Competing values and conflicting desires

Many years ago, I trained to work on a crisis hotline for women in domestic violence situations. One night of our training, we did an exercise that has really stuck with me over the years.

We were given a sheet a paper with about a hundred different personal values written on it. We then took scissors and cut from the list the fifteen values on it that mattered most to us. Then we took those fifteen little slips of paper, each with an individual value on it, and whittled them down to the ten values that mattered most to us. And then five. And finally, three.

The instructor asked us, “How does it feel to let go of the things you value? To not be able to hold onto them? What do you notice about what matters most to you?”

The most surprising thing that came out of this exercise for me was realizing that one of my top three values was predictability. I’d had no idea predictability was so important to me. It didn’t sound very “exciting” to my young self at all. But I knew in my bones that this value of predictability was a true one for me.

What also came out of this exercise, though, was that another very important value for me was “a sense of possibility.” I had a hard time, back then, reconciling this with the deeply held value of predictability. But as I worked on the crisis hotline and talked to women in dire situations, I could see that most of them had a strong desire for predictability and a strong desire for possibility, both of which often felt cut off from them.

We humans are complex. Years later, both predictability and possibility are still deeply defining values for me. What I’ve discovered is that, for me, the risk of the possible often springs from the safety and stability created by the predictable — and vice versa. They are not as much at odds with each other as I’d once thought, and in fact I want to have the feeling of both, regularly, in my life.

I’ll admit, though, that when I learned “predictability” was a strongly held value for me, it felt at odds with my sense of who I was. Owning that value has been a challenge for me. But owning it made so much intuitive sense to me — I had for years at that point involved myself in relationships that were highly unpredictable, and I never felt safe or cherished in them.

One of the most frequent challenges I see coming up for coaching clients is exactly this: values that seem to “compete”, and along with them, desires that seem (on the surface, anyway) to conflict. On the one hand, we want this. And on the other, we want that. Sometimes the different things we value and desire may seem about as in sync as oil and water.

Here are some more examples from my own life of how this can look:

  • I value routine, but I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, but I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, but I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, but I also value being seen and known

I used to think I was alone in having so much contrast in what I valued and wanted. But having spent nearly eight years connecting with people in my life coach role, I now know that it is extremely common to have values and desires that seem to conflict and compete all over the place. I’d say it’s just part of being human.

Our minds love to grab onto the all-or-nothing, the black and white. The part of the brain that wants to ensure our physical survival particularly gets caught up in this, because it is always trying to simplify. This is great with things that actually are simple: if I’m crossing the street and a car is zooming toward me without slowing, I’d better get out of the way.

With the complexities in our lives, though, it’s much more helpful to honor that they are complex. That things are not as all-or-nothing as they may seem. Or that, as Byron Katie says, our minds often get things “backwards”. (The Work of Byron Katie is a fantastic way to question what your mind believes. Katie says it is “meditation”.)

If you take my list above, for example, how does it feel different for you if we simply replace the word “but” in each sentence with the word “and”? That would look like this:

  • I value routine, and I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, and I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, and I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, and I also value being seen and known

Wow! Just rewriting that list, I felt this amazing sense of spaciousness and possibility (one of my core values!) that I didn’t feel much of at all when I wrote the list with the word “but”. (As Martha Beck likes to say, watch out for your big buts!)

So when I work with clients who have competing values or conflicting desires (or both!), we first invite that sense of spaciousness to the table. How does it feel different if this is welcome, and that is also welcome?

What often happens from this place of spaciousness is one of two things: it turns out that one value or desire actually is more important than the other (so they are not truly competing or conflicting — it’s just that one takes more of a “supporting role”); or, there is very much a way that the energies of these seemingly competing or conflicting values or desires can co-exist.

When we see this possibility, we know that we are in the highly creative zone of our brains (as opposed to the “lizard brain” that is concerned only with our physical survival).

Where do you notice competing values and conflicting desires in your life? How do you work with them? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) one-on-one coaching program will begin enrolling at the end of this month. Want to learn more? You can contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Daniel Janusauskas | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Thorsten | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Why it’s okay to be “boring” in your journal (+ community call date change!)

A few weeks ago I received this email (and the writer gave me permission to share it here):

I have been subscribed to your blog for a while now and I notice you talk a lot about journaling and morning pages and how valuable they are to you. While I want to believe this is true, I have so much trouble actually writing in a journal. It seems like everything I write is so mundane I can’t stand seeing what’s in my own mind! So I quit. But then I’ll want to try again, and I do it for a few days and I can’t stand what I’m writing so I quit again. What is my problem? Should I be journaling or not? I feel like it would help me connect with myself, but I don’t actually seem to like it. Any suggestions?

I wanted to share this email here because this is so, so common. I hear similar reports from my life coaching clients and have heard them from so many others when I share that I’ve been journaling regularly for more than thirty years.

First of all, whenever something becomes a “should”, we naturally develop resistance to it. So, no, you “shouldn’t” be journaling. You shouldn’t be doing anything.

