You Have a Seat at the Table

Ten years ago this week I left my job teaching high school history and went back to grad school. One week later, I started a Masters of Professional Counseling program feeling equal parts excited and anxious. It felt like such a leap to leave the security of the classroom for the unknown of a new profession. I wasn’t entirely sure what life would look like upon graduation, but I knew that whatever form my life as a counselor took, I wanted to walk alongside women in their journey from brokenness and to wholeness, from heartache to redemption. I wanted to help women discover, or rediscover, their voice. I felt that desire deep in my bones. Over this past decade, I have been privileged to hear so many beautiful and powerful stories. There is truly no greater privilege than holding someone’s story as they wrestle and search and mourn and surrender. I’ve had the honor to witness women come to life, take giant leaps of faith, give hard no’s and hesitant yes’s.  Often, I sit in awe of the courage and strength I see demonstrated in my office.

But what I have consistently noticed over these years is our continued struggle with question Am I enough? This question can take so many twists and turns, but I feel like for so many of us the question of being enough is closely tied to how we see and feel about ourselves as women. What does it mean to be a woman? What does that really mean??  And… am I enough as a woman??

Our minds have been flooded with messages and images as to what it means to be a woman. A short surf on the internet can tell you how you can and should have a curvy figure like Kim Kardashian, how you can and should have it all, how you can’t and shouldn’t try to have it all, how to get a date, how to keep a man happy, how to be high school skinny, how to climb the professional ladder. We’re given all of these messages, and they create a very black and white view of life and womanhood- you either are or you aren’t. You either are these things that make you a woman- scratch that… make you a “better” woman- or you aren’t.

In wrestling with this question in my own life, I’ve always felt like I was vying for a seat at the table... as if life was nothing more than a giant middle school cafeteria and the table where you sit determines everything about you. If I could just figure out the right steps of what it means to be a woman then I could sit at the table… then I’d be accepted, I’d be okay, I’d be enough.

I have tried on many hats trying to earn my seat at that table.

I have tried to become some sort of distorted version of a Steel Magnolia where I stuffed all my feelings. I have tried letting all my feelings hang out and saying whatever came to my mind.

I have tried being hip and trendy attempting to emulate the pages of fashion magazines thinking that would answer my question. I have wanted to be the granola girl with a free spirit hoping that was the key.

I have lost my voice for the sake of a relationship because I believed the lie that there is nothing worse than not being in a relationship. (Sidenote- there is something worse than not having a boyfriend, partner, spouse; it’s not having a voice.)

I have ridiculed myself for not being sweet enough, thin enough, pretty enough, thoughtful enough, quiet enough, content to let others lead enough, cooking enough, not having enough children.

I have downplayed my intellect, my curiosity, and my ambition because I didn’t think they were feminine.   I have shouted that I’m right, I have railed against stereotype, and I have tried to act like one of the guys thinking that would make me strong and finally heard.

I have tried on many hats in this department of what does it mean to be a woman and I have come to one conclusion- trying to be the woman other people want me to be and I think I should be in order to gain approval and acceptance is exhausting.

Trying to become the woman God created me to be is freeing.

How do I learn to become the woman I was created to be? Maybe a more accurate way to look at that question is how do I learn to give myself permission to be the woman I was created to be?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that my faith plays a giant role in my life. As much as I rely and lean on my faith, if I am honest, what I have heard growing up in the four walls of the church has sometimes only frustrated my efforts to discover these answers. Growing up Southern and Christian, it has sometimes been challenging for me to identify what descriptions and expectations for women are cultural and which ones are scriptural. In the South, it is easy to confuse and combine the two.

When I think about what it means to be a woman, I think of words like strong, multitasker, highly capable, intelligent, caring, leader, loving, hard working, outgoing, creative, and introspective.

But if I am vulnerably honest with you there is a whole other list I think of that often has hung over my head like a guillotine blade. Sweet, quiet, soft, unassuming, pretty, thin, married, mother of multiple children, peaceful, self sacrificing, a great cook, always happy/pleasant, never angry, never sad, not too opinionated, not too ambitious, not taking up too much space, secondary.

Now, is there anything wrong with some of the descriptors on the second list? No. Absolutely not.

