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Permission to break the rules

Here’s how it happens. It starts when everything is humming along smoothly.

You’ve identified your goals, you’ve broken them down into next steps, you’re plugging away, you’ve got your self-care dialed in and everything is rosy.

Your schedule is full, but not too full. You’re feeling energized, excited. You’re having fun.

And then there comes a moment when it starts to shift.

Maybe it starts at work. Maybe your job becomes a little more stressful than it was before. Or maybe the shift starts at home. Maybe you get sick or someone you care about gets sick or maybe a friend asks you to help them with a project you hadn’t planned for.

Slowly, insidiously, the “extras” creep in — until before you know it, you’re not humming along smoothly at all. Instead, you’re running on a treadmill that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and things are suddenly not so rosy any more.

Or at least that’s how it happened to me.

Cue new year, new goals, fresh energy, and bright plans. Cue increasing work stress, an extra course I signed on for, and a radical commitment to show up differently in the world in 2016.

Lights, camera, action, and… epic fail.

I started off 2016 with the very best of plans and intentions. I was looking forward to taking big, bold actions and really showing up in the world in a more courageous way.

But, as usually happens when one makes a grand plan, a combination of unintended consequences and unforeseen circumstances conspired to help me fall flat on my face.

It wasn’t so much that I’d made a bad plan (in fact, I think it was a great plan!), it’s that plans never work out they way we expected them to when we made them.

My mistake was not in planning, but in failing to ditch the plan immediately when it first became clear that it wasn’t working. My mistake was that I struggled valiantly on.

I grappled with stressful deadlines all day at work and then came home to coach clients on the phone. I stayed up late writing blog posts and beat myself up for letting my meditation practice slip when it was pushing 11 pm and the choice was between meditation and rest.

My failure was my choice to engage in the struggle. And I’m going to admit that the results were less than pretty.

Due to heightened stress at work, I became less able to handle the stress of a packed coaching schedule outside of work. As my time filled up, my commitment to the routines and practices that replenish me waned, and as my ability to care for myself faded I got angry.

I got angry first at “everything” outside of me, my job, other people’s demands, and so on. I numbed my anger by staying up late catching up on TV shows I stopped watching years ago.

I transferred that anger to myself for “making bad choices” and for “not taking care of myself”.

And finally I got really upset with “the rules” — the systems and structures that I had created in my life. Systems and structures which I had put in place to support me suddenly began to take on an ominous and gloomy feeling.

In the end, I did the only sensible thing I could see to do. I took a page out of Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong, and wrote myself a freaking permission slip which read “Permission to break the rules”. And then I cancelled everything I had “committed” to.

I cancelled sending out my weekly newsletter last Friday. I cancelled keeping up with the telecourses I’m taking. I cancelled some of my available coaching hours. I cancelled everything that felt stressful and aggravating and horrible in my body.

I spent some evenings watching TV, yes — but when I’d watched an episode or two I went to bed instead of staying up until the wee hours. I went to bed before 9 pm some nights and I slept a few ten hour nights.

I started exercising again. I started meditating again. Because I was going to bed so early I actually started waking up in time to meditate in the mornings before work (which I have never before managed to do).

Suddenly I can breathe again. I’m writing again and exercising again and meditating again. I’m sending out my newsletter on Monday instead of Friday and you know what? I gave myself permission to break all the rules but in the end, I’m only three days late.

If there’s a lesson in this, I think it’s that there’s no shame in quitting. Sometimes the only way to start moving forward again is to stop trying so hard for a while. Sometimes the only way to figure out what you need is to stop everything you’re doing, so that you can get really quiet and tune in to what it is that you’d actually like to be doing.

I think we get so muddled in the rules that sometimes we wind up missing the forest for the trees. We tell ourselves painful lies about how we should be able to keep our shit together when we feel like we’re falling apart, about how we should be able to handle our situation gracefully, and about how it’s bad of us to skip our meditation or our physical therapy exercises or, or, or.

The kinder, more honest truth is that sometimes life gets ugly and murky and we don’t handle it as gracefully as we’d like to. And that’s perfectly OK too, as long as we’re not telling ourselves a story about how we’re bad people because we fell flat on our face and scraped our knees and now we’re feeling a mix of anger and shame and the petulant need for a cry.

