A client called me recently, in a tremendous amount of pain. She’s going through a hard time in her life and she was on social media (yep, we talked about how that’s not a great combo) and she saw someone post something about how other people are less likely to want to be around you, if they can tell that you’re in conflict with yourself.
She, my beautiful and incredible client, is in conflict with herself.*
Reading that social media post, she felt despair at the idea that in addition to the pain she was experiencing, she was possibly repelling other people who see that she is rough and messy and not holding things together so well.
While the person posting might have intended to offer a rallying cry for people to release inner conflicts, the inclusion of the part about being less appealing to other people created the same sort of fear that magazine covers inspire: if you don’t measure up, you’ll be alone.
“I just want to be successful in life,” my client said.
So I asked her, “Would you know that you were successful in life, if you weren’t in conflict with yourself?”
To practice courage and move through challenges, you’ve got to examine the beliefs that underpin everything that you think, say, or do. One of the hugest belief systems that I invite people to explore is how they define “success.”
- Successful people don’t feel conflict within themselves?
- Successful people have a lot of money or thriving careers doing what they love?
- Successful people are in families where everyone gets along?
- Successful people have lots of friends they can trust and get invited to all of the parties?
My client paused at this question of how she would know whether she was successful in her life. It didn’t take long for her to arrive at the truth–success is something that is gauged individually. It’s not defined by a social media post, how many people invite you to things, or having a career that you love.
Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
I’ve had this as my email signature for the past two years:
“Have compassion for everyone you meet, even when they don’t want it. What seems conceit, bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen. You do not know what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.” –Miller Williams”
I have never met a successful person who hasn’t had inner conflict, rough edges, or even some quirks such as being a bit too brash for most people’s tastes, missing social queues, or attracted to eccentricities.
In fact, it’s been those conflicts, rough edges, and quirks that have contributed most to living fully alive.
But I will say this: the most successful people I’ve ever met, at least by my own definition of success, have been the people willing to extend love and compassion to the people who are going through rough spaces and places.
This means not telling people that (or treating people as if) they’ll be less wanted because of their rough edges.
This means acknowledging that we cannot ever truly know “what wars are going on down there where the spirit meets the bone.”
This means not holding people up to a measuring stick of goodness or rightness, before you’ll interact with them or deem them friendship-worthy.
(By the way, that “measuring stick mentality” carries with it an arrogant assumption that you will never be in the kind of pain that causes you not to behave so beautifully. Tread with caution if you’re attached to that measuring stick. Life just might humble you.)
Pure, unfiltered, heart-centered love.
Love for the messy, rough edges. And yep, love even for the people who are attached to their measuring sticks. That’s the place where they are at war with themselves. That’s painful, too.
Love. Just love.
That’s my definition of success.
* Yep, I have her blessing to write about this.
So this word came to me the other day: joygasm.
I immediately knew that it wasn’t mine, that I must have heard it somewhere, before, and surely enough–Urban Dictionary did not disappoint.
Here’s my definition of a joygasm, and it’s pretty simple: unrestrained, surrendered, ecstatic joy.
This is…the kind of joy that doesn’t try to “look cool.” The kind that isn’t predicated upon anything other than your own internal wellspring of unfettered, uncomplicated access to pleasure.
No second-guessing (“Do I deserve this?” “Is it okay for me to receive this?”).
And yep, you can experience the joygasm while experiencing the other kind of ‘gasm,’ but this is something sensual without (necessarily) being sexual.
The joygasm, pure and unfiltered could include: Ecstatic laughter as easily as exquisite silence. Biting into food so delicious that the taste seems to go beyond mouth and tongue. Core-shaking moments of gratitude that you are right here, right now–you are ALIVE, baby, and it alllll feels good.
And yes, I encourage you to experience multiple joygasms, on a regular basis.
Getting to the Joygasm
So how do you get there? How do you get to the joygasm?
It’s utterly surrendered. I don’t think you can plot the course. I don’t think that there is “how to.”
But–here are the top three things that I think get in the way.
#1: Over-commitment. When there aren’t enough serendipitous moments, when life is over-scheduled, it shuts down the inner kid side of ourselves that needs a certain amount of spontaneity in order to stay fully expressed. (“Jesus, Kate–you believe in that ‘inner kid’ shit?” And I say, “Oh yes, indeedy, I do.”)
We are a society that vacillates, wildly at times, between knuckling down into responsibility, and then spinning into excess.
Want to strike something even closely resembling a ‘balance’? Something where you reclaim your life, again? Where you have more access to the joygasm?
Reduce your commitments. Be responsible for fewer things, so as to be less driven to excess because the responsibilities feel over-bearing. Then you don’t skew from one extreme to the other.
#2: Rumination. Particularly, rumination on the past, on how he or she done did me wrong. By “past,” here, I don’t even think we need to talk about your childhood–it would be fair to say that most of us can readily find examples of ruminating on what someone said or did, whether it’s a family member or that guy who cut you off in traffic.
Rumination is a waste of time. It creates a cascade of biochemical responses in the body that lead to you feeling like shit about yourself, your life, and the people in it. If you’re going to ruminate on something, ruminate on the most joyful experiences on your life. Even if they’ve been few and far between, ruminate on them until the current moment is joyful because you’re recalling joy.
