(17 to 20-minute read)
As I write this, it is March 2017. If you had told me in early August 2016 that I would be enrolling in a life coaching certification program in November and officially starting it in March, I would have laughed you out of the room.
But here I am.
I’m almost done with the pre-work (and thank goodness because it’s due on the 9th–typical me!), and already, I’m feeling delicious growing pains. I call them delicious because everything in my mind, body, and soul is humming with the awareness and sense that what I am doing is perfectly right for me at this time. It’s the first time I feel deep in my bones that I am beginning to live my purpose.
But even when we step onto our true path, there’s a sense that we die a thousand little deaths every day–the deaths of our egos, our former selves, our former limiting beliefs, the old story lines that kept us in certainty, security, safety, even if certainty, security, and safety also meant boredom, smallness, and numbness. It’s a little like letting go of one identity for another, only you come to realize the new one has actually been the true one hiding beneath all along.
These growing pains feel exhilarating, energizing, and expansive. I am stepping into something that is bigger than me. It fills me up and gives me hope and joy that I can create a life that I love. Even though the first part of coaching work involves playing the role of the client and coming face to face with your deepest insecurities and most embarrassing limiting beliefs, I am willing to do those things because I know facing them is how I begin to become who I was always meant to be.
These are not the same pains I have felt in the past when I was forcing something. They do not feel discouraging, depleting, or constricting. When I have chosen to accomplish things in the past, and I was totally outcome- rather than process-driven, everything felt like struggle. It was all striving. I thought that to achieve my goals I had to live in a state of deep discomfort, and then I would achieve the goal and happiness would suddenly be mine.
Of course it doesn’t work like that.
And of course I feel happy when I achieve a goal. But it’s fleeting. And what is that fleeting happiness worth if I was completely miserable the whole time I was trying to attain it?
The fact that someone as deeply insecure as I was can make such a radical, life-changing shift means that anyone can. I am serious.
I have been a habitual people pleaser. I have avoided conflict. I have hidden my most authentic feelings and desires. I did all of these things because I was afraid of rejection, judgment, and ridicule. This fear kept me from doing so many of the things I love, the things that are most truly me. Now that I am beginning to own them and do them, I wonder how someone could spend so many years of her one precious life hiding herself away.
I want you to know that if you’re feeling stuck or bored or numb or constricted in your life, it’s time to get uncomfortable. The way to get unstuck involves a lot of discomfort, if you’re willing to endure it, to really lean into it and relish it. The discomfort comes from taking a good, long, super-honest look at yourself, your stories, your limiting beliefs about yourself and others, your assumptions, your interpretations, and perhaps throwing all of it out the window. You have to step outside your comfort zone and risk the rejection, judgment, and ridicule of others. You have to risk living with uncertainty. And I mean really sitting with uncertainty, letting go of your attachment to outcomes, and trusting the process, the little, everyday actions you take. Only then will you begin to make lasting change.
You can imagine yourself as a character in a story. It doesn’t matter so much what you think your story has been so far. What does matter is that your character faces a series of choices every day, and each choice contributes a tiny amount to her ultimate destiny. It’s hard to see the compounding effect from the smallness of our single day vision, but if you’ve ever read a novel in which a series of small choices led to huge outcomes, you know what I mean. Maybe you can even trace this in your life.
Because I’ve been thinking about who I am as a writer, who I will be as an entrepreneur, and who I am as a person, I’ve been thinking a lot about character and story. Branding is important in the online world but also in real life. It’s about how you get found on the internet, but it’s also what you stand for in your career, in your family, among your friends, and perhaps in your community. What are you known for? What do you stand for? Is it what you want to be known for? Are you telling the story you want to tell?
(Thank you, thank you, thank you, Universe, for sending me to get two, someday three, degrees in English. The power of character and storytelling has never been so apparent as it is in the everyday and the way we choose to show our authentic selves.)
I’m reading Todd Henry’s book, Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice, and the whole first part is about addressing these fears we all have of being rejected from the pack for being too weird. We have to address these fears before we can begin to share our authentic voice or be our authentic self.
He says if you’re stuck–if you’re kind of in cruise control with your life, running on autopilot, totally routinized, living in an overfamiliar string of actions and feelings–you need to evaluate your skills, values, and personal experiences to get into a mode of continual redirection with your career, hobbies, relationships, or whatever is making you feel autopilot-y.
Here’s a sample of what that looked like for me in my recent career move:
- asking myself what my strengths are (and I mean not only what I think I am good at, but also what energizes me–I knew that one-on-one conversations in which I make someone else feel capable and relieved fill me up, hence, coaching)
- asking myself what my values are (personal growth, feeling joy, feeling peace, feeling courage, cultivating community, empowering others through my work, etc.)
