looove quinoa. Cashews. Dried apricots. Canned fruit (in pear juice and water, not high-fructose corn syrup). Steamed kale. This really great wild rice casserole inspired by Andy’s sister–sautee some onions in garlic and then toss with wild rice, chopped black olives, and chopped (steamed) green beans. Sooo good.
I was doing a great job with the no sugar thing–couldn’t have even really said that I missed it–until Day Six. Some switch flipped on Day Six and suddenly it was like, “Where’s the sugar? Where? Where could I find me some sugar, honey?” Thus commenced a rather terse couple of days. Mood swings? Check. New acne breakout? Check. Tired and cranky? Check. There was one day when Andy made an offhand comment about cupcakes, something like, “Oh, cupcakes sound good,” and I felt this lift in my mood as I thought of how–YES!–a cupcake would be delicious. Why not have some? And then I remembered that I was off sugar and my mood just fell in about 1.3 seconds flat and tears sprang to my eyes because a cupcake sounded so tasty, and so good, and so fantastic, and I was not having any and life just felt unfair.
But I made it through the fourteen days–the limit I’d given myself for detoxing sugar from my body. I no longer craved it. I was feeling great. I hadn’t lost weight but I had noticed that (probably due to lack of carbs) I was looking pretty muscular, or “cut up” as they say. I had a ton more energy. My acne was clearing. I switched over to organic, all natural cleansers and noticed that my skin was still clearing (which is great, because sometimes even with really strong stuff it would be resistant). I felt more grounded in my skin.
And then. Then I decided I’d try having some sugar. What I noticed: that even small quantities of sugar felt as if I’d just eaten five baklavah. Also, even small quantities of sugar would bring on epic headaches, maybe even some feelings of nausea, and–curiously–a crash in which I feel slightly depressed.
And, those small quantities of sugar? They made me crave more. This is why I say I now understand the nature of addiction. I really believed that if I were to detox the sugar out of my system and get to a point where I was no longer craving it (and I did reach that point), then I’d be cured. Done. I could have small bits of refined sugar here and there, and it wouldn’t matter.
Sadly, no this is not how it works. The little sugar addiction receptors in the brain start bargaining and calculating the way they did when I was on Day Six, looking around, wondering if there were any way that I could push this no sugar thing just a bit and still be keeping my commitment to myself. Which is how I now find myself in the curious predicament of wanting all of the lovely benefits of not having refined sugar–all of that energy! waking up in the morning feeling alert! not crashing in the afternoon! feeling really chill and calm! muscles! –while simultaneously craving it and thinking about it. The other day I was at a party where someone sliced a cake. I noticed myself eyeing the cake on the plate of the person in front of me, watching as bites traveled from plate to mouth.
I mean, Jimminy. Come on.
I was in the midst of my detox when I found this article written by Havi, and now’s the part where I quote from her:
I don’t often mention the no-sugar thing. Or the no-caffeine thing. Because it’s been my experience that — when it comes up — people tend to think that I’m secretly implying that they should do it too.
So let me state as clearly as I can:
The choices I make in my life are only about my life. You can totally drink coffee and eat cookies all day and I will love you just the same.
Seriously. I could not care less.
Whatever guilt or “shoulds” come up for you, they’re not coming from me. I’m sorry if talking about stuff that goes on in my life makes you feel uncomfortable about stuff going on in yours. That is never my intention.
People vary. What might be poisonous to me could be completely harmless — or even beneficial — for you.
I am not interested in being an evangelist. “You” just the way you are right now? Fine by me. I promise.
I feel exactly the same way–big love for anyone reading this, and I’ll support your choices that support you. Swearsies. But I am sharing about my process here, because I’m realizing that if I keep trying to tempt the Sugar Monster, bargaining, swearing I’ll just have a little bit and then I’ll quit tomorrow, I’m going to lose. There is a reason why 12-step programs have you give up trying to have control, first thing. I get it, now.
Ugh. I’m posting here because deep down, I want to be all accountable and stuff, and Numero Uno way to be accountable for me is post it on my blog. Enough people read it and then say later, “So whatever happened with…?” that it is an effective integrity check. I’m also sharing that right now, I’m in the middle of my process rather than on the other side of it, and I’m feeling whiny and icky and all of the Resistance is coming up. It is not attractive.
So I’m saying it: I think it’s time to quit sugar. For reals. And honestly? That sort of scares me. It sort of drives all of these buzzy, annoyed nerve impulses down my spine. Whaddya mean, we gotta quit sugar? It’s not just an experiment?
