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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.
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.”
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, 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.
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.
I hadn’t known Tiffany Han that well, until this past year. She birthed her babies several months before I had my daughter. Somewhere around the six-week mark with my daughter, I felt…nuts. Scary, broken-from-reality-sleep-deprived nuts. Major lifestyle change–husband had been offered a cushy job a week before I gave birth, and I was suddenly and unexpectedly home alone with a baby all day every day, recovering from a c-section, puffy, tired.
Also, happy, overjoyed beyond belief, gobsmacked by the love, and pulled in the two polarizations of those extremes.
Luckily, of course, there was Facebook. I was invited to be part of a private Facebook group that Tiffany and Laura Simms had started, and we’d all chat together and for the most part in those early months, we’d collectively obsess about sleep.
On really hard days, Tiffany would say this thing to all of us, and sometimes to me via a private text:
“You’re DOING GREAT!” she’d say.
Sometimes, “You’re doing SO FUCKING GREAT!”
This was not patronizing. She just honestly wanted us to know that whatever was happening, we were DOING SO FUCKING GREAT.
Words I needed to hear, to my surprise. Pre-baby, I think I would have assumed that someone saying such things to me was condescending. Post-baby, every time I saw them flash across my phone, I breathed a bit easier.
The truth is–you and me? We’re all just doing so fucking great. Great with what we have, with what we offer. Great within our pettiness and imperfections. Great within our compassion and our love.
We are all doing just great because we are being human, and if you are willing to have a reverence for your life, that is greatness.
Collectively, we are living these lives that stretch us the way having a new baby stretches us. We love so fucking big and huge, and at the same time, sometimes we are so…tired.
The temptation is there to beat ourselves into a submission of “good behavior.”
“If I start telling myself that I’m doing just great,” you might think, “then I’ll probably let myself go even more than I already have.”
We fear that if we allow ourselves to receive the message, “You’re doing just great,” then we’ll blow money, blow diets, blow off the job we’ve hated for the past decade.
Truth? It’s only when we fully receive the message “You’re doing just great” that we find the capacity to get our financial house in order, eat great food without deprivation, and make tough decisions about our careers.
If you want to stop snapping at your husband, your kids, yourself.
If you want to shift your view of what’s possible.
If you want to feel “at home” in your body.
If you want to dance, uninhibited, every single day.
If you want to finish what you start.
If you want to quit every single item on the to-do list that doesn’t feed your soul.
If you want to stop playing small, hiding out.
If you want to focus.
If you want to be more playful.
It’s only when we internalize the messages of kindness, when we understand that through our foibles and fuck-ups we are really only doing the best we can in any given moment–only then will we give ourselves the compassion and care that truly, really, actually changes things.
Hon, you’re doing great–so fucking great.
You’re not lazy, you know.
You’re just afraid.
That’s why you buy up self-help programs and sign up for e-courses and then don’t actually implement the changes.
You’re afraid, hon. Just afraid. No biggie. We all are.
You think you’re missing something. You think that other people “get it” and you don’t.
Nope. There are only two things happening when other people seem to be having a smoother time.
One is that they are completely full of shit. Posturing. Paddling hard in a sinking canoe. Looking good on paper, but unable to look themselves in the eyes when they wash their face at night. Tired. Oh, so tired.
The other is that they are comfortable with their fear. It arises, but because they don’t resist it, hate it, or try to get rid of it, it doesn’t suck their energy dry. They’ve developed tools and strategies for walking through the fear–because it’s part of life, part of how things just go.
It’s not that you aren’t working hard enough.
It’s that until someone pairs a willingness to feel their fear with prioritizing their own accountability to themselves, it’s hard to get much of anywhere.
What? What did you just say? What does that even mean?
What I said is that you need two things:
1.) Willingness to feel your fear, and
2.) You need to prioritize your accountability to yourself.
Imagine Jane. Jane’s like you–intelligent, a good head on her shoulders, willing to make good decisions. She’s always longed for something–maybe to devote a month to yoga, to overhaul her whole wardrobe, to have a baby, to get her MBA. Naturally, she’s afraid (because anyone with a pulse who hasn’t totally shut themselves down will feel fear).
Jane feels her fear, and then she makes a decision: I’m doing this. I don’t know exactly how. I don’t have all the answers. I just know that somehow, some way, I’m doing this. This is what to do when you feel lazy.
You quit because you’re afraid, and you’re shutting down your fear in any number of ways, instead of dealing with it.
It seems like something of a paradox, but when you shut down your fear, you also shut down your passion. You can’t selectively shut down any emotion. Dr. Brene Brown says this about working with shame (hat tip: shame? Also falls under the umbrella of fear).
That’s the problem with shutting down fear–you also close yourself off from the good stuff that’s going to get you through every single hard time.
When you let passion rule your realm, you’ll move mountains to get shit done, and it will only feel like “work” in that good, “head hitting the pillow at the end of the day feeling satiated” kind of way.
When you stall.
When you procrastinate.
When you make two steps of progress and then five steps back.
When you lie about your progress.
When you don’t tell anyone of your plans so that you’ll never need to lie about your progress.
When you tell everyone of your plans so that you’ll be accountable, and it totally backfires.
When you sit down with your lucky pencil and a perfectly quiet work environment and then suddenly it’s all too quiet and you just gotta get out of there and go to the coffee shop but then at the coffee shop you can’t fucking concentrate.
When all of those things happen, you’re not lazy. You’re afraid.
Hopefully, you’re not too afraid to decide that today’s the day you’re going to…deal with it. Even if it scares the bejeesus out of you to make even one step in the direction of your soul’s calling, that’s exactly what it looks like to work with and through your fear. That’s exactly what it looks like to be with it.
No superhero antics required. Ordinary courage is all it takes.