Knowing yourself: what words inspire you?

colorfulpens

Here’s a super-simple journaling exercise that can be a quick way of reconnecting with ourselves. It’s also truly helpful for those times when we’re feeling really UNcreative.

I once did this with a class of ten-year-olds, and after I described the exercise to them, I said, “What do you think this exercise is about?”

A kid shot up his hand and said, “Noticing!”

That’s it, exactly.

Noticing words.

The words we use are important. And they say a lot about us.

I have an intention to choose my words carefully. Not out of some kind of perfectionism, but because words have power.

(I’m also noticing more and more that, often, I need to invoke the superpower of listening just when I’m tempted to throw in my two cents. Whether I’m talking to a friend or coaching a client.)

Some words feel heavy and exhausting to me. That’s not because there’s anything “wrong” with them, but because they are not in line with what inspires and activates my essential self.

Other words light me up, help me come alive, remind me of what is true and real — for me.

So here’s the exercise:

1) Make a list of words that drag you down, words that don’t light you up or that make you feel disconnected.

These can be ANY words. Adjectives, verbs, nouns. Keep listing — don’t stop until you’ve got a list of at least twenty words. (They can also be phrases or sentences you can’t stand — for example, my boyfriend absolutely hates it when people say, “Let’s do this!”)

The purpose of this is not to focus on negative stuff — any word or phrase is not “objectively” negative. This is about gaining more awareness into what makes you “you.”

2) Now, make a list of words that DO light you up, words that elevate you or connect you to who you are. Again, phrases and sentences are okay, too.

3) Now, look over both lists.

What do you notice?

Here are some examples from my lists:

Words that drag me down: overcome, overpower, world domination, should, must, crush it, anything having to do with war, get your butt in the seat, push, shove, force, conquer, rule, hard, tough, have to

Words that lift me up: discover, quest, kindness, spark, play, curiosity, adventure, fun, mischief, silky, fluid, deep, reflective, subtle, piercing, pure, intense, affectionate, compassion, journey, choose

Even if you’ve never read my blog before, you can learn a lot about me by looking at my lists, right?

It’s pretty clear that I’m not inspired by the idea of overcoming or conquering or going to war with something. I’m not inspired by pushing or forcing myself or anything or anyone else to “get it done.”

It’s not because I think that mentality is “bad.” It’s because it isn’t the way I naturally relate to the world. It’s foreign to me; it doesn’t make intuitive sense to me (though, to be honest, for many years I tried to take on this mentality because I believed I “should”).

The idea of discovery, of looking deeper, of getting curious, with lots of kindness and compassion and fun and play in the mix — for me, that’s adventure. That second list automatically reminds me of who I am and inspires me. It gets me moving.

We can also see, by looking at my lists, where my shadow may lurk. It might do me some good to notice when I’m disowning the parts of me (because they’re there!) that DO like to overcome and conquer and WIN. (These parts of me come out when I play certain video games or get into arguments with family members. Note to fiction writers: Incorporating your shadow traits into your characters can be extremely liberating.)

The thing for me to know, though, is that if I let these aspects of me run the show, I’m not going to feel in line with my essential self, and I won’t feel I’m living a life that’s truly in keeping with who I am. I don’t need to disown these aspects of myself — or of others — I just need to recognize that they don’t truly inspire me.

So, if I’m trying to get myself to do something through pushing, forcing, or the idea of “crushing it” or “overcoming,” it’s inevitably ineffective — for me. There are others who love the idea of overcoming or “heading into battle”. It gets them going and lights them up.

And that’s awesome. Because if there’s anything I believe, it’s that we all need to know ourselves well enough to keep on moving closer and closer to what truly brings us to life.

What do you notice about the words that inspire you, versus the words that deaden, disconnect you, or exhaust your energy? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Image is “Pastel Pens” © Rabbitsfoot | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part two

fence2

In Part One of this post, I wrote about how important it is to honor the transitions between our “creative space” and our time interacting with others. It’s recognizing those transitions (even if they happen very quickly) that allows us to set boundaries that support our creativity.

(And when I talk about creative space, I mean not only the period of time in which we are actually tangibly creating, but also our solitary reflecting/processing/being time — which is vital for so many of us.)

It can be difficult enough to honor our own commitment to show up for creating regularly, whether that’s journaling, painting, working on our business or writing a book. But what about when those around us don’t support us in our regular habit of creating?

This can be a truly frustrating place to be.

