Apparently the universe does conspire to make things happen. Even when the “thing” is in fact a kick in the behind. I am re-reading Reinventing Your Life by Jeffrey Young Ph.D. Talking about lifetraps and the way they manifest in our lives and relationships in particular, the author cautions us to resist being drawn into situations and to people for whom we feel an instant and irresistable chemistry. The first time I read the book I was convinced that it could apply only to my personal life but this morning, as I was rethinking the past couple of days, I realized that my professional life is not safe from the lifetraps that I struggle with still.
I cannot offer specific details but all I can say is that, professionally, my life has been in constant turmoil for the past month or so. Leaving the steady and known, for the “the big world out there”, has brought with it freedom and excitement but also peril. The other day my partner and I concluded, after much discussion, that we must make further changes that would affect primarily our son but also the two of us, our wellbeing and our relationship. It meant further and more drastic change, on top of everything that we have undergone so far. But the pull I felt towards this new scenario was unimaginably strong. And because I was born rushed and impatient, I jumped in, head first. I disregarded the alarm bells reminding myself that courage is not devoid of fear and I quickly interpreted the pull as the for sure sign that this change was IT. I started writing messages, making plans, pros and cons lists, calling people, playing the change in my mind, step by step. I stopped thinking about anything else, saw things mostly through tunnel vision, slept only as much as it was necessary (dreaming more plans) and saw only the signs that reinforced the new plan.
I am happy to report that my body could not be fooled, it was keeping vigil and it acted. Around the middle of the second day panic was first to show up. I was dizzy, scared, a lot like I was on a rollercoaster ride. One I did not want to be on. As I was tired and not really able to assert any control, my eating was off the charts. I stuffed my face with macaroni and cheese, continuing to think, plan, veto and add various items to the list – quickly and unconsciously I made it through half the macaroni pan. By early afternoon, sadness and headache had set in. Still I was not deterred. Kept looking for solutions, planning, thinking. By early evening the headache was so strong that I could barely keep my eyes open and I could barely think. And because the pain had finally gotten between my thinking and me, I was able to get a minute to breathe and consider what was happening. What was I doing? What was I running towards? Didn’t I promise myself to stop the running? Wasn’t the leaving everything I knew behind all about that?
When I finally decided to remember my promise to myself and slow down, the attack started: are you being a good parent? what if you are trading your child’s wellbeing for your comfort? what if you are missing this train? what if there will be no other?
I went to sleep with the kind of headache I had never head, scared at some point that I was on the verge of a stroke. But it was not a bad thing, it was my body, my brain, my tired, overworked brain screaming, at the top of their (my) lungs: STOP! BREATHE! TAKE TIME TO THINK! Before I went to sleep, I asked my partner to help me institute a 48 hour rule: when an idea or a proposal comes up in our family it will have to go through the 48 hours wait rule. If after 48 hours it still feels important and worth pursuing, we will then do just that, pursue it. But there is to be no plan made, people called or texted, ruminations and lists created within the first 48 hours. (we are not of course including any situations where bleeding is involved 🙂 ). Not a new idea, I heard it from my guru, Dr. Brown.
I woke up after a good night’s sleep, with a clear head and level breathing. As I was processing the past couple of days I could barely remember, I wondered what the meaning of all of this was. I was marveling at how extremely sure I can feel about something one day, swear that it is the good thing to do and feel completely relieved two days later when I have given it up. And I remembered lifetraps and their magnetism. Amidst change, strong chemistry may be a current the lures us towards the same things that we are running away from in the first place. I understood that I am prone to be swept away by tornados of planning, thinking and that sometimes better can be the enemy of good. I heard myself saying that our son will be happy when we are all happy and calm, I understood that I am amazingly priviledged to be in a relationship where tossing ideas, contradicting each other, changing your mind are welcomed and embraced and where we are all free to express ourselves, try things out and drop them if they don’t fit. What a gift!
I left for my morning walk with my two four legged angels, who had their part to play in this episode as well. We never walk alone, we walk accompanied by people who share interesting ideas and this time it was the turn of the We Can Do Hard Things podcast. And here is what I heard:
Can you just tell us about that? Because so many times we have these big dreams that we know were meant for them, but in the process of trying to do what we think is our purpose, we are ruining the entirety of our lives.
Totally. I’m so glad you asked that, Amanda, because when I said that, I was like, “Oh, no, people are going to think that I’m just…” Yeah, I’m so glad I get to explain this a bit more. I do think it’s really important when I think about how I became a writer and my own journey into life, I think I really needed to have that kind of ambition and that sense of like, “I’m going to aspire to greatness.” And so that, in so many ways, was the engine that brought me to a certain place. And then as with anything, our job here is to evolve. So sometimes you need one story to get to the other story. And that’s what I needed. The story I needed is, “I’m going to be great.” And then I found myself in a cottage in Sheffield, Massachusetts, in my mid 30s, trying to finish my first book, my novel, Torch.
I just finished graduate school and I was just like, “Okay, I am going to just finish this book.” I was two-thirds of the way done with it, and it was the first time I didn’t have a job. I just was left to write. My husband was like, “Finish that dang book,” and I was working on it. Except I ended up distracting myself with all kinds of other things, reality television, for example. And I would just kind of while the days away, and then in the last 15 minutes of the day, be like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to just try to write.” And I got into this really deep shame cycle. And I realized, “I can’t do this.”
And maybe actually not only have I been lying to everyone else when I keep saying, “Yes, I’m writing the great American novel,” that I was lying to myself because I thought, “Well, if I say that I want to do this, why am I not doing this?” And I realized it was really deep shame and fear that I wouldn’t be great. And it was really a powerful thing for me to sit down and just have that conversation with myself. So what matters more? That I write the great American novel, or that I write a novel that I finish? My humble little puny novel that may or may not be good, that may very well just be mediocre, and I call this my sort of surrender to my own mediocrity moment.
Which it seems like a reverse. It seems like it obliterates any, like, “Yeah, you go girl,” message. But I think it’s one of the truest ones that we all need to take into our hearts where that surrender to my own mediocrity, what that means to me is, I just accepted, Abby, that lesson from the PCT, I accepted what was true, which is this. My dream is to write a book, and the only book I can possibly write is the one I write. And I don’t know if it’s going to be great or good or bad or terrible, and that is none of my business. That my work here, the true thing that I need to do, is to let go of greatness, let go of all of those wild dreams.
Don’t let those wild dreams get in the way of my wild intention, which is to do this thing, write this story. And to be able to say to myself, “I did it. I did it.” And what happens to it after I do it is not up to me. It’s none of my business. And it was such a huge shift in my life to just accept. It really is ultimately about accepting yourself and that word surrender. We think of it as a kind of weakness or a letting go. But in so many ways, again, it was the opposite of that. It was me stepping into my truest power, the only true power that I could wield, which is the work that I could do.
And so often the pursuit of the thing is what keeps us from the thing. Like the pursuit of greatness keeps us from greatness. The pursuit of happiness keeps us from happiness. The pursuit of love, it keeps us from love. Because those things are right here in the everyday mundane things that we’re doing, right?
And the idea of being amazing is what keeps us from doing the daily mediocre shit.
And it doesn’t insulate us from pain either. I’ve been a gold medal champion and a world cup champion in my life, and I was riddled with extreme amounts of pain. So it’s got to be about that intention, and I think that that’s so beautifully put.
Well, you have a different way of looking at that. Like you said when we read this quote together, you said, “My dream destroyed my life, but in a different way.” You achieved your dream too, but she didn’t surrender. She didn’t do the surrendering you did beforehand.