Are you allowing the seasons of your life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Starting 2013: The Bitter and the Sweet

The tree; the culprit.

The tree; the culprit.

I’m welcoming the New Year a few days late, thanks to getting hit with the flu just as the old year was ending.

As usual, I don’t want to take down my Christmas decorations. Sometimes, I love the after-Christmas “hush” more than Christmas itself. I like to sit in my dining room and stare at my little three-foot fiber optic Christmas tree on its table in the corner, where it has sat for the past seven Christmases. I like to reflect and be still, preferably with a manageable coating of snow outside, to make everything sparkly and glistening.

But this may be my little fiber optic tree’s last year of service. Because of:

The Bitter

Eight days ago, while I lay half-asleep in bed and the flu wormed its way through my body and I flashed hot, cold and sweaty, there was a crash in the dining room.

My cat, ever-fascinated with my little Christmas tree, had jumped up on the table, gotten scared by the aluminum foil I’d put around the base of the tree for the sole purpose of keeping him away, and bolted, bringing the tree down with him.

“Good God, no,” I thought. “Don’t do this to me today, when the ibuprofen hasn’t even kicked in yet.”

I shuffled into the dining room and the tree lay on the wood floor like a slain animal, ornaments rolling in all directions. My cat lurked in the bedroom doorway, surveying the destruction with rapt curiosity, as though he had no part in it.

At first I thought that, amazingly, no ornaments had been broken. Everything seemed to be intact. But then, the carnage came into focus: a red flocked deer leg, delicate and tiny, lay on the floor a few inches from the tree. It was from my very favorite ornament ever — my vintage deer with the white wreath around its neck.

“No!” I moaned, cradling the tiny leg in my palm. “No!”

But more carnage was revealed: the Puss ‘n Boots ornament my boyfriend gave me for Christmas last year was smashed to pieces. A paw here, a boot there, his sword flung all the way to the kitchen doorway.

I cleaned up the mess, sweating and shaky. By the time I talked to my boyfriend, I had accepted that things I love had been ruined. Puss ‘n Boots, at least, was beyond repair.

And, I discovered later, the tree no longer lights up.

“That is so terrible,” my boyfriend kept saying into the phone. “That is so terrible.” He’s very into Christmas ornaments, and he’d helped me decorate the tree.

His reaction helped me put things into perspective. It was disappointing, but not terrible. My good friend’s dog had passed away unexpectedly just a couple of days before, and I stared at my little twelve-year-old kitten culprit and felt such deep gratitude that he’s healthy enough to wreak havoc with the Christmas tree.

Fast forward several days, to:

The Sweet

I read a beautiful, magical short story by Kij Johnson, called “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss.” Of course, it’s a fact that I am completely obsessed with monkeys, but I don’t love this short story just because of the monkeys. I love it because it reminds me of how the everyday and the tragic are always, always, interlaced with the magical and the mysterious, if we look closely enough.

And: New clients to begin the New Year, clients whose authenticity, brilliance, and willingness to go there remind me of why I wanted to become a coach. Thank you, brave souls.

And: I’m flu-free!

I hope that you, too, are starting the New Year with hearty glimpses of health, magic, brilliance, and bravery.

Support: What it is, what it’s not

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of support. There are few things more frustrating and alienating than reaching out for support and getting something that feels like the opposite, even if support is what’s intended.

I like to say, “It begins with us.”

And this is true. Self-support is the cornerstone of any true support. Sometimes it’s impossible to let support from “out there” truly land if we aren’t first practicing self-support.

But, said one of my dear clients the other day, what if I’m in a place where I simply can’t access my self-support system? What if I’m so turned around and upside down and frantic that I just can’t get to that place in myself?

Of course. This happens. That’s when support from “the outside” can be most valuable. That gentleness from a trusted friend that we can’t seem to manage to give ourselves. That perspective we just never would have considered if left to our own devices. So. Important.

But: sometimes it’s when I’m in need of support the most that I am the most reluctant to reach out for it. In fact, this is usually what happens. The more I feel like a black hole of sucking need and desperation, the less I want to reach out, and the more I get sucked down, down, down into the vortex.

And, sometimes, into that vortex is exactly where I need to go. It’s not about “forcing myself” out of the vortex to ask for help. This doesn’t necessarily feel safe, and I’m also not necessarily in a place where I can receive any external support when I’ve gotten to this point. (More on this in my next post.)

True support meets us where we are. It doesn’t force, criticize, or project. It’s curious, interested; it asks open-ended questions. (See my previous post on true support, here).

There are, however, a few things I’ve learned that can contribute to getting into the vortex of swirling, sucking need that feels like it will never end and will never be met. Here are some I’ve noticed:

1) Calling something “support” that doesn’t feel like support. For example, the internet. There’s more than enough information for any of us to digest on any topic we want to do a search on for the next bazillion years. But information is not the same thing as support. And getting overwhelmed by information definitely doesn’t feel like being supported. Posting a question on Facebook and getting fifty different “here’s what I’d do” responses is not necessarily support; it just might be overwhelm — more to process, more to weed through.