In Part One, I wrote about how when I was a child I had a deep need to go off by myself and write, draw, or simply daydream.

What I didn’t say in that post was that my family and friends were not always terribly thrilled with my doing this.

At a certain point, the people around me began encouraging me not to be so “introverted”, and before I knew it my life became a flurry of activity and achievement with hardly any solitary “being” time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of college that I actually — slowly — began to recognize my need for solitude and to — slowly — give it to myself.

And that took a certain amount of courage, in a culture that worships “busy” and “tangible goals.”

In fact, I remember frequenting a cafe when I was twenty-three and working at a bookstore. When I was done with work, I’d stop at the cafe, have a coffee, and do Natalie Goldberg‘s “writing practice” (I was a huge fan of Natalie’s books at the time and still am).

After I’d done this for a while, the owner of the cafe came up to me one day and said, “I see you here almost every day, writing. Are you writing a book?”

“No,” I said, “I’m doing something called ‘writing practice’.” I explained to him Natalie’s concept of writing as a daily practice, as a way of grounding and connecting with ourselves.

The cafe owner shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “This is no good,” he said. “You won’t get anywhere doing that.”

I could see the sincerity in his eyes and I honestly think he was trying to be helpful. But I never went back to that cafe. I felt stupid writing there after that.

And I didn’t even know the guy! When it’s our family or friends who don’t support our creative practice, that can really sting.

So what to do if those around us aren’t supportive, or even blatantly disrespect, our need for creative space?

This isn’t an easy one, but here are a few things that may help:

1) Reaffirm on a daily basis WHY it is important for you to have this time and space to yourself. When you’re regularly connected to why you’re doing it — at a deep level — it matters much less if others “get it” and support it.

2) In keeping with point #1, remember that others act as a mirror for our beliefs.

Part of the reason I was so bothered by the cafe owner’s statement all those years ago was because I had not yet owned the importance of my writing for ME. I wasn’t yet sure that I wasn’t doing something pointless by showing up to the cafe to write, so his words easily shook my not-yet-sound foundation.

Today, if someone were to say that to me, I’d probably be curious about his belief, but it wouldn’t throw me off balance (though I’d choose to be around more supportive energy). I’ve bitten down on the root of my need to write regularly so deeply that it doesn’t matter to me if a stranger questions what I’m doing.

3) Know that your commitment to your creative process may trigger those who want to do the same but just aren’t there yet. It may also shift your relationship with loved ones a little (or a lot). Remember you can always reassure them that this time is for you and that it will actually contribute to you having a better relationship with them. And let them know that it’s totally okay for them to establish their own creative practice, in their own way — you’ll support them in it, too.

4) Get clear on what kind of support you need. Sometimes our loved ones don’t know HOW to support us. It’s okay to tell them what feels supportive and what doesn’t.

5) Take note of the people in your life who DO support you in creating and seek out more of that support, whether that’s in person or online (preferably both as we can use true support in BOTH worlds!).

6) Be willing to let go of your need to be nice. I used to think I had to let go of certain relationships in order to feel more supported in my creative practice (and occasionally that’s been true). But I came to see that, more often, what I truly needed to let go of was my desire to be “nice” and constantly available for those relationships in ways that interfered with carving out my own creative space.

What do you have to add? How do you set boundaries around your creative practice when others aren’t supportive? I’d love to know.

Image is “Fence at Dusk” © Kurt | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part one

fence4

A conversation on one of our community calls for The Writer’s Circle (a wonderful group I’ve been involved with for a long time now, which supports me in my writing habit and process) got me thinking about how difficult it can be to truly own and set boundaries around our creative space.

What do I mean by creative space? I mean physical space, yes, but also mental, emotional and spiritual space. Psychological space. And that space means our own energy as well.

From the time I was a little girl, I liked to go off by myself with a big pad of paper and a pencil and write and draw. I also liked to sit by myself — sometimes on our front porch — and talk out loud, making up stories, creating characters and acting out all the roles. Although I often organized neighborhood kids into plays and skits and “pretend movies”, I had a deep need to spend much of my “creating time” in my own company, with no one else around.

This is still true for me. Being solely in my own company (and spending time with animals or in nature) is part and parcel to my writing process, just as my writing process is part and parcel to knowing and understanding myself, and knowing and understanding myself informs what I want to write and what I choose to do with my life.

Geesh, what a cycle! See how it’s all connected?

So, I can’t “just let go of” time alone — daydreamy, musing, reflective time spent in solitude — without letting go of a vital part of the organism that is my functioning life.

