Category Archives: Blog

The Adventures of Little One: An Excerpt

Following is the first chapter in The Adventures of Little One: Eye-Opening Tales from the First Hero’s Journey, a new book written to help anyone longing to feel a greater sense of purpose overcome the obstacles and find their way to meaningful and satisfying work. 

The Great Dissatisfaction

Long ago, the people lived in a village by a lake not far from the mountains. The village and its lands were small at first, but eventually the leaders of the village foresaw that if they cut down more of the surrounding forest and expanded their fields, they would have more food to eat and more fibers with which to make clothes and baskets.

So they did. The expansion created much bounty for the village, and at first the villagers were happy. They enjoyed fuller bellies and warmer clothes, and all was good.

But better health for the villagers meant more children, and before long food and fiber began to be scarce once again. Enterprising and resourceful, the villagers again expanded their fields, and once again, for a time, all was good.

Until the next generation of children came and with it more hungry mouths to feed. And the children who grew up in a time of plenty now needed more and better food to be satisfied. So the villagers cut down more trees and prepared more land for sowing. This time, however, the new land under cultivation was not as rich and required more work. So the villagers had to labor from sunup until sundown and sometimes even longer in order to coax the harvest they wanted out of the land. They didn’t mind at first, but after a year or two laboring day-in and day-out in this way, they began to become dissatisfied.

Little by little, the dissatisfaction spread like a disease until before long everyone had fallen ill. Soon nobody was gratified and the Great Dissatisfaction had begun. No longer content with the food they had or the clothes they wore, the villagers worked harder and longer to expand the fields, increase production, and keep up with their desires. If they could just get a big enough harvest, they thought, the Great Dissatisfaction would end.

It was around this time that Little One was born.

They called him Little One both because he was the youngest boy in his family and because he was small. He was scarcely larger than his younger sister, who was a full two years younger than him, and his arms were no bigger round than a field snake.

His brothers delighted in reminding him of this because they knew he was terrified of snakes. He was terrified of many things, but it was his fear of snakes that his brothers enjoyed most. It was a common occurrence for them to throw a rope over the back of his shoulders, scream “SNAKE!” at the top of their lungs, and guffaw as he danced about, trying to get the rope off his back.

Little One had always been different than the others.

While his family loved working in the fields for 16 hours a day, Little One grew tired and restless. He loved to work for the morning and the early part of the afternoon. He enjoyed tending the fields, nurturing the little seeds with water and sunlight. He got excited when they first broke through the earth and proffered their delicate, hopeful leaves to the sun. He grew proud as they stretched their limbs into new territory and grew strong over time, eventually turning this strength into flowers and fruits that they generously shared with the world.

But by mid-afternoon, Little One was tired, restless, and irritated. His eyes would wander towards the mountains, and he longed to see out what lay beyond.

His family had tolerated this while he was still a child, but once he reached adulthood, they couldn’t understand his reluctance. They told him he was lazy, weak, and selfish. He did his best to stay with them morning until night, but it was torture. By mid-afternoon, his whole body would grow heavy, his eyes would start twitching, and a tightening ache would close in on his chest and threaten to strangle him.

There were other differences too.

Nobody else in the village wondered what lay beyond the mountains. Nobody had ever even ventured to their feet, let alone climbed their peaks. Nobody else was scared of insects, darkness, large animals, storms, and the possibility of drought. They didn’t spend time worrying about these things or jump back in fear every time something moved unexpectedly in the bushes.

And nobody else cried when an animal was killed, even a spider that had accidentally wandered into enemy territory.

So Little One spent lots of time alone, wondering what would fill the void he had begun to feel in his chest, beating its dark wings against the soft wall of his heart.

And then came the day when everything changed, when Little One saw the snake.

He had been weeding around a group of tomato plants and noticing how their leaves were yellowing, their limbs wilting, and their trunks listing ponderously to one side. It was as if the burden of their fruit was weighing on them more heavily than before.

“They’re tired,” came a voice from out of nowhere. “The soil is no longer giving them what they need.”

Little One looked around him to see who was speaking, but he saw no one. Then he felt something touch his ankle and looked down to see a large, brown snake with a diamond-shaped head making its way across his foot.

Little One screamed and stumbled backwards.

His eldest brother was not far away and ran over. “It’s a rattler!” he yelled, and another brother had soon run over carrying a shovel. Before Little One could say anything, the eldest grabbed the shovel from his brother’s hands and ran the pointed head deep into the earth. The snake’s head fell on one side, and its body went limp on the other.

Little One suddenly felt an ache in his chest so deep he thought his heart might be swallowed whole. His second brother picked up the shovel and turned to leave. “You’re welcome,” the eldest one said, as they both laughed walked away.

Little One sank to his knees. The snake’s lifeless eyes stared up at him, its mouth open slightly as if to ask how he could let this happen. Little One couldn’t feel the ground beneath him as he hurriedly scooped dirt over the body of the snake. He could no longer see anything except the dark, sorrowful eyes slowly disappearing beneath clumps of reddish soil. It wasn’t until he saw a drop of water land on the newly turned earth above the body of the snake that he realized he was crying. He wiped the tears away and silently hoped that nobody had seen.

That night the snake visited him in his dreams. He dreamt he was wandering through the woods for hours, not sure what he was looking for, when he finally heard a soft hissing to his left. He turned, and there it was—the same snake his brother had killed that day.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” the snake said. “You took a long time to get here.”

“Why?” Little One asked nervously. “What do you want?”

“You’re not meant for thissss,” the snake continued. Its eyes were dark but didn’t seem angry. “You’ll never be happy this way.”

“What do you mean? Of course I will, as soon as the harvest comes in. I planted an extra big crop this year.” But the last words died on Little One’s lips and he immediately knew that they weren’t true.

“Yesssss, that’s better,” hissed the snake. “You can sense there’s something more.”

“Something more?”

“Something is calling you.”

Little One considered this. He could feel a slight tug on his heart, as if it were being drawn towards something just beyond the horizon. “What is it?” he asked.

“That you’ll have to discover for yourself. You find it in the searching.”

“And where do I search for it?”

“Lisssssten,” the snake hissed.

“What does that mean?” asked Little One.

“Jussssst lissssten,” said the snake.

And then Little One woke up.

It was just a dream, he told himself, and prepared to go to the fields.

But when Little One reached the fields that day, the ache in his chest grew so intense that he could barely breathe. It felt like his heart was being crushed by a vice. He tried to work but could barely stand up. When he left early for a lunch break, he found something curious. Each step he took towards his house lessened the pain in his chest and allowed him to breathe a little bit more.

Back at his home, Little One went to get food. When he reached down to pick up an apple, a snake’s head suddenly appeared next to his hand.

Little One stumbled backward. He went to the bedroom and saw a snake on his bed. His heart in his throat, he looked at the ceiling. There were snakes hanging from all the rafters in the roof.

Little One had never been more frightened in all his life. But beneath the fear, he could also feel a slight movement in his chest, like something within him was made of steel and was moving towards the magnetic pull of the mountains beyond. He was suddenly aware of a strong desire to see what lay beyond the peaks.

He could hear the snake’s words in his ear: “Something is calling you.”

Something was calling him, something big. He could almost hear it, like a drumbeat in the distance, coming from below the mountains, from the earth itself, echoing the pulsing of his heart and the beating of the dark wings of emptiness in his chest. It had to do with him. It had to do with the snake. It had to do with the Great Dissatisfaction, but he didn’t know how.

He also didn’t know what he was looking for. Who or what was calling him? What did they want from him? He had no idea.

What he did know was that he had to find out. If the snake was right about listening, then he was pretty sure whatever it was lay in the mountains beyond.

He packed his things while he waited for his family to return from the fields. The snakes were gone, with only a rag on his bed to remind him of their presence. When his family returned and he told them his plans, they were shocked and didn’t understand why he would abandon his fields so near harvest time. They were angry that he wouldn’t be there to help them.

Little One felt a twinge of sadness about this. He was also terrified of the road ahead, as he had no idea how long it would be or where it would pass. He was thinking maybe he had made it all up, he was being irresponsible and impulsive, and it would be best to stay. That’s when his sister pulled him aside.

“Go,” she said. “They’re just sad. They don’t know it, but we need help. We’re sick, and we don’t yet realize it. Go. Find what is calling you. Perhaps it can help us as well.”

That was all Little One needed. He smiled, kissed her forehead, and said goodbye. He picked up his bag and walked out of his home, starting down a path he had never been down before. He walked away from his fields, away from his village, away from everything he had ever known.

So began the journey of the first one of us to answer the call.


Want to know what happens next? Click here to buy your copy of The Adventures of Little One and find out.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

How to Find Your Most Fulfilling Career (a podcast)

I recently recorded a podcast  with David Papa of Love and Profit.

David is a friend who’s done a lot of work helping people bring more heart into their work.  His superpower is helping others connect with the joy, wisdom, and genius that exists within all of us (yes, even you). He’s profound, hilarious, and great at helping people stop trying to be something else and start enjoying the amazing gifts of who they already are.

On the podcast, we talk about questions like:

  • Why do we often wait until some type of catastrophe before we take action to change our lives?
  • How can we listen to our pain in a way that helps us?
  • What can we do if we make big mistakes in our career path?
  • How can we start to make changes in a direction we want when we have a full-time job?
  • What are my top 3 tips for making an amazing career change?
  • How can we start to feel better about what we are working on right away?

Here are some quotes from our conversation:

“We make pain out to be a bad thing, but pain is just an indication of what we need to look at. Pain is a sign of a healthy system.”

“The Universe is not going to abandon you if you accidentally get off your path.”

“Make a sacred commitment to what gives you joy.”

You can listen to the podcast here.

If what you hear brings up any ideas or questions, please share them in the comments below.

Career Change Success Story: How to Move Beyond the Devil That You Know

Change is hard. For most of us, no matter how much part of us wants to make a change, there’s another part that for whatever reason seems bent on staying stuck in the status quo. As a result, we procrastinate, convince ourselves it’s not even worth trying, or find other ways to stay with the devil that we know.

How can we overcome this tendency in order to move towards what we want more powerfully?

To answer that question, I’m excited to share with you the story of Jeff Siewert, a former client of mine who managed to move past his resistance to change and go from listless executive to impassioned entrepreneur in a relatively short period of time.

