At some point, your desire to create something must become greater than the desire to make excuses. This has to become a life-altering, no-going-back, holy shit change in your orientation to your entire life.
Your desire to create must become bigger than your desire to make excuses.
When you desire making excuses, life is all about short-term gains. Avoiding the hard conversations. Wiggling out on making the tough calls. Not needing to admit to mistakes. Getting the little trinket or the high-thread-count sheets, as a salve for some other disappointment.
When your desire to create something becomes greater than the excuses, those short-term gains start to feel empty in comparison to what’s possible, long-term.
And in-between these two places, there is wide open space and a yawning gap of fear.
There is Never Enough Time or Money
When the desire to make excuses is greater, it seems logical that there’s not enough time or money to [insert desired life experience].
Truth: There’s never enough time. We’d always like more.
Truth: There’s never enough money. More would always be helpful.
You know in your soul, when you truly want something. And if you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it.
There is No Right Time
When the desire to make excuses is greater, the somatic experience of fear in the body can have you thinking that yeah, you want that life, but you’re waiting for the “right time.”
There is no right time. Not really. All the variables could be lined up and then something unforeseen could happen that tips things in the wrong direction. And, just as often, someone decides to do something brazen with her life at just the moment when everyone said that it would fail, and it doesn’t.
The timing isn’t what has to be right. What has to be right is that you will not, under any circumstances, resist the call of what you know you long for.
In Ten Years…You’ll Be Ten Years Older
You’re too old? It’ll take too long to create what you want? Well, you know, maybe it will take ten years for you to get there—but in ten years, you’ll be ten years older.
Do you want to be ten years older, having dedicated a decade to what you really want?
Or do you want to be ten years older, having numbed out with piss-poor substitutes?
Who do YOU want to be?
No, Substitutes are Not Good Enough
So what you’ve got now is basically workable, so you should be happy with that? Um, no.
Nearly a decade ago, I realized that I was in a salaried teaching job that had all sorts of great selling points. Summers off. No cubicle. No boss monitoring my every move. I could choose what books I taught the students and create my own curriculum. Health insurance. A good salary.
It was basically workable.
But the thing is, I’m not here to live a “basically workable” life. I’m here to live my courageous life. I want to wake up in the morning feeling 100% fully-alive, not “basically workable.”
Here’s what I also know about “basically workable:” The things that I didn’t like about that job? They drove me crazy. They drove me so crazy that by Saturday night, I’d feel my mood drop because tomorrow was Sunday, and Sunday was the day before Monday—and Monday, I had to go to the job that was “basically workable.”
Know Your Reasons
If you’re currently not doing something that some small part of you wants to do, yearns to do, always perks up when she thinks about doing it, know why.
Be very clear that the reason why you aren’t taking steps towards that dream have nothing to do with lack of time, or lack of money, or not right timing, or because “basically workable” is such an alluring life proposition.
Know that the reason why you’re choosing the excuses over the desire to create is that you’re afraid.
Let me tell you, I love you for that. I get afraid, too. I catch myself making the same excuses about money and time, too. I coast on “basically workable” sometimes, too.
I have no interest in putting you down or shaming you for being afraid. This is not a “kick in the ass” for you to start going after what you want.
This is the call to get present to what you do, and why you do it. Get present to your choices. Get present to the way you reason things out in your head.
In the same way that I love you enough that I’d never want to shame you for your fear, I love you enough that I’d never want to not speak the truth, all to spare you some discomfort.
This is the truth: your life is important, and your dreams matter, and when you routinely make excuses that keep you from living your courageous life, you sell yourself and the rest of us short.
That’s uncomfortable for all of us to get present to, me included.
My hope is that if you recognize yourself in these words, you’ll get up from the computer or put down the device in your hand. My hope is that you’ll say, “I’m not waiting another minute.” My hope is that you’ll write down, hands shaking, the truth-truth-truth of what you really want. My hope is that you’ll decide that even if all of the odds appear to be against you, you’ll trust that the world—that we—are rooting for you to win.
My hope is that knowing that, you’ll get out there and do something with your courageous life.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” –Leonard Cohen
I routinely show people my cracks.
This is courage, in action, especially because it is frequently my experience that others receive these cracks as unnerving. Sometimes the response is advice-giving (“She’s got a crack! Let’s fix it!”). Sometimes the response is silence (“She’s got a crack! Ugh, I don’t want to be around that.”). Sometimes the response is one of those really concerned looks where you can tell the person is thinking something, but holding themselves back from saying it (“She’s got a crack? The life coach? Um, she sounds like she’s having a really hard time and I don’t eeeeeeven know what to do with that”).
