Discernment: “the ability to see and understand people, things, or stituations clearly and intelligently” –Merriam-Webster
Discernment is a key tool when practicing courage. It’s the razor’s edge between the kind of crazy that pulls a few all-nighters to proudly meet a launch deadline…and pulling all-nighters until you run yourself into the ground.
It’s the kiss of space between needing to push yourself for just a bit more compassion in the face of someone’s bad behavior…and being a pushover.
It’s knowing the difference between having some debt and making an investment…and having some debt and rationalizing creating more debt because instant gratification is leading the way.
In every decision we make, every response, there are polarizing extremes, and then there’s the murky middle. That’s where discernment is key.
Want to trust yourself, more? Want to have more capacity for taking risks? Feeling shaky when you make decisions?
You need yourself a dose of discernment.
Here’s the kinda-sorta bad news: you learn discernment by completely fucking up discernment.
Translation? You gotta get in there and sleep with the wrong guy, spend more than you have, quit the job and spend your savings and take the job back.
In other words, discernment is learned through making mistakes. Royally. That’s how you start to pick up on the cues that tell you THIS GUY IS A LIFETIME MOVIE WAITING TO HAPPEN versus THIS GUY WOULD BE AWESOME TO HAVE A FLING WITH–NO HARM, NO FOUL.
This means, by the way, that there’s no need to ever be intimidated by anyone you perceive to be good at making decisions. If they are good at making decisions, if they generally trust themselves, if they are more or less grounded in who they are? Well, then. They have screwed up in life, a lot! They are imperfect, just like you and me! They learned from it. Huzzah!
Your Next Brilliant Move
No one can give you the 1-2-3 steps for learning discernment, absolutely–we’re all too individual. For one person, it’s HELLO OBVIOUS that you don’t spend money you don’t have when you also have debt, but those same people might have trouble not giving time that they don’t have, to every person who asks.
But people can help you with this: deciding how you’ll treat yourself in reaction to discernment thrown wildly off-kilter.
Do you stop taking action? Do you tell yourself awful, critical things?
In the Courageous Living Program, I’m not teaching anyone “how to live.” I’m really teaching you a skill-set for discernment. I want people to learn to trust themselves by doing (so the program pushes taking action like it’s a street drug, for reals). I want people to reframe their past mistakes (so we get into the “Stories” you tell yourself that limit your life, and working with the inner critic voices that get so loud when mistakes happen).
The courage of discernment is that when your compass isn’t so finely pointed, and you miss the mark, you decide that the response is not to hide out or beat yourself up.
The response is to get back in there, so that you can learn more of the nuances. You become a better picker and chooser–of people, of circumstances, of telling your true yes and your true no.
If you want to learn discernment, your next brilliant move is to make any move at all and decide that you won’t berate yourself for the outcome. Instead, you’ll pay attention. You’ll get clear, so that you can figure out what your barometer of discernment is trying to tell you.
The fear is there–you might need to fuck up discernment a few more times–but the courage is in the paying attention.
Many of us fear not having enough money.
There are plenty of places and spaces where this is an absolutely legitimate fear–after losing a job, when you’ve had an illness or death in the family, after realizing that you made a bad investment.
This blog post is not about that.*
This post is about all of the times, probably hundreds of times in a week, when people who actually have enough and who have always landed on their feet will chronically worry about not having enough.
There is a fear that many people chronically suffer from, one that I call “Worrying that you won’t have enough IF…”
It looks something like this: you’re about to buy something for yourself, say the most gorgeous sweater you’ve ever seen, and it’s $200–for you, an extravagance. If you examine this logically, you know you have the money for the $200 sweater. But what if there wasn’t enough money at the end of the month? You have no reason to believe that there wouldn’t be, but something in you worries about this possibility.
Some people decide to hell with it, buy the sweater. Others leave it on the table. The reaction to the fear differs, but the primary fear is the same: I might not have enough.
Or, it looks something like this: You have a job you hate. You’ve been there for years. You’ve done your work to try to improve it wherever you can, but little to nothing has changed, and waking up and going to this job is wearing thin.
You fantasize about quitting. You draw up budgets of all your household expenses to plot how you’d quit, could you afford it, and…well, interesting. The numbers are kinda sorta working out that you could go to part-time. Or you could build your business for a year if you lived off of your savings and did some freelance consulting in your industry. Or you could…wow. So there are options. But–
butbutbutbutbut. BUT. What if you didn’t have enough?