There are plenty of ways to connect with yourself besides journaling and/or morning pages. Just because you hear lots of people saying how great they are doesn’t mean you have to do them. Find another way of connecting with yourself on a regular basis if journaling doesn’t speak to you. Find some way of being in your own company and noticing what you’re thinking and feeling. It doesn’t have to be journaling.

But I want to point something out here: When journaling/morning pages feel “boring” or frustrating because everything spilling out of you onto the page seems “mundane”, it may just be that you are uncomfortable with connecting with yourself.

I write tons of mundane stuff in the pages of my journals. I write about how I couldn’t decide which pair of jeans to buy, because one fit better but I liked the topstitching on the other one better. I write about how I can tell I am getting a zit and how I would have died if you told me when I was sixteen that I would still sometimes have zits in my forties. I write about how we rearranged the living room furniture and how pleased I am with how it looks.

And you know what? I enjoy writing this mundane stuff in the pages of my journal. I enjoy it because I am not trying to be “extraordinary” on the pages of my journal — my purpose there, often, is simply to keep myself company, to know the contents of my mind.

We are all capable of focusing on lots and lots of mundane stuff. And if we like who we are, if we enjoy our own company, that’s not a bad thing.

And here’s the paradox: My purpose with journaling is to keep myself company on the page, to know my own thoughts and feelings. And a lot of times, yeah, that’s pretty “mundane”. But my purpose with journaling is also to break through all that stuff, to cut a layer deeper, to get underneath it all.

If I’m really freaking out because I have a zit, if that’s really bothering me on a particular day, what’s underneath that? What am I making it mean? That underneath it all I’m still an insecure sixteen-year-old? That my body is out of control? That just when I’m feeling good, I have to be reminded of how imperfect I am?

You see what I mean? We can use the mundane in our journaling as a jumping-off point to understanding ourselves better. And that self-connection and self-understanding connects us to others — because we’re not so different from anyone else. In keeping ourselves company on the page, we realize we are in lots of good company.

When people tell me “I hate journaling because I can’t stand how mundane I am and how I wallow in my own shitty inner stuff” I want to say: Welcome to the human race. We are all mundane and we all wallow, at times, in our own shitty inner stuff. And, we are all capable of going a layer deeper, or many layers deeper, and letting that very human stuff take us to the core of who we are.

I would say to the writer of this email: There’s a reason that even though you always seem to quit journaling after a few days, you keep on wanting to try it again. You want to know yourself. 

This is a very good thing. Because no one is ever going to know you as deeply as you can know yourself. Not a significant other, not a child, not a parent, not a friend. One of the huge gifts of being here on this earth is that you have the opportunity to know yourself.

People who have the desire to write, to create in any way, usually have a deep desire to know themselves. But sometimes we have a tendency to think this desire is “selfish,” because we are so mundane so much of the time. What if it turns out we’re not that extraordinary? 

Give yourself a break. Let yourself be mundane. When you make room for your “ordinariness”, you will find it so much easier to allow the parts of you that are extraordinary to surface. Because we all have so much of both. We all have so much of everything within us.

A dear teacher of mine once said, “Great writing is nothing more than the truth, plainly told.” You will never see this more clearly than on the pages of your journal. But you need to stick with it for more than a few days. You need to be so loving toward the mundane contents of your mind that you see that you are not so mundane, after all.

And: Due to a scheduling conflict, I’ve pushed out the start date of the Artist’s Nest community calls one month, to Wed. Feb. 28. Want to join me on these monthly calls? You can get the call-in info (which I’ll send out approximately 24 hours before the call) by signing up for my newsletter, here!

Above images: Top,  © Kasia Biel | Dreamstime Stock Photos; bottom, one of my earliest journals, with kitty.

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Why accepting where you are is powerful ( + join our community calls!)

(Scroll to the end of this post to find out how to get details on joining our Artist’s Nest community calls.)

One of the most challenging things about being human can be accepting this paradox: we need to truly accept where we are in order to move on from it.

That “moving on” might be actual, physical moving (from a home, job, relationship to a new situation) — or it can be inner, emotional “moving on” — our externals may look the same, but we’re shifting internally. (Often, it’s both!)

In my work as a life coach, I often hear some form of this: But if I accept where I am, doesn’t that mean I’m becoming complacent? Doesn’t it mean I’m settling for less than I want? Doesn’t it mean I’m giving up?

We live in a very action-oriented world. The problem is that we’ve been trained to be so action-focused that sometimes we don’t recognize the difference between action that is rooted in struggle, and action that is rooted in a sense of rightness (as in, “this feels like — from a place of peace or a place of knowing — the best next step to take”).

There is a subtle but powerful difference between true acceptance of where we are in our lives, and resignation. Acceptance is connected to an understanding of what we can control and what we can’t, whereas resignation is more like “I just can’t handle this. I give up.”

Sometimes we do need to be in that place of resignation — for a little while. It’s usually a sign that we’re overwhelmed and need to find ways of prioritizing and getting support.