If you are someone who makes it a habit of showing the places where you are uncertain, or where you have fear, or where you royally screwed up, this so breaks the mold that it’s unusual. People don’t always know what to do with this.
So here are just a few of my cracks:
I fear things like making the wrong choices with my kid–what’s the best way to teach her healthy boundaries, without squashing her spirit? Is it okay that she’s in day care? To what degree will I let her eat processed foods because that’s what everyone else is doing and I don’t want her to be left out, even though I think they lead to all kinds of awful health problems?
I experience doubt, worry, nervousness, anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, resentment. At least twice a year, I question why I ever got into entrepreneurship in the first place, because it’s damned hard.
Sometimes after getting angry with my husband, I feel like an awful person.
How You Respond
How do you respond when people tell you about their cracks?
People who are inclined to give advice usually are only hoping to be helpful, though the shadow of that is sometimes that they’re distancing themselves by trying to remain “above” the problem.
People who distance themselves are scared that simply by being around someone else who is walking through a life challenge, they, too, will “catch” that challenge, like a virus.
Others are disappointed; perhaps secretly hoping that someone else had it all figured out. No more pedestal.
And, sadly, there are others who will feel a delighted glee at someone else’s admission of struggle.
The response of others when you show them the places where it isn’t all perfect will tell you a lot about who they are and what they fear.
It isn’t really about you.
We need more people talking about the places where they feel busted-up. And yeah, we also need more people who roll up their sleeves and move beyond diarist admissions of suffering.
But more than anything, when people show up with their cracks, they’re showing up as their entire selves. That’s worth something.
We owe it to the people who show up to not pathologize their emotions. You can experience frustration, depression, sadness, guilt, anger, anxiety, worry, and a whole host of other emotions without these necessarily being clinical.
You can fear things.
This doesn’t make you dangerous. It makes you real.
Every single time you share with someone that you have a chronic worry, or a deep insecurity, you’re taking the risk that you’ll be labeled, judged, avoided.
We are all taking that risk.
Part of what makes us human is our capacity to experience emotion. Sometimes it’s passionate anger, other times it’s a deep sadness–but on the flip-side, there’s also incredibly joy-joy-JOY! and deep sighs of contentment and sensuality and being in a creative flow.
If you want to live as a whole person, you’re going to have to be willing to not shut down anything, including the stuff that’s hard to be with.
You’re going to have to be willing to let it all hang out and risk that someone will think that you’re strange or weird or in need of a diagnosis. You might even need to confront a hard truth–like that there’s a legitimate diagnosis to be made!–and that is courage, too.
It’s not easy, to live as a whole person.
But it’s definitely not easy to live as a person who’s shut down, or mired in doubt, or numbed out, either. It’s not easy to live wondering whether everyone would leave if they saw everything that you are.
Show them your cracks. Roll your sleeves up and get to work (the confessional is not where this journey ends). You’ll sleep better at night, knowing that who you are is simply and completely…you.
Yes, we’ve all met them: the person who has some shit hit the fan, like perhaps losing a job, but instead of trying to find a new job, she wants to rub some crystals together, recite some affirmations, and “Think positive.”
Yes, we’ve all seen them: the websites that try to commodify happiness, selling it to you like it’s a “secret formula,” maybe even using words like “the secret formula for happiness.”
Yes, we’ve all heard of them: the people who would take this positive thinking thing so far that they’d look a person of color in the face and tell them not to worry about institutionalized racism; who would tell someone who’s been walking through terrible poverty to “keep their chin up.”
These are all things that happen around the conversation of positive thinking, so it’s no wonder people have gotten a bit salty about it.
But I’m talking to you, the person who reads this with hopefully an ounce of common sense.
From the perspective of common sense, let’s get a few things out of the way: If you lose your job, think positive while you get your ass off of the couch to look for a new one. If you try to swindle people out of money while promising them happiness, karma is gonna come looking for you, and she’s going to be pissed. If you tell people who are suffering around social justice issues that they just need to think positive to see social change, you’re contributing to the problems they face.
Boom. There you go.
Now, I’ll proceed to tell you why positive thinking matters.
The Timing Matters
Something shitty just happened. You feel like shit.
Right now? Not the time to “think positive.” Not the time to ignore the pain as you try to figure out how this will be a life lesson for you to beautifully articulate in a blog post. Not the time to justify or rationalize that anyone who deliberately contributed to the circumstances is just golly-gosh-gee doing their best.
