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Y’all. I got a book deal. The day that my editor called and said, “We want to buy your book!” I was feeling like this:
And then, quite suddenly, things were moving quickly. – Contract for my attorney to review and for me to sign. – First few chapters due (already? Yes. Already). – New author packet arrived in the mail, going over the entire trajectory of what the publishing process is like.
Meanwhile, I was also training for a half-Ironman and still working with the trainees in the Courageous Living Coach Certification, and I was developing the curriculum for Facilitate With Impact. My daughter had her birthday party coming up, my husband was planning for a hiking trip which meant I’d be doing solo parenting, my entire family would be visiting in a few weeks, the to-do list was mounting.
These were all good things—the things that you want to have happening in your life—and yet I was feeling stress and overwhelm and couldn’t even take my own advice about getting things off of my plate. Everything was a competing priority.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #1: Lifestyle, or temporary
When I facilitate a Breathing Space circle, I’m very clear that there is no way to time-hack your way out of feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelm happens, and that’s fine, so long as we have realistic ways of dealing with it when it arises. It frequently happens because we pile way too much on our plates, and we aren’t willing to put anything on the Stop Doing list. You can’t live joyfully while also choosing burn out.
At the same time, I needed to reconcile something: the choice to do a lot during this season of my life? It wasn’t a lifestyle. It was temporary. There’s a difference between the kind of stress that comes from your chronic lifestyle choices and the kind that is only temporary.
Naming the difference? Hugely beneficial.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #2: Access the body
It simply doesn’t work, to try to pretend as though heart and head are separate. We live in a culture that has conditioned us to at best prioritize logic over feeling, and at worst to disregard feelings altogether. You might find yourself at any place along that spectrum.
Stop. Breathe. (Try taking a deep breath, right now). I realize that self-help types are always telling people to stop and breathe, but they’re only doing that because it genuinely works as a way to deal with stress. It relieves stress, gets you thinking more clearly, and can even provide insight into a problem you’ve long struggled with (I call that somatic awareness).
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #3: Shift Your Mentality
I’ve interviewed a number of highly successful entrepreneurs. Here’s what they have in common: they don’t view the challenges of their lives in the same way.
When they get really busy? They don’t obsessively think, “I’m so overwhelmed with all of these clients; what will I do?”
Instead, they think, “Hell yeah, I worked for this! I am absolutely booked with clients, and it rocks. Excited for my vacay, too.”
Mentality is everything. You can be completely overwhelmed by the requirements of the training program that you’re enrolled in—or you can feel proud of yourself for putting some skin in the game and excited about how it will feel to reach the finish line.
You can be flat-lined by the demands of the book contract, or you can feel like it’s the best opportunity you’ve been handed and you’re going to run that ball to the end zone (I’m not usually into football metaphors, but this works).
If shifting your mentality about something you’re doing feels like such a monumental task that you just can’t do it, no matter how hard you try? You probably shouldn’t be doing it.
How to Deal With Stress, Tip #4
Know when to quit.
People often talk about how to be courageous as an either-or equation and use platitudes such as “Quitting isn’t an option.” I vote that quitting is a great option when you have tried everything your power to shift your mentality about something, and it’s still a miserable endeavour.
Let’s be real: fear is very, very convincing. Understand the difference between fear telling you to give up, versus the writing on the wall that is clear: This just isn’t you; it’s not your soul’s path; that’s how it goes, sometimes.
When the writing is on the wall, heed what it says.
Quitting is a privilege that few people who have it seem to exercise. In ten years, you’ll be ten years older. You can be a decade older having maintained the status quo of something that grinds you down a little more each day, or you can be a decade older having decided to start making sane, sustainable shifts towards what you really desire.
Sometimes, right before bed and even when I’m tired, I will suddenly find that I can’t sleep. I’ll feel a low-grade anxiety, and it’s difficult to pinpoint what it’s about.
So my husband—he’s such a champ—and I will pull on jackets and take a few loops up and down the block, and we’ll talk about what’s going on.
What ends up coming out, is always this: a feeling of being caught between two difficult options.
Always, there are nuances and no easy answers—and this is what no one really talks about when they talk about how to be courageous.
When people talk about how to be courageous, it’s usually with binary, good vs. bad language: There’s the fearful choice, and the courageous choice, and all you need to do is pick the courageous one!
