Taking small steps to align with your values

When I downsized and streamlined my life back in 2015, it was in part because I had identified one of my main values to be simplicity.

Now, simplicity can look like many things, but for me, it turned out that it did not involve maintaining an old house inside and out with tenants living in the downstairs unit.

Fast-forward three years to the present, and I am living the “simplicity” value more fully. To me, simplicity means that the commitments I’ve made are elevating me and not dragging me down, enhancing my life rather than causing me to feel scattered and dampened. There’s a feeling of lightness and focus to simplicity for me.

Still, living in alignment with my deepest values is a process and ever-changing.

While I have so much more lightness and focus in my life than I did before I moved, there are still times where something feels “off”, and I need to tweak what I’m doing, how I’m living. (Earlier this week I donated some clothing and shoes that I just didn’t need. I’d been hanging onto them “just in case,” but I realized there was no just in case, in this case, and it was time to let go.)

While moving homes is a big change, there are often small, subtle things we can do to live more in alignment with our values. When I work with clients, a fear that often comes up is that if they admit they truly desire change, they will have to completely overhaul (or totally blow up!) their lives.

So this is where I take a stand in support of the small, the subtle, the gradual. The truth is, even when we do overhaul our lives, it’s rarely a one-and-done sort of thing. It’s usually a series of disorienting changes that, in retrospect, feels like everything changed suddenly.

Obviously, sometimes we experience catalytic external events that do cause our lives to change rapidly: a fire, a diagnosis, a sudden death.

But when we’re talking about inner change, and the desire to align more fully with our deepest values, our essential selves, we can take small steps — even tiny ones, and notice the effect they have.

I especially recommend this if you are of a creative visionary ilk, as I am. I used to absolutely loathe the idea of “small.” I loved the idea of vast, expansive leaps — or, at least, I thought I did, until my leaping and lack of taking care of the vulnerable and sensitive parts of me landed me in the hospital at twenty-five.

The truth was, my visionary leaping and the reality of the needs of my physical body and emotional self did not always mesh. (As Byron Katie says, “When you argue with reality, you lose — but only 100% of the time.”)

And I find in working with my coaching clients, most of whom identify as highly sensitive or at least relate to that concept, that there’s often a disconnect between our “ideal” and what is actually true for us.

Sometimes the fear that if we align ourselves more deeply with our true values we will have to completely overhaul our lives can keep us from connecting with what is true for us.

What I have learned (often the hard way) is that there is power in small changes. Although I didn’t move to a new home until 2015, in late 2013 I took the step of just checking out various living spaces. That was all. I just looked. That small step of just looking allowed me to get curious about what kind of living space might help me align with that lighter, simpler feeling I desired.

Taking small steps also helps us test out our assumptions. If in looking at smaller living spaces I’d gotten a cramped, closed-down feeling, it would have been a clue to me that “smaller” was not actually the key to alignment with my value of simplicity. As it turned out, when I looked at smaller spaces I felt more freedom and a lovely coziness. That was my tip-off that I was on the right track. (“Cozy” seems to be a deeply-held value for me as well!)

Here’s a quick exercise to help you start taking small steps toward more alignment with your deepest values.

• Get a piece of paper and write three things you want on it. For example: more free time, more creative expression, more rest.

• For each of those things you want, write two qualities you believe having that thing would give you. For example: more free time –> a sense of spaciousness, a feeling of relaxation. Or: more creative expression –> a feeling of being more true to myself, connection to others who really get me. 

• Now, take one of those qualities and do one small thing to bring more of it into your life. For example, let’s say you choose “a sense of spaciousness.” What one small thing could you do to bring more spaciousness into your life? (For me, it was donating that stuff the other day. I love looking in my closet now because I see more space there!)

The most interesting thing, I’ve noticed, about taking small steps is that, over time, I actually move more quickly than I do when I overwhelm myself by believing I must make all the changes, right now!

(P. S. I wrote about the “power of tiny new things” here.)

What helps you live more in alignment with your deepest values? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are available now through November 16. Do you need support in navigating a life transition this fall? Find out more, here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

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The power of catching up with yourself

The other day I was trying to hang a picture in the bedroom. The back of the frame had a tricky hanging mechanism, and I kept trying to get the picture on the nails in the wall and it wasn’t hanging quite straight. And then it kept falling down. I tried again and again and I couldn’t get it to work.

I’d had this vision of having this picture on the wall because I’ve been journaling in my bedroom more lately. And this picture had been sitting in the closet for a while.

But I couldn’t get it to hang right. Even when I got it to hang relatively straight, it still seemed like it might fall down at any moment.

Finally, I gave up. But after sitting in my frustration for a few minutes, I knew a solution would present itself. It hasn’t yet, as of this writing. But it will.

I tell this story because it’s a very simple example of the way we often approach more complex situations in our lives. We have a vision of something we want. We try to achieve it in a certain way, using certain tools. It doesn’t work, and we try again, the same way. Sometimes again and again and again. Sometimes this goes on for years.

We’re sure we need to get it done like this. If we just try harder, and enough, surely we can make it happen?