Jeff participated in my Pathfinders Group Coaching Program, which is currently enrolling, but he does a great job of identifying what exactly was key to his transformation so that even if you’re not interested in coaching right now, you can get an idea of what to look for from other sources to help you make a similar move.

Here’s Jeff’s story, in his own words:

How Things Were

“Two years ago I was at a crossroads and needed a career change—a life change—but I wasn’t sure how to go about it.

“I was coming off two years at my latest job. I had an executive title and my compensation was as good as it had been in years. I traveled often to New York City and had made two long international business trips. On paper things were good, but I couldn’t help thinking I was in a dissatisfying spot that I’d found myself in before.

“I knew I had the talent and skills to do my job and was performing successfully, but after some of the excitement of rebuilding and creating new improvements passed, I found myself listless and less than fully interested in what I was doing. When I was honest with myself, I realized that I’d come to that same moment of truth before.”

The Challenges

“In some ways I was lucky to have a catalyst for change. There was an upcoming company re-org that would have meant a retrenching and starting over of sorts. This would be a good time to transition to something new, something better. However, I didn’t know what that could be.

“Was I ready to forego the regular income I had now? What did I think I could do that was better? To quote the phrase, wasn’t it easier to stick with the devil I knew? Was I ready to deal with family and friends who questioned my sanity in making a late career change? Was it too late for me to make a change?  How was I going to figure this out any better than I had previously?

“I joined Pathfinders Group Coaching after researching several career counseling services. The kicker for me is that I didn’t want job placement advice or simply a list of potential corporate roles I should consider. I wanted answers regarding what types of paths I should be considering based on what my skills and talents are and for what activities I have real passion. Getting to those skills and passions first was more important than jumping to corporate business titles. I knew many of those types of corporate roles already, and the ambivalence I felt about them told me I needed to do some soul-searching work and be honest with myself about who I am and what’s important to me before jumping to solutions.

“I had inklings of some pursuits I might want to try. I decided I needed to be in a group setting, that saying things out loud to others would make my ideas more ‘real’; my group members could hold me accountable. As important, they might make the connections and suggest the actions that I was too afraid to admit to myself.”

How He Did It

“Our group started off with some baseline inventories of our skills and interests. I’d taken some similar exercises in the past, but these were at work and were never going to drive a change from that work! I enjoyed getting into the Enneagram results and those of other tests. It was great to take these at face value and not try to fit them into preconceived slots.

“As we all talked through our stories and baseline assessments, I was comforted to realize that I wasn’t the only one feeling blasé, unsatisfied, or disconnected about where I was going. We were all in that same boat. It was great that we had this safe environment in which to open up.

“The exercises we did each week were never onerous, but they did take effort to dig within myself to write what I really felt rather than what I thought I was supposed to write. Over a few weeks talking about “Purpose,” we did a Self Reflection essay, wrote a Personal Mission Statement for our future work, and created a Power. Passion, and Purpose diagram. These were powerful exercises that I still refer to today. I’ve shared my Power, Passion, and Purpose diagram with others even recently.

“However, even with our own homework pointing out new options to consider, we can be our own worst enemies, and we spent some time addressing our ‘Inner Critics,’ those voices that tell us why we cannot do the possible steps we outlined.

“A really valuable Pathfinders exercise is that each of us got to have a ‘Mastermind Session’ in which a person could self-direct a meeting to solicit help and input from others on our progress in turning our ideas into action and results. I had a list of passions and strengths and a tentative idea of groups I might serve. Still, I had trouble taking my ideas and giving form to real options.

“My teammates very quickly told me, ‘You’ve been telling us of your passion for music. You have these strengths and interests in communicating and creating. Why aren’t you writing some kind of music blog?’ They helped turn on the lightbulb I’d been shuffling to the back of my mind. Before my session was even up, my mind was flooded with ideas.”

From Idea Into Action

“I immediately started brainstorming ideas – strategic ones like what would be my vision and mission, and tactical ones like what distinguishing content and web presence should I consider. A name and a logo came to me and I began trademarking and incorporation steps as Atlanta Music Grapevine [AMGV]. Grapevine was to be a news, information, and social site, and eventually a larger Grapevine Enterprises LLC would offer additional services to artists, venues, and music businesses.

“I was well on my way when I started to uncover similar competitors I had previously missed. I wanted to launch with a big bang. I was interviewing web developers to design a super-charged site. Admittedly, seeing others doing some of what I wanted to and being far ahead of me left me feeling discouraged. I had shopped around the idea with people I knew in music and they had been supportive, but my Inner Critic was getting to me again.

“I then heard of other people about to start a similar music magazine. I got fired up and decided that I needed to start. I couldn’t let ‘best get in the way of better. I needed to head off any further competition. Bigger sites were heavily outsourcing to freelancers, but I still wanted some control and consistency over the ‘voice’ and style of the magazine. I decided to customize my own website theme, and read all I could on web formatting. I would launch now and add all the features on my wish list later as I could. We put out our first story the first week of June.

“As Atlanta has nearly doubled in size in twenty years, it’s become home to many talented musicians of all genres, venues that offer music entertainment, and music businesses that make music happen. Atlanta Music Grapevine focuses on Atlanta, not on national acts that play Atlanta. We cover a broad geography, as there is great music happening in the suburbs across the metro area, just as there is inside city entertainment districts. We’ve featured folk singers, jam-band style rock bands, hard rock music promoters, jazz vocalists, and more. We want Atlantans to know the talent we have in our backyards. We’re telling the stories of venue owners who create spaces where people can go see live music. We tell the stories of luthiers, guitar pedal builders, producers, and others with music businesses.”

How Things Are Now

“Reaction from the Atlanta music community and fans of music has been very positive and supportive. I think one reason for this is that AMGV aims to tell the stories of the people behind the music. Everyone has an interesting story to share. I think the stories help make real the people in bands, those at music venues, or those managing behind the scenes. Knowing about the people makes connecting to the music a greater interest. In our short-attention span world, AMGV tends to write longer stories that emerge from interviews that are often two hours long.

“I have not yet begun to monetize the site, as the focus has been on establishing credibility. Yes, I know that it is important. Money, in fact, is a needed part of the change I wanted to make. However, people who like what I’m trying to do are sending me business ideas and offering to make introductions for me.

“Two lessons from Pathfinders come to me as I worry about finances. One I heard during Pathfinders is that if do what you’re passionate about, the money would follow. I can’t tell you how many other people tell me that same thing as I share what I’m doing with Atlanta Music Grapevine. Another lesson is that when you do something you enjoy, you have more energy, time doesn’t creep along sluggishly, and you find yourself absorbed in what you’re doing.

“While these ideas and benefits sound obvious enough, getting from where you are to where you want to be, doing the work to honestly write about your likes and strengths, and admitting to and working with your Inner Critic fears, are not as obvious when trying to do it on your own. Pathfinders gave me a needed structured approach, meaningful exercises, a sounding board, a safe environment, Meredith’s non-judgmental, encouraging coaching, and the support of team members whom I could trust.

“I revisit my Pathfinders homework from time to time and am reminded that while my current endeavors are so far distant from the type of work I did for many years, what I’m doing now is a better, truer version of what I can do. I’m thankful I learned through my Pathfinders experience that it’s never too late to make a positive change.”  

 Learn more about Jeff’s business (and Atlanta’s music scene) here: Atlanta Music Grapevine: Cool Town. Cool Tunes

 Find Help to Find Your Own Calling

Pathfinders Group Coaching  is still open for enrollment (but won’t be much longer).

Designed to help you identify the type of work you want to do in the world and start actually doing it, Pathfinders walks you through a unique process that helps you:

  • Clarify your superpowers, passion, and purpose through creative exercises and engaging discussion;
  • Learn how to tap into your somatic (or body) intelligence, one of the most powerful and underused resources for making wise decisions; and
  • Develop tools for working with anxiety, fear, self doubt, overthinking, procrastination, and other common challenges.

If this sounds good to you, I’d love to talk. Just click here to fill out a short, no-obligation application. If it sounds like we might be a good fit, we’ll set up a brief, complimentary call to go over your needs, discuss the details of the program, and find out if Pathfinders Group Coaching is for you.


Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Say What?! (Daring to Hear Your Inner Wisdom)

As you may have picked up in a previous post, my husband and I are thinking of moving and have been looking at houses nearby.

Recently we saw a sweet one on a beautiful piece of land that was priced well under our budget, but it needed a lot of work if it was going to give us what we wanted. As we met with architects, contractors, engineers, and other experts to explore the possibilities, I paid close attention to my internal response. I meditated on what we found, journaled about it, discussed it with people I trust, all the while paying attention to my thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, and listening for the subtle stirrings of desire.

In other words, I was doing my best to hear my Inner Wisdom.

What I heard, over and over, was: Yes. This is the right house, the right step to take. It’s going to be a lot of work. It may be stressful and overwhelming at times. You’ll probably run into many challenges. But you can handle it, it’ll help you grow, and you can create something wonderful on land that you’re already beginning to love. (Fortunately, my husband agreed.)

Due diligence expired, and I began to get excited. Having made the decision to buy the house, I felt energized, enthusiastic, and capable, not to mention incredibly blessed to have this opportunity in front of us.

And then, a few days before closing, my confidence evaporated. What I can only describe as a tsunami of fear crashed over me, washing away excitement and leaving only panic in its wake. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much money it was going to cost, how much work it would be, and how many things could possibly go wrong.

Doubt overtook me. We were already running into some unexpected expenses. Had we made the wrong decision? Was my Inner Wisdom wrong? Should we back out of the contract before it was too late?

A Confusing Pattern

The same thing happens to my clients all the time. They do a lot of work to come up with promising career ideas, explore them, and use their Inner Wisdom to find a possibility they’re excited about. There’s usually a window of time that lasts somewhere between an hour and a month in which they too feel enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

The window promptly closes somewhere around the time when change starts to get real. Then suddenly, without warning, the tidal wave comes, sometimes drowning them in fear, panic, and doubt, sometimes merely soaking them to the bone.

So what’s the deal? Why does this happen? And how can we possibly know how to navigate important life decisions when something that feels so good one minute feels so bad the next?

The key to answering all three questions is to understand exactly what Inner Wisdom is.

So, What is Inner Wisdom?

