It was the perfect, delightful Saturday. We drove through wine country back roads ten minutes from our house, the hills rolling and bleached gold in the late August heat. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at Point Reyes Station, California.
We took a stroll through town. We argued (briefly) about when to have lunch. Then we shrugged it off and chose a place. Afterwards, we walked a trail at a nearby park. Then we headed back towards Petaluma, our home, but not without a stop at a local cheese shop where we sat alongside a small pond.
That’s just “what happened.”
What’s more is that we were delighted.
(There is more to this story.)
People often talk about experiencing a lack of fulfillment. Jobs, television, paying bills, flossing, getting laundry done, running errands, getting the kids to and from school–whether because it’s overwhelming or because it’s mundane, it can wear on the soul. Add into that a minor family crisis, an illness, or an unexpected bill, and life can suddenly seem very, very hard.
In the midst of these experiences, we reclaim happiness not by having all of our problems disappear, but by reconnecting with delight.
That day, Point Reyes Station was alive. The farmer’s market was in full swing. Small children were pointing out details to parents, making the ordinary, extraordinary (one small girl walked past a restaurant and suddenly began shouting, “Food! Food! Food!” and doing a funny dance for her parents). Dogs on leashes waited patiently for their owners to exit a cafe, a bakery, a gardening store, and they wagged their tails and looked up at us, hopeful that we might pet them or release them, as we passed by. Outside of every cafe, birds waited patiently and then swooped in to pick up any crumbs that might fall off of someone’s scone. The air smelled absolutely magical–coastal air, clean air, air sweetened by the nearby trees.
All of this–free–and whether or not we enjoyed it depended utterly on whether or not we’d a.) notice, and b.) choose to embrace the delight of it.
The meal? When you savor your food, it does not disappoint: heirloom tomato soup with basil and a bit of chili oil; a stewed lamb dish paired with polenta and spinach; a Lagunitas IPA for him and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, for me. Then we shared a salted caramel pudding, for dessert. We laughed and joked with our waiter.
We made toasts when our drinks arrived–as we do at most meals, even when all we have is water. We weren’t having an anniversary. It was no one’s birthday. “To living well,” I said, and we clinked our glasses. With every bite, we chewed slowly, trying to identify the ingredients and trading forkfuls from each other’s plates.
“That kind of meal takes money,” someone could (rightly) say. “I can’t do that.”
But I could have been just as happy as any number of people who were outside, enjoying a latte from local favorite Cowgirl Creamery, or a deli sandwich, all of which would have cost less than $10. It wasn’t about the money. It was about savoring the food.
When we took a walk after eating, my husband stopped to take photographs. The grass and weeds were tall on either side of the trail, expelling some kind of white, cottony fluff. We found a stream and dipped our feet in the cool water, holding one another up on the gravel bed. We walked more, and talked about cross-fit and yoga and resistance and family and what was happening with our careers.
As we were walking, at one point I said, “Walk like this!” and spread my arms out wide. We were in direct sun, but the coastal wind was cooling and when you walked with your arms outstretched, it felt like flying. He followed. At another point, he said, “Wait. Just be completely still.” Immediately, I stopped. We stood in silence, listening.
I didn’t need to ask “why” he had wanted me to stop. He didn’t need to ask me “why” I had gleefully suggested that we walk with our arms outstretched. We understand one another in that way.
The sunshine, the air, the birds that floated above us, the people walking their dogs along the path–all of it, free. All of it, right there for one’s enjoyment.
I used to hear people talk of an abundant world, a world where more was working for us than against us, and a world where happiness was a choice, and I’d think:
All well and good for them, but they have no idea what *my* life is like.
They have it easier than I do.
They have more money.
They have more time.
Now, I understand that it’s never about what anyone “has.” It’s about who they choose to be.
There’s delight, everywhere. A tomato costs a dollar at the store. Salt it a bit, perhaps spritz it with a bit of lemon juice. Pack it in tupperware. Grab a wine glass and some sparkling water (another dollar or two). Go to a nearby park (free) and people watch (free), and pour yourself the sparkling water in this wine glass, and take off your shoes, and put your toes in the grass.