2) Going for support, again and again, to people who just aren’t able to provide the kind of support you need. Different people provide different types of support. One of my ingenious ways of alienating myself for many years was going to people who weren’t able to give me the kind of support I needed in the past, hoping that this time they’d show up for me the way I wanted them to. It didn’t happen. Embracing reality: always a good thing.

3) Expecting people to support you exactly the way you’d like them to, without telling them the kind of support you need. If you just want to vent and you don’t want to be coached, you can let someone know that — even if they’re your coach. I used to have a habit of just accepting whatever support was offered, even if it was so not what I needed in that moment. I’d feel alienated by the other person, but really I was alienating myself by not stating what I needed. (This isn’t always, easy, of course. Sometimes, we’re just not sure what we need. We need to be really, really compassionate with ourselves here. We’ll figure it out.)

4) Thinking we need a LOT of support, when what we actually need is the right KIND of support. (See #1.)

5) Thinking that what feels supportive to others should feel supportive to us — even when it doesn’t. The same week my cat died two years ago, I had a trip planned. I literally had no energy for travel and wanted to be at home with my grief, even though other people told me the trip “might be just what you need!” It wasn’t; puttering at home feeling totally safe to burst into tears at any moment was.

In my next post, I’ll write about what to do — or not do — when we’re swirling in the vortex of need and we don’t know how to support ourselves.

What are your thoughts about support? Where do you look for it? What works for you and what doesn’t? I’d love to know.

Work with me! Check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities.

Image is LADY-BIRD © Nikolajs Strigins | Dreamstime.com

What It Really Means to be an Introvert

Many of the creators I work with as a coach are introverts. But some of them have a hard time owning this.

I get it. As I was growing up, I learned that there were these “social definitions” of introvert and extrovert. These definitions went something like this: An introvert is quiet, shy, and keeps to herself. She’s not very friendly. She needs to learn to be more outgoing and social. An extrovert is gregarious, charming, engaging. She has lots of friends. People really like her and she’s socially well-adjusted.

Naturally, most people wanted to feel they were the second thing, not the first. I know I absolutely hated being labeled “shy”, and my parents and most of my teachers wanted me to “combat my shyness.” I always felt they were not seeing me for who I was.

I think a lot of people nowadays (I hope, anyway) have a better understanding of what an introvert actually is. But I know here in the U.S. there’s still a cultural bias in favor of extroversion. Recently when I mentioned to someone that I work mostly from home, she said, “Oh, gosh, you don’t want to spend too much time at home. You might become an introvert!”

It hit me once again that the reason some of us struggle to accept ourselves as introverts — and try to live contrary to our nature — is because these old “social definitions” of introvert and extrovert are still intact.

Actually, the definitions of introvert and extrovert that I prefer may be even older. Jung defined introversion as “predominately inward-looking” and extroversion as “predominately outward-looking.” What this means is that introverts are naturally inclined toward delving into their inner worlds, whereas extroverts are more inclined toward interacting in the outer world. And everyone is at a different point on the introvert-extrovert spectrum — we’re all some of both, but to varying degrees.

I am probably not the most extreme of introverts, but I’m way up there on the scale. This DOESN’T mean that I am always quiet and that I dislike being around people. It means that because I take anything I experience in the outer world and turn it inward in order to process it, I need a certain amount of downtime in which to chew on things and recharge my battery.

So, my bandwidth for socializing and being in the “outer world” is finite, and if I don’t respect that and push myself beyond my limits, I’ll become overwhelmed and depleted. What overwhelmed and depleted looks like in me is spacey, irritated, tired, quiet, withdrawn, and yes, sometimes it may look “shy” or create shy behavior — in other words, I may become fearful in situations that normally wouldn’t cause me to be so because my battery isn’t charged and I know I don’t have the energy to deal with them at the moment.

This is why traditional school and work settings are often not ideal for introverts — we run out of steam and feel like we’re running on empty, try to retreat to our inner worlds to get recharged, and discover this isn’t acceptable in the company of (most) others. Then we start judging ourselves for not being able to act like extroverts, who recharge their batteries by being with people and engaging in activities.

Because I understand my introversion so well (though I’m always learning more about my needs) I love the fact that I’m an introvert and I fully embrace it. This hasn’t always been true for me, but now that it is, my life flows so much more smoothly. When I can accept the ebbs and flows of my own energy and give myself the downtime I need — and own that in the company of others — I can show up fully myself.

I’d love to see all introverts embrace their nature and see how it works for them as creators. I’ll talk more about this future posts.

Check out Marti Olsen Laney’s “The Introvert Advantage” or Susan Cain’s “Quiet” if you’d like to read more about embracing your introversion (or understanding a loved one who’s an introvert). And if you struggle with accepting and working with your introverted nature, check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities. I love working with introverts!

Image is FEATHER IN THE FOREST © Paige Foster | Dreamstime.com

Perfectionism vs. Creativity: The Gloves are Off!

Note: Scroll down to the bottom of the article for a free opportunity for coaching with me!

Last week, the topic of perfectionism arose in several conversations. Each time, we reached a consensus that perfectionism contributes heavily to burnout, which is a huge creativity killer.