And along with that, I can’t “just let go of” my actual writing time, where I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

But, as we discussed on our Writer’s Circle call, how challenging it can be to set boundaries around this sacred creative space on a daily basis!

Recently I had family visiting, and I noticed acutely (again) how I cannot “just shift” from socializing to writing, or socializing to reflecting time. I need to transition from one to the other.

This need for transitions, though, is a blessing. It is the transitioning that allows us to reinforce our boundaries around our creative space and creative energy.

For example, when I sat down to write this blog post, I did not “just sit down and start writing.” I first told my boyfriend, “Okay, I’m going to go work on a blog post now,” and I went into the next room to be away from his energy and more in my own. Then, I took a few deep breaths at my desk. And then I read a couple of blog posts by writers whose voices I love.

This all took only a few minutes, but within this transition space, I respected and protected my creative blog-writing space and energy.

Similarly, when I had family visiting last month, after spending most of the morning with my brother and his girlfriend, I didn’t “just” sit down and work on the presentation I had coming up. I told them I was going to the library for a while, gathered up my things, walked the two blocks to the library (walking is a great way to transition from one energetic space to another) and sat in a corner cubicle in the cool, quiet library environment. I took a few deep breaths, and starting in on writing notes for my presentation.

Taking note of how we will transition from “social space” to “creative space” is a great way to put solid boundaries around our solitary creating time, space, and energy.

Karla McLaren, in her wonderful book “The Art of Empathy,” calls this “thresholding.” She gives the example of actors who move from the state of being backstage, with others bustling around them, to actually being onstage, in the performance space. Anyone who’s performed on a stage of any kind knows there is quite a transition from being backstage to being onstage, and very quickly you go from one type of energy to another. It’s awareness and respect for the threshold that allows this transition.

Try this: Think about how you might create protective, supportive rituals and routines that act as boundaries around your creative energy and space. My walk for my morning coffee always puts me into “reflective, creative mode”, which is like tapping my writer self on the shoulder and whispering, “Hey — we’re going to be putting words on paper in a little bit.”

In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about how we can own our right to our creative energy and space, especially when it’s challenged by others around us.

What about you? How do you set boundaries around your creative space, time, and energy?

Image is “Fenceline” © Digitalphotonut | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

sand heart

For me, self-acceptance — the deep kind that warms the very center of my chest — and creativity are kind of like buddies.

On Pinterest yesterday I came across this pin of a dog that trots down the road to meet up with its buddy, a cat, who jumps down from a roof so they can pal around and go on adventures together.

That’s self-acceptance and creativity, in my world. It’s hard for me to have one without the other.

I notice that when I am feeling “uncreative,” it’s very often because I am not feeling very self-accepting.

How does this play out?

Noticing “shoulds” is a good place to start.

And we often don’t notice them. But the presence of “I should” is (most of the time) a good indicator that I am out of self-acceptance.

I used to frequent a message board where somebody had this signature: “As soon as I say ‘I should,’ I am somebody else.” (I wish I knew who to attribute that to — I think it’s brilliant.)

So if I’m feeling uncreative, my first step is to do what I call a “scan for shoulds.”

One of my clients is a poet.* She writes these awesome short poems that vibrate right off the page.  I love them because they’re so fun and real and colorful.

But she wasn’t feeling very good about them, and when we did a scan for shoulds, this popped up: My poems aren’t “real writing.” I should be writing a novel.

I asked her why.

She said, “Because then I’ll be taken more seriously.”

I asked her, by whom?

She said, “By serious writers.”

We broke down “serious writers.” Her definition of “serious writers” consisted of exactly two people: a snooty professor she’d had twenty years ago, and a perfectionistic friend she’d also been out of touch with for years. Interestingly, she’d always felt really uncomfortable around both of them.

I asked her what she believed she would have if she could get this professor and this “friend” to take her seriously.

The answer was, “I could take myself seriously.”

At some point, we both started laughing because we’d had many conversations about how she actually wanted less “seriousness” in her life and more play, more joy. (And I so get this, by the way. Nothing thwarts creativity like the idea that we should be doing, as Julia Cameron puts it, “Art with a capital A.”)

Being in self-acceptance, for my client, meant she didn’t really want to write a novel, and that she wanted to write even more of her awesome poetry.

It also meant letting go of the idea that “serious writers” (a.k.a. these two people who actually had never supported her true self) could somehow accept her if she wrote what she didn’t want to write.

