First, do this: don’t do anything.
Not doing something is, in fact, an action.
I’d often give my life-coaching clients an exercise: take a week-long sabbatical. No internet, no email, no social media, and if possible, no work. Also? No self-help books.
Most of the seriously smart women I worked with who felt lost and totally confused started trying to do something about their lost-ness and confusion–read a lot of self-help books, re-work their schedules, spend hours on the internet surfing websites that talked about living a better life.
A happy accident: this “doing” included hiring a life coach, a move that ended up working out for them if they were jamming with me, primarily because I’d ask them to stop trying to paddle away from lost and confusion, and instead try to figure out what “lost and confused” was trying to say, and I was willing to be with them in the lost and confusion places so that they weren’t doing it all, alone.
The Doing Problem
The problem is that when you’re feeling lost and totally confused, you’re feeling murky and uncertain and there’s a lot of second-guessing and doubt. You start taking strides in one direction, then you feel like no, that’s all wrong, I don’t want that, I don’t know what I want, who am I, anyway? Ugh I hate all of this.
All of that doing often ends up becoming a distraction from clearly seeing what’s really going on. You need to find paths to less distraction.
Internet, email, social media, and being frustrated with jobs we hate are almost always a distraction from what’s really going on. We turn to the internet, email, and social media to numb out.
The job you hate? That feels more and more intolerable every day? Or the marriage that suddenly feels unbearable? Or feeling triggered around old family wounds? Sometimes, that’s what’s “really going on,” but often, suddenly feeling angry and like those things over there are the problem is a distraction from what’s “really going on.”
And of course, we read the self-help books so that we can feel like we’re “doing something” about all that we feel. Piling those on can be helpful, but again, is often a distraction.
So I’d ask clients to drop away from all of that, for one week. Spending a week without all of the habitual distractions would usually open up some kind of insight: My marriage isn’t working and it’s because I’m the one sabotaging it, or I’m feeling creatively stifled and wish I could just bust out the paint brushes, or I feel completely fake and inauthentic around my friends.
Boom. Fucking terrifying, all of those realizations.
You can see how it is that we avoid getting quiet with ourselves. One of the reasons I’m such a fan of life coaching is that when someone has these realizations, they have support for working through them without being alone.
The Lost and Confused Mask
Feeling lost and totally confused becomes a mask that prevents you from feeling the truth of your life. “Lost and confused” becomes the cover, the drama, that prevents you from seeing those hard-to-face truths about the marriage that isn’t working or the friendships that feel inauthentic or recognizing that actually, all you want to do all day is paint.
When people see clearly into the truth, lost and confused–the murky, fumbling, don’t know what you want variety–dissipates pretty quickly. When you actually see the truth about who you are, or your creative longings, or your marriage, or your desired career, things stop being murky and become quite clear.
Harder Before Better
And then, when you realize the truth of what you really want or where you ache, it gets harder before it gets better.
“Wait, Kate–what? WHAT? What did you just say? It’s going to get harder?”
Yes. Hollywood sells you on seeing the truth and having the a-ha breakthrough. In my experience and in working with clients, I’ve usually found that it (temporarily) gets harder, before it gets better.
For example: Realizing that your marriage isn’t working leads to more hard truths–perhaps about all the places where you didn’t step up to the plate, the pain of wondering if it’s too late, or the messy untangling of finances and living situations. Realizing that your entire life feels inauthentic opens up the harrowing question of figuring out, perhaps for the first time, who you actually are. Understanding that all you want to do is quit your job and paint means butting up against all of your fears about not having enough money or being rejected by the art establishment.
Make It Worth It
But it will get better. And it will have been worth it if you commit to this one very important thing: seeing what’s on the other side of harder. If you give up before then, you miss out on the gold that’s on the other side.
So, To Recap
You get quiet with yourself, minimizing the outside distractions.
You temporarily don’t try to search for any “answers” whatsoever.
You pay attention to what seems to emerge as truth without attaching to anything as “the truth” or “the answer.”
You accept that this space feels wiggly and feral and awful, at the same time that it might also arouse your curiosity.
You will know when the truth-truth-truth emerges, mostly because it’ll keep coming back up.
Lost and confused–the murky kind–dissipates as you understand what’s true.
Things feel tough for awhile, as you start responding to what you know is true.
And, if you pay attention, you learn something of incomparable value along the way–who you really are, and what you really want, and that nothing in life can actually break you.
You learn to trust yourself.
You learn to prioritize what matters to you, most.
This becomes your freedom.
(These are, by the way, things that I teach in the Courageous Living Program, which is not the program for you if you’ve yet to be willing to sit with yourself and do nothing, but it’s absolutely what you’re ready for if the truths are emerging and you want to learn how to work with the fear as you make your next move).
When you trust yourself and your life pivots around your freedom, the gratitude and joy you feel just for breathing? It floods you.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s what I want: to be flooded, regularly and routinely, with reverence for life.
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.