Even though the math is staring you right in the face: checkbook in the black, a back-up plan to avoid going into the red, you’re afraid of that same question.
What if I didn’t have enough?
What if I didn’t have enough?
What if I didn’t have enough?
It looks something like this: You would really love to take a vacation. Like, more than anything. You’ve worked hard, been responsible, even saved up the money for it–you HAVE the money, ready to go, the vacation time, all of it. You surf travel websites and fantasize about where you’d go.
But what if something happened? What if you lost your job? What if you didn’t have enough money because something awful happened?
The Real Fear
We live in times of materialistic excess and I’m not suggesting that asking common-sense questions that plan for leaner times is the way of the sap.
What I am suggesting is that in these cases where there is a chronic yet unfounded worry about not having enough money, then fear is in the driver’s seat of these choices.
There’s no ease, no expansiveness, no faith in oneself or trust in the world, when you avoid make choices that would lift you up, because you’re afraid of not having enough money.
That gets right to the heart of it:
Fear of not having enough, is often really a fear that you are not enough.
It’s a fear of being defined by your (low) bank account numbers.
It’s a fear that you lack resourcefulness to find solutions if the shit hit the fan.
It’s a fear that you don’t know how to deal with the stress of a serious financial challenge.
It’s a fear that the world, your world, will fall apart.
Everything is Figure-out-able
I’ve lived through “not enough money.” Not a decade of my life has gone by where there were not, at some point, some serious money challenges.
When I was juggling credit cards and bank accounts with less than $50 of room; when the shit actually did hit the fan and didn’t know how I would pay for something; when I was presented with a serious financial challenge, and when my way of living was falling apart, that’s when I learned–
Not to be defined by the numbers; how to find solutions; how to deal with the stress; how to let my world fall apart and come back together, again.
At some point in the midst of all of those experiences, I decided that “Everything is figure-out-able,” and I began looking around for how to figure it out.
Sometimes it meant that I had to go back to working the crap jobs that I’d left. Sometimes it meant that I was working two jobs, rising at dawn to work in one place and falling into bed after midnight, after having worked at another. Sometimes, it meant that I had to ask for charity, or to borrow money. Sometimes it meant extreme budgets.*
But everything has been figure-out-able, even when it initially seemed that it would not be.
Rally Your Resources
It’s one thing for someone who truly doesn’t have options to say that they’re afraid of not having enough.
It’s a loss for all of us when millions of people who do have options, who could figure out a resourceful way to land on their feet in the name of courageously and authentically living their lives, decide not to.
Rally your resources. You have them. You have people you could fall back on, jobs that you could work at for just one more year while hocking away the bucks into a savings account, credit cards that could be juggled, smaller houses that could be moved into, tax returns that are coming your way that could be spent on your dream vacation instead of ever-more prudence.
Take a moment, right now, just to write out all of your resources. List all the things you could sell if you needed the cash, the jobs you’d take on, the blood you’d donate, the apartment complex you’d move into if the shit really hit the fan and it was all about liquidation.
Add up that number.
Then think of the people. Think of your children, and how there’s no price paid for the love you have for them. Think of your partner. Think of your relatives. Think of your friends.
Barn-raising is a thing of the past, but I bet that if you really steeped yourself in considering the good tidings your beloveds have for you, you’d see the Love-raising that they’d provide if you needed it.
Then think of the years you have left. What you want to make of them. How you want to invest your capital–the capital of “The world needs my gift.” Start conversations with people about how they afford what they afford. Learn their tips and tricks.
Add all of the information that you glean from this inquiry into your bucket of gold–the gold that is you.
Whether or not you “have” enough is a small win compared to whether or not you live with a feeling that you ARE enough.
*Yes. I completely understand my privilege in having all of the resources described in this piece. This post is exclusively speaking to all of those people who have access to these sorts of resources, yet still live in chronic fear of not having enough money .
Back when I was dating (a decade ago!) I would date The Wrong Guy.
Every time I dated The Wrong Guy, at some point long before I sounded the initial “It’s time to break up” alarms, there was always some moment where it was crystal clear to me that this guy was not happening for me. I was “just not that into” him. He was all wrong for me.
And yet, even with that clarity, I would stay.