And embracing the fact that it wasn’t their acceptance she needed. It was her own.

Maybe this is why we often skip over the very idea of self-acceptance. Because if we make it important, it means that we’ll likely have some letting go to do.

The other place where self-acceptance comes in is in noticing our needs and allowing ourselves to have them — even if a part of us is convinced they can’t be met.

Years ago there was a writing workshop I wanted to go to, except that I was told there were no single rooms available and I’d need to share a cabin with two other people for the duration of the workshop. I had a strong hunch that wasn’t going to work for me, because after so much socializing during the day at the workshop, I’d definitely want to recharge in the evening by myself.

I almost decided against going, until it occurred to me that maybe there was some currently unseen way I could have a room to myself. Just maybe, somehow.

I talked to the coordinator and she said, “Well, it so happens that someone who had reserved a single room just dropped out of the workshop. Would you like that room?”

I grabbed it immediately. I felt really happy with myself because in the past, I would have either gone ahead and stayed in the cabin with other people, spread way too thin because of no way to recharge alone, OR I would have assumed I just couldn’t do the workshop at all.

But I’d been able to be self-accepting enough to realize that my need was important enough to voice — even if it was a need some people wouldn’t have at all — and doing so opened the way for, guess what? Creativity!

What do you notice about the relationship between self-acceptance and creativity, for you? I’d love to hear from you!

* Please note that when I share stories about my coaching clients, it is always with their full permission to do so.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ~ The amazing Maya Angelou. RIP.

Image © Mamz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Creating during the rough times

twinflowers

A reader wrote me with this question recently (and gave me permission to share it here):

Lately I have a number of unexpected stresses in my life that have descended on me all at once. Almost every day I reach a point of overwhelm where I just have to do the minimum and then rest. My work on my novel has gone out the window. It feels like I spend every day just keeping up and managing my emotions, and have no energy left for anything creative. I keep trying harder to “do the work” and it’s just not happening. Any words of wisdom for me?

Oh! Creating during the rough times. What a challenge it is to get hit with a lot of “life stuff” and try to keep on keepin’ on as we have been.

In answering this question, I want to look at it from two different angles.

The first has to do with embracing reality.

When life throws a lot at us — whether that change is external or internal, or both — things are not as they were before. Pretty obvious, right? But let me repeat: life has changed.

I really want to underline this, because what I see again and again (and I see it in myself for sure) is that when our lives change radically — or sometimes even when we are afraid that they could change radically in the near future — we have a tendency to go into denial for a while.

Sometimes this looks like freezing and not doing anything. Often, though, it looks like trying to keep on exactly as we have been — even though things are not as they have been.

Which is perfectly normal. But — after a point — not totally helpful.

What embracing reality means from the standpoint of doing our creative work is that when things change, it’s pretty much a given that we won’t be able to approach it exactly as we have been.

If we are suddenly taking care of a sick child (or parent), that is taking up time. If we have to take on a full-time job when previously we worked part-time, that is taking up time. We literally don’t have as many hours in the day available for our creative work: it’s a fact.

Another aspect of embracing reality is who we are.

How do you tend to handle a lot of sudden change, especially certain types of change? How emotional and sensitive do you tend to be? Some of these things are innate in us: we’re not going to change them — even if we want to — beyond a certain point.

I value the fact that I have a very emotional nature (I’m a Myers-Briggs “feeling type,” for sure) and I’m also highly sensitive.

But this means that, for example, when I lost two loved ones in the same week several years ago, it rocked me to my core and I could not “just keep on.” I remember people suggested to me at the time that my grief could be good for my creative work, and that I could “write through the pain.”

That felt wrong in every fiber of my being. I didn’t want to create at that time. I wanted to grieve. Things had changed, and I needed to ask myself if there was value in forcing myself to continue writing during that time.

For me, there wasn’t. For someone else, there certainly may have been. But we need to take ALL of us into account during the difficult times — not just the part that wants to create and keep momentum with creative work. If it feels right to scale back, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

The other angle I want to take here has to do with our emotions themselves and the way we approach them.

If, like my reader (and me!), you tend to be “emotionally intense,” the way you approach your emotions in and of itself can create more stress for you during the hard times — or not.

When a lot was going “wrong,” I used to say things like, “This sucks! I am so overwhelmed!”

Venting is a good thing sometimes. But it’s also important to look at what we say when we vent.

