Knowing yourself and saying no

An opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do popped up out of the blue today. Except, it was very last-minute. As soon as I read about the opportunity in an email, and realized that the timing felt off for me, my whole body kind of deflated.

Thinking about taking the opportunity felt draining — definitely non-energizing. My body wisdom was clear, and I decided not to take the opportunity without much more thought.

This got me thinking about the importance of knowing ourselves, especially in this day and age of so much FOMO (that stands for fear of missing out, on the off-chance you’re not familiar with this ubiquitous term!).

I used to agonize terribly over most decisions — particularly when I sensed I might need to say “no” to something.

“Yes” tended to be my default position — if only to avoid potential conflict. (“No” was a word in my childhood that caused more conflict than any other, so by the time I was an adult, it was fraught with all kinds of stuff for me. I recently watched an episode of Mad Men where Sally Draper says “no” to Don — and the ensuing madness confirmed that Sally Draper is my childhood self’s fictional soul sister.)

When I think back to my twenties (from the perspective of my forties), I sometimes wonder why I was so upset about certain things, or why some things I’d deal with swiftly and deftly today turned my world upside down back then. Good grief, I’ll think, picturing my twenty-three-year-old self. What the heck was my problem?

And then I remember, connecting with compassion for this dear younger self of mine: It’s because I have a kind of “self short-hand” in my forties that I didn’t back then — I can quickly act from an accumulated self-knowledge that was undeveloped back then.

(That’s not to say everything is easier now. Some things are a lot harder than they were then.)

It is precisely because I agonized so many times over decisions in the past, and explored what was going on for me with all that agonizing, that I don’t often freak out over decisions in that same way these days.

I know now that there are few decisions that are permanent, there are few opportunities that won’t ever come again (and if some are truly lost, there are others right there waiting), and people can handle it if I say no (even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment).

And because I know myself better than I did twenty years ago, I understand that one of my gifts is picking up on all kinds of subtleties and complexities — and that the “downside” of this gift is that if I focus too much on those subtleties and complexities, I can get lost in them.

And that means recognizing that not every decision requires weighing a bunch of things out. And some decisions do. And because I know myself better than I did at twenty-five, I intuitively sense which decisions are which for me.

I also know that picking up on all these subtleties and complexities means that sometimes things feel wrong to me when in fact nothing is wrong. I’m just picking up on a lot, and it needs to be sorted or let go, and I probably need to take a step back and reconnect with myself. When I didn’t know this stuff about the way I processed things, life was a heck of a lot harder.

So sometimes when I am working with a coaching client who is facing a challenging situation, I will ask: What do you know about yourself when it comes to situations like this? How do you tend to feel? What do you tend to do or not do?

Usually, a wealth of self-knowledge pours forth from the client when I ask these questions. They know a lot about themselves and have only temporarily “forgotten” (the brain-fog that often happens for us when we’re really stressed). And they need to be reminded that they have forgotten.

For me, for example, when someone rushes me to make a decision, if I don’t have all the information I need, I can’t access a clear yes or no for myself. If they push me further, I’ll tend to shut down.

Knowing that about myself, I’m able to say these days, “I’m not able to give you a clear answer on this until I have more information (or more time, or whatever).” That keeps me from moving to the shut-down place.

But if I have gotten to a place where I’m feeling shut-down, if I ask myself “What do I know about myself when it comes to feeling like this? What does feeling shut-down often mean for me?” — I can gain perspective again: Oh, when I’m feeling shut-down it usually means I’m pushing or forcing myself to do something too quickly. Oh, yeah. Maybe I can slow down here. Maybe I can allow myself to catch up with myself.

What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t twenty years ago, or ten, or five? How does this knowledge help you make the best decisions for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. As I wrote this post, I got an email update. Turns out the opportunity I mentioned, that felt too short-notice for me, has been rescheduled — for a date and time that feel just right. 

Coming up: I’ll have openings for new one-on-one coaching clients as we head into fall. Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? You can learn more about working together, here.  Or, take a look at my Is This You? page.

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

Above images of feather, © Popa Sorin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and sparrow, © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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When your inner guidance says “no”

stopsign

For many years, one of the hardest words for me to utter was “no”. To me, back then, “no” meant:

• cutting off an opportunity forever

• hurting someone’s feelings

• being perceived as rude or selfish

• admitting I couldn’t do it all (which, to my inner perfectionist, was akin to death!)

There were lots of other things “no” signified to me back in those days.

And an interesting thing happens when we are afraid of “no”: we don’t truly allow the inner wisdom that says “I don’t want this.” Or “the timing’s not right.” There is power in “no.”

A familiar struggle I notice with my coaching clients is this: An opportunity comes their way, but it doesn’t quite feel right. It looks good on paper, but something’s off. A part of them (and usually lots of friends and family, too), is telling them they should jump at the chance, but something tells them it’s either not the opportunity for them, or it’s a great opportunity, but not the right time.