- asking myself what lessons my personal experiences have taught me (I looked back on my childhood and realized I had given up many things that I loved–like creative writing–but I also realized that my journey from depression to wellness taught me a lot and I had a message and skills to share)
Once you cultivate your sense of identity, you can create a vision for your life, and commit to mastering the skills necessary to live that vision. My coaching workbook says, “Too many people wander about hoping that success and happiness will somehow happen to them. However, the most successful and happiest people are those who have a clear picture of where they are going, and then take the required action to get there.” While this quote brings to mind crowds of people wandering around city blocks looking up at the sky with open palms, ready to receive falling packages of happiness and success, I think another version of this also stands true. I thought I had to give up everything that was authentic to me to pursue a version of happiness and success I had absorbed from the world around me.
Once I had a clear vision of what I actually wanted my life to look like, I could back-map the steps it would take to get there. (You can find all kinds of visioning exercises online if you’re interested in having someone guide you through the vision process.) I simply mapped out what I wanted my life to look like in one, three, five, and ten years in these areas:
- personal development
- personal finance
- intimate relationships
- social relationships
- fun and hobbies
- spiritual practice
I literally wrote paragraphs describing my life in one year, three years, five years, and ten years using those areas as guides. Then I was able to see more clearly the long-term and short-term steps I would need to take to get there. A lot of it wasn’t even goal-oriented. It was more like setting intentions. Like for health, I just want to eat foods that nourish my body like 80% of the time and consistently move in a way that feels good. I didn’t set goals that might disappoint me when life inevitably happens and I can’t achieve them, like, “maintain current weight forever!” or “never eat a brownie again!” I was kind and gentle, but also a little ambitious, especially with my career. I wanted to live from love, not fear.
Henry also says what may hold you back from taking the risks needed to continually redirect yourself toward your vision is fear, your stories, or simple inertia. In the past, I let all three hold me in place.
- Fear: I was afraid that people would lose faith in my intelligence if I didn’t become a professor. “It’s the only way to prove myself!”
- Stories: I had always planned on being a professor and I wasn’t good at anything else. “I can’t learn anything new! I only know how to read and write!”
- Inertia: I have never particularly loved this career path, and I am 31, so it seems like I might as well stick with it at this point. “You can’t teach this old dog new tricks! This mutt’s just too tired at this stage in the game!” (31 is not late in the game, FYI.)
I hope you see how silly my fears, stories, and inertia were. Are yours silly, too?
Change is hard. But if you’re unhappy, why do you want to keep doing the same thing you’ve been doing? Doesn’t that seem totally crazy?
Can you remember a time when you held back because of fear, stories, or inertia? How did it make you feel?
I remember how I decided to become an English major because I thought I wasn’t good at anything else. I could have done anything (except probably math or hard science, no joke). I just asked for what I thought I was capable of. Of course now I’m learning just how valuable my English degrees have been in crafting the arc of my life, but at the time, it was a choice made from a story I told myself about a girl who only knew how to play small.
Can you consider an upcoming situation in which you will have to face one of these obstacles? How will you confront it? How will it affect you if you don’t?
In deciding to pursue this coaching certification, I have faced all the obstacles: fear of ridicule, judgment, and rejection from peers; stories about the little introverted English major; the inertia of a decade spent working on the same goal, despite the fact that it had been drained of its life long ago, but damn it, I set the goal when I was 19 and I was going to make it happen.
To begin using your authentic voice or living your authentic life, Henry suggests grounding yourself in the true nature of the risk involved (rather than the perceived risk), replacing your limiting narrative with a more truthful one, and determining the first steps you’ll take outside your comfort zone as a means to conquer mindless inertia. Here’s how I did those things:
- My perceived risks were that everyone I knew was going to laugh at me and stop wanting to be my friend; I would fail miserably at the program; I would go broke paying for it; it would be a waste of time because someone is doing it better. The actual risks are that maybe some people will think it’s weird but no one really thinks about it for more than 30 seconds before turning back to their own issues; the program might be hard but because I am a hard worker and always do my best, I likely won’t fail; I cut my budget in half and although I am living basically a no-spend life, it’s totally worth it for all the ways I’m learning that money used to rule my life; and maybe someone has her own way of doing it but I bring a unique perspective and experience to the table that no one else has.
- My limiting narratives were that I had no time; I wasn’t qualified; I didn’t like uncertainty; it wasn’t my personality. My truthful narratives are I will make time for my priorities; everyone has to start from where they are with anything in life; uncertainty is where I bloom the most; and because I had always based my personality on my limiting narratives, I’m already starting to see slight shifts.
- The first steps I took outside my comfort zone to conquer my mindless inertia: I started this blog! I talked to people about my plan. I called the program I wanted to enroll in. I just. freaking. did it.
It turns out, as Marie Forleo always says, that action is magic, you can figure out anything, it’s never too late to change, and clarity comes from engagement, not thought. You can’t get paralyzed in your own life because something seems big or complex and you have no experience or don’t know every single step from point A to point Z.
And guess what? You can join me as I go through all the hurdles and road blocks and self-doubt spirals that will come with this crazy journey. I’m excited to share them with you. I know they’re coming. But I also trust the process, and I trust my path.
I truly hope this post gives you some inspiration for getting uncomfortable and taking back your life. Ultimately, what starts as a little discomfort becomes your greatest joy.