Here’s why: When I say “I’m overwhelmed,” I’m fusing my identity with the emotion. And, even if I value how deeply and intensely emotional I can be, my emotions are not me. They are simply energies moving through me.

Probably one of the things I say most frequently to a client when they share how they’re feeling about something is “Good to notice.” That’s because noticing is pure gold. We can’t change a thing if we don’t first have awareness of it.

And, at the bottom of it all, “who we are” is simply that awareness — not what we’re doing, what’s happening to us, the emotions we’re having or how we’re reacting.

So, now, when I catch myself saying “I’m overwhelmed,” I say instead, “I’m noticing that I’m overwhelmed” or “I’m noticing a feeling of overwhelm within me.”

Do you see how this immediately creates a space between you and the feeling?

From this space, you are both the person experiencing the emotion and the observer of that emotion, how it feels in your body, the way you are reacting to it, the thoughts you are thinking around it. And from that space, you are not rocked and thrown by your emotions; you are not fused with them; you are simply experiencing them.

So, during the difficult times, here are two places to start. I’d love to know if anything here resonates for you, or if you have other suggestions, in the comments.

And: If you’re in a rough patch right now and you need a shift, my awesome friend Dawn Herring, founder of Refresh with Dawn Herring and #JournalChat Live on Twitter, will be offering a Refresh Intensive e-course, starting April 3 (the deadline to sign up is April 1). And it’s only $21! Want to learn more? Find out, here.

Image is “Out of the Darkness” © Emi Pascuzzo | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Merry Christmas + tons of permission

image

As I was thinking back over 2013 and touching base in my heart with all the amazing people I connected with this year, I noticed that so often the one thing we forget to give ourselves is permission.

When fear comes up, we have this tendency to skip the step that says, “This is what’s happening for me right now, this is where I am and how I feel. And I have permission to be here, feeling all this and being where I am.”

We want to jump over this uncomfortable, vulnerable space. It feels out of control, it feels like the unknown, and we’re not sure anyone else would get it if we shared what’s happening for us.

As a coach, I have the honor of working with clients who are in this space. And I feel it’s my responsibility to let them know that, whatever’s happening for them, it’s totally legitimate and they have total permission to be there. For as long as they need to be there.

Usually, though, we’re in a hurry to get out of this space. Mostly because we think being here means something is wrong. It doesn’t. It means we’re getting ready, preparing for that next right step to reveal itself, letting go of anything that would be incongruent with us being where we need to be next.

What we need during these times is space around everything we’re feeling, everything we’re letting go of, and the trust that whatever’s happening within us — and without — is in motion. It’s not static; it’s constantly changing, if we can create enough space around it to really observe it.

So, my gift to you this Christmas: tons of permission! Yes, it’s truly okay — in fact, it’s necessary — to be on whatever step you’re on right now. Nothing is wrong and your timing is perfect.

Two kinds of urgency

hourglass2

Have you ever gone through an extended period where nothing felt clear to you, where everything seemed muddled and off and you wondered if it was ever going to end?

I’ve been there — many times (and if you’re going through this right now, I send you so much compassion. Yes, it’s hard.)

Way back when, I thought going through these periods meant there was something wrong with me, or that I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Uggh.

I now know that these periods of sluggishness, lack of clarity, and downright suckiness are simply part of the process of change. They’re what happens when we’re letting go of a version of ourselves that no longer fits, but we haven’t yet stepped into whoever it is we’re becoming.

These are liminal periods, and I’ve written about them quite a bit on this blog (click on the Categories list to the right, particularly Transitions and Letting Go, to read more on liminal periods).

Another term for these transitional periods, which I learned while I trained to become a life coach with Martha Beck, is “Square One.”

During Square One, a kind of urgency can rise up in us. It feels like we’d better do something, now! We’d better get out of this crappy place! We’d better make some kind of decision, now! (Even though usually we have no idea what it is we’re deciding, because one of the hallmarks of Square One is a lack of clarity on what we really want. We know what we don’t want, and the rest of it feels like one giant slog through toffee.)

A frequent reminder that I, and the folks I work with, need while in Square One is this: The faster we try to get out of Square One, the longer we stay in it. It’s the ultimate paradox. Square One needs to be fully processed, fully felt. Yes, it sucks, but it’s the only way to get truly clear.

When we rush forward because our period of transition is so uncomfortable, we inevitably end up in more discomfort.

That’s because instead of moving toward what we want (because we’ve gotten clear on it), we’re moving away from discomfort and confusion because they scare us. And where do we end up? Right back in the discomfort and confusion, scared out of our minds. Wherever we go, there we are.