That’s a choice.
#3: Living in Logic and Strategy. Strategy is one of my strengths. I geek out on it. And the moment when I’ve carefully considered a challenge, and found my way to a logical answer that makes such perfect sense that all sense of anxiety disappears? Love it.
But 100% fully-alive living doesn’t happen when you live your life wholly from logic and strategy. Logic and strategy support life, but the surrendered, creative impulse is where we are going to FEEL most alive.
Sometimes, logic or strategizing keep us from what we truly desire. When we deny what we’re really hungry for, everything inside will scream that we are out of integrity with ourselves. Logic will dictate that the stakes are high and that you’ve got to play your cards just right if you want a particular outcome, but we’ve all heard stories of people who decided to just drop their striving, and to their surprise, things came to them with ease.
There’s a time for logic and strategy, but when I spend too many days living there, it crowds out the joygasm. Logic and strategy create an environment of restraint, and restraint can create a lovely creative tension.
The joygasm is the creative tension, bursting forth, unleashed, wild. The joygasm is the untamed, rebellious, renegade within you.
Where This is Going
I’ve spent many years writing about the necessity of looking at hard truths, getting to the core even when it’s scary or painful. I have used my fear in a way that most people don’t–I’ve used it as a path to liberation and more fully-alive living.
I’ve used my fear because there was such an abundance of it, because it was a ready tutor, and because I see so clearly that fear would always be present on some level, as long as I was taking risks and trying new things–no point in trying to bullshit myself or anyone else, and avoid it.
Recently, I was thinking about using joy as a path to liberation, and realized: my skillset is not as finely honed in that area.
Whoa–what a revelation!
I have total confidence in walking alongside people in the hard things in life. I have been in rooms with people who were (literally) screaming their pain, making noises so primal that most people would be terrified to bear witness, and instead of being terrified, I found myself connected to the honesty of that pain, fully expressed (I’m not afraid of what’s honest).
I live a joyful life–but I’ve arrived at the joy by working through the hard things, by going into my own primal screaming and pain, to come out the other side.
So–what is there to explore simply by going straight into the joy?
This reminded me of a conversation I had with Brene Brown a few years ago, where we talked about how joy could feel surprisingly vulnerable.
Can you feel it, too? How there’s that tingle of hesitation, the surrender, the ecstasy, the–dare I say it?– “loss of control” that true, unrestrained joy carries with it?
This summer, despite the dictates of logic, I’m going to be experimenting with multiple joygasms, daily. I’m curious to see what effect that will have on every area of my life, from my health to my marriage to my friendships.
The current plan is simply this: more play, as a prescription for life.
Appointments? Taken off the calendar.
Teaching position I was offered? Released.
Plans for various health-related treatments? On hiatus. (I’m very curious about the healing powers of joy).
Swapping that out for: books and lots of reading. slowing down. attending all those music and film festivals that I always say I’ll go to and don’t quite make it to. more coffee dates with friends. I might not be answering emails. Two beach houses have been booked. Kansas City in June, and Portland for WDS in July.
Fewer work commitments. More focused attention to clean up any lingering points of rumination. And naturally, since I’ll be releasing income-making opportunities, clearly “logic and strategy” have been thrown out the door. The “logical” and “strategic” thing to do this summer would be to spend it working, business building.
But the promise of the joygasm cannot be denied.
Again, that question: What is there to explore by going straight into the joy, without first thinking you’ve got to “figure it out” or dissect or analyze life, the past, what happened, what the challenges are?
Consider for yourself: How would you answer that question? What’s more available to you, if you go straight into living from your joy?
After my last post about the courage of conviction, many people shared with me that reading it, they had a deeper sense that they were on the right track. Knowing that they were afraid and that the road was hard, they were still pulled by their conviction to keep on, keeping-on.
“Everything you wrote, told me that this is really worth it,” said one person, someone who’s “in it” with her business right now, but who knows that she simply can’t pull back, because it’s too important to her. That’s what conviction looks like.
Other people worried. They worried that I was talking to them, and tacitly saying that they shouldn’t be aiming for the path of entrepreneurship.
So this is what I want to say to the people who worried:
I don’t have any idea what anyone “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing. That’s up to you.
I only know this: that conviction is critical, and that the world tries to tell people that the only way they can have an impact is through striking it out in some big, blustery way such as the arena of entrepreneurship.
And–that simply. isn’t. true.
There are a million other infinite possibilities for you, and you simply cannot do your very best, most amazing, most impactful work–the work grounded in your convictions–if you’re trying to fit it into a medium that does not fit you.
I’m not interested in what’s trendy, and what’s trendy right now is running an online business. Online businesses, however? They’re just the “medium,” the vehicle. It’s not the only vehicle around.
Keep dreaming big; keep aiming high. Keep emerging. Keep standing out as a leader.
Just understand that big dreams don’t always end up in blog posts. Aiming high doesn’t need to relate to income projections. Emerging is not about visibility through social media followers.
And leadership? Leadership is not predicated on having a website and a “Buy Now” button.
But big dreams, aiming high, emerging, and leadership DO have one thing in common: Conviction.
You choose the medium.