This is a truly tricky spot to be in — if we let fear run the show. In fact, I was recently faced with a situation like this. An opportunity appeared and it looked great. But, somehow, it didn’t feel great. It felt exhausting — when I thought about actually doing it, I felt instantly tired and like I wanted to cry (this, I’ve come to learn, is one of my body’s ways of saying no when I try to push it).

Something I notice is that as I get closer and closer to “mastering” certain skills — in this case, the art of saying no! — the stakes in my decisions tend to feel higher and higher. I’ll hear myself saying, why does this feel so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier by now?

But life tends to throw us bigger challenges when we’re ready for a more challenging playing field. It’s like when you choose the “advanced” level in a video game instead of “intermediate”. Intermediate has gotten a little bit boring, but in the advanced level, it turns out the aliens shoot at you the whole time, not just off and on.

Even after many years of practice, I found it really hard to say no to this recent opportunity. But pushing myself through something that feels deeply exhausting is not walking my talk. It’s not what I stand for.

Let me tell you: the “yes” would have felt easier (in the moment). It is almost always easier for me to say yes when I am asked to participate. Saying yes doesn’t bring up my “stuff” the way no does (and I know this is not the case for everyone — some people have more difficulty with a genuine yes!).

In this case, I needed to say “yes” to permission to say no.

And you know what happened? I got so much support from the person I said no to. My genuine “no” — rather than closing off an opportunity — opened the door to the potential of future opportunities with this same person (who really appreciated my honest response).

I also had the experience of walking my talk when it comes to self-care — and being supported in doing so.

Had I said “yes” in order to not ruffle feathers, in order to not disappoint, in order to avoid the potential of beating myself up for “not doing enough”, I would have reinforced the idea that it’s not safe to say no.

And, my friends, we need to create evidence for ourselves that it is safe to do things that are hard.

Just as I once had an overstuffed file of evidence for my belief that saying no would mean I’d end up alone, I am building evidence for the contrary: saying no can be a powerful form of taking care of myself, and inviting others to support me in that self care — and participate in their own.

In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren calls situational depression “ingenious stagnation.” I wonder about this in terms of giving ourselves permission to say no to more of what our souls just don’t want — would we experience less depression if we had more permission to deliver an authentic no?

Do you find saying no difficult? What helps you do it when it feels scary? I’d love to hear from you.

(If you need help getting clear when you’re “on the fence” about a decision, you might find this post helpful.)

And: I’ll be enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program through the end of this month — I have room to work with two more people one-on-one. Please note that the small group version is currently full — but I will likely offer it again in the near future! Find out more here

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Is it time to set down those old coping strategies?

birdsflight

The other day, I noticed myself doing something I’ve done countless times in my life: I said “yes” when I meant “no.”

The story I told myself in my head, in the moment, was “Well, I’m too overwhelmed right now to get into a conflict by saying no. So I’ll say yes, and then I’ll find a way to gracefully bow out later.”

I have a lot of compassion for myself around this, because I was caught off-guard by the asker. And I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with the way I handled this. (I followed up the next day and said, “You know, after checking in with myself and looking at my schedule, I realize I actually can’t do X. I’m sorry about that.”)

But the truth is, I was out of integrity when I said yes, knowing I meant no. It wasn’t really fair to the asker, and the incident shone a light for me on an area where, perhaps, it’s time for me to shift “coping strategies.”

Back in my twenties, I went through some intense shifts where I realized I needed set some boundaries if I were to live the life I wanted to live, if I were to retain any semblance of my true self. So I said no, a lot. No, no, no.

In fact, I said “no” even when I wasn’t sure I really wanted to say no, just to practice. There was a lot of “no” going on during that time.

Eventually, I realized that many of my “no’s” were simply reactions to a fear of being controlled, to a fear of losing my autonomy. They were not genuine “no’s.” (Sometimes, when we’re embracing something new, we can go to an extreme with it. When that extreme starts to hurt, we know it’s time for some balance.)

So, bit by bit, I started letting “yes” — an authentic yes — be part of my life. And sometimes I got confused. Sometimes I’d say “yes” and realize that it was a people-pleasing yes, and then I’d get angry and go to a big NO. Sometimes I felt more of a “maybe” and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle that one.

So fast-forward to my forties. I’ve had tons of practice with all this over the years, and it is so much less stressful than it was when I was first learning to say yes when I meant yes, and no when I meant no. But I’ve held onto a coping strategy: When I’m on the spot, as I was the other day, I still sometimes go for the “yes” that is less about a true yes and more about not making waves in the moment.

And I realized this time around, I don’t need to do that anymore. I can let that particular coping strategy go.

I developed that coping strategy at a time of my life when I thought there was something wrong with anything less than a whole-hearted “yes” or a full-on “no”. I was at a place where my thinking was often black-and-white, all-or-nothing. It didn’t feel okay to be unsure or in-between.