This kind of experience can be particularly frustrating for people who are really good at getting things done and making them happen. My early experiences in life were often full of putting my mind to something and doing it! So as time went on and I, inevitably, ran into situations where just doing it didn’t work so well, no matter how hard I tried, I became extremely discouraged.

This discouragement was a huge blessing, however. When we “fail,” we are given a chance — if we take it — to catch up with ourselves.

When we pause to catch up with ourselves — to process and integrate what we’re experiencing rather than immediately moving ahead to try something else — we take the opportunity to be shown what’s not working for us. And what is.

Sometimes, for example, our actions are fine — the problem is that we’re expecting immediate results when the results might take some time to come to fruition. This doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

Sometimes, we do need to take different actions. But if we don’t pause to assess how things are going, we get into that cycle of doing the same thing (that isn’t working) and expecting different results (the definition of insanity, an idea sometimes attributed to Einstein).

Where this can get tricky for us is when something once worked really well, but no longer does. It can take a while to get that things have changed — either within us or outside of us or both — and something new is called for. This is where we need to have lots of patience with ourselves. It takes time to catch on and learn — this is part of being human. It doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

When we take the time to simply catch up with ourselves, we welcome the power of sadness. As Karla McLaren says in her books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy, sadness does not always mean we are overtly sad about some particular event. McLaren says that sadness is “the watery emotion,” and it helps us let go of what’s not working for us.

Until I began to allow sadness into my life on a regular basis, I often clung to things that weren’t working, or I clung to ways of being that weren’t working for me.

One of those ways of being was treating myself harshly. In fact, one of the most frequent learnings for my life coaching clients is that they are much harder on themselves than they need to be. (The women who’ve taken my Stellar Self-Care Program often come away with the recognition that in many ways they are already practicing really good self-care — they just haven’t been giving themselves credit for it because their “default” way of being is to notice what they’re not doing right.)

Often this harshness toward the self is in a “blind spot” — that part of ourselves that is not visible to us unless we have some way of shining a light on it or adjusting our perspective.

When I think of myself getting more and more frustrated while trying to hang that picture, I can see how quickly my mind’s belief that “because I envision it this way, it should work this way” was challenged, and how automatically I became harsh with myself because it wasn’t working that way.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that the picture wouldn’t hang the way I wanted it to, but that I believed it should hang that way, and that my failure to get it to hang that way meant I had done something wrong. (I caught myself thinking, “I should never have put these holes in the wall! I should have known it wouldn’t work!” Really?)

I notice that writing this blog post has helped me “catch up with myself” in regard to the picture-hanging incident. A small thing, to be sure, but sometimes what is simple and “small” can shed light for us on how we deal with the bigger, more complex “roadblocks” in our lives.

What do you notice about how you deal with it when something doesn’t work? What happens when you take time to “catch up with yourself” before taking more action? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected?  For updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff, you are welcome to sign up for my Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

And: If we’ve worked together previously, I have a summer special for returning clients that ends August 31. Feel free to contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page if you’d like to learn more!

Above images of frames, © Vlntn | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and water droplets, © Iryna Sosnytska | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Subtle ways we reject self-care

Sundays are my “down day.” By that I mean they are the one day out of the week where my main focus is non-doing, replenishing, cultivating ease and rest.

I do thread these things throughout my week — after all, an overall foundation of self-care means we are going to infuse our daily life with the qualities that nourish and sustain us — but Sundays are my intentional “reminder to reconnect with myself” day.

Because of this Sunday intention, I do not sit at my regular workspace on that day of the week. I sit in other spaces — the loveseat in the living room, the table next to the window in the kitchen — places that help me connect with that more easeful energy.

But, oh! How I need to remind myself, some Sundays, that I am not going over to the workspace!

“But I’ll just do it for a second, just to straighten some things up, just to glance at email.” It doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? A quick dash over to my workspace to flip up the laptop is really a fairly subtle thing, right?

There have been times I’ve found myself sitting there without even knowing how I’d gotten there. It’s such automatic behavior, and my mind is quick to tell me “it’s not a big deal.”

But it is a big deal on Sundays, because Sundays are my down day.

Working with clients on the subject of self-care has clued me in bigtime to how quick and sneaky we can be about dismissing our needs — particularly if they are more of the subtle variety.

The need to go to bed half an hour earlier, for example — how quick we are to tell ourselves “it’s just half an hour, it won’t make a difference.”

Something I’ve noticed time and again is my lack of acknowledgment, after some intense time away on a trip or at a workshop or something like that, that I actually need “integration time.”

What usually happens is, a few days after I’ve returned from the trip, or had a heightened period of activity, my energy gets edgy and frenetic. No matter how much I’m “getting done,” it doesn’t feel rewarding to me, and I feel ridiculously “behind.”

That feeling of “falling behind” and vague dissatisfaction has become a red flag for me that there is an unmet self-care need raising its hand to get my attention.

What’s subtle here — and therefore can sometimes hover just outside of my awareness — is that it seems “normal” to finish up with a big event, a trip, a heightened period of activity, and immediately return to a regular routine.

It may indeed be “normal” for some people, but I’ve found it’s not workable for me. I need to build in rest and integration time when I’ve expended more energy than is usual — or comfortable — for me.