It’s not, however, the same as acceptance. Acceptance has a different feel to it — it’s more like, “Okay — I’ve done what I can here, and now I’m open to seeing a different way. I’m going to take the risk of standing right where I am — because I can’t truly be anywhere else.”

Can you feel the difference? The great thing about embracing that place of deep acceptance is that we drop the rope. We stop struggling and resisting what is, and that creates a space, an opening, for wisdom to enter.

The wisdom we get is often something along the lines of “Let’s get quiet and take a time-out before we do anything else.”

***

Back in 2014 and the first half of 2015, I was wrestling with living in a house that was up for sale and not knowing when it would sell or where I was going to live. I have a lot of childhood triggers associated with moving, and for about a year, I periodically felt frantic. I would rush to half-baked actions where I’d consider to moving to places I didn’t really want to live, just so I could put a stop to the uncertainty and “be done”.

At the same time, a part of me really didn’t want to leave the house and I would scheme about ways I could stay in it (even though I had come to know that, energetically and financially, staying there was becoming a total struggle). It was a crazy time and I felt really ungrounded and just wanted it to end. (You can read more about this journey here.)

Then at some point — it was spring of 2015, I think — I got it. I realized I needed to accept where I was.

I didn’t know. I didn’t know when the house would sell or how quickly I’d need to get out. I didn’t know how I’d deal with the emotions I’d have about leaving the house. I didn’t know how my elderly cat would handle a move. I didn’t know how a move would affect my relationship. And a part of me still loved the house and didn’t want to go at all.

I remember sitting at the dining room table, looking out the window as winter melted away, and finally accepting the mess.

I didn’t accept ALL of it on that day — it had been a gradual process of accepting the external stuff and my own internal stuff. But on that day, I got clear enough to embrace the not knowing. I accepted where I was.

A decision bubbled up in me (to paraphrase Byron Katie, I didn’t make the decision, it made me). I was going to enjoy living in the house for as long as it felt right. I didn’t even know what that meant.

But it gave me some breathing room. That is what true acceptance does. We get off our own cases. We stop resisting the not knowing.

***

What happened after that? I enjoyed the house for a little longer, and by May, it felt right to look for a new place to live (even though the house hadn’t yet sold). Things seemed to fall into place without a lot of struggle — I was no longer wrestling with myself.

Looking back, it’s clear to me how my need to “know” before it was time to know caused me to try to control the situation and make decisions before they were ripe to be made. I think I needed to give myself the gift of a little more time to simply enjoy my longtime home, before I could truly embrace the idea of a new one.

And guess what? There was time. It was only my frantic mind that told me I needed to hurry up and get things decided. In my urge to move away from discomfort, I created more for myself.

This is another thing true acceptance gives us — time to be with our emotions. When we’re clear, we move on naturally. Things happen, and they don’t feel frantic. Acceptance didn’t cause me to cling to the house — it helped me let go of it.

What might change if you were to give yourself the gift of acceptance today? What do you notice when you allow yourself to accept where you are? What comes up for you? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I’ll be leading monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls starting January 31. On these calls, we’ll be focusing on the challenges inherent in making yourself AND your creative work a priority. (As I often say, creativity and self-care go hand-in-hand — you can’t truly have one without the other.) The calls are free — to get the details, sign up for my Artist’s Nest newsletter, here. I’d love to have you there!

Above images are “Heart of Ice” © Olga Simakova | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and “House Buried in Snow” © Lane Erickson | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Are you allowing the seasons of your life?

As summer winds down, I’m reminded of the summers when I was a kid, the easy, lazy feel of them. I can remember skipping down the street in my bare feet to watch the local music video station at my friend’s house. We particularly loved to catch Cyndi Lauper videos. (On one thrilling afternoon, my friend did my makeup like Cyndi’s in her “Time after Time” video.)

I don’t know what it’s like for kids today, but those summers of the 1980s feel, in memory, like such a contrast to the start-up of fall.

The summer was meant to be a season of fun, play, and intentional winding down. Fall had a tangibly different feel. I happen to love fall (it’s my favorite season), and part of why I love it is because it is, for me, about ushering in the new, while also feeling nostalgic for the falls of yesteryear. For the me who swore each school year that “this year I will show up at school as a completely different person!” (Which never really happened, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I love that the “me” of today doesn’t want to be a completely different person (thank God!), but there was something promising and exciting about that desire as a kid. The desire for the new, the sense that something amazing was just around the corner. Fall carries that energy for me, and mingled with it is a cozy feeling. New and cozy? Sounds good to me.

When I moved into “adult life” in my twenties, and even in college when I often worked through the summer and took classes, that “summer feeling” got lost somewhere.

There was also a period in my life when I lived in Hawaii for a time. While Hawaii was undeniably beautiful, I missed the seasons.  There is something about the seasons in the external world that mirrors our inner shifting, and vice versa.

***

When I work with my life coaching clients, particularly the ones who feel they are pushing themselves way too hard but aren’t quite sure how to stop, I sometimes ask this question: “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?”

Just as summer has a different flavor and texture than fall, our lives shift and change as one “life season” moves into the next.