But for reals–For me, I think it’s time. During the weeks when I had no refined sugar, I had the lovely feeling of being grounded and energetic and healthy that I’ve been looking for. I want that back.
(Update: While I never did fully renounce sugar, I certainly have eaten far less of it since undertaking this detox!).
I thought it would be good to go back and clarify a bit about what I meant when I talked about cleaning out your garbage a few posts ago. As a metaphor for how we hold on to things, I talked about putting “garbage” in a basement rather than taking it out to the curb, and completely letting it go. This is what most of us do with our old wounds, hurts, Stories, pasts, worries about the future. Instead of letting go, we stuff these things into the recesses of our minds until that “basement” is way too full. Then we do odd things with our garbage, like taking out just a little bit of it but not all of it, or rearranging our garbage so that it looks prettier, or creating all kinds of drama around the garbage.
A simple definition of “the garbage” would be: the stuff that is no longer serving us. It’s no longer useful to keep around.
There are some helpful distinctions to make when thinking about these things. For instance, some of my garbage is old anger. It’s important to make the distinction that Anger isn’t bad. However, anger that just keeps recycling itself, feeding on itself, running in a pattern, unchecked? That’s not serving anyone. Far better for me to take that garbage “out of the basement” rather than keeping it around.
I’d also want to make the distinction that while I’m calling it “garbage” for the purposes of this metaphor I’ve used, I believe that there’s value in everything that comes into the circle of our existence. It’s all part of BEing your journey, sinking deeply into it and having curiosity about each piece. I’m not saying that the garbage is something that should be rejected, or that the journey should be shifted so that no garbage ever comes in. Accept that garbage exists. Accept that you’re a human being and you’ll generate more. Then do as the environmental movement advocates: see what you can do to cultivate less of it, and be responsible about disposal. No creating hazardous, toxic zones.
Last, I’d also want to share that “taking out the garbage” is not as simple as repeating a few affirmations (well, it never has been for me–if it is that simple for you, then I think that that’s fantastic). I’m not suggesting that the metaphorical “taking out the garbage” is literally as easy as dragging something out and letting it go. The stuckness is keeping the garbage sitting in that basement, sweltering, rotting, verminous. Letting go of stuckness is moving that garbage out, and sometimes that process is messy. Sometimes we get down to the basement and look around and go, “Waaaaaaiiiit a second. No way am I going to mess with this stuff.” Then perhaps we decide that it would be easier to keep it around than look at it.
Sometimes when I meet my own stuck places, I find that the mantra that comforts me the most when I want to be over there in the nice, happy, transformed place, and instead I’m right here still in the muck is “When something is ready to transform, it transforms.” This is about acceptance. We have all of these choices coming at us, moment to moment to moment as for how we’re going to hold something. I’ve wrung my hands any number of times, thinking, “If I know that this doesn’t serve me, why don’t I just stop, and change, and do it differently?”
Answer: I don’t do it differently because when I am ready to transform, I will transform. If I’m still doing it the old way, then clearly I’m not yet ready to transform. But when I’m ready, I will. And the same is true for you.
Can we all just have some love and acceptance now, for the places in our hearts that are still not ready to transform, that are still waiting? Will we risk loving ourselves anyway?
I loved this from Pema Chodron (I am still obsessively reading and annotating When Things Fall Apart):
“Perhaps nothing ever really attacks us except our own confusion. Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t like the way reality is now and therefore wish it would go away fast. But what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent to get away from an obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.”
To whatever degree we can open up some spaciousness for ourselves around our process, the better we’ll be able to get a wider picture, a clearer view, and a more informed perspective. Often we think the thing to do is clamp down and work harder on “getting it right.” It’s the difference between expansion and contraction, and as Chodron mentions above, the inclination is often to close down, to retreat into ourselves. To contract.
Let’s open something up, here. Let’s claim the places where we still haven’t transformed something, where we still want to hide, and just sit in that. “Hi, my name’s __________. I still want to hide in the areas of ________, __________, ________.” When I claim those places, I notice that it feels much the way I feel after finally making an apology. Sure, I might feel embarrassed about something I’ve done, but it is such a relief to just apologize, to do my best to clean up my part and create connection.
Take out a sheet of paper, a journal (or feel free to use the comments). Write out the areas where you still want to let yourself hide. Then ask yourself: “If I know that nothing ever goes away until it has taught me what it needs me to know, what is this teaching me?”
Are you willing to have some love and acceptance in your heart for the places that are not yet willing to transform?