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For a year, I had resented something. I’d get up in the morning. I’d get dressed, get my daughter ready, have breakfast together as a family, kiss my husband on his way out the door, and–there it was, this thing that I needed to do, that I resented. I wanted to stop feeling resentful.
I’d go about my day. Even when I wasn’t doing this thing that I needed to do, if I thought of it I’d feel…resentful.
At various points during the year, I’d tell myself things: Give it time. It might not feel this way, always. You’ll get more comfortable with it. Be reasonable. Stop feeling resentful. Be logical. After all, I don’t know how I’d magically turn this thing around, so what’s to be done?
For brief periods, I would feel better. Then, just when I thought that I had settled into some level of comfort, I’d see something else. I’d hear about something else. So-and-so would say something else, and I’d bristle.
Finally, it dawned on me that I wasn’t making changes because I was afraid that things were as good as it could get, and that changing things might make it worse. Better the devil you know, than the one you don’t.
I was staying put for fear of change. With that note, staying put officially became more intolerable than rocking the boat.
This is what can be hard, about adulthood: you are aware that you have choices. You are aware that your choices have consequences. You are aware that you might make a big mistake and need to retrace your steps to restore equilibrium in the wake of that disastrous choice.
What we sometimes do, however, is set ourselves up to feel resentful.
How? By knowing that we have options, yet being afraid to act on available options–and then getting resentful that we don’t like where we are. It becomes a form of ignoring the fact that change, while hard, is possible. Sometimes, when we’re afraid to make changes, we blame it on circumstances. We get resentful, the more we blame.
Your life is worth more than that resentment. You deserve to stop feeling resentful.
Your life is worth more than waking up, feeling tension when you have to do that thing or see that person or deal with that issue. It’s time to stop feeling resentful, and start taking actions that, while scary and difficult, might lead to real change.
With all this said, I’m a huge fan of self-responsibility.
Whenever I see another blog post exhorting people to just Quit whatever you don’t like! Just leave! You don’t owe anyone anything! without also adding, “Examine your own patterns” and “Take total responsibility for your part” or “Make sure that you’re not totally projecting your own crap onto the situation and calling it someone else’s fault,” I shake my head.
People love blog posts like that, because they speak to an infantile fantasy land where we get to do whatever we want, without consequences.
Quitting, leaving, or giving the big f-you to whatever you don’t like, without any self-examination, always yields consequences–the consequences that come with reacting hastily, burning bridges, or leaving others in the lurch.
So in other words?
When you’re ready to let go of resentment, don’t make it about giving the big heave-ho to someone else.
Instead, make it about self-examination. This is your resentment. You choose it. You feel it. It’s time to get to the other side of it.
1. Examine your patterns. Where have you been in this situation, before? I’ll give the example of disliking a job. Where have you felt trapped, before? Where have you reacted to people like your co-workers, before? When you feel like you can’t leave your job, where have you felt that, before? Any patterns?
2. Take responsibility for your part. Even if you don’t like what someone else has done, and even when they’re clearly wrong, there’s power in owning your own part. Yes, you can have the worst boss in the world. Your responsibility is your choice to continue working for her.
3. Ask trusted friends for help with blind spots. Sometimes there are things we aren’t seeing, options that are available that we don’t even realize are there. Practice courage and ask them, “Here’s what’s been happening. If you gave me your honest feedback–delivered with kindness, of course, just total truth–what would you tell me?”
4. Give it time. It can happen that sometimes we dislike a situation and we’re so quick to claw our way out that we inadvertently end up not ever dealing with our discomfort. No job, no relationship, no city, etc., is perfect. As Geneen Roth says, “Never underestimate your inclination to bolt.” The things you’re trying to change up and run from, particularly if you’re always changing up relationships, jobs, living situations, and more, indicates something you’re uncomfortable just being with. Try options 1-3 above, give it six months, then walk if nothing has truly changed.
It was time to let go of the situation that I was resenting–I’d done all of the above steps.
I was afraid to take action, but I did.
And once I did, I felt…freer.
Under the new circumstances, I woke up in the morning, and it was all going to be different yet the same, and…it was fine. The little zappers and pin-pricks of irritation that had been mounting were no longer there, and thankfully no more passive-aggressive notes.
Your life is worth more than resentment.
Examine your patterns. Take responsibility for your stuff. Watch out for projection or expectations of perfection, and resist the impulse to bolt simply because you’re hoping that the grass is greener.