So, if you’re going through a transition, or approaching one, right now, and it feels scary and like you’ve completely lost your footing, the best path to peace is not to hurry out of the scary place.

It’s to slow down, remind your panicked brain that there is no true urgency here, and realize that (in the ultimate irony), you’ll actually move through this icky transition place much more quickly by embracing an easy, one-day-at-a-time (or, on the worst days, one-hour-at-a-time) pace.

Now, there’s another kind of urgency, too. That kind of urgency is a bit different. It’s what I’d call a “transmission from your soul.”

This kind of urgency has a kind of ache to it. It contains a yearning you can’t stave off or press down, no matter how many months or years you try to do just that.

This is the urgency that recognizes that life is relatively short and there are things your heart longs to be or do, and you’re not being or doing them yet. And you’re tired of putting them off.

Or, it’s the kind of urgency that tells you a certain situation isn’t good for you and it has to stop. And that if you don’t stop it, you’re going to keep on feeling this particular ache.

This kind of urgency is the urgency that signals you’re ready for change. Not ten years from now, but as soon as is humanly possible.

Yes, I know: I just contradicted myself. I suggested that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to slow way down, not speed up. And then I said that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to act, now!

Both are true. Can you allow your mind to wrap itself around that? It’s hard for me, too.

But notice my descriptions of the two kinds of urgency. One kind is about moving away from discomfort. And the other is about moving toward what you want. (An ache or longing points us toward something in us that wants to be born.)

We can feel both these kinds of urgency on the very same day! In the very same hour! And we can accept, and work with, both of them.

The tricky part is that, when we’re feeling a lot of the first type of urgency, we need to come to a place of peace before we take any action.

Otherwise, our actions are likely to be fueled by panic and a need to escape discomfort. (Have you ever quit a job, or left a relationship, and found yourself, almost magically, back in what seemed like the exact same job or relationship six months or a year later? That’s because your actions were fueled by a need to escape discomfort, rather than movement toward what enlivens you.)

So how do you know which urgency is driving you? You might want to share what’s going on with someone you trust, or jot down the thoughts you’re having in a journal. Then ask yourself (or let someone reflect back to you): Does what I just said (or wrote) come from the part of my brain that is strictly concerned with my physical and/or social survival? Or does it feel like a mandate from my soul?

Whichever answer you get, the next step is acceptance. And remembering that fully processing what’s going on for you is, in the long run, the fastest way to actually create what you truly desire.

What do you think? What have you noticed when urgency comes up for you? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Time’s Up!” © Nspimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Getting clear on “success”

bridge

Too often we are vague about our definitions of success. We don’t really clarify what we mean by “successful,” or we take on somebody’s else’s definition (maybe a family member’s) and work toward it without actually asking ourselves if it’s what we want.

Or, our idea of success is all tied up with money, even though the amount of money we make and the feeling of being successful are very different things.

My current definition of success is “knowing and understanding myself better and better and showing up for others who want to do the same.”

Notice how I can go into literally any situation and be successful based on my personal definition? Can I be this version of success working as a receptionist? Check. Can I be this version of success at a cocktail party? Check. Can I be this version of success in prison? Sure.

For me, a definition of success that works is one that lights me up, one I feel deeply connected to, and one that is NOT dependent on an external circumstance that is outside of my control.

I can live my current definition of success when I’m writing or when I’m coaching a client, but I can also live it when I’m with a friend, at the dentist’s office, or riding the bus. I may or may not choose to act on this definition, say, at the dentist’s office, but it can still light me up while I’m there.

The problem with getting too situation-specific with our definitions of success is not that it’s unlikely we can make whatever situation it is happen. (We’re very often led into the exact situations we want because our interests, passions and curiosities take us right to them.) This is not at all about saying, well, it’s unlikely to happen so don’t dream it! It is wonderful, and necessary, to dream big. But let me give you a little example of what I’m talking about.

Say your definition of success is “becoming an Oscar-winning filmmaker.” First off, winning an Oscar is never going to be totally within your control. (Even if your film is nominated for best picture, you can be snubbed in the director category; just ask Ben Affleck.)

Still, could this definition of success be one that lights you up and that you feel deeply connected to? Sure. The idea of winning an Oscar one day could totally inspire you to make great films.