I first discovered the presence of a wise voice inside me when I was struggling with depression in my mid-twenties. I began to find that even in my worst moments, when I felt utterly alone, confused, and hopeless, I could still sometimes hear the whisper of something far wiser than me if I just got quiet enough. It spoke softly, calmly, and compassionately; gave voice to truths that seemed to come out of nowhere; and slowly but surely guided me out of my misery when everything I’d tried before had only made it worse.

One step at a time, I followed my Inner Wisdom out of depression and back to myself.

Since then, that quiet, inner voice has led me to do things that I wouldn’t have thought possible. It steered me towards building a thriving coaching practice, marrying a wonderful man, writing a novel, developing meaningful relationships, returning to my roots in Atlanta, and expanding myself mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It helps me make difficult decisions that turn out well when there’s no way to rationally anticipate what might be the better option. It’s no exaggeration to say that every time I follow my Inner Wisdom, I discover greater levels of joy, freedom, and fulfillment.***

 So what is this voice exactly?

If you’re not the woo-woo type, here’s a scientific explanation: Inner Wisdom (or intuition) is another name for the things we know but don’t know that we know. Recent research suggests that it’s measurable and can indeed help people make faster, more accurate, and more confident decisions. What’s more, scientists have found that there’s an intrinsic nervous system in the heart and a secondary “brain” in the gut, both of which function independently and send more information to the brain in our head than vice versa. In other words, our bodies provide us with information and intelligence that goes far beyond our rational, conscious thought.

I personally see Inner Wisdom as the voice of my true self. It comes from the part of me that extends beyond ego, and that’s free from fear, constrictions, or limiting beliefs.

I also believe that it comes from a collective wisdom that we can tap into if we’re willing to get quiet and listen. Joanna Macy talks about how when we act on behalf of something greater than ourselves, we have access to the wisdom, beauty, and strength of our fellow humans and our fellow species. This absolutely feels true to me as well, and perhaps explains why my Inner Wisdom seems to know so many things that I don’t, and benefits others as much as it does myself.

How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom 101

When I coach clients in how to know what their intuition is saying, we usually start with the body. Wisdom can show up in any of our three centers of intelligence, but it’s generally easiest to hear in the body. Paying attention to physical sensations and noticing what helps your body feel more open, spacious, relaxed, or energized can give you great clues about where your Inner Wisdom is pointing.

In addition, observing the flavor of your thoughts can help you identify what’s coming from Inner Wisdom and what’s coming from your Inner Critic. I recently wrote a whole post about how to identify your Critic, and you can learn a lot about your intuition just by noticing which thoughts are the opposite of what I describe there.

To put it simply, your Inner Wisdom is usually quiet, calm, patient, loving, and compassionate. When you listen to it, you understand that you have plenty of time, you’re going to be okay, and no matter how you feel, you’re still a whole, lovable, and worthy human being. Fear and your Inner Critic, on the other hand, are generally urgent, dire, judgmental, and belittling. They make it seem likely that everything good is about to implode, most probably because you’re fundamentally flawed.

A great way to learn more about how your Inner Wisdom speaks to you is to keep a record of all the times you think you hear its voice. Write down how you recognized it, what it told you, what you decided as a result of hearing it, and how that decision turned out. If you’re like me, over time you’ll start to gather evidence that your Inner Wisdom is quite trustworthy, as well as some powerful clues for how to identify it.

How to Hear Your Inner Wisdom 201

Now here’s where things start to get interesting.

Often I have clients who tell me that their Inner Wisdom is telling them—surprise!— to stay in their current job after all because they realized that it isn’t as bad as they originally thought.

Sometimes this is actually true; more often, however, it’s a sign that they’ve run face-first into the wall of fear that usually sits just on the other side of wisdom.

Because sooner or later, our Inner Wisdom always leads us towards what we fear most. This isn’t a punishment or sign that we’re doomed to misery; I rather see it as evidence that (as David Whyte puts it) this world was made to be free in. The universe conspires to open us up and remove our constrictions by pointing us towards our fears again and again and again; that way, we have plenty of opportunities to come to terms with and move past them.

This principle explains the tidal wave of fear and doubt that I encountered with the new house, the same one that clients feel when they get into exploring an exciting career idea. Almost every time we attempt to follow our Wisdom into a new realm or on a deeper level, there’s a backlash when we come face-to-face with some of our greatest fears.

And when fear holds us in its sticky web like some kind of captured insect, turning back and staying in what appears to be the safety of the status quo can feel pretty good. Not taking the risk now feels open, spacious, and calming. Falling back into our familiar habits can seem pretty gosh-darned wise.

It becomes important, then, at this point in our Inner Wisdom studies, to be able to distinguish between the sensations of true guidance and the temporary relief that comes from avoiding something scary or falling back into the familiarity of an old (but unhelpful) pattern.

It takes time and observation to learn the difference. This is like the PhD of Inner Wisdom education, and those usually take what—approximately 102 years based on what my friends who have them say? The point is, try to be patient with yourself. I’ve also adopted the general rule of thumb that I have to talk to at least three people who are wiser than me before abandoning a course of action that previously felt like wisdom.

Feeling the Fear, Trusting the Wisdom

The three wise people I spoke to about the house didn’t seem to share my newfound fear that everything good in my life would turn to dust if I moved forward with the purchase. I also noticed that in those rare moments when I had some relief from the terror and felt slightly more grounded, I still felt excited and energized by the idea of moving forward with it.

So we closed on the house last week. Though I know by now that I can trust my Inner Wisdom, I still obsessed over the budget a few more times, tried to solve every problem we might encounter in advance, and made backup plans for my backup plans. Hey, that’s just what I do.

Which leads me to a final PhD-level concept: Trusting your Inner Wisdom doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair. I’ve come a long way in terms of following my intuition, but as you can see in the house example, part of me trusts, and part of me still doesn’t. The part that doesn’t is going to want me to fall back into old habits that make me feel safe (though I know by now they don’t actually accomplish much in that regard). If it helps calm me down, there’s nothing wrong with doing it, as long as I realize that’s what’s going on and participate with eyes wide open.

Because the part of me that trusts is growing. And the world is already a much freer place because of it.

 

***The Fine Print:

This isn’t to say that if you listen to your Inner Wisdom you’ll always get everything you crave, things will always go the way you want, or you won’t face any unexpected challenges. This isn’t Manifestation, which can so easily become about listening to ego once again. When tuning in to Inner Wisdom, I find that it’s best to let go of my ideas about particular outcomes and trust that while things may not turn out as I imagine, they’ll result in the best possible scenario for everyone involved. That may not sound very reassuring, but I can also add that in my experience, if you follow your Inner Wisdom, you’ll find plenty of options for taking care of your needs, far more opportunities for creating joy, the ability to share your most powerful gifts with the world, and the promise of serving a greater purpose even when you have no idea what that may be.

Want Help Hearing Your Inner Wisdom?

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment that can help you get your PhD in Inner Wisdom and work through the fear that likes to lurk on the other side of it.  

Over to You

When have you followed your Inner Wisdom, and what came of it?

Please share in the comments below. You might just inspire someone else to trust their intuition.

Say Hello to Your Inner Critic (Or, Why You Can’t Always Believe What You Think)

Recently I was lying in bed, anxiously tossing and turning, my mind spinning as I fruitlessly tried to relax and go to sleep. The things that usually help me calm down weren’t working, and I had no idea why I was so tense or what I could do to fix it.

After wrestling with my thoughts for what seemed like forever, I finally felt my body begin to release its frantic energy like a top that’s spun itself out. In one of those first moments of stillness a realization surfaced: I was struggling so much not from lack of effort but from an overabundance of it.

In the face of life-altering changes, developments in the health of a close family member, and really just a whole lot of uncertainty and ambiguity, some old patterns had taken over. I was trying to do everything perfectly, from searching for a flawless new home for our family to maturely handling all the fear that change brings up for me, all the while handling my normal responsibilities with ease and grace during a particularly busy time. Without meaning to, I’d raised my expectations for myself so high that despite my best efforts, I was failing to meet them.

In other words, my Inner Critic had taken over.

What Is an Inner Critic?

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Inner Critic is that we all have one. It’s that voice in our heads that’s always looking for what we’re doing wrong, where we’re not measuring up, and what we should be doing better. It’s also probably the single biggest obstacle to finding your calling, or really just growing, expanding, or moving towards what you want in any way, shape, or form.

When we listen to the Critic (and it’s hard not to, as it tends to speak with such volume and authority that it can feel like unquestionable truth), we doubt ourselves and our capabilities. We feel like what we want isn’t possible, and what we’re doing isn’t enough. We also tend to hold onto old patterns that keep us stuck in the status quo.

There’s a reason for that. The Critic, though problematic, is actually trying to help us. It wants to keep us safe, and it believes that the best way to do that is to make sure that we stick with what’s familiar. As far as the Critic is concerned, its job is to preserve the status quo, where at least we know we can survive, whether it’s an engrained behavioral pattern or a job we’ve been in for fifteen years. And because it’s far more concerned with safety than it is with happiness, it’ll do so by any means necessary, even if that means making us miserable.

How Do I Deal With My Inner Critic?

Despite all this, the problem isn’t that we have an Inner Critic but that we believe it. The most straightforward and powerful way to avoid falling prey to it, then, is simply to recognize when it’s the one talking.

In my own example of the other night, once I realized that all my spinning thoughts were coming from my Inner Critic, they immediately lost their power. My whole body relaxed and felt more settled; I had access to a sense of my own strength and goodness once again; and I was able to let go of the thoughts that I knew weren’t helpful. They became like flies buzzing around my head; unpleasant, perhaps, but hardly consequential.

It’s kind of like how at the end of The Labyrinth Jennifer Connolly’s character, having gone to great lengths to battle David Bowie’s Goblin King the entire movie, finally defeats him simply by saying the words, “You have no power over me.”

The process may be simple, but it’s certainly not easy. Just as I had a hard time identifying my Critic even after years of working with it, I have clients all the time who tell me, “You know, I don’t think I really have an Inner Critic,” or, “Mine’s just really quiet.”  Maybe so, but given what I know about human beings, it’s much more likely that their Critic is quite clever—mostly, I think, because they are.

Inner Critics get smarter as we do. As we learn to identify them, they learn how to hide from us. They can also turn anything we discover into a new weapon. The most reliable response to learning that the Inner Critic exists, for example, is to begin criticizing yourself for criticizing yourself so much.