So if you’re like me and you’re off to a shaky start in 2016, I humbly invite you to write yourself a permission slip that reads “Permission to break the rules” — and then go ahead and cancel everything.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what happens next.

Much love,

Courage requires faith

A few weeks back I wrote about my word for the year, which is DARE. We’re just past the one month mark in 2016 and it has already occurred to me that in my initial bedazzlement with the word DARE I neglected to think about an equally important piece of the equation: TRUST.

TRUST was my unofficial and belatedly adopted word for 2015. In 2015 I made some scary decisions (like starting to write a book and signing up for the Martha Beck Life Coach Training program) — at the time I didn’t know whether I was making the right choices or not, and I invested a lot of time and money into pursuits I couldn’t be entirely sure were right for me.

To not-know and do it anyway requires a lot of trust —

And trust that everything is going to be OK is something I’ve struggled with for a long time.

Somewhere along the road between high school and graduating from MIT I lost my certainty that there are no unrecoverable mistakes — a loss which has often left me with a feeling of waiting for the world to end around every next corner.

Dare+TrustSo when I picked the word DARE for myself in 2016, I may have been overlooking the small but crucially important fact that if I wanted to be more bold and more courageous, I was also going to have to learn to take my wavering trust to a whole new level.

Which is why I’ve actually since revised my word/theme for 2016. It’s DARE with a heaping side of TRUST.

Because when you’re deeply fearful, every act of daring is an eyes closed, nose plugged cannonball into danger and uncertainty, and the only thing you’ve got going for you is your trust that — whatever might be waiting for you in the water — you’re going to make it back alive.

And when you can really, truly trust that you are going to be ok, no matter the outcome of your daring, the choice to dare becomes what I have heard called “scareciting” (that’s scary + exciting).

But if you don’t have that trust, then asking for courage of yourself is just plain old petrifying.

After MIT, I spent a year or two thinking of myself as a coward.

I was lost in a place where I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, but I did know that I didn’t want to stay put. I could see different paths forking off all around me, writing, slam poetry, an MFA, midwifery, teaching — you name it, I probably considered it in those days.

The problem was that though I could see all of these options — at the end of the day I was too scared of making “the wrong choice” to just pick something and try it.

And so I stayed put (for years!) because it was easier than moving off into the great unknown and all along the way my thoughts whispered to me, coward, coward, coward, coward…

Which is why I picked the word DARE for 2016.

Because I now recognize that staying put wasn’t an act of cowardice so much as an act of self-preservation — to venture into the unknown without faith would have been more than an act of courage it would have been a stubborn and torturous excursion into sheer terror.

Your life isn’t supposed to terrify you — it’s supposed to scarecite you!

It’s supposed to be an adventure, and sometimes adventures are scary and thrilling and even a little bit dangerous — but at the end of the day they’re supposed to be scary+exciting more than they are pure scary.

If you’re going to take a chance, you have to have some faith that lose or win, sink or swim, you’re going to turn out alright.

What about you? Do you struggle with courage and daring? Let me know in the comments below!


P.S. If this post resonated with you and you’d like to take the conversation deeper, I’d love to invite you to work with me.


How to find joy

I believe in joy. After all, who doesn’t? And yet so often joy is something we think of as elusive.

Joy is the mirage we chase our whole lives — always searching for it around the next corner, the next raise, the next promotion.

Soon, we think. Soon I’ll have everything I could possibly want.

Soon I’ll have everything I need to be happy.

And then we get the job or the raise or the promotion — and inevitably it doesn’t turn out like we’d expected.

We’re disappointed.

We might be angry or frustrated. We might even feel betrayed.

There was a time in my life when I felt betrayed.

I felt like the way we talk about success and happiness in America had betrayed me, had led me down the wrong path — a path that had promised happiness but had ultimately left me mired in misery.

That time was post-MIT when I’d sunk everything into pursuing a dream only to look up and wonder whose dream it was that I was chasing.

I’d wrecked myself on sleepless nice and a ceaseless cascade of stress — and in the end it seemed that my suffering had bought me only what I didn’t want: a desk job I didn’t love, a paycheck I didn’t spend, and life in a city I dreamed of escaping.

