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What to do when things go sideways

Here’s the thing. Life isn’t always the smooth and joyful ride we’d like it to be.

In fact, it’s usually not.

Generally, life is more like a turbulent roller-coaster of crises and fears and anxiety. (Or maybe that’s just me…)

All of which is to say that things are likely to go sideways sometimes.

When they do there’s a few things that will help.

Apply the brakes

When things start to slip into dangerous territory it’s a good time to ease up on everything. When things feel like they’re falling apart the best thing to do is to stop and take a breath (or two or three or six thousand).

Have compassion for your struggle

The thing about struggle is that the only thing that is guaranteed to make hard times worse is piling on self-judgement about your struggle. You’re allowed to struggle. You’re allowed to be unsure. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to be all of these things.

Give yourself permission to be ok, even if nothing else is

Just because everything else might be falling apart doesn’t mean you are. When we learn how to be ok in the messy middle we find our truest strength. We learn how to weather the storm without taking a beating. We learn how to take shelter in the gentle warmth of our own open hearts. We learn how to breathe even when it feels like we’re under ten feet of water.

Because here’s the truth.

Each and every one of us navigates dark days and we don’t do anyone a service by pretending to live always in the light.

So why not admit it? Why not allow ourselves to struggle?

Why not give ourselves permission to struggle and still be ok. Permission to screw up and go on with our lives.

Life goes on until it doesn’t.

You’re going to struggle until the day you don’t.

There is no way out but to muddle through each and every messy minute in the middle.

It works better when we allow ourselves to muddle through the middle. When we allow our mistakes and our miseries to be a part of the process — instead of another item to add to our list of “things we did wrong today”.

It works better when we can meet ourselves with a kind of gentle grace — with the kind vision that says: I see you. I see your struggle. And I know that you are doing the best you can right now.

And then we get to the really hard part: you have to believe it.

You have to believe that it’s ok to struggle enough to live it. To allow yourself the space you need, the care you need, the love you need as you muddle through the middle.

We have to navigate the hard times with tears and laughter and anger and naps after the long, anxious nights that find us along the way.

We have to navigate the hard times with hot showers and flowers and cashmere and whatever it is that makes us feel cozy and safe.

We have to navigate the hard times with all the kindness and grace we can muster — and, yes, that means taking care of ourselves first.

Because navigating the hard times with kindness and grace is only possible when we trust that even though we are messy and imperfect we are still infinitely deserving of love and kindness.

And we have to give that love and kindness to ourselves. We can’t wait to receive it from anyone else.

I’ve been stuck in the messy middle more than I’d like recently and these are the things that have helped me through:

Long naps after sleepless nights.
Hot showers.
TV that makes me happy when I’m tired.
Really good books.
My brilliant coaching clients and coach friends.
Morning pages.
Meditation.
Creativity.

Your list may look entirely different than mine. But it’s important that you make one.

Because the hard times are coming.

And you’re going to need that list.

Much love,
Jessica

A new theory of getting things done

This story starts with burnout.

You see, I’ve been trying to recover from burnout for what seems like forever. Some days it feels like sleep I lost a decade ago still haunts me today. Some days it feels like I carry a weight of exhaustion so heavy it will never be lifted.

And on other days I feel great. Sometimes I even feel great for several weeks in a row.

But always, inevitably, it seems like there comes a point when I crash again. When the sweet zing of excitement wears off and I come staggering back into my body to discover how deeply, truly, and utterly tired I am.

Maybe you have this problem, too. Maybe you, too, have the skittish, delicate kind of energy that can take you oh so far — but only if you treat it oh so gently and carefully. And only if you put it to bed often and for longer than any body should reasonably “need” to rest.

Or maybe you are nothing like me and your energy is strong and robust, in which case you should tell me all your secrets in the comments below. For years I longed to have the kind of strong, robust energy that I so admired in others.

But the truth is that I don’t — I have the quiet, delicate energy of a dreamer. And my constitution requires a lot of rest, a lot of time for night-dreaming, and a lot of time for day-dreaming and quiet contemplation.

Which is why I need a new theory of getting things done — because my old way was clearly not working.

My way of pretending my energy was strong and robust. My way of gritting my teeth and digging my heels in and just pushing through. My way of shouldering should-dos and have-tos until I felt like Atlas with the weight of a life lived by other people’s rules resting on my shoulders.

For the past couple of months I have been experimenting with a new way of doing things.

It’s a way that I shan’t take credit for inventing, but it’s new-to-me and it seems to be working — so this week I’d like to invite you to try it, too.

The new way involves not-doing more than it involves doing. The new way means sitting down and resting when my back hurts even though the cooking isn’t done yet. The new way means typing out this missive to you because I felt the words pattering in my heart even though I didn’t “have time” to write to you today. The new way means trusting that I will find the time I need, that I can write this missive and that things will work out anyway. And, most of all, the new way means sleeping — it means a lot of sleeping.

The new way looks nothing like “working” the way I’ve always conceived of working — the slogging away, the grinding through I’ve always envisioned and pursued.