If the Inner Critic learns as quickly as we do, then the question becomes: How can we recognize it consistently enough to continue moving towards our calling despite its wily efforts?

To be honest, I don’t have a surefire, one-size-fits-all answer. But to help, here are 15 definite clues that your thoughts are coming from your Critic:

1. The message is loud.

If the thought is insistent, authoritative, and impossible to ignore, it’s most likely your Inner Critic. If, on the other hand, you have to get quiet to hear it, it feels more like a whisper, or it takes its sweet time to surface, chances are your Inner Wisdom is talking. I don’t know why this is except perhaps that most of us have a bias that makes us more concerned with what our Critics have to say than our Wisdom, so we hear them more easily. The good news is, the more we listen for Wisdom, the more easily we hear it, and the less we buy into our Critics’ views, the less prominent they are.

2. You feel rushed.

Inner Critics tend to be obsessed with speed, even when speed doesn’t matter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I should be moving faster and getting more done, even though I consistently find that I not only enjoy life more but am also more productive when I move slowly (or at least don’t rush). Similarly, almost all my clients worry that they’re somehow behind in their careers, too late in accomplishing whatever they want to accomplish. The truth is, we can trust the timing in our lives. We come to things when we’re ready and when the time is right. Like an oak tree worrying that it’s growing too slowly, we lose sight of the fact that it takes time to develop profound beauty and stature, and that it doesn’t really matter if somebody else does it first.

3. You have the thought, “Everyone else is ___[fill in the blank]___.”

A favorite tool of Inner Critics is setting up false comparisons to others. “Everyone else has this figured out already.” “Everyone else is more successful than I am.” “Nobody else struggles with decisions as much as I do.” Whatever the message, it leaves us feeling inferior and inadequate. The truth is, everybody excels in some ways and struggles in others. Comparing the area in which you struggle to the area in which somebody else excels is a recipe for unnecessary self doubt. Not to mention the fact that things aren’t always what they seem. When in doubt, remember the oft-repeated advice: Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides.

4. You decide that you can’t do something before you’ve even tried.

Inner Critics don’t want us to take risks or step into the unknown. A great way to accomplish this is to convince us that any goal we may adopt is impossible from the start. I’ve had many clients who thought they couldn’t support themselves or their families while doing what they love, only to find a way to do just that after—shockingly—actually trying. In my experience, if we’re flexible with exactly what form it takes, we can always find ways to realize what we want most, as long as we don’t listen to our Critic and give up before we start.

5. You conclude that if it hasn’t happened by now, it never will.

There’s a theory that Inner Critics develop in childhood, which I’m prone to believe because they’re often quite child-like. One example of this is their lack of patience or a larger perspective. Often what we long for most is complex and requires time to learn, practice, ready ourselves, and gather support. Our Critics tend to forget this, however, and mistakenly conclude that we’ll never find what we want if we haven’t already. They lack the perspective to see that in real life the shortest distance between two points isn’t usually a straight line.

6. A decision feels urgent, dire, or a matter of life and death.

Another example of lacking a larger perspective is the Critics’ near-constant sense of urgency and desperation. They tend to make us feel like we have to get this right, and quickly, or everything will fall apart. In truth, our happiness and well-being are supported by many things and rarely hinge on one decision. Plus, just about any course we take can either be reversed or adjusted along the way so that it works better for us. I’ve gotten to the point where if I’m feeling any urgency or distress about something, I won’t make a decision until I no longer feel that way, because it’s a sure sign my Critic is in charge.

7. You keep returning to the worst-case scenario.

If you find yourself thinking about unpleasant future scenarios over and over, you’ve probably forgotten that in general positive outcomes are at least as likely as negative ones, and the ones you fear most are almost always the least likely of all. This tendency to focus on what might go wrong or to feel like the worst outcome is the most probable isn’t usually based on facts, logic, or even previous experience. It is, rather—you guessed it—another Inner Critic trick to keep us safe in the status quo.

8. You feel guilty for wanting more.

I’ve heard so many people express guilt for not being satisfied with what others might think was a good job, or a well-paying one, that I wrote a blog post about it a while back. The truth is, longing to do work you love isn’t a sign that you’re greedy; it simply means your gifts are wanting to express themselves in more powerful ways. That’s a good thing, not only for you, but also for the world you’re going to benefit through your efforts. If you feel guilty, it’s not because you’re ungrateful; it’s simply your Inner Critic trying to keep you from taking a risk and making a change.

9. You’re focused on what others might think.

If you find yourself worrying about what your family, friends, coworkers, bosses, or anybody else will think of you making a career change (or otherwise following your heart), then your Inner Critic has taken the wheel. We’re social animals, designed (genetically and physiologically) to live in groups and thus care what others think of us. Despite this, most of us understand at least on some level that in our current world our lives and happiness no longer depend so completely on the opinions of others. Our Inner Critics, however, aren’t quite so enlightened, or else they find our conditioned fear a convenient tool to keep us in the status quo. Either way, the solution lies in noticing how much we’re focusing on others, having compassion for its physiological roots, and gently reminding ourselves that it’s no longer necessary (or even possible) to please everyone around us.

10. You’re caught in familiar patterns.

This one can be a bit hard to see for ourselves because our patterns are often so ingrained that, like fish in water, we stare right through them because they seem such an immutable part of our experience.  But we all have ways of avoiding anxiety and trying to feel safe, whether it’s procrastinating, worrying, blaming, overly focusing on the needs of others, numbing or distracting ourselves, trying to be perfect [ahem] or any host of other problematic patterns. The patterns developed for a reason and serve us in some ways (if not in others), so there’s no shame in them, but they do limit what’s possible for us and usually keep us stuck in a rut. Inner Critics don’t mind the latter at all, however, which is why they see their job as keeping these patterns in place. (That’s why we experience such strong internal resistance whenever we try to change one of these core habits.) On the other hand, when you’re responding to a familiar situation in a new way, doing something you don’t normally do, or feeling scared, vulnerable, or out of your comfort zone, you’ve probably either quieted your Inner Critic or broken free from its grasp.

11. You think, “I should…” or “I have to…”

Everything we do is a choice, even the things we don’t want to do. I don’t like paying taxes, for example, but I choose to do it because I like where I live and don’t want to go to jail. When we think “I should…” or “I have to…” our Inner Critics are trying to make us believe that we have no choice but to do what they want us to do. This is never actually the case. We always have options. When you allow yourself to put all the alternatives on the table and then make a decision based on where your deepest desires and Inner Wisdom point you, you discover a freedom that’s inherent in all of us, no matter our circumstances. A simple way to practice this is to change “I should…” to “I want to…” and then listen for what follows.

12. You feel resentful.

Resentment is a great sign that you’ve denied a desire or been less than true to yourself on account of your Inner Critic. (Never believe your resentment is about anybody other than you.) As we just saw, Inner Critics try to make us do what they want, rather than what we do. When we betray our needs and desires in order to follow their dictates and do what they think will make us safe, resentment naturally follows. So the next time you feel resentful, get curious about where you didn’t stand up for what matters most to you, and how you can make a choice more aligned with who you are and who you want to be moving forward.

13. You feel ashamed.

Brene Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Inner Critics often start with a grain of truth (such as, “You didn’t get offered the job you interviewed for”) and then generate a bunch of bogus conclusions, like:

  • “You’re terrible at interviewing”;
  • “Nobody wants what you have to offer”;
  • “You’ll never find a job”; or
  • “There’s something wrong with you.”

These conclusions generate a sense of shame and unworthiness, but they’re not actually true. They’re just designed to get you to stop trying (and thus avoid risks) or try harder (and thereby succeed). Either way, the shame isn’t helpful. Your heartfelt desires are a carrot that makes shame’s stick unnecessary, and if everybody who ever failed gave up, humankind would never have made it out of the Stone Age.

14. You feel small.

Inner Critics tend to make us feel weak, inferior, unimportant, and powerless. When I’ve been listening to my Critic, I often find that my shoulders have collapsed, my back is rounded, and I’m physically trying to take up as little space as possible. When we’re listening to our Inner Wisdom, on the other hand, we tend to feel how strong, competent, and powerful we are. We’re willing to take up space. We realize that we’re bigger than our problems, the challenges in front of us, and even our fear. If you’re ever not sure whether a thought is coming from your Inner Critic or Inner Wisdom, take a moment to notice your posture and how big or small you feel.

15. You’re in your head.

Our Inner Critics live in our minds and thoughts. Our bodies, on the other hand, are always in the present moment and free from judgment. If you’re caught up in your thoughts and unaware of what’s happening in your body, it’s very likely that your Critic is active. To counteract this, just bring your attention back to your body and whatever sensations you feel there, over and over again.

Bonus: You wish you could change something (anything) about yourself.

Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki once said, “Each of you is perfect…and you could all use a little improvement.” Our Inner Critics would like us to solely focus on the second part of this idea because they think feeling bad about our flaws will help us overcome them. The opposite is actually true, and if you’re not quite sure how to reconcile this paradox, it’s best to focus on the first part first. Once you truly understand how perfect you are, you’ll naturally want to learn and get better, not because you need to change, but because you deserve to grow.

The Final Step

The more you observe your Inner Critic, the more you begin to realize that it sounds like a frightened child. Identifying its messages, soothing its fears, and finding out for yourself what’s actually true can go a long way towards freeing yourself from its power (and pain). But there’s still one more thing to do in order to move towards your calling, and that’s to listen for your Inner Wisdom.

It helps to get quiet and curious and listen, letting it arise rather than trying to figure it out. When I did this the other morning when I was having trouble sleeping, I got a very clear message:

Life is messy, man. I am messy. That’s okay. Overall, I do a good job.

I could feel the truth of that, the peace and freedom and strength of it, all the way down into my bones.

Over to You

What does your Inner Critic say or feel like to you? What helps you break free from its grasp?

A second great way to lessen the power of your Inner Critic is to talk about it with others. You can begin doing this by sharing your answers in the comments below.


Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

The Real Reason You Can’t Do What Others Can

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I can’t do what most other people can.

When my sister tells me her weekend plans, for example, I feel exhausted just hearing them all. She manages them quite successfully, whereas I personally find that when I commit to more than one activity per weekend in addition to the regular cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping, I end up feeling overwhelmed and cranky.