But because my need for this may initially be subtle — because I’m still functioning to some extent on the adrenaline that got pumped into my system when I stretched myself beyond my usual energetic limits — I may not notice until I become edgy and frazzled that, oh yeah, I never really gave myself that integration time after the trip! Duh!

Yep, that’s how it is sometimes. Self-care is an ongoing, unfolding, highly organic thing. We might forget what worked before, or maybe what worked before doesn’t quite do it in this particular circumstance.

Here are some other subtle ways we may neglect or reject our self-care that I’ve noticed in working with clients and myself:

• Picking up a phone or tablet repeatedly, simply because it’s nearby (and along with this, failing to turn off unnecessary visual and auditory notifications — and let’s face it, most of them are unnecessary).

• Pushing ourselves to exercise more, write more, clean more — whatever it may be — when we’ve already gotten cues from our bodies that we’ve done enough for now. (I wrote about a time I fell into this trap here.)

• On the flip side, cutting short something that matters to us — journaling. exercise, a conversation with a friend — before we’ve allowed it the momentum it deserves (and that feels satisfying to us).

• Neglecting to indulge our five senses — not taking time to really taste our food, smell the coffee in the cup in our hand, feel our pet’s fur beneath our fingers.

• Forgetting to focus on our breath. Obviously, we don’t want (or need) to be doing this all day, but checking in and noticing how we’re breathing, and allowing ourselves several deep belly breaths, can center us and point us to the fact that our breathing may be quite “shallow” — in other words, up around our shoulders. This is really, really common.

• Clutter or disorganization in our environment that drains us. (I’ve found that I feel so much better when I make the bed every day — not because I particularly care about making the bed but because it reduces visual disorganization when I walk into the bedroom.)

When we miss the more subtle ways we are forgetting to care for ourselves, over time the subtle can build to the dramatic, and we may find ourselves in “crisis mode”, as I have several times in my life. But the more we learn to pay attention — the more attuned we are to these subtleties — the more we can make self-care changes before anything builds to a crisis state.

What do you notice about the more subtle ways you might forget to care for yourself? Or, what are subtle ways you CAN care for yourself that you might not always think of? I’d love to hear from you!

By the way, enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) One-on-One Coaching Program ends this Friday, June 22. This program is for sensitive, creative folks who’d love support in creating a solid foundation of self-care in their daily lives! Curious? You can find out more, here.

Above images: snail, © Marilyn Gould | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and cat, © Valerii Rublov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Self-care and self-acceptance: when the pause is priceless

Note: I am currently enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program. Scroll to the end of the post to learn more!

There is a close relationship between self-care and self-acceptance. In fact, it’s hard to genuinely have one without the other.

What I’ve noticed in my own life is that the more I practice self-care — to the best of my ability — the more self-accepting I become.

Caring for myself — giving myself this permission — seems to “turn on the light” of self-acceptance for me. It triggers the belief that I am worth this care, and in feeling this, I also feel self-acceptance. In other words, I’m telling myself that the specific way I need to care for myself is okay.

Similarly, the more self-accepting I feel, the more willing I am to take care of myself in whatever way I need to, no matter how it looks to others.

This is the fourth year (already!) that I am offering my Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) Coaching Program, and it’s been fascinating to me to see how every year at least one person tells me something like this: “I’d love to ______, but can I really do that? Won’t that look like I’m too lazy, or too demanding, or too selfish, or too strange?”

Oh, I get it. Just a couple of days ago, I chose not to make a phone call I thought I “should” make because I needed some downtime and was in the middle of enjoying it when I remembered I’d forgotten to make this call. The call was non-urgent, could definitely wait at least a day if not more. But it was interesting to notice that I actually almost jumped up from the couch before I had the chance to think about it.

Except I didn’t jump up from the couch. I almost did.

Ten years ago, I would have remembered the call, instantly felt guilt for not making it, been unable to tolerate the discomfort of the guilt, and made the call. All of this would have transpired in a split second, and I would have found myself on the phone experiencing a cluster of icky feelings triggered by “the shoulds”, not present to either the person I was speaking to or to myself.

Yes, it has taken me years to get to the point where I pause before I jump into that kind of action. But that pause is priceless.

In this case, I recognized the urge to make the call, realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do at that moment, saw the thought “you should make that call!”, questioned it (really? is that true?), exhaled, decided to make the call when it felt right, probably the following day, and went on to savor my downtime.

Now, let’s say I’d done what I would have done ten years ago — jumped up to make the call, even though a part of me really didn’t want to and was overcome by “shoulds”. It’s at exactly that moment that we initiate what I call a “stress spiral”. 

When we are not in self-acceptance, we do not take care of ourselves, and when we take action from this place of lack and self-judgment, we create stress. This stress feels bad (obviously!), and from that feeling place, if we don’t interrupt the cycle, we take more frantic actions that get us further away from self-care and self-acceptance. (Instead of moving toward what we truly want, we’re attempting to move away from the stress.)

If we keep on living this way day after day (as I did years ago), we are living in a stress spiral that is self-perpetuated. We do more and more that we don’t really want to do, and all this doing hangs precariously on a foundation of self-rejection. Underneath it is the belief that who we are and the particular needs we have are not worthy of being seen and met.