Here’s the tricky part: If we don’t ease up on ourselves, if we don’t tune into ourselves, we can’t see the change in seasons in our lives. In fact, our pushing and tuning out are sometimes exquisite protections against allowing our lives to shift seasons.

This is why I focus a lot on self-care in my coaching practice: Self-care is, ultimately, self-connection, and when our connection to ourselves is blocked, we’re not able to get a clear sense of where we are.

If we are connected to ourselves, we’re attuned to the subtleties that alert us that a new season of our lives may be on the horizon. We prepare to open to it. If it brings up fear for us, we can investigate it and get support.

When we’re pushing ourselves (to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, or to do more even if it doesn’t feel good), or tuning out, we’re far less aware of those subtle nudges that tell us a new season is approaching and change is near. That, in fact, our lives are changing (because nothing stays the same!).

So how do we stop pushing? How do we tune in to ourselves?

We take time to feel our feelings. It sounds simple, and it is, but it isn’t necessarily easy. So often our “pushing” is really avoiding. And when we’re avoiding, there’s only one thing we’re ever truly avoiding: feeling our feelings.

Here’s the thing: No feeling will destroy you.

As the poet Rilke wrote, “No feeling is final.” Feelings move. They shift (like the seasons). If you can take five minutes to let a feeling come up and be with it, you will notice it start to shift on its own. It may return, but it will not flatten you.

It’s when we avoid our feelings that we get overwhelmed — because we are using our energy to push away rather than be present to what is true for us.

So, when I pose the question, “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?” what I am really asking is: Are you feeling your feelings? Are you allowing them?

If your life seems to want to be lazy summer right now, can you allow that? If it’s leaning toward a brisker, crisper fall feeling, can you allow that?

If you’re fighting a season of your life as it approaches, can you simply drop the fight, a little at a time? Can you simply notice the desire to fight the change?

Do you allow the seasons of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Also: My Light Up Your Creative Self one-on-one coaching program will no longer be offered after September 30, 2017 (part of my practice of letting go of the old and welcoming the new!). If you’re feeling creatively blocked, stuck, or stagnant, you might want to check it out (and everyone who signs up prior to the end of the month will save $25). Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Moonbloom, Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Olga Drozdova, Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively.

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Happy Halloween + last chance for an Autumn Transition Session

jillpumpkins2

(Because I can’t resist a Halloween post.)

Ah, how I love the “great in-between” of the fall season, and of course, Halloween, my favorite holiday (that’s me above at Brookfield Zoo, one of my favorite places to visit this time of year).

So much is shifting right now: colors changing, leaves crisply coating the sidewalks, and darkness creeping in earlier than before.

I have two favorite things about Halloween:

It’s about play. We can get so very serious about our creative work, about our lives in general. The thing about all that seriousness is that, while commendable, it can actually be stultifying to our creativity, to the flow we need to access to allow things to change.

The solution to that impossible thing you’ve been struggling with, forever? I’m willing to bet it will come to you when you let go of some of that seriousness, if only for an hour or two, while you focus on the cobweb-and-pumpkin-and-haystack on the neighbor’s creaky porch, the sunlight dappling the squirrel digging in the peach-gold leaves, as I did today.

It celebrates what is “beneath” (by the way, What Lies Beneath is a totally fun homage to Hitchcock to watch during the Halloween season). And for those of us who are the strivers (me!), the perfectionists (me!), the can’t-help-but-try-a-little-harder’s (me!) — the ones who are always pursuing what looks good and right and light — that trail of Halloween deep darkness can be oh-so-welcome. Like, oh yeah! I forgot. I am all these other things, too: lazy, bad, angry, mischievous, bouncing off the walls, hiding under the table — I am all these things.

And, at the same time, that “great in-between”, more-dark-than-light place in our lives can be tough to take. Gracefully and steadfastly handling the “in-betweens” is something to which I still aspire, but I’ve learned a few things about it over the years. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck, scared, or simply needing some perspective, I’d love to help.

The deadline to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions is tomorrow, November 1, 2016. There are still a couple of slots open, and I encourage you to check out the description here if you think one might be for you!

Until next time ~ here’s to ghouls, ghosts, goblins, and things that go purr in the night.

pumpkincat2

Inauthentic — or unfamiliar?

carouselhorses

There’s something I sometimes notice in people who are sensitive, creative, and for whom authenticity is a deeply-held value.

We frequently believe we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do something because it feels wrong to us. It feels inauthentic — not like who we are.

And it’s important to notice that feeling, to see what it has to tell us.

When something feels inauthentic, it seems like we should run from it, or at the very least, let go of it. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to recognize that we’ve come into contact with something which just isn’t in sync with who we are, and we need to move away from it.

But: sometimes we’ve come into contact with something that is unfamiliar, and because it feels unfamiliar, our minds immediately label it “inauthentic”.

Let me give you an example of how this showed up for me at the tender age of, oh, about five.

A little friend of mine (most of my friends were little then, I was five!) went to a different school than I did, and her school was having a “fun fair.” She kept talking about the fun fair and how excited she was about it, and how she wanted me to go to it with her.

