Fear + decisions

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”
― Michelle Obama

One short little sentence, but such a profound insight. This quote resonates with me today because recently I have been leading several workshops that engage students and professionals in reflection on decision-making in their lives. Our conversations about decisions always end up with some time talking about fear and the very real struggle we experience trying to muster the courage to move beyond fear to make sound choices.

What are your biggest challenges to making effective choices? Does fear catch you by surprise or show up in your self-talk more often than not? How have you learned to trust your fear instincts to stay safe when the situation warrants, but be flexible in overcoming fears when they simply represent limiting beliefs? What grounds you in these chaotic moments?

Envisioning possibilities is hard

TessVigeland_FromAOLStory

‘No, no, Tess – go read “What Color Is Your Parachute!” Watch some TED Talks about finding your passion! Go take a class that you’ve always wanted to take!

Great advice… But inside my head – I was paralyzed. Getting your brain to really, really open up to all the possibilities – it’s so much harder than I ever imagined.”

-from Tess Vigeland‘s 2013 World Domination Summit talk, “What the Hell Are You Doing?!”, here in print or audio.

This afternoon I found Tess Vigeland’s familiar voice coming through my speakers while I was working on some planning tasks. Here was a professional with public radio superpowers, and she was talking about her own struggle making sense of her decision to leave Marketplace. Incredible.

Too often I think we assume there are two camps of people – those who have it together and are on a path, and those who are lost. In reality I think most of us are somewhere in between. We are broken, afraid, and struggling to find signs to reassure us that we will be okay. Career transitions are painful, even when they are fruitful. They leave their marks on us, challenging our confidence and assumptions we have about who we are and the world we live within.

When we are looking for work or trying to decide if we should make a change our dear family and friends who love us will just encourage us to open up and dream, as if we haven’t tried to do this. Yet when we are stressed by job changes and questioning whether we will be okay, it is very difficult for the mind to open up to creatively envisioning a multitude of possibilities for us.

While it is hard to dream in times of distress, stretching yourself to stay open and think big is essential for finding our way to what is next for us.

Next time you find yourself in that place, consider these three thoughts:

1. Know that you alone are enough. You are perfect and you and the gifts you bring are very much needed in the world.

2. Take heart in knowing you are not alone. Even Tess Vigeland feels overwhelmed by these major transitions!

3. Apply equal parts reflection, rest, and forward progress. When we are in the midst of chaos it can be tempting to push harder to work towards the certainty that we crave and yet these transitions require space and time to breathe in new life, energy and possibility.

Give yourself space to notice the uncomfortable or distressing feelings you are experiencing and try to decipher any meaning or lessons therein (I know, that sounds terribly naive, but try). And then rest.

Rest your anxious mind and heart. Give  your search a break. Live into the spaciousness of this moment and find balance between the reflection, rest, and forward progress. My hope for you is that in doing this you will be gentle towards yourself when you are feeling tender, and you will give your own inner truth a chance to be heard and to influence your path forward in a way that is both unexpected and glorious… maybe not right away… but maybe someday, and that is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

Recognizing “enough” in my life and work

Earlier this week I found myself in a nasty mood. My whole disposition to the world was one of irritation and bother. I was drained, unhappy, and frustrated by all kinds of small things that should have never even registered as irritants. I think many of us have days or weeks like this and like most things, they pass. What finally shifted things for me was going outside to sit in my comfortable Adirondack chair and read a book for a bit.

I should have sent myself to an out-of-doors timeout much earlier that day. It was clear I was burned out, tired, fatigued, and needed to rest and process all the chaotic thoughts and feelings stomping through my head. Yet I felt like I could not sit still and rest. There was one more load of laundry to be done, one more hour to spend business planning, one more visit to Facebook that needed to be made. None of it urgent and most of it not really even important to me in the grand scheme of things.

So when I found myself settling in under my oak tree to read my book I had to laugh at my selection: Wayne Muller‘s “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough,” which originally crossed my path through a church book club that I was too busy to ultimately attend. I am not joking.

Wayne Muller's book, "A life of being, having, and doing enough" from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Life-Being-Having-Doing-Enough/dp/0307591395

Wayne Muller’s book, “A life of being, having, and doing enough” from Amazon.

While I am not all the way through the book, it was surprising how much of it resonated with how I was struggling that day. It is as if Muller used my experience that day to illustrate his argument perfectly!

I kept coming back to this passage again and again:

“In spite of any compelling physical or spiritual benefits, we fear we have no authentic, trustworthy permission to stop. If we do stop to rest without some very good reason or some verifiable catastrophe, we feel guilty, we worry about getting in trouble, we feel we are just lazy, not carrying our weight, not a team player, or will be left behind. If we just put our nose to the grindstone, give it our all, do our best, give 110 percent, really put our mind to it, never give up, and work more efficiently, then we can, and should, be able to get absolutely everything on our desk, on our to-do list, on our calendars, finished, on deadline, without any mistakes, perfectly, every time.