The challenge here is that once we’re “in” the stress spiral, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize we’re in it. There is something about it that feels normal to us, or it wouldn’t be so automatic and compelling. And it is probably reinforced by our environments at least to some extent — family, friends, workplaces.

So if we can learn to access the awareness to interrupt the stress spiral once it’s begun, or, better yet, stop it before it really revs up, we can create a “new normal” for ourselves, one that is nourishing and supportive. One in which we can actually be who we are, and care for that person.

As is so often the case, noticing is key here. What do we really need in the moment (self-acceptance) and how can we give it to ourselves (self-care)? What might feel better or easier right now (self-care) and can we give it to ourselves even if it might seem odd or selfish to others (self-acceptance)?

When we can bring these questions to our awareness, and answer them for ourselves, we don’t trigger stress that repeats and repeats. And even if we have triggered that stress spiral, gentle awareness is always at our disposal. We just need to be reminded that another way is always available to us.

How do you notice and interrupt a “stress spiral”? How do you know you’ve moved away from self-care and self-acceptance? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) One-on-One Coaching Program is now open for enrollment, through Friday, June 22. In this program, I partner with you to create a foundation of solid self-care, including how to deal with your particular “stress spiral”, how you get into it, and how you can let it go. I absolutely love guiding clients through this program, and I’ll be working with a maximum of four one-on-one participants this year; at this writing, one spot is filled and three remain. Learn more about it, here!

Above images of deer © Roger Calger | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and cat © Sf Shen | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Seven years of The Artist’s Nest

Seven years ago this month, I wrote my very first blog post (you can read it here!).

Seven years is a long time! (Five, I could believe — but seven? I often feel like I’m about two years “behind” and I need to catch up with myself somehow. Like life has gone by so quickly I haven’t been able to process it all. Can I just have an extra two years to process, please?)

Seven years ago, March 2011, I was fresh out of my training to become a Martha Beck life coach, and blogging was a way of letting people know about my new “thing” and sorting out the issues I saw coming up for my (gulp!) new clients and also issues I’d been working with myself.

But blogging here has become something much more than that for me. It’s a writing practice. It’s a practice of showing up. It’s a practice of pressing publish.

In many ways, it’s a spiritual practice for me, because it causes my “stuff” to come up. (Do I really want to write this? Do I really want to publish this? Do I really want to reach out and connect, with all that entails? It’s great to revisit these questions, and to ultimately see, again and again, that the answer is “yes.”)

There is something about sticking with a practice for the long haul. It’s a relationship. You don’t get the benefits of the relationship if you’re not willing to keep showing up, even when you’re not sure, even on the days you wonder “why the heck are we doing this again?”

So I’m glad I’ve hung in here for this blogging relationship. And I’m so grateful — and honored — to have connected with readers and clients I’d never have “met” had I not started blogging. These posts have been a starting point for some of my most treasured connections.

By the way, here are the ten most viewed posts on The Artist’s Nest from these past seven years:

When your downtime doesn’t happen

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Saving the worms

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

Getting out of analysis paralysis (or: what to do when you don’t know what to do)

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

The power of evening pages and “it’s done” lists

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

Knowing yourself: What words inspire you?

As any writer knows, it’s funny to look back at things you wrote a long time ago. With some of these earlier posts, I barely even remember them — I’m like, did I write that? (This kind of distance can be a great thing, as it helps you look at your writing — and yourself! — with more detachment. Which always makes me laugh, eventually.)

Just for good measure, here are three of my favorite posts:

Daily saving graces for hard times

Squirrel wisdom (or, the power of a good question)

Creating rituals around the tough stuff

Thank you, dear, dear readers, for your presence. Whether you’ve left a comment, shared a post, sent me an email (and some of you have done these things many times!), or simply “lurked” here (lurkers are most welcome!) — I am truly grateful. I’ve felt your presence, and it’s meant, and continues to mean, so very much to me.

Want to stay connected? My Artist’s Nest Newsletter contains brief updates on my coaching offerings, and other good stuff — like how to get in on our monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls. I’d love to have you there! You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Above images © Yanik Chauvin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and  © Lejla Alic | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Your resources and the seasons of your life

I’ve written here before about how important it is to recognize that our lives have their seasons, and that it’s vital for us to honor those seasons.

Something I see when I work with my life coaching clients is that we often have the expectation that our lives should constantly be exploding with growth — and if they aren’t, something is wrong! It’s not surprising that so many of us have this idea, particularly in Western culture — we live in an extremely growth-oriented world, where we’re fed the ideal of “bigger, faster, more.”

Many heart-centered folks I know are becoming mindful of the ways this “constant growth” ideal has harmed our selves and our world, and they are dedicated to living differently, to treating the world differently.

But, still, some of them (and I include myself here!) have a really hard time stepping back and checking in to notice what season of their lives it is, and what is required of them in that season.

And being aware of what season you’re in is important, because heart-centered people want to give a lot of themselves to the world (and thank goodness they do!). But in some seasons of our lives, we simply have more resources with which to give than we do in others.

For example: sometimes I work with someone who has recently experienced a big loss. Maybe a spouse or a parent has died, maybe a job has been lost (or quit), maybe an important project has failed or a large amount of money has been spent on something that didn’t work out. Maybe an illness has changed the scope and shape of their lives.