The hardest grieving I ever did was the year I was diagnosed with infertility.
Even now, having lived it, it seems strange to me to have grieved something so intensely. If I spend time thinking about that grief, I can feel how the sadness of it weighed on my shoulders like a heavy backpack of loss. I can look at my daughter standing next to the kitchen cabinets pulling out the pots and pans, and in a blink I see how the cabinets would look if she was not standing there, if there was no sudden crash as she finally pulled out the last pot, her face triumphant.
I carried my sadness that year like a secret shame, often thinking that infertility was an invalidated grief. Who was I, to be so sad when there were mothers who watched their children starve to death? Who was I, to be so sad when there were wars and torture? Who was I, to cry like this when the bee colonies were collapsing? Who was I, to want this when the world faces overpopulation?
But I was sad like a back ache. To hear the doctor say that my body was no longer producing eggs felt equivalent to hearing him say, “After thorough examination, we have determined that you are empty.” Pregnant women walking down the street seemed to be bragging, flaunting their good fortunes.
Because I didn’t wear the diagnosis on a t-shirt (“Hey, world! I’m infertile!”), every innocuous comment landed as if the target had been well-aimed.
“You’re sooooo lucky that you don’t have kids,” said one busy mother of two.
“Until you become a mother, you don’t really know what it means to be a woman,” said another (snidely).
“Until you’ve gone through child birth, you don’t know what real pain is!” joked someone else.
And always, when my husband and I least expected it because the conversation was squarely on something else, someone asked, “So when are you two going to start a family?” We stretched our smiles and lied through our teeth, keeping it light. Well, you know, we’ll see how it goes, we’ll see what happens…
I felt pulled between the desire to do everything, and the desire to give up and do nothing. One week, there were so many options! I was ready to make appointments! Change my diet! Start acupuncture! More yoga! The next, I was angry that infertility had officially hijacked my life and that I had been so stupid as to wait until I was in my early thirties and married with stable income before starting a family.
I processed a lot with my coach, that year. I resented him, the session when he asked me to envision a good life, without children.
This was not a push to hurry up and recite positive affirmations, smoothing over the pain. I had spent so much time grieving that it was starting to consume me. Now, he was asking me to choose a future for myself where my grief didn’t eclipse my entire life.
He asked me to get specific about what would be so great about never having kids. I blubbered and did the Ugly Cry and said that if I envisioned those things, then that was like saying it was true, that I would never have children.
“Yes,” he said. “I’m asking you to decide that it is true, that you will have a great life even if you don’t have children.”
So I did; haltingly at first, I talked about how I’d travel and all the free income we’d have and the time and the sleep. I was walking into the exercise in order to confront my resistance to the idea, but the truth was that none of it felt like real enthusiasm. (That’s par for the course, with resistance, by the way).
He asked me to make a list of specific things that my husband and I were free to do, because we didn’t have children. I did, and that list became the basis of what my husband and I called “The Summer of Fun” when we decided to actually just go ahead and do all of the stuff. We took off of work, rented houses up and down the coast, and had I don’t even know how many dinners at Zagat-rated restaurants in wine country.
I gained ten pounds, but I was laughing, again.
That fall, without medical intervention, I was pregnant.
* * *
The happiest day of my life was the day that that stick turned and the pregnancy test read: positive.
That statement is a sitting duck for judgment. How un-feminist. Is that all that your life amounts to–what your uterus is capable of? You must be using a child to fill some gaping emotional void. There are bigger things in life than children. You’re celebrating changing shitty diapers and getting no sleep and having to take a diaper bag with you, wherever you go?
But there it is. That was the happiest day. For a full 24-hours, I was so ecstatic, I was transcendent. Absolutely anything felt possible.
The bliss would later mix with fear and worry. Now, as my daughter toddler-crashes through her world, life is happier. Infertility feels like visiting a country right before a coup–I’m grateful to have gotten out, alive.
Mostly, I’m grateful that someone asked me to make a choice about what I wanted my life to be, before I got the baby I’d so longed-for. I’m grateful that someone helped me untangle myself from thinking in black-and-white outcomes, challenging me to decide that I would be happy, no matter what.
When you are walking through your hardest grief, whatever that might be, you need to feel. You need to do the ugly cry. You need to tell people that it’s all unfair, and not worry that they’re going to ask for your positive reframe, which will only ever make you want to punch them. Empathy is critical. You need to find friends who will say things like, “Well, fuck that diagnosis.”