Then we can rest.

But this ridiculously impossible moment never arrives and we cannot take that first step back. So we keep going. And going. Without permission from culture, workplace, community, or even our own inner, grinding work ethic, how can we know it is time to stop — for now, for today — and know that what we have done, and who we have been, is absolutely enough? It is time to put it down, let it be, go home, and call it a day” (p. 6).

 

This blog is all about finding, claiming, and living out one’s purpose in life and work. So you might expect me to be an expert in this area, but in truth, I am like so many other writers before me: I write to understand, rather than to tell.

Reading the words from that passage prompted all kinds of questions to pop up at me from the page:

  • Why do I feel that unless I am physically weary or mentally empty I have not done enough?
  • Why do I see each day as a struggle to prove my worthiness through productivity?
  • While I may believe it intellectually, why do I struggle in practice to accept that I am enough just as I am, even without being perfectly productive?
  • Who’s permission am I seeking to be “done enough” to rest?
  • How can I better tune into the cues in my life that I’ve had enough, been enough, and contributed enough that day or week or season?
  • Why is it such a struggle for me to practice self-compassion to myself by recognizing when I have found “enough” in life or work?
  • And perhaps the scariest question of all: If I did finally feel I had done “enough” for a day – What on earth would I do with myself????

Like me, I’m sure reading over the passage I quoted above sparked all kinds of questions and concerns in you. What resonates with where you are struggling? In what ways are you proud to stand in your own truth and know when you have had enough? What strategies or tools do you rely on to recognize when you have found “enough” in your life or work each day? I welcome your wisdom!

He is so desperate, I am so blessed.

He is so desperate, I am so blessed. 

I found myself saying this to myself today after a series of coaching appointments with clients facing deep struggles in their paths toward finding meaningful work. Or any work at all… sigh.

Days like today weigh heavily on my spirit. Seeing the very real barriers – internal or external – that complicate the job search process can break my heart. Especially when I look at how blessed I am in my own life and my professional path.

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I struggle the most when the barriers individuals are struggling to overcome are the result of structural or systemic oppression. Where language, access to health care, disability, mental health status, cultural differences, or poor self-advocacy skills create huge roadblocks that overcome even the last glimmers of resilience.  I feel helpless.

I worry I am not doing enough, and on the really tough days:

Am I causing more harm than good? 

Considering my own blessings in contrast to those who are sincerely struggling to sustain daily living can leave me feeling guilty. When I was first exploring my identity as a white person I thought a lot about the guilt I felt being born part of the privileged dominant group in my country. I also think about the ways I can use my privilege to fight systemic oppression.

As I have grown in my field, I also think more about the ways my own privilege can get in the way for clients I serve who are from underrepresented groups. I know I find myself in the “buffer zone,” as social justice educator, writer, and activist, Paul Kivel, describes:

“If most people receive minimal levels of care and those who die do so in hospitals, at home, in rest homes, or in prisons, it is less likely that people will add up the total impact of the concentration of wealth. So there are many jobs for people to take care of those at the bottom of the pyramid: nurses, attendants, social workers, teachers, youth workers, child care workers, counselors—poorly paid jobs that are primarily done by women and that provide minimal services to those in need.

“Taking care of those in need is valuable and honorable work, and most people do it with generosity and good intentions. But in our society, it is also unsupported, low-paid, exploitative work. It serves to mask the inadequate distribution of jobs, food, and housing, and to hide the full impact of the concentration of wealth” (Source here).

It may be honorable work. It may be valuable work. I may dedicate my whole heart to supporting those I meet with. In turn I hope that I am supporting a vibrant and equitable community. However on days  like today I feel so overwhelmed trying to parcel out all the pieces at play. The struggle to do my part of  the work towards social justice can feel overwhelming, especially when I struggle to even sort out what “right action” looks like in the moment.

I feel called to serve, to support, and to empower. The idea that the very act of trying to help can get in the way and perpetuate all kinds of inequality — it just feels too big. Too daunting. It makes me feel so small, so unsure of what my next right choice should be.

Comfort comes in faithfully believing that I am doing my best to put my heart to the work, praying for grace, and as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us, living the questions:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

Hold fast to your passion

The natural human spirit is irrepressibly radical; it wants the unattainable, yearns for the impractical, is willing to risk the improper. But as we conform ourselves to the practicalities and properties of efficiency, we restrict the space between desire and control; we confine our intention to an ever-decreasing range of possibilities. The choices we make — and therefore the way we feel about ourselves — are determined less by what we long for and more by what is controllable and acceptable to the world around us. After enough of this, we lose our passion. We forget who we are.

Gerald May, from The Awakened Heart, as quoted in Wayne Muller‘s book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough

Parker Palmer on vocation and gladness.

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks – we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as, “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

– Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak (p. 16)