And I began to dread this “fun fair”. Just the idea of something that existed for the sole purpose of “FUN” felt overwhelming to me. (What exactly was this mysterious fun that was to be had?)

I had already decided, at five (though not consciously), that something like a fun fair was not me. I would rather play quietly with one or two friends — that was me.

I could never have articulated this at the time, of course. I just knew that there was no way I was going to the fun fair! The fun fair was definitely not going to be fun for me!

At this point, my parents and I had already had quite a few go-rounds with me not wanting to do things. They found this quite confounding. Everyone else wants to do it! they’d say. Why not you?

In fact, there was something else at work, something I wouldn’t understand for years: my sensitive nervous system got easily overstimulated by situations that were unfamiliar to me. I even got overstimulated by thinking about new situations. Which was why I was dreading the fun fair that my friend couldn’t wait for.

However, on this particular occasion (in what, looking back, I see as a stroke of brilliant parenting) my mother told me something like this: “You don’t have to go to the fun fair. You can go if you want to, but you don’t have to go. Take some time to decide.”

This took a great weight off my five-year-old mind. Instead of being dragged somewhere against my will, I was being given the opportunity to choose.

I pondered the idea of the fun fair over the next several days, and eventually I went up to my mother while she was working in the kitchen and said, “Mom? I’ve decided to go to the fun fair.”

Now, the fun fair WAS most definitely overstimulating. There were echoey noises of kids yelling and running, and there were clowns (eek), and games where you could win a goldfish in a bag (my friend and I each won one, which at the time greatly excited me, but poor goldfish!), and I came home with a lacquered figurine of a bright orange squirrel with sparkly green eyes, which I had also won.

The fun fair was overstimulating, and it was FUN. Both/and.

And had there been another fun fair the following month, I might have gone without getting quite so overstimulated, because the fun fair would no longer have been unfamiliar to me. And because it was no longer unfamiliar, I would have gotten to know myself in that environment, and understood how I could show up there authentically, if I wanted to do that.

***

Our minds tend to do a fascinating (and not always helpful) thing: when something is unfamiliar to us, but maybe seems a little like some other experience we had that we really didn’t like, we put it into the category of “oh no! not that again,” and decide we’d better avoid it.

There are SO many good things (and people) in my life that I’d have missed out on if I hadn’t questioned my mind’s tendency to do this.

When we’re overstimulated because something is new and unfamiliar to us, of course we don’t feel authentic. Being overstimulated doesn’t feel good; we don’t feel like who we truly are when we are overstimulated.

But if we can choose to ride out the overstimulation in favor of exploration, of being curious about something new, as my five-year-old self did, we can give ourselves more options. And we can learn that what is “authentically us” may be vaster than we’d imagined.

(It’s definitely worth mentioning here that, for those of us with sensitive nervous systems, managing overstimulation is vital to our well-being. So I’m not saying “just throw yourself into overstimulating situations all the time and go ahead and burn yourself out.” We must choose wisely for ourselves and bring ourselves back into balance. The key is to remember that we have choices, usually more than we think we do.)

Have you labeled something “inauthentic” for you when in fact it was simply unfamiliar? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S.  In celebration of my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! I offered these last fall and worked with some wonderful folks. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck or scared, you might benefit from one of these sessions. The format is the same as last year, but I’ve made them 45 minutes in length this time around. Check them out, here.

Above image © Jack Schiffer | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The choices that make you who you are

moonplantFrom my living room windows, as I sit in my blue chair, I often see a woman out on her balcony in the condo building across the way.

Her balcony is filled with beautiful plants and flowers and even a small tree in a terra cotta base.  She’s about my age — 40s — and seems peaceful and purposeful as she moves with her watering pitcher from plant to plant, disappearing inside occasionally and reemerging with a full pitcher through the sliding glass door.

I think I am living vicariously through this woman — just a little — because I like the idea of lots of plants, but I’ve learned I don’t want them.

In my old home, from which I moved last year (and wrote about here), I had a room devoted solely to plants.

Many of them were my mother’s plants, lovingly tended for years and years, which I inherited when she moved to the East Coast in 2005. And in 2014, when my sister moved to Michigan, I took her plants as well, several cacti and some succulents known as “chickens and hens”.

The plant room got to be very full, and although I had liked the idea of all these plants when I moved into the house, over time I came to realize that I am simply not a plant person. I am an animal person, and I adore taking care of pets, but plants exhaust me.

A little orange tree that had thrived under my mother’s care for more than thirty years eventually withered under mine. Most of my sister’s plants died after she gave them to me.

A friend of mine saw the metaphor in all this and pointed out to me that I’d been taking care of plants all these years that did not truly belong to me.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the plants, but I admit I cared for them resentfully. I didn’t really want all these plants but had taken them on because I felt like if I didn’t, they’d end up on the trash heap.

My friend said, “Of course you don’t want them — they’re other people’s cast-offs. You never did want them; you just couldn’t say no.” (I make it sound like she was brutally blunt, but she is actually very kind when she says things like this.)