The list goes on:

  • I can’t work ten-hour days. In fact, most days my brain stops working whether I do or not after a mere six.
  • I work slowly, and on one thing at a time. (Though I can multitask, I don’t enjoy it, and things never turn out very well when I do.)
  • I perform much better if I have downtime in the late afternoon—preferably a nap—and if I don’t get it a couple days in a row, things go downhill quite quickly.
  • I get abnormally stressed in crowds. Something about having so many people crammed into a small amount of space makes me extremely uncomfortable and agitated.
  • The only place I feel totally at home is in nature, and if I don’t spend time in it regularly, I literally get depressed.

I could keep going. But the point is, my preferences and needs are in such stark contrast to everything I see around me that I often feel like an alien.

A World of Limits

If I am an alien, however, I’m far from the only one.

Just last week I was talking to a client (who generously gave me permission to write about her here) who shared concerns that she wasn’t going to be able to find a job she enjoyed because she’s not adept at social media and lacks the motivation to learn. She also worries that her unwillingness to do certain kinds of work (like being an assistant to others) will keep her unemployed.

This comes, mind you, from an extremely gifted woman with terrific creative vision who is also a superb communicator, talented relationship builder, and even a skilled voice actor. Like most of us, however, it’s not her gifts that she tends to focus on, but her limits.

I’ve had other clients with similar concerns about their constraints, whether it’s an inability to stay in a well-paying but meaningless job, an unwillingness to go into an office or work standard hours, or an allergy to giving large presentations. These clients worry that their limits will keep them from finding jobs, or at least well-paying ones that they enjoy.

A Line Worth Living With

And yet we all have gifts that the world needs. One-by-one, I’ve seen my most worried clients find work that’s both enjoyable and rewarding, and that honors their limitations.

Limitations are worth honoring, not only because pushing past them creates some pretty unpleasant consequences, but also because when we work within them, we’re more productive and perform better.

Based on what I shared about myself earlier, you might think it’s a miracle that I ever get anything done. Maybe it is. Still, I find that there’s plenty of time to do what’s needed, and when I listen to my limits, I have better sessions with my clients, my writing flows more easily, and yes, on average, I also get more done.

Lest you think this is all wishful thinking, know that studies have found that naps improve the capabilities of pilots, spending time in nature has benefits for both performance and health, multi-tasking actually makes you less efficient, and there’s lots of evidence that when we don’t overtax ourselves, we can do the same amount of work in less time.

When we see a limit from the inside, it highlights the difference between what we’re able to do and what we think others can. When looked at from outside, however, limits define and encapsulate all the areas where we do our best work. That’s incredibly valuable.

A Sign of Something More

Within the last couple of years, however, I’ve realized that our limits—along with all the things that make us different from others—point to something even more important than how to perform our best:

Our limits indicate the exact place where we can change the world for the better.

You don’t need to look at our world for long to see that it’s incredibly out of balance. I can’t begin to describe all the ways in which we’ve lost our connection to compassion, love, kindness, respect, etc., but I can tell you that each of my clients holds a piece of the puzzle that can make us whole again and restore us to harmony.

If my client from last week loved social media, she may not be so talented at creating deep and meaningful relationships that help others have a positive impact on the world. If she wanted to be an assistant, she’d have fewer opportunities to bring her unique creative vision to life. (Though social media and assisting others can be important and worthwhile tasks, they’re puzzle pieces that belong to somebody else.)

If my clients could remain in well-paying but meaningless jobs, they would never put their greatest gifts to use. If they didn’t stay true to their desires to work with flexibility, balance, and autonomy, they wouldn’t be doing their part to create a world in which these things are possible.

As for me, I’ve come to see that though the pace and scale of our culture consistently feel off to me, that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps my piece of the puzzle is to help others slow down enough to reconnect with themselves, the people around them, and the natural world. When that happens, I’ve noticed, we can’t help but make this planet a better place.

Aliens on Earth Unite

For many of us, the more different we are, the more inadequate we feel. But maybe the reverse is actually true. Perhaps the more alien we feel, the more our gifts are needed.

Imagine a bird who looks at all the humans running around below it on their long, thick, muscular legs. Perhaps it admires their ability to run fast, lift heavy objects, or simply hold their ground. This bird might look down at its own legs and feel ashamed by their spindly weakness. With such legs, it could never perform all the impressive feats it sees the humans achieving.

But, as you may already have guessed, such a bird forgets something very important. It’s built for something quite different. Its thin, unimpressive legs in combination with its extraordinary wings were designed to help it achieve the miracle of flight.

The world needs beings who can fly, who can pollinate, disperse seeds, and fertilize everywhere they go. But miraculous or not, it’s not easy having dainty legs when all the others you see around you are strong. Our brains are wired to compare. So how do we bring our gifts to the world without giving in to shame, loneliness, or frustration?

We find the places we belong.

We seek out the environments, people, and activities that bring us back to ourselves, and then we spend as much time with them as possible. Finding our true homes in the world, we go to them often to recharge our batteries and reconnect with our vitality. That way, when we go back into alien environments, we have the strength we need to continue to live in fierce fidelity with who we really are and share all the benefits that brings with the world.

In my experience, we’ll do this very imperfectly. We’ll forget our true gifts over and over again as we go back to old habits of comparing ourselves to others and trying to fit in.

This isn’t a bad thing. It just means we need to be diligent in the practices that bring us home and have lots of reminders close at hand. One of my favorite reminders is a poem by Tara Mohr, reprinted below with permission:

A You-Shaped Hole
By Tara Mohr

Sometimes the world feels inhospitable.
You feel all the ways that you and it don’t fit.
You see what’s missing, how it all could be different.

You feel as if you weren’t meant for the world, or the world wasn’t meant for you,
as if the world is “the way it is” and your discomfort with it a problem.

So you get timid. You get quiet about what you see.

But what if this?

What if you are meant
to feel the world is inhospitable, unfriendly, off-track
in just the particular ways that you do?

The world has a you-shaped hole in it.
It is missing what you see.
It lacks what you know
and so you were called into being.
To see the gap, to feel the pain of it, and to fill it.

Filling it is speaking what is missing.
Filling it is stepping into the center of the crowd, into a clearing,
and saying, here, my friends, is the future.

You don’t have to do it all, but you do have to speak it.
You have to tell your slice of the truth.
You do have to walk toward it with your choices, with your own being.

Then allies and energies will come to you like fireflies swirling around a light.

The roughness of the world, the off-track-ness, the folly that you see,
these are the most precious gifts you will receive in this lifetime.

They are not here to distance you from the world,
but to guide you to your contribution to it.

The world was made with a you-shaped hole in it.
In that way you are important.
In that way you are here to make the world.
In that way you are called.

Over to You

This is a very personal topic for me—it’s something I feel strongly and have been thinking about a lot recently. If this resonates at all with you, I’d appreciate you letting me know in the comments. In what ways do you feel like an alien? When have you felt like this might be a good thing? What are the places, people, and activities that bring you home?


Bug/alien: Photo by Mister Starman on Unsplash
Bird on a post: Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Are You Afraid to Fail? If So, There’s Something You Should Know.

afraid to fail rabbit

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”
–Oprah Winfrey

We human beings have a complicated relationship with failure. We almost instinctively fear it at the same time that we acknowledge its benefits. We know from platitudes and after-school specials that we have to be willing to fail if we want to succeed, yet the vast majority of us still go out of our way to avoid it.

Knowing that failure is part of the game is one thing; actually being willing to do it is another. Or maybe it’s that it’s okay for other people to fail, people like Oprah Winfrey who are now successful beyond their wildest dreams, but it’s not okay for us.

It’s almost like failure is a cat and we’re the mouse. Other people keep telling us that it’s friendly, but all we see are its sharp claws and jagged teeth as it eyes us hungrily from the corner.

afraid to fail cat

We do need to stop fearing failure if we’re going to be willing to step into the risks necessary to change careers or otherwise realize our dreams. But how can we befriend something that looks like it’s thinking we’d make a delicious mid-afternoon snack?

Failure: The Enigma

To do this, we first need to question our assumption that we know what failure is.

When I ask members of my Pathfinders Group Coaching program what images, words, or associations come up for them when I say the word failure, I get responses such as incompetence, shame, broken, lonely, bewildered, lost, and permanent. They share how it often feels less like “This thing I was working on failed” and more like “I am a failure”.

But when I ask these same people targeted questions about the actual results of a specific failure they’ve experienced, I get entirely different answers. Words like helpful, necessary, and freeing start to come to mind.

Here’s how you can see this phenomenon for yourself:

  1. Recall 2-3 times in your past where you feel like you failed. Choose the one that has the most emotional charge for you.
  2. Channeling your Inner Critic, write down the worst things this failure could say about you. Don’t hold back and include all your worst judgments.
  3. Now write down all the bad things that actually happened as a result of this failure. It’s important that you stick to verifiable facts (such as, “I invested $10,000 and never got it back”) and not assumptions (like, “Everyone thought I was a loser” or “I lost my chance to land my dream job”).
  4. Finally, write down all the good things that came of it. For example, what did you learn? What did you gain from your efforts? What new qualities or skills did you hone? What other possibilities did you discover as a result of your failure?
  5. Considering everything you wrote, what are some more accurate statements about what failure is or what it means to fail?

Failure: The Experience

You can read a beautiful example of one person’s answers to these questions on the blog of a former Pathfinders Group Coaching participant.

Here’s my own true-life example:

When I ran my first online course, I spent nearly 5 months planning, creating, and launching it. I poured my heart and soul into the program, invested a lot of time and money in its development, and very publicly invited everyone and their second cousin to take part.

Sales were…disappointing, to say the least. I got less than a quarter of the number I needed to recoup my financial investment, let alone what would have made me a profit or paid for the hundreds of hours I’d devoted to the project.

I felt humiliated. My Inner Critic was yelling at me that nobody wanted what I had to offer, and that I had been foolish to think they would. It went on to tell me that this was proof that I was less capable than everyone else, that I made terrible decisions, and that I would never be successful or run the kind of business that I wanted to.

My list of verifiable negative outcomes, however, was surprisingly short. I invested thousands of dollars without seeing a return (yet). Everything else, including the sense that I had wasted my time, was only an assumption.