And, at some point, understand that the people who love you most will push you not to let the pain define everything. Clinging to your pain is a dangerous thing. It turns life into the worst kind of “before” and “after.”
The hardest grief you ever walk will feel torturous and inescapable. It will feel impossible, but how things feel and how they actually are, are two different things.
Feel the feelings. And then choose, over and over, as often as it takes, to understand that the feelings are impermanent. That’s how you create what comes next. If you’re committed to creating the good stuff no matter what, the grief can’t stay forever.
We are a culture that is fascinated by lifestyle options.
Paleo diet. Yogini. Raw foods. Triathlete. This religion. That religion. Super-successful MBA becomes CEO, Fortune 500. All-natural attachment parent mama. Tiger mom. What’s your excuse? mom. Double income, no kids–my life is sooooo much freer than all of those moms tied down by kids! Environmentalist. Minimalist.
Choosing lifestyle options has become a new way to establish an identity. It’s a cultural landscape that we didn’t have 100 years ago, when communities were smaller and less diverse. In a globalized world, choosing a lifestyle often means choosing your belief system and any lifestyle niche that you join automatically grants you access to a tribe of people to bond with.
There’s nothing wrong with paleo or raw foods; yoga or cross-fit; this religion or that religion or no religion; kids or no kids.
But we make ourselves desperately unhappy when we use lifestyle choices as a way to seek an identity, hoping that by dropping ourselves into the culture of X, we’ll finally know what to do with our lives.
Choosing a lifestyle option (and secretly hoping that it will fix all of our problems) is a fear-driven choice that keeps us from practicing the courage to find out about all of who we actually are.
And really, what we are seeking is devotion to ourselves.
Ask yourself: Have you ever read some profile in a magazine about, say, a yoga instructor who starts her day with green smoothies and meditation, whose house looks like it came out of Dwell, with beautiful photographs of smiling children who look like they never misbehave, perhaps with photos of the family meditating together in front of their sacred altar, and thought…I want that life? Did you then take up yoga, or fantasize about the white couch, or go buy the book called I Never Need to Yell at My Kids that was mentioned?
Maybe yoga isn’t your thing, but if you switch out the content to whatever you’re really, really into–running an online business, or some way of eating that promises glowing health, or a spiritual practice–is it the same?
What you’re seeking when you read that magazine profile or all about that blogger’s life, online, isn’t their way of living life–but we often get confused about this. Seeking a lifestyle usually means that the choices become about emulation. We put our emphasis on the things they do, that person that we’ve projected has figured it all out, and try to emulate that, instead of putting our emphasis on devotion.
What we are seeking is devotion. We can be devoted to an ideal, or we can be devoted to ourselves.
When you’re devoted to an ideal, you’re emulating.
When you’re devoted to yourself, you’re truly living.
Karmically, all roads lead into one. On one level, it doesn’t matter what you choose, because the lessons that you’re seeking to learn will always find you. We cannot ever fully escape ourselves, because we take ourselves with us wherever we go.
On another level, the more unconscious we are about our choices, the more we suffer without understanding why we’re suffering.
Being unconscious about hoping that fitting into a certain lifestyle will be the balm to your problems creates suffering. This is a really, really confusing place to be in. You know you’re there if you find yourself thinking things such as, “I don’t get it. I’m doing [all of these things that are in alignment with this lifestyle] and I still feel stuck! Why? Why haven’t I figured this out, yet? Why do I still [get sick, repeat old habits, have bad things happen]?”
Expending all of that effort, only to still feel like you’re spinning your wheels, is an unhappy existence.
We get happier when we choose devotion to ourselves. We get more conscious. This is not a self-centered devotion that I’m talking about. Whenever you get more conscious about who you are, you stand a chance of not repeating the old patterns that are harmful to you, and to those around you. It’s a devotion to being real.
Whatever lifestyle choices you make, understand this: they can only ever be a vehicle. If you choose a lifestyle as an ideal, it’s a vehicle for endless perfectionism, attaining, trying to “live up to” something. Fear underscores this.
If you choose a lifestyle as a way to be devoted to yourself, it’s a vehicle for more understanding of who you are and your place in the world.
This is is the path of the courageous. That’s where words like “purpose” and “fulfillment” enter the picture. That’s the intersection of joy and authenticity.
Devotion to yourself becomes the game of life, and you’re playing for keeps.