Are some of the descriptors on the first list “better” than some of the words on the second list? No.   Absolutely not.

There’s nothing wrong with being sweet, with being attractive, with being a great cook. We cannot stigmatize qualities just because we fear we don’t have them or they intimidate us. That is bullying.

It is not better to be an outgoing leader than to be a quiet mother. One is not better, more worthy, more valuable than the other. The problem is we fall into the trap of thinking one list is better than the other and some of the words on both lists become sources of identity and worth- there is no flexibility, there is only have to be, must be, if you’re not then you’re less than.

But here’s the thing… giving yourself permission to be the woman you were created to be does not involve checking items off a list. It does not require you to perform for your seat at the table or play a part like an actor on a stage.

Your place at the table is not determined by whether you’re a Ms. or a Mrs., whether you have 0 children or 10, whether your resume has thirty years of corporate experience or no college degree, whether you are Betty Crocker or Sheryl Sandberg.

You have a seat at the table. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. You don’t have to act for it.

You have a seat at the table because you are you and that is enough. You have a seat at the table because you are a daughter of Creation. You were knit together and set apart well before the world could tell you otherwise.

The roles in your life will eventually shift. The job that gives you worth will eventually go away. The relationships that give you identity may change. But WHO YOU ARE- who God created you to be with that grace-infused worth- that is unshakable.

Just because your reality may not fit a certain picture, that does not mean that you are less than. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose.

So pull your chair up and claim your space. Use the sense of humor God gave you, the intellect He gave you, the sensitive and nurturing spirit, the quick thinking, the opinions, the skills, the talents. Use all the gifts and life experiences and be you.

My friends, that is what it means to believe and live as you are enough- to live as you were created. Created with purpose and for a purpose.  Go ahead… take your seat. It’s been prepared especially for you.

How have you struggled and made peace with the question Am I enough? How have other’s expectations negatively impacted your view of yourself as a woman? What does being a woman mean to you?

Is It Safe? (Six Characteristics of Emotionally Unsafe Relationships)

“Sweetheart, that’s not safe. Be careful. You might hurt yourself.” I, along with countless other parents, have said many variations of the above statement. As a parent, one of your main jobs is to keep your little one safe. You point out the things that may be a danger- the sharp edges, the deep holes, the hot surfaces. Sometimes kids instinctively know what is safe and what is not safe, but often they have to be taught either from their own life experience (yep, the stove is hot) or from someone who has already walked the path. That is how children learn what is safe.

Adults aren’t much different. Only in adulthood, hot stoves and riding too fast on our bikes aren’t the only causes for concern. Relationships can be the real danger lurking around the corner, and they can do all sorts of damage to our hearts and minds. In adulthood, are hearts can be as easily broken as our wrists and ankles. To heal our hearts and to protect them, we need to know what is emotionally safe and unsafe. It seems like this would be common sense, but in reality it can be very difficult to know what is safe and unsafe behavior in a relationship. Love has a funny way of disguising the unsafe people in our lives. So we end up wondering Is this normal? and staying way too long in drama filled relationships only to find our hearts tattered and our voices silenced.

Do you know what makes a relationship emotionally unsafe?  Do you know when you are in an emotionally unsafe relationship? If you find yourself feeling that you’ve lost your sense of self, are always walking on eggshells, or wondering if a relationship is supposed to be this stressful, then chances are you are not experiencing the safety and security you need and deserve in your relationship. Here are six characteristics I have observed in my years as a therapist that create an unsafe environment in a relationship.

  1. “Me?? What about you?”- Defensiveness

We all get defensive, but defensiveness in a relationship blocks any vulnerable communication. It is difficult to share anything with someone who reacts defensively. Such a reaction immediately changes the course of the conversation. Defensive people need to be right, which also creates a power struggle in the relationship. If the defensive person needs to be right, then you are wrong… you are always wrong. This is so dangerous to our sense of self because it leads to doubting our own thoughts and feelings. We lost touch with our intuition and gut. When we have been in relationship with a defensive person too long, we eventually stop speaking up and are riddled with self doubt.