And when it came time to list the positive outcomes—well, it was far longer than I expected:

  • I learned how to create, run, and market an online course.
  • I grew past my fear of sharing more of myself more visibly with the world.
  • I got all my content in one place, which helped me see how much I had and generated ideas for other ways to use it.
  • I now had a product I can continue to offer in the future with minimal additional effort.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I didn’t really enjoy leading a live online course and prefer offerings that allow me to get to know people better individually and go deeper with them on their journeys.

It wasn’t painless; failing to meet my goals was disappointing, and I didn’t have as much money as I’d hoped. But I still had options, I managed to adjust, and the disappointment didn’t last forever.

Failure: The Impact

There’s a Zen story  about a farmer whose crops all grow big during a particularly rainy season. His friends in the tea house tell him how lucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

The plush crops then attract a herd of wild horses, which trample his fields and ruin his harvest. In the tea house, his friends all commiserate with him and tell him how unlucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

Shortly thereafter the farmer’s son captures one of the wild horses and tames him. The stallion is worth more than several years’ harvest. The farmer’s friends all tell him over tea how lucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

The next day the stallion kicks the farmer’s son, debilitating him. The farmer’s friends express their sorrow and tell him how unlucky he is. The farmer just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

A little while later the army comes through the town, conscripting all the able-bodied men and taking them to war. The farmer’s son doesn’t have to go, as he is no longer able-bodied. The farmer’s friends all tell him how lucky he is. You already know how the farmer responds.

Though the story is about events outside of the farmer’s control, it has much to say about failure. In any given moment we may like or not like where we are, but no situation is final. Everything changes, in ways we cannot predict.

In other words, it’s impossible to ever know the true impact of failure.

Failure: The Benefits

In 2011, Harvard Business Review dedicated an entire issue to the topic of failure. One of my favorite articles from that issue defines a spectrum of reasons for failure that stretch from blameworthy on the one hand to praiseworthy on the other.

Blameworthy failures come from “preventable failures in predictable conditions.” These are usually caused by deviations from routine and well-defined operations (like in a factory).

Less blameworthy are the “unavoidable failures in complex systems.” These happen where there is a lot of uncertainty at work; in other words where “a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before.”

Praiseworthy are the “intelligent failures at the frontier.” These are experiments conducted to establish the viability of an idea or design, or to expand knowledge and investigate a possibility.

When you think about it, almost anything we do to answer our calling involves uncertainty; it’s never been done before by us in the exact way we mean to do it. Every time we make a change or step into something new, we’re conducting an experiment. All failures in this field, by Harvard’s definition, are not just inevitable—they’re beneficial. They help us find out what’s possible and discover the best ways to realize our intentions, regardless of what limits we run into.

Failure: The Reality

If you don’t already have your own definition of failure, I recommend you do the exercise above and create one.

For my part, I’ve come to see failure as nothing more than things not going according to plan. It’s the discovery of limits so we can find ways to work within them. Or, as a Pathfinders participant put it, it’s simply stepping onto a new path tomorrow.

When we see past the jaws and claws to what failure really is, we quickly realize that what we’ve spent so much time and energy fearing isn’t just unlikely; it’s impossible.

Last Chance to Join Pathfinders Group Coaching to Find Your Calling

Pathfinders Group Coaching is one of my favorite programs because I get to coach amazing people while witnessing how the feedback and love of their peers helps them rediscover their confidence, clarify what they most want, and take big steps towards making that a reality. Things that seemed impossible become probable with a powerful community to help them out and cheer them on.

I’m super excited to get started with a new Pathfinders Group Coaching cohort in just a few days. We have only 3 spots left, and I’d love to find someone who feels they’re meant to do something more than they are now but aren’t yet totally sure what that is or how to do it to join us.

If that might be you, then click here to schedule a brief, no-obligation call so we can discuss your needs, answer your questions, and explore whether Pathfinders is a fit for you. This is the last call for this cohort, and I don’t know when I’ll be offering this program again.

I would love to help you make 2018 the year you find your calling and start doing work you love.

Over to You

What benefits have you found in failure? I’d love to know, and I’m pretty sure everyone else would too. Please share in the comments below.

afraid to fail cat tongue

Rabbit photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash
First cat photo by Shubhankar Sharma on Unsplash
Second cat photo by Shlok Wadhwana on Unsplash

25 Ways to Loosen Fear’s Grip

As I prepared to write this post, I realized that I’ve written a lot about fear.

Maybe it’s because most of the people I talk to mention fear as one of their biggest challenges. Whether it’s fear of failure, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of not making enough money, or fear of something else, being afraid is one of the main reasons people struggle to change careers.

Or maybe it’s because I personally face fear a lot. And by a lot, I mean all the time. And by all the time, I mean several times a day.

Or maybe it’s because fear is actually an important key to finding your calling, especially if you’re not sure where to look.

The one Evite you might prefer not to get

Stephen Pressfield has a great quote in his book The War of Art that you’ve probably heard me use before (it’s one of my favorites):

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

My own experience backs this up. Every time I’ve gotten clear about the next step towards my calling, I’ve been absolutely terrified, whether it was moving cross country, starting my own business, or sharing words I’d written with the world.

I used to be embarrassed that I felt so afraid, but then I began to notice something pretty amazing: I’m not scared all the time. I don’t feel afraid when I’m staying small, keeping quiet, or hiding inside my comfort zone. I’m only afraid when I try to do something important, grow and expand, or engage more deeply with what I care about most.

If you believe, as I do, that we’re here to learn and develop so that we can share our unique gifts with the world in increasingly powerful ways and have fun while doing it, then fear is a really good friend who points out the best way to do just that.

In other words, fear isn’t a weakness; it’s an invitation to your calling.

Showing the fear who’s boss

Fear, however, is a fickle friend. In addition to showing you what to do, it also gets in the way of actually doing it.

But that’s okay. Because you’re bigger than your fear, and it doesn’t have to rule your life. You can’t kick it out of the car, but you can pry its claw-like fingers off the wheel.

Here are 25 ways to feel the fear and do it anyway:

1. Breathe.

Sometimes fear is really just your body telling you it needs more oxygen. Breathing slowly and deeply into your belly  lets your nervous system know it can relax because all is well.

2. Come back to your body.

Unless there’s an actual threat nearby, fear is a fire stoked by our thoughts. Focusing on your body (say, by feeling your feet on the ground or the breath in your chest) removes the kindling and brings you back to the present moment.

3. Show some compassion.

Self-compassion makes fear a whole lot less overwhelming. The three steps to self-compassion are:

  1. Acknowledge the pain with sympathy and kindness;
  2. Recognize that all humans are imperfect and that in any given moment thousands of other people are feeling the same way you do; and
  3. Observe your negative thoughts and feelings with curiosity rather than judgment.

4. Give it a name.

Naming the fear and exactly what it is you’re afraid of reduces its intensity and power over you.

5. Get to the root of the fear.

When you see the fear beneath the fear, you often find that what you’re most afraid of is extremely unlikely, not truly harmful, or (more frequently than you might think) downright impossible. Ask yourself what you’re scared of, then what’s bad about that, then what’s bad about that, and what’s bad about that. Keep going until you find the true essence of what you’re afraid of.

6. Don’t believe everything you think.

Fears are based on beliefs, and beliefs are often usually flawed. Byron Katie has a powerful process that can help you discover the truth behind your fears. First you identify your beliefs (for example, if I ______, ______ will happen). Then you ask 4 questions:

  1. Is it true?
  2. [If yes] Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

7. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?

Often your worst-case scenario is not actually dangerous or devastating. Regardless, if you can find a way to accept it, fear will have no way to stop you.

8. Determine probabilities.

If your worst-case scenario is truly terrifying, get clear on how likely it is to really happen. Of all the possible outcomes, what’s the probability that this is the one you’ll be stuck with? To make sure you’re being realistic, have an objective third-party check your numbers.

9. Calculate your track record.

While we’re talking numbers, go ahead and calculate how accurate your fears really are. Write down all your worries for one month and then go back and note which ones came true. If we take the time to do this, most of us find that we’re batting somewhere close to zero (apology for the mixed sports metaphors).

10. Become your own mentor.

In The Fear Book, Cheri Huber offers the idea of becoming a mentor to the scared part of you. It’s a brilliant and effective strategy. To use it, just ask yourself anytime you feel scared: what would a wise and loving mentor tell me right now?

11. Turn it over.

Whether it’s God, goddesses, the universe, love, your highest self, or your dog, turning your fears over to something more powerful than you are is incredibly freeing. You don’t even have to believe in anything to get started. Just write your fears down, put them in a box, and say, “I’m turning this over to you, [insert higher power of your choice].” Then let go and see what happens, knowing it’s no longer in your hands. Review the items you’ve put in your box periodically and see how they’ve turned out to find evidence that regardless of how you feel about God, you are supported and cared for.

12. Take tiny baby steps.

Fear feeds on big, overwhelming tasks. To reduce the fear factor, break your goals down into steps. Then break those steps down into smaller steps. Then break those small steps down into even tinier steps until you have a task you can do in 10 minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? Afterward, be sure to celebrate your win and plan when you’ll take your next tiny baby step.

13. Make a back-up plan.

If things don’t go as you hope, what will you do? Create a plan for how you’ll take care of yourself during any setbacks and how you’ll continue to move towards what you want, even when things go awry.

14. Share with peers.

There’s something about sharing your fears with others who are going through something similar that inevitably breeds courage. Just be sure you’re sharing with people who are actively embracing and facing their fears, not running away from them.

15. Get feedback.

In his book Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields urges people facing anxiety in the creative process to get feedback from mentors, peers, and potential end-users early on as a way of building confidence and comfort. Asking people you trust to give you feedback on your efforts can be terrifying, but paradoxically, it’s also a powerful antidote to fear.

16. Practice discomfort.

When we fail to take action, we’re not usually avoiding a theoretical bad outcome so much as the immediate discomfort of fear or anxiety. Like someone with bad breath, most of us find fear so unpleasant that we’ll do just about anything to avoid it. To stop avoiding fear, you need to develop your ability to sit with discomfort. To do that, just engage in something that brings up anxiety on purpose every day, then practice sitting with it for slightly longer periods of time. When you’re able to tolerate discomfort, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

17. Slow down.

Kindness is wonderful medicine for fear. If your fear is overwhelming, slow down and maybe even take a break. Do something comforting and familiar, something that makes you feel good about yourself, and then go back and try again.