During these times (which in my training as a Martha Beck life coach we call “Square One” periods, or “liminal” periods), we simply have fewer inner resources — and often fewer external ones, too.

I’ve often seen clients lamenting — or really angry! — that their attempts at growth, at flourishing creativity, at building something, usually just won’t take hold during these times.

What’s going on here?

They’re in “winter”. And if we look at winter and take a cue from our animal friends, winter is a time in which we’re not growing new stuff, we’re not building new stuff, we’re not exploring new horizons. We might be underground, relying on our body fat to keep us warm and nourished until spring. We’re counting on what we gathered during spring, summer, and fall to get us through our winter.

But here’s the rub: We humans are not always that well-resourced when our “personal winters” hit.

Maybe money is tight. Maybe those we’ve always counted on for support make themselves scarce. Because these “winters” are also times of deep transformation, we may emerge from them feeling quite different from who we were when we entered them. (If you’ve been a one-on-one coaching client of mine, you know I am talking about what we Martha Beck coaches refer to as The Change Cycle here!)

So: If you are deep into a personal winter — if you’ve experienced a big loss, a huge change (and this can sometimes include what we think of as “positive” change as well!), or some sort of internal or external shift that’s really rocking your world — know that your resources are important right now.

And: They are probably limited. They are probably feeling much more limited than they were when you were in your “personal spring” — that time of lovely growth where beautiful, sparkly things seem to be sprouting all over the place.

Don’t try to make your life feel like a “personal spring” when, in fact, you’re in an inner winter. Be where you are. If your resources — inner and outer — are feeling limited right now, how can you preserve them? How might you bring in more without further depleting yourself?

I’ve found that one of the best ways to help myself through a (perhaps under-resourced) personal winter is to be as kind to myself as possible. I have some very clear ideas about what that means for me, and I encourage you to check in with yourself on this: What does being kind to yourself really mean to you? What does it feel like, look like?

I have little reminders around my home that guide me back to my personal definition of treating myself kindly: A sign with cats on it that my dad got for me in a Quaker-run shop that says “Be ye kind to one another.” A mug with the word Kindness on it that I use all the time.

(If you’re hitting a wall when it comes to treating yourself with kindness, I encourage you to check out the work of Kristin Neff, who has researched the importance of self-compassion.)

When I can remember to treat myself warmly and gently and with a huge amount of faith and trust in who I am and in my process, my “personal winters” are so much less hard.

Because much of the problem for so many of us is that our “default” is to be really hard on ourselves. We don’t ever need to be that hard on ourselves, but it’s especially damaging and unhelpful to be hard when we’re already in the hard that an “inner winter” brings.

It’s also important, in a world that is in so much need, that we balance our giving to the world with giving to ourselves (and yes, this giving does overlap!).

We’ll likely have more to give when we’re in our “personal spring” or summer than we do when we’re in our personal winter. This is okay. You don’t have to do it all, all the time. Others who are experiencing more of that “spring” energy will step up while you’re in your winter.

What do you think? What have you noticed about the seasons of your life and your resources (inner and outer)? I’d love to hear from you!

If you are in a “personal winter” and need some support on your journey, you can find out more about my one-on-one coaching work, here. I’d love to help!

And: My newsletter offers updates on my coaching programs and other good stuff. You can also find out through my newsletter about how to get in on my monthly Artist’s Nest community calls — the first one is coming up soon, on Feb. 28! You can sign up for my newsletter, here.

Above images are “Winter Landscape”, © Adina Nani | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and “Winter Branches”, © Peter Zaharov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Your creative work: When your family doesn’t get it

A reader named Rebecca wrote recently with a terrific question. Rebecca explained that she is the only artist in a “non-artistic” family, and she has finally gotten herself into a position to pursue her artwork full-time. She continues:

I feel like in general our culture views art (and many forms of self-care like meditation, getting enough sleep, setting boundaries on how much you commit to, etc) with disdain.  Being able to stay on top of housework, cook more (and not resent it for taking up what little free time I had after work), spend time with my cats and finally make my passion a priority has made me SO happy lately!!  …Yet I still feel super self-conscious talking about it with most people (especially family), because if you’re not “contributing to society” -dare I say: economy- it’s viewed as “selfish”, “lazy”, and “unfair” since most people don’t have the privilege or opportunity.  And what counts, of course, is those measurable, tangible achievements.  Job titles and accomplishments. 

How can we keep from being shaken by the world around us that says, “Shame on you!  You ought to be doing _____ instead”, and really embrace the value of things like Art and self-care?  Naturally, I feel happier when I make art a priority, but inevitably there’s that voice deep down that sneers at me that I’m some kind of leech on society, just fooling around while everyone else works hard.  So that’s been a struggle in fully embracing this new life, despite finally “pulling it off”….

So … it strikes me that there are two parts to this question.

The first has to do with how (in many cases) it’s extra challenging to be an artist when we grew up in a situation where our creativity wasn’t supported, or maybe just not understood.

That’s because so much is going on with the development of our brains when we are young and tender.  (I can still remember putting on a play when I was about five and being laughed at. I thought I was doing something cool and important, and I was hit with derision. My brain started — at that very young age — to formulate a belief: expressing yourself creatively brings pain. Ouch!)