The problem with this definition of success is that winning an Oscar for your film isn’t really what you want. It’s only the costume your definition of success wears. The real definition of success beneath that Oscar disguise might be something like this: “My definition of success is making movies that affect others in a powerful way.”

But wait: Even that is not really it. “Making movies” is still window-dressing for something else. Let’s try again: “My definition of success is telling stories that affect others in a powerful way.”

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. “Telling stories” is close enough to the essence of what you want to do that this definition of success can work if you’re a receptionist, at a cocktail party, or in prison. You’re not dependent on standing behind a camera with a crew behind you in order to tell stories.

But wait: There’s still a problem with this definition of success. “Telling stories that affect others in a powerful way.”

Do you see it?

It’s dependent on an external circumstance. You do not have any real control over how others react to you. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but it’s true. You might be able to give me all kinds of evidence that seems to prove that you have some kind of control over others’ reactions, but it won’t hold water. In the end, the way others react is up to them. They are choosing to react to something in a powerful way, by what they’re thinking about it, based on who they are and their experiences.

This is why I can think What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a beautiful and amazing movie, and my friend’s brother falls asleep twenty minutes into it.

So what’s actually the definition of success we’re really looking for here?

How about this: “My definition of success is telling stories that affect me in a powerful way.”

Because YOU are the only one you truly have any control over affecting. The only person you are guaranteed to inspire is yourself. Which is very good news. Imagine if we all went around inspiring ourselves rather than angsting over whether or not we were inspiring others enough?

Ahhh. So, can you have this definition of success working as a receptionist? At a cocktail party? In prison? In a box? With a fox? Totally.

This doesn’t mean you don’t pursue becoming an Oscar-winning moviemaker if that’s what lights you up. Of course you do! It’s just an invitation to notice that the core essence of what you want doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with getting behind a camera or holding a golden statuette. Knowing this actually frees you up to pursue success — as you define it — in any number of ways. It isn’t out there, when the “great thing” happens — it’s within you, right now.

What might you do differently if “success” were already here? How do you act when you feel successful  right now?

Work With Me: I help writers, artists, artisans and coaches who are feeling stuck get moving again. I have openings for new clients in April. Learn more, here.

Image is “Bridge into the Mountains” © Pat Young | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Taking action on what you know

doves

One thing that I really like to drive home to my coaching clients is the importance of knowing ourselves.

I mean, really, really knowing ourselves — and particularly, the things we have a tendency to do that create chaos and disconnection for us.

Because very often, we know what doesn’t work for us, but we do it anyway.

Particularly if you are highly sensitive or an introvert, or both, the “general way” our society does things may not work for you. But it’s easy to toss away our particular, unique self-understanding when we convince ourselves that “everybody else” seems to be living, well, differently.

When we’ve been through the hell of learning something that brings us to our knees and connects us with our core (or, to put it another way, our essential self), we need to actually own that and act from what we know.

I call this acting from exquisite self-knowledge.

It is powerful to put this stuff into action. And you can often tell when you’re not putting it into action, by the way you feel.

This is true on both smaller points and large ones.

Like today, I was writing in my journal and I was completely caught up in the flow. As I’ve written about before, when my journal is truly calling to me, I have got to heed that call. Journaling has been, for many years now, the way I process and ultimately integrate what’s happening for me. It is my practice. If I don’t do it — especially when it’s really calling to me — I keep spinning my wheels and I don’t move forward.

But: I get really antsy and am easily distracted when I can feel something big about to come through in my journal. And I have a tendency to sabotage these “hardcore” journaling sessions by reacting to stuff in the external environment.

Today I actually grabbed my iPad in the middle of my journaling session — even though it was going brilliantly — and searched for youtube videos on Jaws 2. (Okay, not even a good movie, but I’ve been feeling oddly nostalgic for it lately.)

Before I knew it, I was watching shark attack videos which were obviously fake (and why in the heck would I do that to my HSP self?), and then somehow I was watching videos of cats stuffing themselves into small boxes (how do I always end up there?).

So I moved away from the iPad and picked the journaling session back up. A couple minutes later, the phone rang. I am like one of Pavlov’s dogs when the phone rings. I don’t know why I think I have to get up and see who it is. But get up I did.

It was a friend of mine who I really wanted to talk to. Normally, when the caller ID comes up as a close friend or a family member, it’s almost impossible for me not to pick up. I pick up as a kind of reflex. I figure I’ll make up the journaling time later; I tell myself the call will only take a couple minutes and then I’ll get back to my writing.

