As a 20-something I was often wracked with indecision. I would spend days/weeks/months agonising over what I should do (or should have done) about particular parts of my life. By my early 30s, as I balanced on the edge of the cliff that was my slowly destructing marriage, my indecision had reached a crescendo.
I spent so much time seeking the advice of everyone else about what I should do with my life. My faith in my ability to make the best decisions for me about major life situations was extremely limited. I thought everyone else was wiser and more sensible than me. I didn’t trust myself and it just got worse and worse.
This was hardly surprising because, as my marriage began to splinter, my own behaviour spiraled. I made decisions that weren’t reliant on good judgement. My recklessness sometimes scared me. It was only later that I’d realise that this woman who seemed just a little out of control was simply breaking the chains that had held her captive for too long. I was breaking the chains that I’d tied myself up in for a very long time.
I could say these were the result of being an eldest child, getting married young, low self-esteem, anxiety, my family upbringing, a strong perfectionist streak and a long list of other reasons. And maybe some of those things contributed to me being the way I was.
But honestly, I think I was just never shown how to go within and trust myself. So one day the Universe gave me a solid kick up the you-know-what and shocked me out of the life I’d created. Forces bigger than me knocked me out of my sensible shoes and serious suits, and showed me a glimpse of something else. If you want to know more about that process, you can read my book, The Men I’ve Almost Dated, when I self-publish in the near future.
But the point I want to make is about what happened the day I decided to leave my marriage and every day since. The day I made that decision I chose to trust myself implicitly. It was an incredibly hard thing to do particularly as I knew a lot of people (including my family and many friends) would disagree with my choice. It was the first day I truly chose to back myself no matter what.
Choosing to do that takes courage when you’ve never been shown how to do it. It means you have to take a risk, choose yourself first and know you might still get it wrong.
Over the ensuing years I’ve continued to grow that trust in myself. Like a garden in the Brisbane heat, it often needs watering, weeding and fertilising. There are times when I’ve almost let that garden become a desolate wasteland because I’ve fallen back into the habit of trusting other people instead of myself. I’ve been challenged again and again, to return to my inner voice and trust it even when the dissenting opinions of others scream more loudly.
Self-trust is a lifelong journey. It’s a challenge and sometimes feels like the longest and loneliest march into a foreign world. But if I could go back now and talk to my 20-something self, I’d tell her that no matter what she must learn to trust herself. I’d advise her to listen to that inner voice that tells her when she’s going the wrong way and to take notice when that same voice tells her to keep going or have faith when it seems like madness to everyone else…even if it seems completely loopy to her very rational and reasonable brain.
Trusting myself is my biggest source of strength and my inner voice always speaks the truth. But the thing to remember is that ‘truth’ is ‘my truth’ so it’s not always going to make sense to anyone else. And it doesn’t have to.
The most important thing is that I know that my inner voice, my intuition, is always there to help me to learn, to grow and experience the beautiful things this life has to offer. It is my protector and the character that holds my hand as I leap off the next cliff into another adventure.
It is for me and me alone and will always be there inside. I just need the courage to listen for its soft tones.
Our ability to keep ourselves small and negate our achievements is something that constantly surprises me. Comments like, ‘I don’t think I’ve done any interesting stuff’ or the rejection of a genuine compliment with a dismissive ‘Oh, this is just an old skirt’ or ‘I need to lose 5kgs’ are just some of the examples that have recently popped up in conversations with people I care about.
I’m not a paragon of virtue in this area either. I can be just as dismissive of my own strengths, talents and attributes. It’s an unhealthy habit and one I’m trying to break.
Australians have long been taught that we shouldn’t get too ‘big for our britches’. The tall poppy syndrome, where we try to keep others ‘in their place’, has long been part of our culture. Our capacity for self-deprecation is also very common indeed. But when I hear people bring themselves down I wonder, is it really healthy to make ourselves small when there are enough reasons to be pulled down in this world?
I often find myself repeating in my head, anything is possible if you believe. It’s become a bit of a personal mantra for me. But this habit of keeping ourselves small works in direct opposition to that. So I have this internal struggle of believing I can achieve what I long for, while being undermined by the fear of pushing myself forward. It’s a bit of a challenge to negotiate this conflict.
Unfortunately, other people often play a role in supporting this idea that we should not stand out too much. One friend was recently told that she should tone down her resume after she reached a certain level in a recruitment process because she’d (in a nutshell) ‘already stood out to get to that stage anyway and didn’t need to do that anymore’.
Hmm. I say a big fat ‘no’ to that one. Standing out and being who you are is a good thing. Being truly yourself, being authentic and going for what you want is absolutely what you should be doing. Living the essence of you, your purpose, is what you’re here to do. It’s not about ramming how great you are down everyone’s throats. Instead it’s about claiming the fabulousness that is you. But you can’t do that if you don’t acknowledge that you have unique gifts and skills no one else has. Because there is no one else on this planet who can do exactly what you do in the way you do it.
