Acts of service is my love language. So then it comes as no surprise that I enjoy helping people navigate life. It has always come natural to me to encourage people to live out a full and meaningful life. In 2019 and 2020 two life changing events happened that deepened my life purpose. The first happened in group therapy, where my group leader asked the question "And what is it costing you?" The second was my Dad's sudden death. Those two experiences forever altered the fabric of my life and have inspired me to live, wholly.
In group therapy there were 6 of us sharing what held us back from living authentic lives. That was easy peasy for me. Shame and guilt were easy to identify because they had been doing a number on me for years. And then she asked "And what is it costing you?" And for whatever reason that question broke something in me. I felt a flood of emotions and I saw images of missed opportunities to create beautiful moments. I did not dare say aloud what I thought or felt. But there was no turning back. I was now conscious of how I allowed shame and guilt to hold me back from living. Admitting this to myself made them lose all the power they had over me. I was angry and committed to change.
In 2020 my Dad died. There was so much that he had planned on doing, but he never quite got around to doing it. Shame and guilt had also had him bound. I truly learned from his death that life is fleeting. I had already lived so much of my life playing it "safe." I was not going to die living my life in the confines of normalcy.
These experiences are forever with me in the therapy room. I have grieved the loss of time and the loss of a loved one. Now, I use them as tools to call out the thing that is holding you back and get you to identify what it is costing you. You will decide the significance of the cost and if your current actions are moving you closer to or further from your goals. This is accountability here. I want you to challenge the thought that other people are standing in your way. It is YOU that is getting in your way.
Ambiguous: doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness. - Merriam Webster Dictionary
You are going to have to make decisions without being certain of the outcome. Weigh the odds and make a decision. I am not asking you to do anything I have not done before. Around the same time as group therapy, I had this one professor that implored us daily to embrace ambiguity. It aggravated me for so many reasons. He did not know my life or what it could possibly cost me to "act." It took so much energy to do anything because mentally I had already lived every scenario. And the cost? What if this action costed me greatly? What then would I do?
Here is where I hope to make the connection with you that gains your trust. Believe that if I am asking you to do something, I have walked it before you. Now I will not have experienced every life event or culture. But I can connect with you on the feeling. I know what it feels like to feel stuck and you wholeheartedly want to get moving. I know what it feels like to be afraid of making decisions that are going to change your life. You need to know that not making a decision, is STILL making a decision. You are choosing not to act. Now you need to choose if you can admit this to yourself.
“[F]or just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there's nothing else. It's here, and you'd better decide to enjoy it or you're going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”
I lived out my 20s in a constant state of waiting. It was the next stage or phase of my life or career that was going to be the ONE in which I would experience total bliss and prosperity. I missed out on beautiful moments because I was sure they would come again. And I would enjoy them along with my perfect "years."
My Dad's death taught me that I better get started living. I better get started embracing ambiguity or I would never know. There is this Disney movie called "Gotta Kick It Up". In this one scene the girl breaks up with her safe boyfriend while telling him "I don't want to wonder Chewy, I want to know."
I want the people that come into contact with me in my personal and professional life to have meaningful moments with me. I want the ripples that I create to inspire people to live their life. You are suffering believing that life needs to be perfect before you can get started enjoying it. Your brain is now wired to believe two things: calm or chaos. You will have to believe that life is not about perfection to begin tolerating the disturbance that comes with making change. Then you can begin the process of rewiring your brain. Until then, this blocking belief will have you stuck.
If you noticed my self talk changed. I had to consciously change the way I talked to myself about my identity and my capabilities. I bought myself a plaque from Hobby Lobby that reads, "Talk to Yourself Like Someone You Love" and placed it in front of my bathroom mirror. So before I even get a chance to say anything negative about self in the morning. I am reminded to talk to myself kindly. It creates a small enough ripple that motivates me to make another helpful choice.
I want you to notice this is me choosing a different life. If you want your life to go in a different trajectory you too have to choose this daily. The work will not be easy and sometimes (outside of therapy) you will be the only one motivating yourself. You will have to decide if that is enough for you.
First identify how you currently talk to yourself. What are you telling yourself before you decide not to act? Then identify the words it would take to motivate yourself. Identify 5 affirmations that you could say to yourself daily while looking at your reflection in the mirror. It will humanize you by allowing you to visually see you are more than a name. You are a human experiencing life. Give yourself some grace.
It's Isolating You
Waiting until you are the "perfect" version of yourself is costing you. It's isolating you from others that mean you well. I missed out on so many potential lifelong friendships. My self talk looked like this "Why build this friendship when I plan on changing anyhow?" or "Being friends with these people when my life is messy... feels wrong."
You are either saying the same versions of my self talk or you are behaving so disingenuous that it is turning people off. They read that you are being fake and want no part of it. So the thing you were trying to avoid is happening anyway. You could have avoided how uncomfortable it felt for you being fake, and all the negative self talk that came with it. Choose to give yourself the self talk you need to embrace ambiguity and begin taking small steps towards change.
“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.” - Calvin Coolidge
Remember the race between the tortoise and the hare? We learned from them that slow, steady progress wins the race. So if you want to get closer to your goals you have to get started. Break them down into three categories: long term goals, medium term goals, and short term goals. Ensure that they are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
I hope after reading through this that I have given you some hope today. Hope that life can be different and there is a way through. As a therapist I think it is important to sometimes tell our own truths so that others realize we are human too. I have not mastered a way to escape the human experience. I am just a person that wants to help others live a more meaningful life.