Tilt your face up to the sun. Take a bite of that tomato and savor it on your tongue. Feel your throat constrict and relax as you swallow. Toast yourself.
Do it even if you’re plagued by bills.
Do it even if you’re worried.
Do it even if you’re nursing a broken heart.
Do it even if everything around you is falling apart (in fact, that’s the best time to do it).
It’s going to sound stupid on some level, right?–The salted tomato and sparkling water in a wine glass–but it’s something. It’s celebration. It’s embracing delight.
It doesn’t really matter what you do: Forts under the dining room table with your kids, reading scary stories by flashlight and really going full-on with the monster voices; two back-to-back yoga classes because you’ve always wondered how it would feel to be utterly wrung out with stretching; buying fruits and vegetables from your local Safeway to prepare a new recipe for dinner.
Whatever you choose, go one level beyond “just doing it,” and embrace the delight. That’s going from “doing” to “being.”
Notice how your children squeal with excitement, and how today they are young enough to have that peculiar “little kid slightly sweaty smell” and how they are not yet too cool to hang out with mom. Notice how your yoga instructor delivers lines with such care, and how the incense in the studio smells, and grin openly and enthusiastically in every pose that you can do really well, because you feel like a badass. Notice the colors of everything when you buy those vegetables, and how cucumbers, celery, and basil have such interesting textures.
It’s courageous because it opens your heart, particularly if you’re doing it when life is rough.
Embrace delight. Hold the details of a world that has so much to offer you, close to your heart.
Click to tweet: Have the courage to embrace delight. http://clicktotweet.com/6TtaD
I think a lot about dreams–or, put more plainly–people getting to have, do, and be what they want. It has taken a lot for me to own something this straight-up and to the point: I want to have the life that I want, on my terms, and that’s okay. I think that there’s a way to have the life that you want that is collaborative, and kind, and not about power trips or hurting others or taking from someone else and leaving them without.
I want you to have, do, and be what you want. I want you to do what you want with your life.
So, back to dreaming: I was thinking about the incubation of dreams. The way we go after the dream is just as important as the fulfillment of the dream, itself. In the same way that a baby needs nourishment in the womb, our dreams, on their way to being birthed, need nourishment.
So how is your dream incubating? As you’re working, what’s your dream marinating in? What’s the energy that it’s gestating and developing in?
- I don’t know why I’d bother. No one will show up, anyway.
- I’m putting all of this work in, so it had better work out for me!
- I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid. I’m so afraid.
- This is hard, but it’ll be worth it.
- I live a good life now, and I know I’ll live a good life, later–no matter what the outcome.
- I’m afraid, but I’m willing to trust. I’m afraid, but I’m willing to trust. I’m afraid, but I’m willing to trust.
It’s worth it to stop, and ask yourself: As I’m doing this thing, trying to make this change, trying to get this business off of the ground, trying to navigate a difficult child or marriage, trying to make new friends, walking around the art store looking longingly at the paint sets, thumbing through travel books, praying for a health miracle…
…What’s the atmosphere in which I’m creating this dream that I’d like to be born?
Are you creating an atmosphere of trust, gratitude, and love alongside the reality of your fear? Or are you immersing yourself in an atmosphere of such abject fear that you’re shutting down along the way to the finish line?
The conditions under which our dreams are created do affect the outcomes. Stop, breathe, get present to what you’re creating at all points along the way.
Several years ago, someone who was angry with me told me–as a reference to my own behavior–that she “didn’t understand any woman who was insecure, much past the age of eighteen.” At the time, I was twenty-eight.
In the immediate moments after she said this, I hid the sting of her words. I started doing what Dr. Brene Brown calls “the hustle for worthiness.” I started saying things that (I hoped) sounded neatly packaged and tied together. I began trying to position myself in the best possible light.
Then, I promptly spent the next few years alternatively avoiding or trying to impress this woman. When I was in a room with her, I hustled hard. I talked about cooking or social justice or travel or learning languages, things that I knew that she was interested in. If there was any way possible to get out of an event that involved her, I bailed: “Gosh, so busy, gee, wish I could, but I’m working so hard on [insert hot shit product launch or new entrepreneurial endeavour].”