So the way I worked with that belief was to say “yes” when I felt pressured, and retract my yes later. Which was still leaps and bounds better than how I’d used to handle things (saying yes when I meant no but believing I couldn’t say no, so going ahead with things full of resentment, reinforcing to myself the belief that I wasn’t allowed to do what I really wanted to do).

You know what, though? Today, I believe that it is perfectly okay to say, “You know, I really can’t. I’m sorry.” Or, “Hmm … let me ponder that and get back to you on it.” Or, “I’m feeling a little conflicted about that — when do you need to know for sure?”

There is such a range of “okay” here that I didn’t see back then.

And since I’m okay with whatever my response might be, however someone else responds is okay, too. I don’t have to jump to the old coping strategy of trying to predict and head off a “negative” response. I can breathe and tell the truth, and, if they choose it, so can the person who’s asking.

It’s interesting that I hadn’t even noticed I was employing a coping strategy of yore. (I love the concept of yore. Yore is a good word!) And, now that I’ve noticed it, I’m wondering what other “old strategies” I might be able to just set down? Because other, better ones, more authentic ones, have already queued up to take their place.

Do you remember the Buddhist tale of the man who uses a raft to get across the river, and once he’s across, he keeps carrying the heavy raft over his head, even though he’s already across?  How often do we do this in our lives? We’ve grown and changed and we’re not who we used to be — we have different needs, new strengths, more capabilities.

But some little part of us still resorts to the means by which we got here. If those means continue to feel authentic and relevant, absolutely continue to use them. But if they’ve gotten a little stale, if you feel like someone else when you notice yourself employing them, ask: can I let go of this now? Can I trust in a new way?

As I finish this post, I’m aware of how much this concept affects us not just individually, but collectively. We are being called upon to set down the old ways that no longer work.

And we’re being truly challenged here. Are we up to the challenge? Can we give ourselves lots of compassion while we find a new way — or, if we’ve already found it, can we be steadfastly kind and patient with ourselves as we test our new wings?

I’d love to hear how this works for you — do you notice yourself using coping strategies that are more about who you used to be than who you are now?

And: I had the true pleasure of talking to the wonderful writer and speaker Caroline McGraw for A Wish Come Clear’s You Need to Read video interview series. Such an honor to be part of this series — I hope you’ll take a look at the interview, and subscribe to get the whole series! Check it out, here.

Plus: I heard from a few of you who’d like to get on the info list for the small group version  of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll be sending out info to those interested around the third week of February. If you’d like to get on the list, please contact me through the form on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Above image © Creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The choices that make you who you are

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if it’s not as hard as you think?

redonstone

The other day I had to do something that I thought was going to be very hard.

In fact, I’d been putting it off for a while because I thought it was going to be so hard, so uncomfortable, so taxing. I imagined all kinds of stressful scenarios that were going to result from my doing this thing, how a chain of negative events would be set into motion if I did it, how maybe I’d regret doing it.

So I didn’t do it as quickly as I might have. In fact, I started getting very irritated with myself for “procrastinating.” (I like to put procrastinating in quotes because there’s a big difference between procrastination and waiting for the right time, and we need to do a little digging sometimes to recognize which is which.)

Basically, the “thing” involved saying no to someone who had asked me to collaborate with her. I was torn at first because in some ways I wanted to do it, but the reality of my life right now is that I simply don’t have the time or the energy for this level of collaboration.

So I put off saying no, even after my intuition had clearly let me know that “no” was the way to go. (Sorry for the Dr. Seuss-ian sentence — actually, I love it!)

Finally, I made the call. I said, “A part of me would love to, but I’m choosing to say no to this right now.”

Guess what? It wasn’t that hard. My heart raced, yes; my hand slipped a little on the phone because it was wet with sweat.

But all in all? Not that hard. Not nearly as hard as I’d built it up to be. In fact, the person involved thanked me for being direct (she didn’t even think I’d taken that long to get back to her), and then we had a conversation about how much we prefer hearing “no” to hearing nothing at all and being left hanging. (That’s a topic for a whole other post!)

Sometimes, something we need to do proves to be harder than we’d imagined it would be.

But, sometimes, much of the “hard” has to do with our thought that “it’s going to be really hard”. So we don’t do whatever the thing is, and in the not doing it, we create more hard on top of our idea that it’s going to be hard.

Another thing we sometimes do when a task we perceive as “hard” looms before us is we tell ourselves, “I need to have courage. I need to muster up the courage to face this.”

This can actually create yet another hurdle. This “mustering up the courage.” The idea that we need “courage” to face whatever it is actually makes the “thing” seem even harder. Our brain goes, “We need courage here? Wow, it must be really hard! It must be extra hard!”

What if we didn’t need courage? What if, instead of courage, what was more helpful turned out to be acceptance of the situation, acceptance of our fears about it, and trust in our ability to handle it?

It’s worth considering.

Image is “Red on Stone” © Cristina | Dreamstime Stock Photos