The second part of this question is about valuing our own creative work (or play, as I prefer to call it!). How do we do that when doing it flies in the face of a culture that values things like being constantly busy and bringing in X amount of dollars? I’ll touch on that part of the question here, but get into it more in depth in my next post.

I’m not going to pretend that I absolutely know the answers here. These inquiries are big, and complex, and important. Those of us who care about creativity and make it a focus in our lives will be working with these issues probably forever.

But I’ll start here.

It’s a universal human need to be seen and validated for being who we are. If we didn’t experience this as we were growing up, we have a sort of “extra hurdle” there, whether we deeply value creativity or not.

Add to that the fact that, yes, our “mainstream world” has typically made it challenging to be a creator (though I believe this is shifting in many ways right now), and salt is definitely sprinkled liberally on the wound that is already there.

Radical self-care is vital to robust creativity

I’m not surprised Rebecca mentioned the de-valuing of self-care in our Western culture as well. It’s fascinating to me that creativity (and the valuing of it) is not-so-loosely connected to self-care (and the valuing of it).  (I’ve written tons here on the topic of self-care as it relates to creativity, because the two are so deeply intertwined.)

I’ve noticed over the years, first when I was in grad school pursuing a degree in creative writing, and then, as I started working with life coaching clients back in 2011, that so many of us start out with this very natural creative curiosity and purpose — and then, we start to apply these ideas about “what it takes to make it in the world” to our creativity.

And we can end up very burned out, and, sometimes, very bitter and what I call “creatively confused.” This is where we’re like, “What the heck happened? I used to love [writing, acting, painting] and now I am sick of it. I just want to crawl into a hole.”

The thing is, this is almost always a lie. We’re not sick of whatever our creative thing is — we’re sick of the beliefs and the process that extends from those beliefs that we’ve created around our creative thing.

In other words, we have this tendency to recreate the family members that don’t get it, and the “world out there” which dictates that there isn’t real value or money in our creative work so why do it?, inside ourselves.

It’s kind of like how you might have had a lot of bad bosses when you were an employee, but when you shift to self-employment, if you don’t watch how you’re treating yourself, you can end up being the worst boss you ever had.

So to circle back to Rebecca’s excellent question: we need to commit to giving ourselves the permission, the kindness, the self-care, the encouragement, that we never got (and in many cases are not currently getting) from our families of origin and “the world”.

At a certain point, it is no longer about them — it is about us and the fact that we’ve recreated their lack of understanding and validation inside ourselves. And when we’re not giving it to ourselves, we want it from them (and the world) that much more.

We will feel shaken — and that’s okay

Okay — so, waaayyyy easier said than done, right? Because we are human — we’re vulnerable and fragile, and, as one of my friends says, “I keep getting stronger, but then some days I break all over again.” Yes. We do. We all do, some days.

So, we will be shaken by the world around us that does not seem to value our creative work, our need for self-care, and who we essentially are — on some days. It will happen.

Recognizing that it’s going to happen is important. Because then when it happens, we don’t have to be all appalled and frightened. In other words, we don’t have to be shaken about being shaken. We can just be like, “Oh — I’m noticing it’s happening again.”

Exquisite support: share deeply only with those who really get it

So that’s when we turn to our support systems — inner and outer. This is how we create for ourselves the world we want to live in.

This is when we turn to radical self-care, and to exquisite support — the people who really do get it. 

We are enormously blessed in this day and age that technology allows us to connect with people who get it, who get us. (I was curious about a line in a song on Tori Amos’s gorgeous new album recently and I asked the members of a Tori Facebook group what they thought it meant, and I received some beautifully detailed responses from people who’d also been pondering this same line in this same song literally within minutes.)

For many of us, this support must come from outside of our family of origin.

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t work to heal from the past — we can and often must — but when we try to receive the exquisite support we require from the source of the original wounding (or simply lack of understanding), we are actually recreating our pain. (Or just banging our head against the wall. You may have heard the phrase “Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.” It applies here.)

I am very careful about what I share with family members about my creative work. Because I value emotional connection so much, it’s easy for me to “overshare”, so I am mindful here.

Giving ourselves permission to be selective about who we share with is fundamental to self-care in this way. Notice who deeply sees and supports you, and who seems to stir up negative stuff for you. You can love people and still limit your discussions on certain topics with them.

(Note that your capacity to share with certain people may change from month to month, year to year, depending on where you are and what you’re going through — and vice versa.)

***

The other thing, which is foundational, is to remind yourself regularly of your why? Why is what you’re creating important to you? When you are deeply in touch with your “why”, your creative purpose has strong roots and you are not as easily shaken.

Surround yourself with the conditions — as much as you can — that remind you of your why and validate it, that help you remember it is important, it is worthwhile.

(In the next post, we’ll get into what to do when you’ve lost touch with your “why.”)

There is so much more here. For now, I’ll let you take the wheel. What do you think? How do you reaffirm your belief in your creativity and support yourself in making it a focus? I’d love to hear from you. And huge thanks to Rebecca for this excellent inquiry.

