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There was a session when my coach/counselor/mentor Matthew looked at me really directly, straight in the eye, and said:
“You realize that if you embrace this kind of work, you’re stepping into a whole different way of being in the world.”
The power of that statement was full body sizzling resonance.
At at the same time, Fear said, “No. Absolutely not.”
Yes–something in me deeply wanted change.
Yes–something else in me sincerely wanted to stick with what I’d grown comfortable and accustomed to doing, even as I knew that it wasn’t serving me.
What No One Tells You
Here’s the thing–if you truly take it to the core, 99% of personal growth work absolutely sucks.
It’s not uncommon for me to be on the phone with a client who clearly articulates what she wants–and then as soon as we start to really dismantle the old belief structure, she’s angry. Pissed. She’s either turning her fear inward, or she’s projecting it outward (sometimes, onto me).
When clients are in that space, I get it. We’re just human, and at the end of the day, we prefer our routines over something new. Do enough deep personal growth work–go full-on with courage–and you’ll eventually get cornered.
There won’t be anywhere to hide out when you’re into the truth-truth-truth.
The Question We Fear
There’s a question that we fear asking, buried in all of this:
“Who would you ‘have to’ be in order to step into living the kind of courageous life that you actually want to live?”
It’s a potentially terrifying question if you have a long-standing way of being, and a lot of belief systems that you’re incapable, and suddenly you’re contemplating this idea that you actually can–and have no idea who that person is who “can,” or what her life is like.
Also, change is hard and you might have good reasons for doing all that you’ve spent years doing. For example:
Are you a Yeller? Well, then–you probably have some great reasons for yelling. You want to stop yelling, but–what would you put in its place? How else would you handle anger when it courses through your veins?
Are you an Avoider? You also have great reasons for Avoiding, reasons that have to do with how you survived your childhood, or how you make it through your job or your marriage, how you handle stress or fear. You can know that you want to change it–but until you know what you’ll replace it with, until you know who you would “have to” be and are comfortable with that, it’s hard to give up Avoiding and become pro-active.
When Matthew told me that I’d walk the world differently, here’s who I was afraid I would “have to” be if I stepped up my game:
d.) having all the answers,
e.) someone who would be made fun of because she was “too happy”,
f.) someone who would be isolated from others because they’d be intimidated by her happiness.
I believed that I would “have to” become a walking posterboard for empowerment and holding space and always being 100% being nice. I was intimidated by that vision.
The way it actually turned out was that courageous living wasn’t going to be perfectionism. It was going to be integration and acceptance of all the parts that weren’t perfect.
So Ask Yourself
One of the reasons that we don’t make the shifts that we know we need to make is because our behavior is habituated and we don’t know what habits we’d replace the old stuff with.
Your most courageous self knows who you’d be if you stepped up your game. That’s part of what’s so intimidating. Swap “have to” for “get to” and there’s an even more exciting question:
Who would you get to be if you lived a full-on courageous life?
Yes, that’s the question that sparks movements, innovates industries, and brings leaders into the limelight–but more importantly, that’s a question that can be life-changing for the likes of you and me, the ordinary women who are living our lives, wanting good things for the people we love, and hoping that we can impact our small corners of the world.
Who would you get to be if you lived a full-on courageous life? That’s what you get to decide.
1. For one week, take a different route to get everywhere that you go. Why? Because you might see something that surprises you, learn something that takes your breath away, run into the love of your life, meet your new best friend, or otherwise find life more interesting.
2. Buy dinner for the table next to you at a restaurant. Leave before they find out what you’ve done. Someone did this for my husband and I when we were in the midst of mega wedding-planning stress and we’ve never forgotten it.
3. Draw stick-figure cartoons of your angry boss (or whomever you’re having conflict with at the moment) bowing down before you and apologizing.
4. Whenever you order a latte and they ask your name so that they can call out your order, tell the barista to call you by your superhero name (so if you’re ever at a Peet’s and hear the barista say “Small, single-shot, coconut milk latte for Kate Courageous!” then you’ll know that I’m nearby).
5. If you don’t already have one, come up with a superhero name.
6. Find a phone book (they have them at libraries, if you no longer receive one). Close your eyes and put your finger down in five different places. Send cards to all of those addresses that contain loving affirmations.
7. Carry stickers in your purse and give them to children who are melting down while everyone’s waiting in the line at the grocery store.