My friend had a point. It was my mother, not me, who desired a large house filled with plants. And my sister’s plants had been given to her mostly by my mother. And why was I caring for the parts of people’s lives that they’d left behind, when they were no longer willing to do it?

Today, the plant room of my old house a thing of the past, I stare out my window at this woman tending her plants and wonder: what if I actually do want a balcony full of plants? What if I actually want a life like this woman’s? (I have no idea what kind of life this woman has — only that, when the weather turns warm, she turns her attention to her plants). Shouldn’t I have what she has?

***

In truth, I can say for sure — yes, for sure — that I do not want to care for a balcony full of plants.

At least once a week — more than ten months after my move — I feel relief and peace in the fact that I no longer care for those plants.

But I notice — in myself, in the clients I work with, in the communities of which I am part — that we so often look out at others and make assumptions about their lives, and believe we should have what they have, do what they do, be what we perceive them to be.

I’ve noticed myself assuming that the woman across the way must be “successful” in life because she has all these beautiful plants and is able to help them thrive. She’s willing to put in that time and energy and devotion to plants, and I am not. That must mean something good about her, and something bad about me, right?

The fact that I actually do not enjoy caring for plants does not register to my critical mind when it’s comparing my insides to other people’s outsides.

And maybe, just maybe, this woman actually truly wanted all these plants and picked each one out with care, herself. Maybe they were not an inheritance she never wanted to begin with.

Two things bubble to the surface for me as I write this:

1) In the future, starting now, I will remember to say no more to things I really do not want. I will remember that my “no” does not necessarily relegate innocent plants to the trash heap — in fact, my “no” may create currently unseen possibilities, for plants AND people.

2) When I’m comparing myself to “surely-more-successful-than-me” others, I will remember that I have good reasons for my choices, and that making choices based on who I really am and what I truly want is one of my definitions of success. So while a balcony full of thriving plants may equal success for my neighbor, it doesn’t for me — even though I can deeply appreciate the view it creates.

What do you notice about the difference between who you truly are and who you (sometimes) think you should be? How do you connect with what you truly want, as opposed to what you think you should have? I’d love to hear from you.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it)? I’d love to help. Find out if we might be a fit, here.

Above image is “Future Forest”, © Deca Raluca | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When the ideal meets the real

idealreal

One thing getting into my forties has shown me is that a lot of the “ideals” of my twenties and thirties haven’t truly meshed with “the real”.

Now, when I say “the real” here, I’m not necessarily talking about “the real world” — not exactly. I’m talking about what is, when it comes down to it, real and true for me for the whole of who I am.

It’s easy for me to hang out in the land of the ideal. I remember one time, in my twenties, I was explaining to my therapist how disappointed I was in someone I was dating. She nodded and smiled and said, “As usual, your standards are very high.”

She didn’t say it with judgment at all, but with love — in fact, because I felt very accepted by her, I took it as a compliment. (She managed to say this when she could finally get a word in — at least once a session she would have to hold up her hand and say, “Jill, excuse me, may I say something?” Introvert that I am, when I am feeling safe, I can talk and talk and talk.)

I did have high standards — but I think it’s more accurate to say I had certain ideals that I was absolutely certain I needed to live by. And, as life plays out, as we live it, sometimes those ideals crash upon the shores of the real.

It’s not that the ideals are ridiculous or naive (as certain adults used to tell me about my “big dreams” when I was a teenager). It’s not even that the ideals are unattainable (sometimes ideals are very possible for us, especially when they are in keeping with our essential selves).

It’s more that reality provides constraints for our ideals to push up against.  And that who we think we are when we connect to certain ideals may not be who we truly are — or maybe it is, but we change, and our old ideals start to feel more punishing than inspiring.

And this is not a bad thing (though tell that to my twenty-five-year-old self!). In fact, creativity often thrives within constraints. (Why do we need to be creative if there’s nothing to work out, nothing to understand, nothing to make better or see more clearly?!)

When the ideal meets the real, that is when we get to know who we truly are.

I wrote several years ago about my early dream of being an actress, and how I discovered over time that the life of an actor was really not the life I wanted. If I hadn’t given it a shot, though, I never would have understood why.

The reality of me is that I’m much more a writer than an actor. And, as I’ve brought my “ideals around being a writer” into reality, I’ve also learned a lot about what kind of writer I am, and what kind I’m not. I’ve learned a lot about what writing means to me, and what it doesn’t. (In other words, I’m more than a writer. “Writer” is one aspect of me, and writing is a tool through which I express the whole of me. And I’m still learning here.)

***

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti has said that you can have all the ideals you want, but it’s your life experience — your daily reality — that shows you what is true for you.

I had to confront this in my relationships for a lot of years. Although I said I wanted to be with a partner who was fully there for me, the people I allowed into my life back then weren’t really partners at all — they were never truly available to me.

Reality for me clashed with my ideal — what was true for me, I came to see, was that I didn’t really want a partner who was actually there — I wanted the idea of a partner.