But experience has shown, this isn’t what happens. I get sucked into the call and when I get off the phone it’s hard to get my flow back. I put the journaling off. I toss away my practice. And I feel disconnected from myself.

So today, I didn’t pick up the phone. Why? Because I finally know myself well enough to know that if I pick up the phone during sacred journaling time, I will regret it.

And I have to tell you, acting on that exquisite self-knowledge felt really powerful. It felt congruent.

This might sound like a small point, not picking up the phone during a journaling session, but all these seemingly “small” points add up over the long haul. When I toss the needs of my essential self away on a regular basis and tell myself these “little things” don’t matter, I end up disconnected from myself, over time, in a big way.

There are larger points, too — like going back, out of fear or familiarity, to that job or that relationship we just know in our gut isn’t good for us. Or saying “yes” to something that we know from experience we simply have no desire to do.

None of this is about “doing it right” all the time or never making choices that don’t feel good to us. Part of the process of knowing ourselves is learning through trial and error what doesn’t work for us.

And sometimes, like with my Pavlovian response to the ringing phone, we have a very long learning curve. But when we do finally learn, it’s important to own what we know and take action on that knowing.

Try this: Make a habit of keeping a written record of things you’ve learned — the hard way — about yourself but have a tendency to forget. (I call this my Exquisite Self-Knowledge List.) Then check in with it from time to time, particularly if you’re feeling crappy and you’re not sure why.

What do you absolutely know about yourself that you might put on your own list? I’d love to hear from you.

And: Speaking of putting pen to paper, Thursday, Feb. 21, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on a year and a half, and I’m also one of the coaches. You can read about the strides I’ve made with my writing in this group here. We’d love to have you join us! You can check it out here.

Image is “Doves” © Cook | Dreamstime.com

The power of tiny new things

bluejay

I was talking with one of my clients the other day about how when we’re getting ready to let go of an old, painful pattern, it usually seems to get worse. It seems worse because (yay!) we notice it more. We’re really, really aware of how terribly incongruent this pattern is with the new-us-we-are-becoming. So of course it feels more painful than it ever has before.

When a pattern is really painful, I know my tendency can be to get really hard on myself about it. “How could you create this mess?” “How can you be here, again?” “Are you never going to learn from your stuff?”

These kinds of thoughts are like a smokescreen, or code, for: big internal changes are happening, and they scare me, so I need to slow down the process by being really hard on myself. Then I have something to struggle with and rail against, so I can ensure that the change is as slow as a part of me needs it to be.

The part of me who is deep and wise knows that I don’t need to do this; I don’t need to make the process harder than it is. Actually, when a pattern is playing itself out and it’s really, really painful, this is the time to step back and be the observer. I don’t have to do anything; I don’t have to fight with the pattern or try to get rid of it.

By the time I’m noticing how acutely painful it is, it’s already on its way out.

Mixed in with the pain of “this so doesn’t work for me anymore” is, believe it or not, some grief — sometimes a lot of grief. A coping mechanism that, on some level, has been useful for (often) many years is being let go. There’s sadness in that. That coping mechanism has become part of my identity, so, truly, I am letting go of something that feels like me (even if it isn’t).

In these periods of watching old patterns rev themselves up to high speed until they burn up and work themselves out of my system, it can be so gratifying to notice tiny new good-feeling things that enter my life. As the old stuff is leaving, I like to set an intention to notice what feels new and good and light.

The new and the good and the light are so often commonplace AND unexpected. Like this morning when I was getting dressed, I saw this sweater in the bottom of my drawer that I’d bought a long time ago but never really worn. I put it on and smelled the sharp, fresh scent of new wool and it felt so snuggly and cocoon-like.

And then when I was reaching into my drawer for my earrings, I noticed this blue jay pin I love but haven’t ever worn much, either, and I put it on the sweater. And it looked like it was made for that sweater, like, how could I not have put these two things together before?

A tiny thing, yes, putting a pin on a sweater. But tiny bits of newness can be powerful. Because I’ve never put this sweater and this blue jay together before, they are already creating a tiny new alchemy that is about now, not then. Good to notice as the old stuff comes up to be kissed goodbye and released.

Try this: Experiment with tiny change. Move two tiny things in your house to new places, or put two things next to each other that have never shared the same space before. Notice what this tiny change sets into motion for you.

Coaching in the New Year: I have limited open slots for new coaching clients. If change is on the horizon for you, or you’re already knee-deep in it and need some support, check out my one-on-one coaching. Consultations are always free!