18. Feel the edges of the fear.

Get curious about how your fear feels in your body. Notice where you feel it, what it feels like, and how it changes over time. After observing it for a little while, start to feel for its edges and begin to notice the places in your body where you don’t feel the fear (your little toe perhaps?). You’ll start to see that fear is actually just a bunch of sensations in your body, that it too has boundaries, and that it’s really nothing to be afraid of.

19. Address the fear’s concerns.

Your fear isn’t the enemy; it just doesn’t want you to become harmed, homeless, or humiliated. You probably don’t either, so let your fear know how you’re going to take care of what’s important to you even while you take a risk; remind it that things like what other people think of you don’t really affect your well-being; and watch as your newly consoled fear steps aside so you can open the gates of change.

20. Imagine a positive outcome.

If you want to loosen fear’s grip, you need to stop playing the worst-case scenario over and over in your head. Since you don’t know what will happen, and good outcomes are at least as likely as bad ones, you might as well choose to obsess about your best-case scenario in vibrant, gory detail.

21. Talk to someone who’s succeeded.

Fear likes facts. When I tell my fear everything will be okay, it demands proof. Finding someone who’s done what I want to do and flourished is pretty strong evidence that success is possible, and learning from their perspective makes it all the more likely. My fear is smart, but it can’t argue with that.

22. Talk to someone who’s failed.

When you do this, your fear is going to want you to use it as an opportunity find all the reasons you’re going to fail too. Resist this urge. Instead, ask this person all kinds of questions about how they recovered from their failure, what they learned, what skills they gained, and what new possibilities it opened up. When we’re afraid of failure, we forget that it actually carries many gifts, and your job is to discover from this person exactly what those are.

23. Find a purpose greater than the fear.

Fear usually stems from our egos’ concerns, like not having enough money or status, or looking bad to others. These aren’t the things that truly make us happy, though. To focus on what matters, define a better purpose for any given venture, one that you can fulfill regardless of where you end up. What might you get out of embarking on this adventure that’s more important than wealth or popularity? What might it allow you to give to others? What would make this effort worthwhile regardless of the outcome?

24. Meditate.

Fear isn’t the problem; believing everything it tells you is. Meditation is a great way to practice noticing your thoughts without buying into their conclusions all the time. It gives you the awareness you need to question your thoughts and the ability to let them go when they aren’t serving you. It also gives you a way to experience fear without being paralyzed by it. An ongoing meditation practice is one of the main reasons I’m able to do things that scare the pee out of me, over and over again.

25. Meditate.

Am I repeating myself? Yes. Is it for a good reason? I think so. In addition to giving us the ability to let go of unhelpful thoughts, meditation also connects us to our serenity, wisdom, and courage. We all have these qualities at our core, but we become unable to access them when fear is yammering in our ears all the time. Getting quiet, even if only for milliseconds at a time, helps us reconnect to the part of ourselves that is always compassionate and unafraid.

26. Bonus Idea: Meditate.

I’m not being lazy here, I swear. It’s really that important.

Over to You

What helps you feel your fear and do things anyway? I’d love to know, and so would everyone else. Please share in the comments below.

Hungry for More?

I recently re-released Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World. It’s an affordable, structured, practical, and easy way to break through your fear, get clear about what kind of work you want to do in the world, and start actually doing it. Click here to find out more.


Photo Credit: Jade Craven // CC

Not Sure Where to Start to Find Your Calling? Here’s One Super Powerful Thing You Can Do (in < 10 Minutes a Day)

School teaches many things, but in 13 years most of us learn almost nothing about how to live a fulfilling life.

We’re not taught how to identify what’s most important to us or be true to our deepest desires in a dynamic and imperfect world. We’re not taught how to make difficult decisions with complex and unknown variables. And we’re not taught how to recognize when we’re getting in our own way or what to do about it.

So it makes sense that according to Gallup, over two thirds or US workers report feeling unengaged (defined as not being involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work).

Most of the work that I do with clients is helping them learn the skills that school didn’t teach so that they can identify what type of work would be fulfilling and make their way through the quite challenging but also very rewarding process of moving into it.

I understand, however, that not everyone is in a position to hire a coach right now, so I thought I’d share the one practice that I consistently see making the biggest difference in my clients’ lives.

Before I share what it is, I’d like to say a few more words about why it’s so important.

The Magic Bullet? (No, But Not Too Far From It)

When my clients begin doing this practice, most of them uncover some pretty huge clues about what matters most to them, as well as what type of work they want to do next.

Even some clients who feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options they have, and others who have no idea what would possibly fulfill them, find that this activity makes it much easier to know in which direction they want to go.

I had one client, for example, who had so many interests that he didn’t know how to choose among them. Through this activity, he discovered that it was most important to him to have some element of entertainment in his next job so that he could make others laugh and feel good about themselves. That realization led him to explore clowning, improv, and corporate teambuilding options.

But the great thing about this practice is that it not only makes it about a million times easier to identify your calling; it also helps you feel more alert, more aware, and more in control—in other words, more connected to yourself. It helps you deal with stress more effectively, and manage your emotions more skillfully. Finally, it lets you know what levers you can pull to find more joy and satisfaction in your day-to-day, in work and outside of it.

I had another client, for example, who was motivated by this practice to stop drinking in bars so much so he could do more of the things he enjoyed, like running races with his friends and daughters.

When I began doing this activity on a daily basis, I was mired in depression and having regular panic attacks. After a few weeks, I was still panicky and depressed, but I had a much better sense of what I needed to do to feel better. Over the next few years, as I continued to work this practice into my daily routine, it helped me heal my anxiety and depression, take bold steps towards my deepest desires, and rediscover my creative talents.

How does one activity do all this?

 Moving the Thermostat Indoors

This practice, and several variations on it that can also be used, are so powerful because they close the feedback loop.

Most of us are so busy running around taking care of what we need to do that we don’t take the time to check in with the impact of all this activity—or, more specifically, its impact on us (most of us are very aware of the external results, and whether or not we’re achieving the outcomes we want).

A meditation teacher of mine one time explained this phenomenon as being similar to having a house whose thermostat is outdoors. When we don’t take time to check in with ourselves and how we’re doing, the feedback loop is broken and the thermostat can’t know whether the air needs to be cooler or warmer in the house.

The activity I’m about to share is one very powerful way to close the feedback loop (or, in the metaphor used by my meditation teacher, bring the thermostat indoors). It gives us the information we need to know how to adjust our systems and actions in order to take better care of our own well-being.

In my experience, when we do this—when we close the feedback loop—we begin to automatically make the adjustments that we need most in our work and our lives, often without even thinking about it.

So, Without Further Ado…

What is the practice? It’s actually quite simple. Perhaps even better for most of us, it’s also free and not terribly time consuming.

The idea is to pause a few times a day to reflect on what you’re feeling and why.

There are many ways to do this. The easiest way to start, in my experience, is to identify three times every day when you can take a few minutes to ask yourself two questions. I recommend either doing it before a regular activity (like eating) or setting an alarm or reminder on your phone to prompt you until you get in the habit of it.

When the time comes, pause whatever you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Then ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What’s my best sense of why I might be feeling this way?

I recommend taking brief notes so you can begin to notice patterns.

Your feelings contain powerful clues about what you want, what’s important to you, and what’s key to your well-being. Getting curious about your emotions and what’s contributing to them will give you lots of incredibly valuable information about your work and your life.

If, like most of us, your emotional vocabulary is limited to “fine,” “good,” and “bad,” then print out Nonviolent Communication’s list of feelings and consult it when you do this.

And if you’re not sure why you’re feeling a certain way, don’t worry about it. I find that it’s extremely helpful to ask the question, but that it doesn’t matter so much if you don’t get an answer every single time. With enough repetition, you’ll start to see patterns, and what’s most important will be revealed if you just keep asking.

One final word of warning: please don’t do this practice as a way to get rid of your feelings. Paradoxically, listening to our feelings can help them move through us instead of getting stuck on repeat, but in order to listen to them, you have to be willing to embrace them with compassion and a bit of loving kindness.

 For Those Who Want More…

Once you’ve incorporated this practice into your daily habits, if you’d like to go deeper, you can add a third question between the first two:

  • How does my body feel?

Scan your body to answer this question and use sensation words like “light,” “heavy,” “warm,” “cool,” “tense,” “relaxed,” “tingling,” “prickly,” “energized,” “tired,” etc.

Finally, one of the other most powerful practices I personally use is a natural offshoot to this one, and that’s to set aside time each day to let yourself feel and express your feelings. Beyond identifying, this means sitting with the emotions (perhaps in meditation), taking time to feel them in the body, or doing things that express them (like crying, yelling, hitting pillows, etc.).

Feelings we don’t feel get stuck, but when we find ways to be with them and move their energy through us, they stop leaking out in our daily lives as irritation, impatience, and anxiety.

Instead, they simply move over and through us like waves on the ocean. And these waves whisper words of guidance to us as they go, if we’re only willing to pay attention and get curious as to what they have to say.

For Those Who Want Even More…

I’m now offering a new way to get the guidance and structure you need to move into meaningful work you love.

Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World, the online course I ran last year, is now available for self-study. It’s a comprehensive program with videos, downloadable PDFs, and supportive emails to help you work through the same process I use with my individual coaching clients. This is the first time that you can access it anytime, anywhere, and work through it at your own pace.

Because I want this material to be as accessible as possible, I’m offering it now at a super special rate (almost half the price of what I charged for the live version, and a small fraction of the cost of individual coaching). You can check it out here if you’re interested.

Over to You

If you try the feelings check-in, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

What went well?
What did you learn?
What was challenging, and what questions do you have?

Any new practice is going to have its high and low points. I’d love to hear yours in the comments below.

Ant Rozetsky

Self Doubt: A Love Letter and a Guide

self doubt giraffe

A few weeks ago a wave of self doubt overwhelmed me like a particularly bad case of the flu.

I struggled to make important decisions, like whether to watch a movie or take a nap. The consequences were clearly enormous, and I was afraid of getting it wrong. When I did finally manage to choose something, I made up for my momentary success by spending more time second-guessing my decision than actually carrying it out.