It took a lot of peeling back the layers of my ideal for me to comes to terms with what was real — and true — for me. (It’s extremely common in the work I do with clients for them to test out an ideal and discover that they liked the idea of it, but the reality of it is not necessarily a good fit for who they truly are. This is wonderful news: now they get to see what it was in the essence of that ideal that they wanted. Very often, it is the essence we crave, not the actual thing itself.)

If you find your reality pushing up against an ideal, ask yourself:

• What is it about this ideal that inspires me, that moves me? Is there a way I can have the essence of this in my life without needing particular external circumstances?

• Does this ideal even fit me — the real me — anymore?

• Do I simply need more support in order to really live this ideal in my daily life?

What do you notice about how your ideals mesh with reality in your own life? I’d love to hear how this works (or doesn’t!) for you.

This is tough stuff. If you’re in this space and needing support, check out my options for one-on-one coaching and see if you think we might be a good fit. I’d love to help.

Above image is “Clouds Floating Along” © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Permission to do it differently + last day to grab an Autumn Transition coaching session

coffeebeans

Scroll down to learn more about my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions — the deadline to sign up is today!

Sometimes (often) I get really, really attached to the way I’ve always done something.

Like, when I was in my twenties, I wrote in coffeehouses a few times a week. It worked really well for me. I loved the hum of activity around me and the human company. I loved watching people walk by the window and the bottomless-cup-of-coffee served by a particular place that I went to most often.

But by my late twenties, the coffeehouse writer thing wasn’t working for me so well. I found that I was too prone to socializing when I wrote in a coffeehouse, and that the socializing felt exhausting rather than enlivening as it had when I was younger. I also found that the bottomless-cup-of-coffee wasn’t good for my body, but if it was available, I was likely to succumb to it.

For a while, I kept on trying to write in coffeehouses. But it just didn’t feel the same as it had. It just didn’t work. How could what had worked for such a long time — and helped me create a solid writing practice — no longer be helpful?

The answer is, I don’t know. My hunch is that my journey as a writer, as a person — as me! — changed. I no longer needed the particular brand of community and company and ritual that I got from the coffeehouse writing experience — I still needed to experience those things, but in new ways, and I craved a quieter, more solitary connection to my writing and myself.

A friend of mine who is a frequent blogger and who also has another job used to crank out a blog post on her lunch break three to four times a week. For a long time, this worked really well for her. She committed to doing it and showed up and did it.

And then, over time, it began to not work so well. She felt empty and distracted when she showed up to write. She wondered if perfectionism was getting the best of her and she was just becoming too picky about her topics. She wondered if she’d run out of material. She figured if she could just push herself a little bit harder, she could keep making it work.

Then one day we were talking and she said that she’d realized her days of cranking out three to four blog posts a week while at her other job were over. Like me with the writing-in-coffeehouses thing, she’d kept on trying to do what worked before, but it no longer did.

It seems it’s a human tendency to hang on to “what once worked.” We do it with rituals, and relationships, and jobs, and rituals within relationships and jobs.

And I’ve come to realize that the important question to ask, sometimes, is not why is it no longer working like it did before? but why am I trying so hard to make it work like it did before?

Because so often what we actually need is not to figure out how to keep doing it the way we once did, but permission to do it differently.

My hunch is that much of this boils down to identity. Our rituals and routines and the things we’re able to achieve regularly contribute to our feeling of who we are. And when we begin to perceive that they’re not feeling so good anymore, we wonder who we are without them.

Eventually, I gave myself permission to do my writing at home — even though I was afraid it would be boring and tedious and that that meant I was becoming boring and tedious (oh, the things I worried about in my twenties!). And I discovered that the truth was something far, far different.

And my friend has found that it feels a lot better to write one blog post a week (and that she is shifting to new subject matter, which feels both exciting AND like she’s not quite sure who the heck she is right now, and, as we like to remind each other, that’s totally okay).

If you find yourself attempting to do something the way you always have and it’s just not working, what if you simply gave yourself permission to do it differently? What if it was totally okay to let go of that old routine and do something new? I’d love to hear how this works for you, in the comments.

And if you’re in the U.S., I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, with much to give thanks for.

Also: Today is the last day to grab one of my low-cost Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. These thirty-minute sessions are only $39, and the deadline to sign up is midnight Pacific Time tonight. If you’re experiencing a lot of change in your life right now and feeling stuck, scared, or just plain confused, I’d love to help. Find out more here.

Above image © Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How moving is bringing up my stuff (literally)

sullivanshelfsitter

Sullivan claims his “right size” at the top of the hierarchy of our new home.

It’s been a month since my last post here, and for good reason: I moved to a new home two and a half weeks ago.

Well, sort of moved. I’m still somewhat in transition between the old place and the new — living in the new place, but going back regularly to the old to sort, organize, and get rid of before the place is officially sold. In other words: There’s a lot of letting go going on right now.

I lived in the house for ten years. When I first saw the second floor apartment (it was a two-flat), I had this inexplicable feeling of being home, and I knew I wanted to live there.