And for a while, I felt betrayed. Angry. Hurt. Bitter. Exhausted.

That misery was the fork in my road, the moment in which I had to decide whether I thought that joy ultimately lay just a little farther down the path or whether I was going to have to venture off into parts unknown in order to find it.

I was pretty sure that joy didn’t lay farther ahead down the same well-worn path — but the problem was I was afraid to venture off the path.

I was afraid I might get lost.

But here’s the thing. I’ve been venturing off the path for a while now — in some ways for years.

And joy isn’t out there in the woods somewhere and joy isn’t on the path.

Joy is locked away in your own heart and the easiest way to find it is to stop looking and notice.

I can say this because I still haven’t moved far from the path.

I’m still working a desk job that increasingly I find I enjoy.

I’m still living in a city I wish I could move out of — but increasingly I find that the city is also beautiful in it’s own impenetrable way.

I realize now that I volunteered myself for suffering because I wanted the world to approve of me and of my choices — and I’ve learned that the only approval I really need is my own.

And you know what? The magic of it is that often these days I’m just ridiculously grateful and happy.

So often these days I just sit quietly and feel myself marinating in joy.

And what I’m learning now is that when you find joy within yourself first, it stops seeming so scary to venture off the path.

Now it’s your turn! Have you quit seeking happiness? What simple pleasures of everyday life bring you joy? Let me know in the comments below 🙂

“It’s not that bad” and other lies we tell ourselves

I want to say a few words about toleration. About putting up with the aspects of your life that “aren’t that bad”.

“It’s not that bad” is how we stay stuck for years in situations that make us miserable.

“It’s not that bad” is a lie that we tell ourselves, usually because not telling the lie means facing a scarier truth.

“It’s not that bad” is the lie I’ve told myself for years about my chronic back pain.

And you know what? On the one hand, I’m so right. My pain is really not that bad.

Compared to all of the people out there suffering from truly debilitating chronic pain, my wimpy little back pain is barely a blip on the record. It really is not that bad.

But the thing is that when you play in the Suffering Olympics, no one wins — why would you want to when the prize is nothing less than abject misery?

And yet the ego longs to play. The ego longs to be the best at everything — including being the best at suffering.

For years I’ve used this as an excuse. I’ve told myself this lie that my pain doesn’t deserve my attention because “it’s not that bad”.

It’s like saying that poverty in America doesn’t deserve our attention because “it’s not that bad” compared to poverty in Africa. It’s an equation that really just doesn’t compute — surely both are tragedies in their own right?

The same is true of our personal suffering. All suffering deserves our attention, from the smallest ache to the fiercest agony — our suffering deserves our attention, our compassion, our tender care.

This is what I’ve learned about suffering.

Tolerating our suffering doesn’t make us martyrs. It doesn’t make us kinder, more loving, and more generous people.

Toleration isn’t adequate to transmute pain into love.

To enact such a feat, an act far more courageous than toleration is required — an act of acceptance, an act of surrender is required.

Putting up with the places where we chafe against the edges of our life doesn’t make us any kinder or more noble than our fellow man.

Because the real truth is that even if “it’s not that bad” — it’s also not that good either.

When we’re willing to suffer “not that bad”, we deny ourselves “good”, and we shut down our ability to witness our suffering compassionately.

Putting up with our dissatisfactions almost always does exactly the opposite — it makes us discontented, more easy to anger, less able to extend compassion to others, and more apt to wallow in our righteousness.

When we’re wallowing in our suffering we can’t be of service to those who need us.

Which is the real reason why we have to look at the places where we’re tolerating — the areas of our lives that don’t suit us. We have to look at the aches and the pains and the discontents and the frustrations — because only when we do this can we move into a kinder, more beautiful, and more generous life.

The kind of life we always knew deep in our hearts we were capable of.

The kind of life we’ve yearned for.

The kind of life we thought we’d never be lucky enough to have.

The kind of life that is available to each and every one of us when we’re willing to look our discontents square in the face and fight our way through to the something more we’ve always dreamed of.

Because healing begins when we dare to tell ourselves the brutally honest truth.