This was, of course, more insecurity. She had hit the nail right on the head with her assessment of my behavior. And–despite my best efforts, over the years I would hear about more criticisms of me, my approach, things I said, things I did, even though I was hustling so hard to change her opinion of me.
When most of us are in this kind of a situation, it’s a knee-jerk reaction to start tearing down what the other person said. For awhile, that’s what I did. I mentally justified why I was insecure, or felt relieved when a friend expressed feeling insecure (hey, it’s not just me!), and I tried to avoid being around her so as to avoid ever again hearing her criticisms.
But really, the problem wasn’t what she said or what she thought.
The problem was that I believed her.
The problem was that the moment that she made it clear that insecurity at my age was patently uncool, I superimposed her worldview over my own.
In that moment, I had had a choice. I could have said what I’d experienced to be truth up to that point, which would have sounded something like, “Actually, I completely disagree. It’s been my experience that everyone has pockets of insecurity, and I’m fine with the fact that I have mine. I admit to them, because that’s honest. I’m doing the best I can to work through them.”
It was because I didn’t believe her that I started hustling for worthiness. She didn’t “make me” hustle. I chose it.
How to Respond When People Criticize
As far as I can tell, people are going to deliver their assessments of your behavior. There’s no amount of hustling for worthiness that’s going to save you from someone’s criticisms or gossip. There’s no amount of trying to “do it right for them” that will spare you their stuff.
And really, it is their stuff. What this person was really saying to me about insecurity was that she didn’t like insecurity. I don’t know what that meant for her life, at the time.
All I do know is that since we can’t control other people, I see a few options in such situations:
1.) You can hustle harder to try to smooth things over, make them happy, phrase it in the right way, convince them that you’re awesome. This will be effective approximately 50% of the time, but the other 50% it won’t–and what works for them, will be completely different for someone else, so be prepared to shape-shift like a mad woman depending on who you’re talking with, if you pick this option.
2.) You can limit contact with them so as not to be around any criticisms. This option will be helpful for the person in question, but then someone else will crop up, so this also carries with it no guarantees.
3.) You can decide to know yourself, deeply and honestly and intimately, and to love all parts of yourself. With this option, what people say may hurt sometimes, and other times it won’t, because you’ll know yourself enough to know that it’s not true, or you’ll decide to throw down a little shadow work and see criticisms that trigger you as a place for investigation.
Let it be said: I really like door #3.
Door #3 is the journey of really understanding who you are–not just the shortcomings, but also all of the wonderful and unique things that there are to celebrate.
Door #3 is the path of finding out that there’s more goodness there than you were aware of, once you actually look closely.
Door #3 is the path of deciding whose opinion you want to matter, and whose you don’t–and assigning a hierarchy, even, of putting your opinion first and then those of the people with a demonstrable record of care.
Always choose door #3. Your energy can go into shape-shifting, and it can go into avoidance…or it can go into richly and divinely becoming absolutely everything that you already are, and loving this you, wholly and totally.
The energy will go somewhere. Where do you want yours to go?
Whatever happened with this person? I realized that I had felt insecure and that actually…I was fine with that. Whatevs. I came to understand that anything that came out of her mouth was just her worldview, her lens on life. Any criticisms that she had could just be reduced to feedback–feedback that I could use, or dismiss.
Really, I got so sick of knuckling under that fear–my own fear–of bracing myself for what she said, that something within me came to understand that it wasn’t worth it to me, to live that way. I stopped babbling about topics that she was interested in, when I was around her. False confidence (fear) gave way to practicing courage as I took a deep breath and risked disagreement, talked about what I was most interested in, and quit trying to be her version of cool.
I quite literally decided to just be myself, and that she could deal with that however she liked. Interestingly, in taking the focus off of hoping to impress her and be liked, I found more things that I actually liked…about her.
When other people criticize you, don’t fear what they say. Fear believing them (and then work on that). It’s betting on yourself, and that’s a bet that’s worth investing in, totally.