There are a number of complex reasons for my leaving the house, but let me just say that, over time, I have become the sort of “default” property manager.

And, as a friend of mine once wisely said, “houses are very greedy.” Especially old houses (this one was built in the 1880s). Although the house is in good shape for its age, its care, ultimately, has felt like too much for me to manage.

Still, I hung on until May, when some offers were made on the house and it became real to me that I really could not stay.

I am in a place in my life where I want to travel a bit more lightly in the physical world — and that means, less house and less stuff. But, as it’s becoming painfully clear, oh, do I have stuff!

***

When I moved into the house, I had been living in a teeny-tiny apartment, and I wanted to expand. I wanted to have people over for dinner.  I wanted to have get-togethers in the backyard. I wanted to have more room for beautiful things.

So when I moved my two-small-rooms-full of furniture and belongings over to the house (which had seven rooms), I could not begin to fill it up. And I kind of went hog-wild doing so. I had space! I was going to fill it with exactly what I wanted. I bought artwork — tons and tons of artwork — to cover my walls. I bought mirrors, and lamps, and ceramic cat statues, and, over time, lots of books and clothing as I became this new me who lived in this new space.

I was so in love with that house that I was determined, ten years ago, to live there for at least ten years. (Which, as it turns out, is what I did.)

But. It seems I have changed. Starting around five years ago or so, the house no longer fit me like a glove. It was almost imperceptible at first, the change — something just felt slightly off. It began to feel to me that there were too many rooms, rooms whose purpose was simply to house my stuff.

And those people who were supposed to come over for dinner and have barbecues in the backyard? Those things never really happened. The real me, it turns out, does not like having more than one or two people over at a time.

How could the house feel too big? After all, I was only living on the second floor of it, not even in the whole house! How could that be too big? I’d moved there in the first place because I wanted my life to expand. And plenty of my friends, and my parents, lived in much bigger spaces than this.

***

In the past few days I’ve been involved in two conversations about showing up in the world at our “right size.” Visionary types (and I do consider myself one) often encourage us “not to play small” and to “live a big life”. But is it really about being big, or about claiming our right size in the world?

And shouldn’t our living space support us in being our right size, having our “right effect”, in the world? Can our living spaces elegantly support us in living the lives we want to lead, the way we want to live them, rather than taking over our lives or defining us?

I guess what I am coming to is that the house, for all its aged charm and familiarity, grew over time to feel more like the house I thought I “should have” than the living space I actually wanted.

I know that I do not want to work hard to being able to pay for a living space that feels oddly “too big” and “too greedy” in the care it requires. I want to enjoy my work, and have a right-size-feeling living space that gives me the comfort and efficiency to do that. And somehow the word “cozy” applies here. It is important to me that my living space is cozy.

***

What this all means is that I have a lot of letting go to do. I’ve donated quite a lot of clothing, shoes, and household things over the past couple of months. And some of my beloved artwork will likely be given away, sold, or put into storage. (Only some: I’m hardly a minimalist and I can’t imagine my living space without artwork I adore surrounding me.)

This is hard. I had not realized how much I was identified with my stuff. How much I keep for sentimental reasons, how much I keep “just in case I need it some day”, how much I keep because it reminds me of a certain time in my life (even if I no longer particularly want or need to be reminded of that time).

And it’s not just about what I keep, but how hard I cling to what I keep.  There’s a part of me that says, I’m not going down without a fight! I will hold onto this Anthropologie sweater purchased in 2004 until my fingernails bleed! (And believe me, clothing is the easiest stuff for me to let go of.)

Even more than the stuff, I have been attached to the house itself. Its friendly oldness, its lovely crown mouldings, its creaky wood floors, its semi-treacherous winding staircases, its clutch of small rooms in unexpected places, its red back door with the cut-glass window.  Its retro 50s-diner-look kitchen, its bathroom with the green marbled tile from the 60s. Its arched walkways. The overhanging trees in the backyard, the across-the-street-neighbors’ dog we saw being walked several times a day, always with a white bandage on its hind leg. The house and its small swatch of neighborhood had character, and personality, and they met me where I was when I moved there.

***

It seems like every third person I know these days is reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo — I saw it referenced in two blog posts just today! Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know exactly what she talks about, but I have a sense that I am going through my own version of it right now.

I’ll write more on my (sometimes excruciating) letting go process in a future post. But for now, let me just say that, although it does not yet feel like home,  I am liking the new place (which I share with my dear boyfriend and Sullivan the Supercat — don’t tell him the vet says he’s a “senior”).

I'm a little grumpy that you've made me move ... but really, it already feels like home.

“I’m a little grumpy that you’ve made me move … but really, it already feels like home.”

One of the joys of moving in here has been the relative ease with which Sullivan has adjusted. He yowled his displeasure as we sat his carrier on the floor on the first day in the new place — but by day four, he was doing his usual intense shelf-climbing. (Sullivan is what cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy calls a “tree dweller” — he’s most himself in high places.)

What about you? What have you noticed about how your living space and your “stuff” reflect who you are and what matters to you? I’d love to hear from you.