8. Play the “May I Speak With the Manager?” game. It goes like this: you receive incredible service, and you note the person’s name. When you’re about ready to leave, you ask to see the manager. Everyone in the vicinity will tense up, assuming that you’re going to complain. The manager will come over with a tight face, bracing herself for what’s to come. And then you—you!—break into a huge smile and gush about how awesome everyone’s doing, how much you appreciate them, and what a difference they’ve made in your day. Trust me, this one is the winner.
9. Plan out the entire trip that you’ve been longing to take. Print out the itinerary, book the flight all the way up to the “buy” button, highlight the dates on your calendar as if they are blocked off.
10. Read up on existentialism.
11. Surprise your spouse/partner/special person at work with their favorite latte.
12. Wear an adhesive moustache for one hour, out in public, and pretend not to know what people are finding so funny.
13. Answer the question: “If I knew that starting next calendar year I’d be gifted $100,000 for paying my basic living expenses and executing a project of my choosing, what would I do?” No paying off debts with this money.
14. Create your own personal mantra. (A few of mine, if you’re inclined to share: “If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to get it” and “What would love do?” and “What’s the path of ease?”).
15. If you don’t have kids, offer to baby-sit for someone who does, for free and without their asking. If you do have kids, directly request (via Facebook or other means) free babysitters.
16. Choose a wall in your house that is for writing on.
17. Own at least one thing that has a bad word written on it.
18. Get involved in a social cause. Sign up for the email newsletter if you can’t donate money, and actually read the newsletters. Tell one person you meet a statistic or fact related to the cause you’d like to change. Use less plastic, eat less meat, give the money to the person asking for change without first assessing whether or not they “deserve” it, make eye contact with people who identify with different cultural groups.
20. Intensively seek to understand all of your associations with the word “power.” Understand when it’s mis-used; understand when it’s used properly; understand how you view it in yourself and how much access you feel you have to it; understand how others who have less of it view themselves and how much access they have to it, relative to others.
21. Learn how to make a food dish that you’ve always wanted to make: warm scones; paella; tiramisu.
22. Take a digital sabbatical from email and social media.
23. Buy a canvas and make bad art. Commit to painting over it and creating new art on that same canvas, ten times.
24. Scream your frustration into a pillow, followed by turning on the most irreverent music you can think of and dancing wildly and without reason.
25. Connection is why we’re here, so spend a week being as connected as possible to every molecule of the planet—whatever that means to you. The very act of defining what that means to you will up your joy factor like crazy.
Everything I know about courage, I learned from completely messing up my life.
(And, upon realizing I’d messed up something, deciding to learn from that).
Courage isn’t something you’re born with; it’s a habit. It’s a practice that you create and cultivate over time.
Again: everything I know about courage, I learned from completely messing up my life.
Sleeping with the wrong guy(s). Ahem.
Expending effort trying to get the wrong people to like me.
Wasting time on better looking, more impressive titles, thinking that it would give me something, somehow.
Questioning every obvious sign the Universe threw me.
Doubting the support and love of people who truly cared.
Throwing a Molotov cocktail of anger at people who didn’t deserve it.
Complete and utter lack of boundaries.
Alienation and isolation.
Not being myself.
Not telling the truth-truth-truth.
What I Know Now
What I understand now is something that informs the backbone of all the work that I do: understanding that courage ain’t precious. It’s shadowy and difficult and open not to the perfect and heroic, but instead to the everyday person who has done her share of messing something up.
In other words: if I could change the things that weren’t working, so can you.
What I know now is that the most courageous thing anyone ever does is tell the whole truth about all of who they are.
What I know now is that it’s painful to be pretending you’ve healed your inner critic stuff, more than you actually have. (Psst! Whole lotta life coaches out there are in some pain).
What I know now is that I don’t have anyone else’s answers, but that having walked through the spaces where I didn’t like myself very much is what gives me the capacity and the container to hold space for someone else while they do the same.
What I know now is that courage is about truth, not confidence.
What I know now is that I hold very loose concepts around “what I know.”
I put more faith in groundlessness than I do in holding ground, and that’s just for starters where I get into the Buddhist wisdom that has prompted me to sit on zafus, breathing in, breathing out.
What I know now is that it’s because I have gotten more comfortable with not obsessively needing “the ground underneath my feet” that I can stand a little taller, be a little less swayed by discontent, square my shoulders, and speak the words that feel like coming home.