But here’s the thing. For the first time in possibly forever, I achieved everything I set out to do in March.

Since last summer I have set goals at the start of every month, and at the end of every month I reflect on what I achieved and what I didn’t achieve and I recalibrate and set my goals for the coming month.

Every month I note that I failed to achieve roughly ⅔ of what I set out to achieve.

But in March I did it all. Even the wishy-washy, maybe-if-I-get-around-to-it stuff I thought would be nice but didn’t really plan to achieve.

In the spirit of total honesty, my top priority in March was to rest — so maybe some of my success is just that I’m getting better at setting more attainable goals.

I don’t think that’s the whole story.

I think there’s a kind of magic to living this way. Free of rules and have-tos and should-dos. Free to rest when you’re tired. Free to do whatever you want when you’re not. Free to play and go for a walk and take a nap and write a book.

I think that getting things done works like this:

Motivation + inspiration = joy

Motivation – inspiration = toil

Inspiration – motivation = guilt

If we want to get things effortlessly and joyously we have to align our doing with our inspiration.

And in order to do that we need to give ourselves permission to rest. Because no one feels creative and inspired when they’re tired.

We need to give ourselves permission to tend to our quiet, delicate dreamer-energy and care for our bodies and our needs. We need permission to break the rules. Permission to be imperfect and flawed. Permission to suck at it — to fall back into our old patterns and habits and to realize we were still following rules without realizing it.

Because permission is the key to everything.

And when we give ourselves permission to live like this we unlock the door to getting things done in a way that feels easy, playful, and joyous instead of hard, burdensome, and exhausting.

After all, who wouldn’t want to live their life like that?

Much love,
Jessica

P.S. If this sounds brilliant but you’re not sure where to start, I’d love to invite you to work with me as a private coaching client.

Searching for my natural rhythm

What would your life look like if you didn’t live by any rules?

What would it be like if you moved fluidly from moment to moment instead of planning and scheduling your whole life out in advance?

Does the possibility sound tantalizing or does it sound a little weird, a little wild… perhaps even a little bit dangerous?

The thought of living life without rules always seemed a little dangerous to me.

Without my rules what would I do and who would I be? I didn’t have answers to those questions.

At the same time, I would read about people out there in the world — breaking the rules, doing their own thing, doing it differently. And I would wonder, why can’t I be brave and bold like that?

The answer, of course, was fear.

You see, our brains use certainty to make us feel safe — we mistakenly think that when we finally achieve the moment of absolute certainty that we will have finally achieved our deepest desire.

But it isn’t true.

The more afraid we are, the harder it is to be brave because courage always involves an element of feeling unsafe — and for those of us who are highly sensitive (i.e. me!), doing the brave, bold things that make us feel unsafe can seem impossibly scary and hard.

This doesn’t mean we can’t be brave, those of us who are sensitive, and easily startled, and quiet. It just means that we move through the world differently — and that our courage looks different too: quieter, more inward looking, more slow, more steady, less bold.

Life will never be certain. We’ll always be winging it, and always when we feel certainty beginning to creep in, the tides will turn and something will fall apart.

It’s a simple fact of physics that all systems tend toward chaos and I am convinced that this is no less true of a human life.

The only way to create certainty is to work relentlessly against the tide of the unknown, a levee perpetually threatened by rising waters.

To live like that seems to be exhausting and ultimately unsustainable.

When we pin our hopes of happiness on safety and certainty — we set ourselves up for disappointment.

And yet, I do not think that this means we should despair.

Which is why I’ve begun an experiment in what I have decided to call “lawless living”.

By which I do not mean to suggest we should live illegaly, but rather that in choosing to live “lawlessly” I have chosen to remove the structured rules that used to shape my life.

When I’ve written about this before I’ve called it “cancellation” — the cancellation of all the things I put on my own to-do list.

But with lawlessness I’m taking it deeper — beyond the level of things and tasks and to-dos — all the way down to the level of identity.

Because here’s the ultimate truth: there aren’t any rules to live by.

There are only the rules you create for yourself: the behaviors and patterns you cling to because you think that they make you a “good person” or keep you safe or make you of service to others, or [insert your reason here].

And often it is those exact same rules that keep us feeling stuck and miserable and uncertain of what we really need to do.

Because the opposite of a “good person”? It isn’t a bad one. The opposite of always trying to be good is showing up as someone who is more authentically you.

It’s about finding your natural rhythm — the ebb and flow of tasks and to-dos and emotions and choices that you naturally return to when you free yourself of rules and return yourself to you.

It’s about living a life that’s less “good” and more you  — because that is kind of the secret to everything:

More happiness
More rest
More laughter
More courage
More compassion
More love

It’s all already there — locked up inside of you.

Much love,
Jessica

P.S. If you’d like to read more about finding your natural rhythm, check out this post from Martha Beck which landed in my email inbox recently

P.P.S If you think living lawlessly sounds brilliant but scary and you’d love some support in exploring what lawless living might look like for you, I invite you to work with me as one of my private coaching clients!

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,
Jessica