Above images © Grafvision | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Refat Mamuto | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Avoiding vs. replenishing (+ last chance to sign up for my fall coaching special)

Fall walks: so replenishing!

As we head into the holiday season, overwhelm is a topic that comes up for many of us (particularly if we are highly sensitive, empaths, or introverts — or all of the above!).

When we feel overwhelmed (or are anticipating becoming overwhelmed), it’s tempting to go into “avoidance” mode. This can feel like the equivalent of putting our hands over our heads and saying “I can’t! No more!” — and retreating. And not returning.

Sometimes it is absolutely appropriate to avoid something. It may be totally wrong for us.

But we don’t have to stay in the energy of avoidance. Have you noticed what avoidance feels like? Have you noticed that avoiding something actually takes a lot of energy from you?

Replenishing is different. Replenishing ourselves is recognizing that we’ve had enough, and retreating for a while to rebalance and rejuvenate, and then emerging — replenished.

I’ve noticed that, if I can trust in my ability and willingness to replenish myself, I don’t have to avoid as much. What a relief! Because a lot of avoidance is flat-out exhausting.

If we’re going to replenish ourselves, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

That might look like leaving a party early, when we recognize we’ve had enough (rather than avoiding the party).

It might look like opting to stay in a hotel rather than with relatives (instead of avoiding the trip altogether!).

It might look like giving ourselves lots and lots of breaks while we get the house ready for guests (noticing our energy levels). (Or, my favorite: being okay with getting a C+ in housekeeping.)

It might mean choosing to let something go, so we can have more energy for something that’s more important to us. (For me, this is often letting go of my need to “do it right” and reminding myself that just my presence is of value to the people I love.)

What do you notice about how you feel when you avoid something, versus committing to replenishing yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I wish you the joys of replenishing yourself this holiday season (and Happy Thanksgiving, if you are U.S.-based). And if you need permission to do that — well, here it is!

(If you need further support for dealing with holiday socializing when you’re an introvert, you might want to check out this post I wrote back in 2014.)

Speaking of replenishing yourself: Tomorrow, November 22, is the last day to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. If you need support in navigating a challenging transition in your life right now, I’d love to help! You can learn more about these sessions here.

Also, you can sign up for my newsletter (for updates on my offerings and other good stuff) here.

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Allow yourself comfort — and see what happens

Toward the end of the year, I always find myself thinking back on the dear one-on-one coaching clients I’ve worked with, and what comes back to me about the work we’ve done together.

This year, I notice I’m thinking about comfort.

It seems there was a theme this year of my clients realizing that it was okay to allow themselves comfort.

That comfort did not have to be used as a reward, for when they were done with “the hard work” — it did not have to be dangled as a carrot to be consumed at the end of a lot of toil.

Comfort — amazingly! — could actually be part of the process.

I think I’ve written here before that “break out of your comfort zone” is not one of my favorite phrases. I’ve just never found it inspiring (though I totally get the meaning behind it).

There are a couple of reasons I dislike this saying. One of them is that I’ve seen many people — including myself — push themselves way too far out of their so-called “comfort zones”, to the point of having panic attacks, meltdowns, even breaking bones or pushing themselves through illness to try to compete in some way.

The other is that it indicates that being “comfortable” is somehow bad or wrong or self-indulgent. But for those of us who, perhaps, grew up without an adequate feeling of comfort and/or safety in our lives, this is inaccurate.

As I’ve written before, if you have a tendency to push yourself really hard (as most of my clients do), you probably need more comfort, not more withholding comfort from yourself.

And is it true that adding comfort to your “hard work” will keep you from getting it done?

Here’s what some of my clients found this year:

• The client who rewarded himself for completing his work on his writing project by taking his dog for a walk discovered that when he took his dog for a walk before he started writing, it actually helped him write better. He felt more centered and more creative. His body felt better because he’d moved it before sitting down (and his dog slept through the writing period rather than reminding him that it was time to go out!).

• The client who rewarded herself with a hot cup of tea after getting through a challenging weekly meeting found that allowing herself the tea during the meeting actually reminded her it was okay to show up as herself and be gentler with herself (and that warmth was an important thing to focus on when the “tough stuff” in these meetings arose!).

• The client who had recently left a long-term relationship found that allowing herself to stay home on the weekends wrapped in a blanket on the couch and watching Netflix was helping her grief process a lot more than “being productive” on the weekends (which was her usual approach!).

When we allow ourselves comfort, we are also choosing to trust ourselves, and to trust the process of life.

When I work with people who are in the midst of major transitions in their lives, 99.9 percent of the time they say that they just want to be out of the transition and that they are “moving too slowly” and that they need me to help them hurry up.

And I always say exactly what they think they don’t want to hear (but that brings some part of them deep relief): When we’re in a stressful transition, it’s helpful to allow ourselves to go slow. It’s not the time to make big moves and it’s definitely not the time to “break out of our comfort zone”.

In fact, we’re in transition because either we’ve chosen to leave the known and familiar behind — or because it’s been ripped away from us (and we had no choice in the matter).