Positive thinking is only powerful when it’s used at the right time. Doing all of the above? That’s called “Spiritual bypass.” You can google the term or the name “Ken Wilber” if you want to read up. You might recognize yourself, pretty quickly.
Your anger has its place.
Your sadness has its place.
Your overwhelm, distraction, frustration, rage, grief, insecurity, fear, isolation, loneliness, or whatever feeling seems to wash over you whenever things are shitty? These feelings all have their place.
If you try not to feel them, you drive them underground, and that is not just some throwback to Freud. Not only does Dr. Brene Brown point out that people who try not to feel their so-called “negative” emotions also cut themselves off from their joy, I can speak from personal experience that trying not to feel the bad stuff, thinking that that’s what it means to be a Certifiable Good Person, just leads to feeling stuck.
When shitty things happen, you find the people who will let you feel the feelings, preferably in real-time and not via a Facebook post.
You pay attention.
Then, at a certain point, you decide that you’re ready to shift. It’s time to think positive, for no other reason than because continually recycling the negative just feels crappy.
It will not do you any good to try to “think positive” until you’ve felt the feelings. You can’t force your way there. You’ll know you’re ready when two things happen.
One, in your body, you’ll feel like the feelings have moved from being a direct experience in your body, to being something you’re carrying around on your back, like baggage. This is hard to explain, but anyone who has gone through a breakup can tell you that there’s a point where all of the sadness and confusion is very “alive” and direct in their body, and then at some imperceptible moment, you’re basically functioning in your life again but the feelings feel like something you’re carrying around, weighing you down.
Two, you’ll have the thought, “Something needs to change,” or some variation on those words. You’ll desire the shift.
Why Positive Thinking Matters
It matters because at a certain point in processing your pain about what has happened to you, choosing to “think positive” becomes a powerful life alternative to wallowing, forever a victim of what happened.
When someone dies, when a job is lost and there are few job options available, when you’re presented with a health crisis and the road to recovery will be long, when a relationship falls apart despite your own best efforts, you need to process your pain.
You also, at some point, need to reach for something positive. Not happy-happy-joy-joy inauthenticity, but something that is more positive than “It’s done, for me.”
Deciding to adopt some positive thinking opens doors. Rejecting it outright, closes them. For as much as people bash “positive thinking,” I can’t imagine that those same people would ever say the following to someone:
Your husband is dead, and you’ll probably never feel happiness, again.
You lost your job and there aren’t many other options out there, so I hope you don’t lose your house.
You’re sick, and it’s going to be really hard and difficult and you might not get better.
Your relationship fell apart, and so be prepared to never love anyone again.
These are statements that lack empathy. They lack just as much empathy as someone getting in your face right after a death, telling you that it’s all going to be okay, just look on the bright side.
Positive Thinking + Empathy
Empathy is the critical factor, whether it’s empathy for your own feelings or having empathy for someone else’s.
Positive thinking without empathy, just doesn’t work.
“There’s a lesson in all of this,” without “It’s really hard right now; how can I help?” doesn’t work.
“I’m sure you’re going to make a full recovery from your illness” without “It’s not fair that this has happened to you, and I’m here if you need me” doesn’t work.
Empathy is what bridges the gap when social justice issues come up. Tell me as a woman, “I believe you when you say that you’ve experienced this; I believe you when you say that there are inequalities. It sucks, and it’s wrong. How can I support you?”
Tell people of color this. Tell the LGBTQ community this. Tell people who are struggling financially, this.
Let them have all of their “Right now, I feel like nothing’s going to get better” feelings.
And when they’re ready, let them know that you’re there to help them forge a new path–a more positive one that leads to change.
I do my best to adopt positive thinking. I resisted it at first, because I thought that it was like a lie, like telling myself to believe that I felt like enough in those moments when I didn’t feel that, at all. But positive thinking doesn’t need to be, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh-darnit, people like me!”
It can be as simple and true as this: “I’m willing to try, and trust that that’s going to get me somewhere.”
That’s it. No pom-poms. No slapping an affirmation on it to make the pain go away. No putting on a bright smile and “Faking it until you make it.”
More like this reality: “Sometimes, life is hard. And it will feel harder and quite miserable if I repetitively tell myself that I can’t, that it’s not possible, that there are no options. The choice is mine.”
Yes. The choice is yours. You’re thinking your thoughts, either way.