I would stay because I was lonely. I would stay because I was hoping he’d change. I would stay because I was hoping that somehow, things would turn around and it would all work out.
Mostly, I would stay because I was hoping to avoid the feelings of life being difficult, which were easier to ignore when I was distracted by the endless, oh-so-fascinating drama that dating some guy who was a commitment-phobe or a cheater or a whatever, would bring.
The thing is, we all pretty much do this, somewhere in our lives.
Perhaps you don’t have difficult conversations where you stand up for yourself.
Perhaps you don’t leave the job that’s sucking you dry even though you know that if someone told you that you wouldn’t be alive in a year, you’d for damned sure decide that life is too short and figure out how to work through alllll the challenges that currently keep you from leaving.
Perhaps you don’t forgive, or release control, or frolic and have fun, because you don’t want to be vulnerable.
Perhaps it’s as basic as feeling anxious about changing up your schedule to make room for the yoga class that you know would be so good for you.
In other words, you don’t want life to get harder, before it gets better.
But sometimes, that’s what it takes.
But Of Course You Know
Joy? Yes! Joy is, 99.9% of the time, the overlooked option. The myth that life must always be hard is a Story.
And sometimes, things are difficult.
We tell ourselves that we “don’t know what” to do.
Hogwash. C’mon, now. In your heart of hearts, you know what you want to do. You know what you’d choose. You know.
If you’d asked me why I was staying, when dating Mr. WrongGuy, I’d probably have said something like, “Well, I just don’t know what to do.”
I would have been lying to you, and to myself. A more honest statement would have been something like, “I really don’t want to be alone, and staying with him and betting on him changing feels easier than being alone.”
Honesty: Best Policy
What’s the most honest statement that you can make about any life problem–right now?
If I tell her the truth about how I feel, she might not forgive me, and that terrifies me.
If I quit my job right now, I don’t know how I’d support my family, and they’d look at me differently, and I don’t know how I’d handle money, and that terrifies me.
If I forgave her, I’m afraid she’d just hurt me again, and it was so painful the first time, and that terrifies me.
If I changed my schedule so that I actually went to yoga, I’d have these new feelings of being in charge of my life, and I don’t have much experience with feeling in charge of my life, and that terrifies me.
When we get honest, we admit to our fears.
When we get honest, something else happens–all of that energy of trying not to feel the truth of what you feel, gets freed up.
You might find yourself realizing that you don’t want to live half a life, not telling the truth, not feeling feelings, not waking up each day feeling whole. You might find yourself thinking that it’s not worth it to you to live in fear.
There’s More For You
This path of admitting to your fears? Trust me when I say that likely, life will feel harder before it feels better.
Admitting to your fear feels raw, tender, and it’s easier in the short-term–no doubt about it–to just keep on keeping on, tell yourself that things aren’t so bad anyway, and…well, that’s that.
But there’s more for you.
There’s waking up in the morning to your own internal clock, feeling rested (for once!) and excited about the day ahead.
There is a home that bears your signature in every mark; color, fabrics, the smell of your favorite foods.
There is the satisfaction of knowing that you helped someone else get a hand up and a hand out and a hand of praise and any other hands and help that your generous spirit wishes to give. When you aren’t fighting yourself, you have energy to fight for those who haven’t got any fight left in them. No more feeling guilty for “not doing enough.”
There’s belly laughter and the most fantastic glass of wine and friends you can tell anything to.
There’s creative expression, unleashed. Dipping a brush into a jar; tapping away at the keys; a leather-bound journal; singing arias; musical theatre.
There is having time. Wide, grand expanses of time. When you aren’t lost in the fear, you aren’t lost in feeling rushed, overwhelmed, or hurried. You’re just here. You become a curator of time, artfully arranging your life just so, all in ways that make you say YES to life.
Yes, when short cuts are available, take them. When mentors are able to tell you how to avoid potential mis-steps, believe them. If someone says, “Let me write you a check to house-sit for my mansion that I only use for a month out of the year,” then for the love of mansions–take them up on it!
Life can cut you some quirky breaks like that.
Just have the discernment to understand that there will be plenty more times when life will be harder before it will be better, and the short-cut won’t be available.
If you choose not to go down the path at all, you do get to skip the discomfort of changing things up–and you also lose out on all of the loveliness that awaits you.