What I have continually found in my own life is that when I’m in the midst of something really hard and I finally surrender to the fact that it is hard, and I can’t go as fast as I’d like because there is so much internal and external stuff to work through — when I accept that this is where I am and actually allow myself some comfort, that is exactly when things begin to transform. It’s exactly when I begin to relax into the new “me” I’m becoming.

But as long as I’m fighting things and trying to “tough my way through” what’s already hard, I am not allowing the space (or the comfort) to relax enough to welcome the new.

I’ve also noticed (as I wrote about here) that when I allow more softness into a task or a journey that feels hard, I do not become an overindulged mess. I actually feel far more capable, confident, and I enjoy what I’m doing a heck of a lot more.

I invite you to test this out for yourself. Where can you allow yourself a little more comfort? What happens when you do? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of transitions, the deadline to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions is Wednesday, November 22. If you’re in an “in-between” place (with your creative work, a relationship, or some other aspect of your life) this fall and needing some support, I’d love to help. You can learn more about my Autumn Transition Sessions here.

Above images of tea cup © Jill Battaglia  | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and candles © Diana Constantin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Tapping into tortoise wisdom ( + my fall coaching special!)

There is a part of me that is always in an enormous hurry. It’s a small but mighty voice within me that has been piping up since I was very young. The voice says things like: “You are soooo behind where you should be. You have to move faster. You need to make up for lost time! If you don’t get busy, you’re going to regret it!”

I used to listen to this voice, most of the time. I believed the things it said to me, the way it spoke to me, were truth.

However, over time I came to see that when I listened to this voice, merged with it as though it were actually “me” rather than just a point-of-view within me, I actually felt more behind, felt like I had to move even faster, and experienced more regret.

Hmm … curious, right? How could this be?

Well, here’s what I realized was happening (and it took me many years to see this clearly): This voice, while it meant to help, created a very heavy and desperate feeling state within me. And when I took action from that heavy and desperate feeling state, the results I created were — wait for it — heavy and desperate.

(For example: working incredibly hard to prove to my boss that I could take on a lot of work — and getting more work dumped on me by the day. Or, writing for hours after my work day so that I could feel like a “real writer” and ending up so burned out I felt increasingly like a fraud and like it didn’t matter how much I wrote, I still sucked.)

***

My partner and I make a yearly fall trip to the Brookfield Zoo here in the Chicago area. There is something about being there (especially during fall, my favorite season), that taps into childlike, playful energy for me. I connect with spaciousness there, with the energies of the animals, and my mind (particularly, perhaps, that desperate voice that tells me I’m never doing enough), calms down.

This year, we saw that there are tortoises near the duck and pelican pond at one end of the zoo. We stood and stared down at the six different types of tortoises for a long time. A trio of Galapagos tortoises hung out at one corner of their area, and one of them eventually started making its way toward us.

We were surprised that the tortoise moved faster than we’d thought it would, but what we noticed most was how relaxed and methodical it was, how it seemed to feel its way across the soft ground beneath it. It was actually neither “slow” nor “fast” — it simply moved the way it moved, at the pace that felt right to it.

When it had gone a little ways, it turned back, in that same relaxed way, feeling with its feet, head swiveling from side to side. It had apparently changed its mind and it was no big deal. Now it was going that way.

When you watch tortoises closely, you can’t help thinking they are time travelers. These are prehistoric-looking creatures, and they have — you must imagine — a unique relationship with time.

So, back to that ever-present voice in my head, which has been my frightened companion for so very long. Its relationship with time is quite like a race. It thinks it can, at some point, beat time if it just tries hard enough.

It only knows two speeds: “fast” or “slow” (too slow). This makes sense, if you’re in a race. But if you don’t want to — choose to — live your entire life as a race, this voice will quickly propel you to that desperate, heavy place it has caused me to know so well.

The wisdom that the tortoises sparked in me this week was this: It’s not that it’s all about slowing down (though slowing down is, for many of us, an excellent idea) — that Galapagos tortoise traveled more quickly than we’d imagined he would. It’s about being open to your own relationship with time, with pace — how do you want that relationship to be? What pace feels good and supportive and nourishing to you?

Since I can trace that “we’re in a desperate hurry” voice back to my ten-year-old self, who always scrambled in school to get “extra credit” even though she was already doing plenty, I know it is not purely a response to “today’s” culture. But I do think today’s culture contains plenty of triggers for this voice to go into overdrive.

So my ongoing commitment is to keep on noticing when I am “merging” with that voice, believing that it is “me.” I call it “a voice within me” because it is not me. It’s a habitual, practiced reaction, but it doesn’t have to drive my behavior if I notice it, detach from it a little, assure it that it’s being heard but it doesn’t call the shots.

And then I can ask the wiser part of myself how I want the pace of my life to feel, and recognize that I have more choices than that scared, desperate voice thinks I do.

How do you want the pace of your life to feel? How can you create more of that feeling? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back — through November 22. These sessions are meant to support you in determining your “best next step” if you are feeling the uncertainty that big (or small!) life transitions bring. I’m finding that one-on-one support is vital for me right now, with all that is going on in our world, and I’d love to provide that support for you if it feels right for you. Learn more about Autumn Transition Sessions, here.

You can also now sign up for my newsletter, for periodic updates about my offerings and other good stuff, here.

Tortoise images © Jill Winski, 2017

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