However, I think it’s more ambiguous. Here’s what I find:
There’s the option that’s a huge risk and a ton of work, with the great emotional payout that will have made the risks and work worth it…
…or the option that’s about less work and more breathing space (and probably fewer of these nights where I can’t sleep) and the results aren’t nearly as interesting.
When people talk about how to be courageous, it’s usually with the exhortation that you need to choose the option with more risks and work, so that you can get the bigger rewards. I mean, duh, of course that’s how to be courageous. No taking the easy way out.
When I talk about how to be courageous, I talk about how to be real. That’s what courage always comes back to.
* * *
The reality is that the answers are nuanced and they aren’t as easy as picking the riskier, high-octane adventure.
The reality is that your life has seasons, and that even big dreams will have seasons where the sane choice is to not push for more (that would be my life, the first two years after having my daughter).
The reality is that there are other seasons of your life where maintaining the status quo is a total cop-out. Only discernment will tell you which is which.
The reality is that you are going to meander, pursue things with your whole heart behind it and find that it was a waste of time, be seduced by side projects that you later realize are distractions, work hard for something only to reach the end and hate it.
The reality is that creating something and looking back over the journey to get there is one of the most self-satisfying things that I know.
The reality is that few things are as high-stakes as we often make them out to be. Fork in the road moments appear most regularly in movies. But in real life? Chances are, you will have multiple opportunities.
Chances are that you might complete your coach certification one year and not really try to make a go of it as a coach until four years later, and it’ll all turn out okay (oh, hey, that’s exactly how my own story started).
Chances are that the relationship that could never be resurrected probably is, with time and growth and a newfound willingness to leave the past baggage behind.
Chances are that bad financial decisions can be corrected; dysfunctional patterns can be healed; with fits and starts, you will figure out your way.
* * *
When my husband and I finish these loops back and forth past our house, I never magically arrive home with different circumstances.
The decisions to be made in my life or business are still difficult ones, but they feel less-so and I can go to sleep because I’ve made the choice to be courageous by being real.
Being a human is a difficult thing. I realize that I’ve stated this in so many different incarnations on this site, but it really is true that the simple owning of fears and uncertainties is the start of what makes all the difference.
If you want to know how to be courageous, start by asking yourself how you can be most real.
If you were to review my entire website, all the entries, you’d see over time an expansion-contraction, in-breath-out-breath between the deepest permission to completely let yourself off of the hook with forgiveness and compassion without conditions, and an exhortation to cut the shit and push harder—because after all, this is your life, and it wasn’t meant to be lived from the cheap seats.
This post is a reminder: Life is not easy. (So cut yourself a break.)
It can become difficult at times to remember that being a human is hard stuff. And if your reasoning for not letting yourself off the hook a bit is that somewhere, other people are suffering more, and who are you to complain about your suffering when others are walking through worse?
Well, if that’s what you’re thinking, then I wish I could wrap you in the warmest, closest embrace right now, and tell you that it’s all going to be okay; that the tears you keep holding back are valid; that the permission to acknowledge the hurt of life is there.
* * *
It’s hard to love people and simultaneously feel like they’re the most annoying human beings on the planet and then feel like a bad person who should be more patient.
It’s hard to not know how to handle money or not know why there’s never enough or why you can’t stop wanting-wanting-wanting more stuff.
It’s hard to be ill, to try to navigate health insurance and doctors, or not having health insurance and not having doctors, or having every single resource in the world and still no one can tell you what’s wrong or fix it.
It’s hard to watch death, to watch all the people in the world who actively do harm to others who are walking around alive-alive-alive while the person you loved most, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, is gone.
It’s hard to feel friendships fizzle and dissipate, to care about someone and discover that the foundation you built is on sand.
It’s hard to be criticized, rejected, ignored, left behind, gossiped about, left out.
It’s hard to feel like whatever you look like or whoever you are won’t be good enough.
It’s hard to reconcile your own failures. It’s hard to celebrate your successes, fully and joyfully, in a culture that is just waiting for you to cross the invisible line of “She’s got it too good, so now her successes are arrogance.”
It’s hard to watch social injustices play out and not know how to fix them. It’s hard to face your own guilt that you’ve been complicit in them, the beneficiary of such systems, or numbing out to avoid facing them.
* * *
All of these things are just hard. That’s the simple truth. Life is not easy.
But for this day, this post, I’ll only offer that it’s hard, which is okay. You’re going to be okay. None of us are alone; we are all just walking each other home.