All of which is a rather long and dramatic way of saying that I’ve gone ahead and signed myself up for some physical therapy and have been taking a deep dive into mind-body coaching techniques because I’m done tolerating being in pain all the time — even when it really is “not that bad”.

What kind of life do you yearn for? Where in your life are you done tolerating a situation that causes discontent? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! And if you’d like to take this conversation deeper, I invite you to work with me.

Why I won’t be setting goals for 2016

I want to tell you a story about New Year’s Resolutions and setting goals.

You see, when I was a little girl I used to get so excited at the prospect of New Year’s Resolutions. I would set these wildly impossible goals (my most common one was to write in my journal daily — which never worked for me…).

Every year I would set these lofty goals, these grand ambitions, and then January would turn into February and I would run out of enthusiasm or energy and my ambitions would fall by the wayside.

What I learned from this experience was that I was a disappointment.

I learned that I could expect to disappoint myself. It was a hard lesson to swallow — and it eventually turned me off of goal-setting forever.

Year after year I made my goals smaller and smaller and smaller until it seemed like I would be unable to disappoint myself — and still I always managed it.

Is your history with setting goals a similarly fraught and damaging one?

If so, then I’m happy to inform you that I’ve since discovered I was making two critical goal-setting mistakes.

The first mistake was that I usually set “self-improving” goals for myself.

You know the ones I’m talking about — the resolve that this will be the year you finally lose those 15 lbs, or the year you’ll hit the gym 3 times a week religiously, or the year you’ll write in your journal every single day.

You can tell a goal is of the “self-improving” sort because you’re really sure you should set it but you really don’t want to. If the idea of dragging yourself to the gym three times a week feels heavy and sluggish in your body, then you’ve found yourself a “self-improving” resolution that I’m prepared to bet right now you won’t keep past Valentine’s day.

The second mistake was that I set quantitative goals, not qualitative ones

You could argue that this is kind-of cheating. But if you set your goal to be “write in journal every day” the first day you miss it (for any reason) your brain will inform you that you’ve failed, that you are an awful disappointment, and that you should feel eternally guilty. Or at least that’s what my brain does — your brain may be less fundamentally broken…


If your goal is not to “write in journal every day” but is to “journal often” or “journal regularly” or “make time to journal at least one time each week” then this is a much more achievable which you are less likely to fail at (although if your goal is of the self-improving sort, then there’s usually no hope for it…).

But for those of you out there who are as goal-shy as I am these days — here’s what I suggest you actually do.

I suggest you kick goals to the curb and try something new: set intentions for the new year and decide on what you’re no longer willing to tolerate. Because this works so, so much better for me.

So here I go.

In 2016 I am no longer willing to tolerate:

  • Feeling exhausted all the time
  • Having my time pulled in too many directions
  • Trying to squeeze more out of the same number of minutes
  • Letting other people’s needs steamroll my own
  • Feeling guilty for having needs that defy societal expectations

In 2016 I intend to:

  • Live courageously
  • Take bold actions
  • Let myself be seen
  • Trust my body
  • Honor my need for rest
  • Ask for support when I need it
  • Admit when I’m overextended

And, for the overachiever special, my word or theme for 2016 is


And you might think that those aren’t specific enough and concrete enough and how will I know when I’ve achieved them? (gasp!), but I think that’s actually the beauty of defining your goals for the year ahead in this way.

I’ll know when I’ve achieved them because I will feel bold, I will feel daring, I will feel rested, and I will feel like I’m stepping into the shoes that have been waiting for me all my life.

And yes, I’ll be turning those lists of things I’m not longer willing to tolerate and of intentions into concrete actions — but the trick, you see, is that those actions are not my goals. 

Those actions are just ideas for things I might do to bring my life into better alignment with my goals. And if I fail at some of them or decide in June that I’m not interested in those ideas anymore I haven’t failed at my goals — I’ll still be right on target just as long as I keep checking in and realigning myself with my intentions as I navigate the twists and turns of 2016.

I’d love to hear from you! What’s your relationship to goal-setting? Love them? Hate them? Love-to-hate them? Let me know what you’re doing to prepare for the coming year in the comments below. And if you’ve picked a word or a theme for 2016, I DARE you to share it! 😉