“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” ~Ralph Marston
Have you ever been stuck and felt like you’re spiraling around the same space over and over? It’s just like Groundhog Day.
Every day, you have new intentions about how it will be different only to be left with the same hollow feelings at the end of the day.
You feel sadness for the dreams of what could have been and maybe even what should have been.
At forty-five I found myself unexpectedly in this place, stuck like my feet were almost tied to the ground. All the usual ways of getting through it weren’t working.
I couldn’t run away from it. I couldn’t push through it. I couldn’t go around it. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there.
It just was there. It wouldn’t budge.
I felt overwhelmed and burned out, and no books, courses, or friend’s advice seemed to have an effect.
I just kept coming back to the same point of inertia, always left sitting on the edge of my power.
I had this nagging doubt that as a coach I should know better and somehow be exempt from the stories of resentment, blame, self-criticism, imperfection, and failure that chattered away in the background of my mind. As if I shouldn’t have a low mood because surely I should have figured this one out by now.
They say the only way out is through and that was definitely true for me.
I reached a point where I just had to be in the center of my experience and be with the vulnerability that I was so desperately skirting around the edge of.
It happened by chance while I was on an early morning run with the dog.
It was a fresh, crisp autumn morning, the kind where the blueness of the sky just takes your breath away. My feet were soaking from the wet grass and I was struck by how warm the sunshine was on my face.
I felt the impulse to stop running, sit down on a bench, and close my eyes. I followed my breath and imagined that I was breathing in the sunshine through the top of my head, down into my body, and then out down through the soles of my feet. Then, I reversed it.
I sat doing this, and suddenly out of nowhere an image came up. It was a life plan that I’d written many years back when I was stuck in my last corporate job and trying to figure a way out.
It was on one piece of paper and it had my ages moving up to the age of sixty (anything beyond was considered bonus), alongside my husband’s and kids’. There weren’t many specific landmarks other than the when the kids would take their exams and some dreams I had to run my own business.
What struck me as I saw this image in front of me was how perfected it was.
There were implicit assumptions that I could suddenly see clearly displayed in front of my eyes. There I was through all these ages, the perfect earth mother, always patient, creative, consistent, kind, and loving.
I was a role model holding down a career, coaching, writing, running a successful business, and making a difference in the world. I juggled and balanced with grace and ease. I was a gorgeous wife who looked great, handled all the household stuff without complaint, and was still able to be a sexy goddess.
I never lost my temper or argued. I travelled and adventured through life, felt good about myself, and experienced peace and happiness.
I was perfect in every way and got things right all the time.
Staying with the breath I noticed that I felt really emotional. The emotion was sadness, and for once I allowed myself to be with it. I just sat with my dog sitting next to me on this bench, in the middle of nature, with a mixture of sunshine and tears on my face.
About five minutes passed and I felt a shift. I had an intense clarity that what was keeping me stuck was the tightly held grip I had on how I believed it all should be.
The perfected image that I was holding for my life that was causing me to push against who I truly am. The incessant push to keep improving myself and be anything other than who I actually am.
You see, my real life is messy and very imperfect.
As a mother I’m spontaneous, which often means I’m not consistent and I prickle and get impatient when we don’t attend to the routine things, like homework or tidying up. I get frustrated when it feels like everyone else is making demands and my needs don’t feature.
I often feel like I’m caught in a system where I believe my girls need to be children, discover their passion, and follow their own light spots; but they’re in a school system and culture that believes and reinforces that you need to be above average in everything and learn information that feels irrelevant to them.
I want to praise but I catch myself criticizing when it all piles up and I feel overwhelmed.
I know I open and close my heart in my relationships, and I’m only just beginning to get my head around this whole notion of unconditional love.
Our house moves from being neat and tidy to disorganized and cluttered.
One of the most regular arguments is about where the car keys are and why there’s no petrol in the car and how there’s no time to fill up on the way to drop the kids at school!
These two images—the perfected and the reality—were where my struggle came from.
Every time I bumped up against the perfected image of how I thought I should have been as opposed to how I am, I got twitchy and self-sabotaged by being self-critical and creating my inertia.
It was easier to reach to be anything other than who I am because it reinforced the old familiar story that I am not enough as I am.
It’s this insight that helps me to release and let it go.
What’s left in its place is the reality of my imperfection.
I now see how my desire to be perfect has me lose the very thing that I’m seeking, which is to feel happy and at peace with myself.
The real work, my soul’s work, is to stand in the center of myself and open up the vulnerable part of me that’s scared I really am not enough to make the difference I want to in the world.
The part of me that reaches to be shinier, bolder, smarter, and any other “er” that could help. The part of me that worries I repeat patterns and don’t get it right as a mum. The part of me that so desperately wants to be enough and perfect, which has me react against others that display the perfected image I think I should be. The part of me that feels scared and alone and so separates rather than leans in.
To listen to my soul calling requires me to begin the work of self-acceptance and self-compassion and change my old story of not being enough.
It requires me to let go of needing my work and life to look and be a certain way, and instead be present to how it is now and what wants to unfold.
What I did on that day will improve my tomorrows because I learned to open up my vulnerability, lean into the emotion, be with it, and see it as guidance.
The sadness was there to move me and as soon as I stopped avoiding it, I could hear its wisdom.
Your vulnerability is your biggest permission slip to change your tomorrows. It’s the doorway in to what you’re seeking. It doesn’t make you weak. It gives you strength. It helps you see your limiting story and find your empowering one.
Photo by Hartwig HKD