So the next time you think, ‘I haven’t done anything that great’ step back and give yourself a little credit. And the next time someone gives you a compliment say, ‘thank you’ and know you deserve it.
You don’t have to make yourself small to keep other people comfortable. That’s not what you’re here to do. You’re here to shine. So gather your courage, step into the light and say, ‘Here I am Universe and I’m going for it!’
Last weekend, my friend Susan* discovered she had lost some of her friends. Somehow, over the past 12 months, as she became absorbed more and more in her purpose and life in general, her friends began to pull away. Then over the weekend, Susan experienced a ‘friend break-up’.
‘It would be great if you could write a blog about how to deal with that!’ she said. So here it is.
Susan has done a lot over the past year or so. She’s had a baby, established a not-for-profit and organised fundraising events that delivered valuable and much-needed outcomes for those in need. Put simply, she’s been following her heart and purpose to make the world a better place.
Unfortunately, some friends have decided not to support Susan’s journey. For whatever reason, they never ask what she’s up to, they don’t support her fundraising events and they don’t care about the path she has chosen. They don’t get it and now deliberately isolate her at social events. The situation felt like schoolyard bullying and, as she felt hurt by their behaviour, Susan decided to ask them what was going on.
Their reaction wasn’t positive and included statements like ‘All you ever talk about is you’, ‘You’re never free when we want to see you’ and ‘You didn’t come to my party.’
Some of her friends’ complaints stretched back to August last year. But when Susan asked, ‘Why didn’t you say something back then?’ they had no response.
Now, while Susan has been engrossed in various activities and could probably do with more ‘balance ‘in her life generally, she definitely hasn’t been making it all about her. She’s been juggling a baby, work and trying to make the world a better place in the only way she knows how. Susan has been busy but also made an effort to stay in touch with her friends. However, her commitments meant she wasn’t as available as she used to be. Meanwhile, her friends aren’t interested in what she’s doing and want her to be the way she was before.
But Susan isn’t that person anymore and she can’t go back.
‘What do I do?’ she asked with tears in her eyes. ‘I’m doing my best but they’re not interested. They don’t want to know.’
Breaking up with friends is hard but we can’t stay in one place just to make other people comfortable. In life there will be moments when you realise you must leave some people behind. Life is like that. Some people will always be in our lives, others will stay only for a certain period of time before going their own way. Then there are others who will leave and return when the time is right. That’s just how our soul contracts with each other work. We support and learn from each other, then move on when the contract is done (read Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss if you’d like to know more about this).
Our relationships, platonic, familial and romantic, do require work and commitment. However, sometimes you are simply moving in a different direction and must let go. And that’s okay.
My advice to Susan was to seek out those friends who support her journey; the ones who ‘get’ what she’s trying to do.
‘Seek out the ones who help you feel lightness in your soul and encourage you to live the life your dream of,’ I said. ‘What would that feel like?’ Susan’s smile was all the answer I needed and I felt her spirit lift at the thought.
Some people are only in our lives for a season. Others will remain connected over long periods to teach us lessons or support only certain parts of our lives. And then others will return when we believe the connection is broken, because that too is what’s needed. The challenge is to protect our hearts and know it’s okay to let go when the contract is done.
*Names changed and story published with Susan’s approval.
If you’d like to me to respond to one of your questions, please comment on my blog or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The intersection outside my university was almost at a standstill this morning but it wasn’t due to the usual peak hour traffic. Instead, at around 7.53am, the cars were slowing to avoid an intrepid bush turkey who’d decided to take that moment to dash across George Street at great personal peril.
The turkey seemed to know where he was heading, kind of, but his route was more than a little random. He set off at rapid sprint from the curb before doubling back, changing direction, stopping, starting, swerving and seeming to change his mind, before moving forward again. He did this several times while the surrounding drivers attempted to avoid turkey carnage and the rest of us watched on, shaking our heads and yes, laughing at his craziness.
That turkey didn’t seem to know what the heck he was doing.
Once he finally made his way to the opposite footpath, he ran headlong into the fence surrounding the botanical gardens (which I presume was his ultimate destination), before doubling back, running a little to the right then the left, then back again before setting off towards the entrance a few metres down. As I passed by, he still hadn’t quite made it and I heard one of the nearby students laughingly say, ‘Those turkeys are soooo stupid.’
The turkey could have taken a direct route across the road. He could’ve waited for the traffic lights and been carried along with the tide of humanity before taking a sharp left turn into the gardens and relative safety. But he didn’t. Instead he didn’t seem to know where he was going. He prevaricated, changed his mind, stopped, started and simply went all over the place in a way that looked quite insane to passersby. His route did not make any sense, and seemed unnecessarily dangerous and time-consuming.