Perfectionism tells us we need to drive ourselves. And it’s a pretty tricky little devil. It can wrap its tentacles around an innocent thought like, “I want to create more.” Sounds like a good thought, right? So let’s say your form of creating is writing your novel, and you work on your novel for thirty minutes one day. You feel good, satisfied. But a shrill little voice pipes up and says, “Only thirty minutes? Surely you can do more than that tomorrow!”

So the next day you sit down and you find it’s a little harder to write for thirty minutes than it was yesterday. And on top of it, now you feel like you have to write for more than thirty minutes, because you have to make sure you’re besting what you did yesterday. So you manage to write for sixty. It’s not much fun. You feel like you’re grinding it out, because you’re so focused on how much you do (making sure it’s “more”) that you’ve lost sight of the fact that you wanted to create in the first place because it enlivens you, because it’s a way of using your gifts, of exercising your creative muscles.

The next day, not only do you feel like you’d better write more than you wrote yesterday, but you talk to Jane and she says she writes for three hours every day, getting up at 5 a.m. to do so. The shrill little voice pipes up again and says, “Look how much Jane is doing! Surely you can do that much!”

The following day you get up at 5 a.m., determined to write as much as Jane writes so you can “be a real writer”. Then you read an interview where someone mentions that Philip Roth writes 365 days a year. So now, not only do you need to get up at 5 a.m. and write for three hours a day like Jane, but you need to write every single day of the year. Naturally, it’s already way too late for you to be Philip Roth, but maybe you can still salvage some semblance of being a “real writer” if you write every single day of the year.

You manage to keep this up for about two weeks. By the fourteenth day, you’re so frazzled from keeping up this frantic pace and sleep-deprived from getting up at 5 a.m. — and by now Jane is telling you she’s writing four hours a day, not a wimpy three! — that you never want to write another word, ever, ever again. You get irritated when you hear people talking about how great it is to “create.” Who wants to create? you think. It’s exhausting and it makes you feel bad about yourself. Screw creating!

You don’t do any writing, or any other form of creating, for months (though occasionally you catch yourself doodling in the pages of your journal, in which you scribble illegible fragments that describe how uncreative you feel … hmm). Now you are so not Jane. (Darn that Jane!) You are so far away from Philip Roth, it’s not even funny. You had such good intentions. What happened to how fun, how joyful, it felt to write, way back when? You just wanted to recapture that. What went wrong?

Perfectionism is the behavior created by black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. If you’re not writing four hours a day, 365 days a year, you might as well not write at all. If the short story you submitted to the literary journal was rejected, it’s because it was sucky and you just don’t know how to write. If the writing isn’t flowing today, you might as well quit, the well has run dry. Perfectionist behavior looks like this: Drive yourself, push yourself, force yourself. And when this doesn’t produce the results you want, quit. For months. For years. Forever.

Cynthia Curnan, in her terrific book “The Care and Feeding of Perfectionists” (which appears to be out of print, but is well worth finding if you can), writes that when we drive ourselves relentlessly with perfectionism, we create burnout, and burnout creates what she calls the “backlash.” The backlash is a long period of “underachieving” to balance out our “overachieving”.

Here’s the solution: Notice. Awareness is so, so powerful. I’ll get more into the topic of awareness and how to manage your perfectionism in my next article, where we’ll talk about the difference between pushing ourselves and stretching ourselves.

By the way, despite the title of this blog post, I encourage you not to duke it out with perfectionism. The more you fight perfectionism, the more formidable it becomes, because it engages with that defensive, fearful aspect of you that’s afraid you’ll never have enough, never be enough. It’s better to deftly swim out of perfectionism’s way, and let it go to battle with itself, like the shark in Jaws thrashing the empty underwater cage. (Sometimes I just have to get in a Jaws reference, because Jaws is awesome.)

And finally, here’s the freebie I’ve been talking about in my last couple of posts: Friday, Feb. 24, from noon to 2 p.m. CST, I’ll be hosting Muse Office Hours. This is a two-hour window in which you can call in and get up to fifteen minutes of free, focused coaching from me on any creative issue you’re having. My purpose here is to reconnect you with your muse! It’s a great opportunity to talk about why perfectionism is getting in your way, why you just can’t seem to get started, or how to continue if you’ve gotten stuck or stalled. Call (708) 689-9480 at any time during the two-hour window; if you get my voice mail, leave a message and I’ll be sure to get back to you in the order the calls were received. I’ll be posting updates about Muse Office Hours in the coming days.

Image is GIRL AND LAPTOP © Geraktv | Dreamstime.com

One free session up for grabs!

Last week, I offered four free thirty-minute coaching sessions in celebration of my certification as a Martha Beck Life Coach. One free session remains! You can bring any issue to the session (it can be related to creativity, or not) and we’ll do some exploring together and see if we can get you a little less stuck. You’d be amazed at the shifts that can occur in a short period of time. It’s all about asking ourselves the right questions.

To claim your free session, email me at jillwinskicoaching@gmail.com and put “free session” in the subject line.

Image is SUNFLOWER ON SKY © Marzanna Syncerz | Dreamstime.com