Nothing I did felt good enough, and I was critical of every effort I made. I looked for evidence of failure everywhere, and when I found that I did something with less than optimal consequences, I chewed on my mistake like a dog on a bone and snapped at anyone who tried to take it away from me.

The worst part was, when I realized what was happening, I turned it into more fodder for my self doubt. I know better, I thought. I can’t believe I’m doubting myself again. I proceeded to beat myself up for beating myself up.

An Epidemic of Doubt

Self doubt is incredibly common in people who are struggling to find their purpose in life or who feel trapped in jobs they don’t like.

For example, one woman I spoke with recently has a job that she knows isn’t sustainable physically, financially, or emotionally. She wants to move into something that’s more enjoyable and rewarding, but she worries that she won’t be able to successfully transition into a new industry, fears failure, and finds the tasks necessary to make a change overwhelming.

Beyond these common symptoms, however, self doubt has an even more destructive component. It erodes our ability to be true to who we are.

When things aren’t going the way we’d like in our external lives—in our jobs, families, friendships, or other pursuits—we start to believe the corrosive voice in our heads that tells us that there’s something wrong with us. We turn on ourselves, and instead of embracing the things that make us unique and allow us to work through our challenges and contribute great things to the world, we condemn them, seeing irredeemable flaws not just in what we do, but in the fabric of who we are.

The Love Letter

It would be easy to condemn self doubt itself as another irredeemable flaw. I would propose a different way of looking at it, however.

Self doubt comes from our desire to be good. It’s a sign that we care about ourselves and our world. It’s misguided, yes, but it’s also a sign of a beautiful heart. If you didn’t care, if you didn’t want what’s good for yourself and others, you wouldn’t doubt. And as I mentioned in my previous post, wanting and caring are key to transforming not just your life, but also the world for the better.

Perhaps because of this, self doubt is also one of the best guides I know of to help you find your path. It points to the exact place where your gifts are needed and where you’re likely not sharing them freely.

I can probably explain this most clearly with a story from my recent meditation retreat.

The Gift of Self Doubt (Based on a True Story)

I’m a loud meditator. I meditate in a tradition that encourages you to become aware of and then surrender to whatever emotional, physical, or spiritual energy is moving through you. You’re also invited to express it through sound and movement. Over the years, I’ve found that my energy often wants to express itself through deep and relatively loud noises. The group I meditate in, however, is filled with other noisy meditators, so I’m usually not the loudest one in the room.

Then last weekend I found myself in a meditation retreat where the group was much quieter. My urge was to override my energy and remain silent as well. My teacher, however, encouraged me to stay true to whatever energy was arising within me. To my constant dismay, that meant making loud sounds.

The first night I was filled with self doubt. I could almost hear the other participants’ internal judgments and feel their irritation through the walls. I convinced myself that the only reason I needed to be loud was because I’m an emotional mess and can’t manage to get my $#*! together like everyone else.

The next morning I shared my doubts with the group. They were encouraging, but I wasn’t convinced. When we paired up for the next meditation, I was with a woman who was new to this particular practice. She was dealing with a lot of sadness but having a hard time letting herself feel it. As I settled into my meditation, I felt energy rise within me and want to be expressed. I will not make a noise, I thought to myself. The teacher came over and put her hand on my back. I knew she was trying to assist me in moving energy, but all I could think of over and over, was I will not make a noise. I will not. I will not.

Suddenly I had the image of the entire energy of the earth beneath me knocking on a trapdoor at the base of my spine. “Will you open the door and accept this gift?” it seemed to be asking. Part of me didn’t want to. Part of me desperately wanted to keep that door shut. But I knew enough to know the power of the gift being offered, so I opened to it.

A wave of incredibly strong, rooted energy immediately flowed through me. I opened my mouth and let it all come out. Aware of the power of the energy, I extended it to the woman in front of me, offering it to help her as well in any way it could. I sat with her for what felt like a long time, feeling connected, compassionate, powerful. And loud. I was very loud.

When we were done, the woman looked up at me in tears. “You energy was so strong, and so helpful,” she said. “I felt it there assisting me the entire time. I’ve never felt so held, so surrounded by support.” She said she was finally able to access some of the sadness she had resisted earlier. “I finally feel like everything’s going to be okay,” she said at the end.

What I learned about self doubt in that moment is that it is wildly inaccurate, almost humorously so. I also learned that it has the ability to point us to both the exact thing that makes us unique and the best way to share our gifts at any given moment in order to help those around us. All I had to do was resist the temptation to turn on myself, embrace the very thing that felt worthy of shame, and go in the direction the doubt was trying to steer me away from.

Not easy to do, sure, but a signpost couldn’t have been clearer in helping me find my way.

The Guide

There’s no easy way to work with self doubt. Positive affirmations work for a lot of people, but they’re never worked well for me. Or at least, not by themselves.

In my experience, you can’t talk yourself out of self doubt. That’s always my first instinct, but it rarely works for long. There are other things you can do, however, to transform it into self love and a powerful gift to give to others. Here are some ways I’ve found to work with self doubt:

1. Listen for the story the doubt is telling.

Self doubt is born from the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not. Get curious about what these stories are saying about who you are. You can often do this by paying conscious attention to your thoughts or through stream-of-consciousness journaling about whatever situation is triggering the doubt.

Is your doubt saying that you’re too (strong, weak, loud, quiet, selfish, lazy, fearful, indecisive, impulsive…) or not (calm, generous, clear, productive, enlightened, loving, selfless…) enough?

As you’re listening for the story, it can be very helpful to feel the fear as well. Usually self doubt comes up when we’re scared about something. Admitting to yourself what that is and letting yourself feel the fear (I do this by getting curious about where I feel it in my body and then letting it be there without trying to get rid of it), can be very powerful in transforming the doubt.

When I was doubting myself the other weekend, the story I was telling myself was that I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my house, my marriage, my family, my health, or anything, really. I was scared that I wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be, and that I would lose what I cared about most. The basic message came down to “I’m a lazy, selfish person, and I’m going to lose everything I love because all I want to do right now is lay around and take a nap.”

2. See the truth beneath the story.

This can be tricky, because the doubt can feel so convincing. See if you can look at the situation as if through the eyes of someone who loves and respects you very much. Can you find any evidence that the opposite of what the doubt is saying is true?

In my case of feeling I wasn’t doing enough, I began to remember many things I had done over the past week to take care of the people and things that are important to me. I could also see that my house, overall, is in good shape, as are my relationships, my health and well-being, etc. Once I started looking for it, I found evidence that not only do I do a lot, but I’m pretty darn effective at taking care of what matters most.

What my doubt was missing was that while taking care of business is well and good, it’s not the most important thing. Staying in touch with the present moment, my Inner Wisdom, and my connection to something larger than myself, is actually what’s most important to me. It’s what allows me to move away from ego and towards my true self, feel greater joy and serenity, tap into my creativity, share my gifts with the world, and grow towards health and wholeness. It also requires lots of space, rest, and time to be and not do. For me, that often looks like moving slowly, not getting much done, and yes, taking naps.

Self doubt is like a giant arrow pointing away from your most powerful and unique strengths. Go in the opposite direction of the arrow, and you’ll find your greatest gifts like a pot of gold at the wrong end of a confusing rainbow.

3. Get others to help you.

If you’re having a hard time seeing what the truth really is, ask someone you trust for help. Compassionate family members, friends, or colleagues who get you can help you find a new, more objective perspective than you might be able to access on your own. They are also usually able to recognize and articulate your talents and gifts when you simply can’t.

Other people can also help in another important way. A lot of times we feel self doubt because we haven’t done something before. Chances are you aren’t incapable of doing what you feel called to, but you may need some time and help to learn new skills. Other people can help you navigate learning curves, whether as teachers, coaches, mentors, or peers. Asking others for help can not only speed up the learning process, but make it much more enjoyable as well.

4. When in doubt, experiment.

Instead of believing your self doubt, which tells you that you’re incapable or unworthy of getting what you want, find out the truth for yourself. The best way I know to do this is to conduct experiments.

It’s hard to convince yourself that you can do something without actually doing it. But when you try it and find that you don’t fall flat on your face, it provides evidence to the skeptical part of yourself that you may not be such a nincompoop after all.

So the next time your doubt is trying to talk you out of something, come up with a way to do an experiment and test your hypothesis that you’ll  ___(fail, be rejected, embarrass yourself, find out you’re not as good as you thought you were, etc.)____. In the case of the woman who felt stuck in an unsustainable job, this might be signing up for a class or volunteering for an organization in a new field she’s interested in. For me the other weekend, it might have been taking a nap when I worried I should be doing something more productive.

No matter what experiment you decide to try, be like a scientist and observe your experience carefully. What thoughts, emotions, and body sensations arise during the experiment? What happens as a result? Do things fall apart? Do you fall flat on your face? Or does something good actually come about?

Pay attention to your expectations as you do this as well. (This is true for everyone, but especially for those of us with a tendency towards perfectionism.) Are you allowing yourself to be a beginner and get more effective over time, or are you expecting yourself to be a prodigy and pick this up in a day, week, month, or even year?

5. No matter what, be extra kind and gentle with yourself.

In many ways, the antidote to self doubt is self love.

That means being compassionate with yourself, recognizing that this is something that everyone struggles with in one way of another. It’s also not something you should already know how to do. Learning how to be true to yourself despite fear and self doubt is a lifelong process, and we’re certainly not taught anything about how to do it in school. Rather than getting in the way of progress, I actually believe it’s one of the most worthwhile things we can spend time on while we’re here.

Loving yourself also means being kind and gentle. Allow yourself to go slowly. Let yourself make mistakes. Do all the things you can think of that feed and nourish you. For me, that’s walking in nature, spending time with animals, connecting with loved ones, taking hot baths, napping, doing something creative, reading fantasy books, and watching funny movies.

You don’t have to wait until you’re confident or over your self doubt to treat yourself well. Often confidence comes once we’ve made the decision that we’re worthy of a little kindness and tender loving care.

Support for Transforming Self Doubt

I don’t have any openings right now for individual coaching clients, but I am thinking about starting another group coaching cohort this summer. If you’re interested in working in a safe and compassionate community of peers to transform self doubt, identify your calling, and take steps towards work you love, you can  find out more and apply for the program here.

Over to You

What self doubt is coming up for you right now? What gifts is it pointing you towards? What action feels most important to take in order to transform it?

Please share in the comments below.