As I walked on to my first class, I laughed a little more to myself when I realised I have also acted like that turkey on a number of occasions. There have been more than a few times in my life when, with a lack of self-belief and no clear direction, I have hurried this way and that in a way that probably seemed mad to the people watching. I would’ve had a goal in mind but I didn’t have a map or a plan on how to get there so I took the most confused road on the way. Most of the time, I eventually got where I wanted to go, but it was not the most seamless or enjoyable journey.
I’ve been observing a friend of mine doing something similar lately and have been shaking my head and thinking, ‘Why doesn’t X just go straight ahead? Can’t they see the signs?’ [It’s funny how life reflects parts of yourself back to you, isn’t it?]
When we don’t have strong self-belief we take longer to get where we want to go because we undermine our choices along the way. We don’t think we deserve that thing we really want so we question ourselves, sometimes seek the conflicting advice of others (which confuses us even more), think we can’t make it, and so on. It makes our journey very challenging, sometimes painful and, to an outsider, we can look a bit like the bush turkey– indecisive, a bit out of control and clueless.
But, here’s what I’ve worked out. Sometimes we just need to believe we deserve what we want, and then we have to go for it. We need to keep that goal clear in our minds and give it everything we’ve got. Backing yourself in this way takes courage but we’ve all got that inside us (even if you’ve buried it for years and years, you can still dig it out if you’re determined). Once you believe you deserve something, a lot of the angst disappears. You will of course have moments of doubt on the road but they won’t derail you and you’ll be less likely to put yourself in dangerous (mental or emotional) situations because you will be clear on what is best for you. Your progress will be a lot less traumatic as a result.
I think the turkey this morning had his goal in mind but his internal monologue was probably something like this…
‘There it is, that’s where I want to go. But, hang on, I can’t. There’s too much in the way.
‘Ooops, sorry, didn’t mean to get in your way. Sorry to inconvenience you. Yes, I know you really are more important than me. Sorry. Maybe I should go back? Yes, you’re probably right. Sorry. I should just go back where I was.
‘But hang on, there it is. I can see the gate. No. I can’t. I don’t really deserve to be there. But I want it. But…no.
‘Hang on. There’s a gap there. Can I get through? Oops, sorry. They’re laughing at me. I’m such an idiot. Why didn’t I get up earlier when there were less people to see me being such a loser…’
Does any of that sound familiar?
Imagine instead, self-talk that went something like this…
‘Okay. I can see where I want to go and I know I deserve it. I know I’m going to make some mistakes on the way, but that’s okay because I’m human and I’m learning.
‘Now, what’s the best way to get there. Mmm. Okay, don’t panic. I got this. Just need to stay calm. Oops, must remember to wait for the green pedestrian light next time, lesson learned. Time to take a breath over here in this safe spot.
‘Hang on, excuse me, you seem to know where you’re going, can I walk along here with you? Thanks. By the way, can you tell me the best way to get to the gate? Oh, this way? Right. Thanks, have a nice day.’
So, my point is this. Sometimes when we’re working things out, when we doubt ourselves and so on, we can look a bit like a bush turkey. And that’s okay. But maybe next time you could be a little kinder to yourself and use positive self-talk instead of the negative kind to help on your journey.
And the next time you see someone ‘doing a bush turkey’ maybe you could cheer them on from the footpath for at least giving it a shot, and maybe give them some helpful directions (or a handful of birdseed).
We all have those things in our past, those moments that go some way towards defining who we are and where we believe we fit in the world. They can be high points or low ones. Momentous occasions where the world felt like our oyster, or times when it felt like we would never be able to raise our head from the ground again.
Often, just when we think we’ve left those more difficult and challenging moments behind, they rear up before us. And in that moment we can feel like we’re right back where we started, struggling, a little lost and fearful of repeating that pattern from the past.
At times like these we can spiral, down into the depths of that place from where we came. Those attachments to the story of our past can be hard to break.
I have experienced this myself and it’s no fun. But in these moments, once I take a breath or two and bring myself back to the present, I remind myself of the following.
1. The past happened but it’s done. And I am different and stronger because it happened and I lived through it.
2. I will only repeat the patterns of the past if I don’t learn the lessons from the past. So I need to be honest with myself about why and how things happened and what my role was in that process. I am after all, not a victim of circumstance. I am not a passive participant in my own life.
3. Wallowing is fine. Sometimes it is even necessary to fully experience and ‘sit in’ the memory or situation and learn from it. But sooner or later I will need to get up, wash myself off and keep going. That part is definitely up to me. There is no ‘rescue’ from myself.
4. Sometimes the past stalks you just to let you know how far you’ve come. It’s a reminder of what you’ve learned and a sign the pattern no longer exists. It is simply a remnant from an older time. It is in those moments, when I finally realise the pattern is done, that I step into the light letting my past stalk by and disappear into the shadows behind me.