  1. “You think your day was bad. My day was much worse!” Lack of empathy/always making it about them

It is hard to feel emotionally safe enough to be vulnerable in a relationship if the other person is always making it about them. This can occur in a variety of way- the person doesn’t give empathy but instead one-ups your experience, he takes on your emotion and makes your experience about him, she always focuses on her life without learning and knowing more about you. For example, let’s say you try to share something that is going on with you- you’re feeling sad, you’re frustrated with work- and then your loved one may talk about how much worse his situation is than yours OR he may become annoyed with your emotional expression. This type of pattern of communication leaves little room for sharing and vulnerability. When you are on the receiving end of this dance, it can feel like there is no room for your feelings or experiences because it always comes back to the other person. Overtime, we share less and less of ourselves because we are afraid what we say 1.) is going to be dismissed, 2.) is going to be twisted, or 3.) it is once again going to be about the other person.

  1. “You didn’t ask so I didn’t think I needed to tell you the whole story.”- Dishonesty

Unsafe people in relationships often don’t see the danger in dishonesty/half truths. They may say they didn’t tell you because they were trying to protect you or didn’t want to make you mad. And then when the truth is revealed, they will often minimize the event writing it off as “no big deal” or “you’re overreacting which is why I didn’t want to tell you in the first place.” These types of rationalizations for dishonesty are highly controlling and manipulative, and they put you back in the position of feeling you are wrong for being upset that the person you care about withheld information from you.

  1. “I apologized! What more do you want?”- Apologizing without action to back it up

Apologies are important but meaningless if they aren’t backed up with a change in behavior. An unsafe person may apologize but they will be reluctant to follow through with changing the behavior that caused the hurt in the first place. A healthy apology is one in which the wrongdoer acknowledges her actions, how her actions impacted you, and follows that up with committed behavior change. This sustained (that is a key word… one week is not sustained, by the way) change in behavior shows there is true recognition of the harm done. It is the changed behavior that rebuilds the trust that was broken.

  1. “You should trust me!”- Demanding trust rather than earning it

Where there is drama and unsafety in a relationship, you are also going to find broken trust. The two just seem to go together. In repairing a relationship, you must repair the trust, but trust CAN ONLY be repaired with time. An apology is a step towards repairing trust but it does not/should not completely restore trust. Feeling entitled to someone’s trust is an indicator that the person is not willing to do the long, hard work to rebuild trust. If entitled trust is an issue in your relationship, ask yourself shouldn’t the person who is demanding your trust be more concerned about why there is a lack of trust (in other words, why you feel unsafe around them) rather than immediately wanting your trust back.

6. “If you weren’t the way you are, I wouldn’t act this way!”- Holding others responsible for thoughts, feelings, actions

Unsafe people often do not take responsibility for themselves. Instead, they blame others for their feelings, thoughts, and actions. If you would just do this or that, THEN I wouldn’t get angry, have to have a drink, etc. When the unsafe person blames you for their actions, this creates yet another cycle of guilt and manipulation. Over time you begin to believe that the other person’s anger, drinking, feelings, etc. are your fault in some way, and if you just do this or don’t say that, then everything will be okay. You begin to feel responsible for the other person’s emotions and you work harder and harder to keep the peace. This pattern is the ultimate control and manipulation tool. It is how you find yourself walking on eggshells no longer knowing who you really are.

See, that’s the dangerous thing about an emotionally unsafe relationship. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s hurtful. But the long term danger is that you lose you. You lose your voice. You lose sense of your needs, likes, dislikes. The relationship, and trying to keep the peace, trying to be who the other person finds acceptable so that you can win his/her approval, buries your true self.

On the other hand, emotionally safe relationships invite us to be all that we were created to be. They are equal and reciprocal in terms of their love and care for one another. Vulnerability is a strength rather than a liability. In an emotionally safe relationship, you feel known and seen… you feel it is safe to be known and seen rather than thinking you need to be someone else.

It is so easy to stumble into an unsafe relationship. Many of us have done it. Like we said earlier, love blinds us. Love blinds us because we innately want to love and be loved. And that is a good thing! It is a good thing to want love in your life. But inviting love into your life at the cost of your own self and voice is a dangerous exchange.  Like hot stoves when we were little, we end up learning about unsafe relationships either through experience or trusting someone who can see more than we can.

If you find yourself wondering Is this normal? Is this right? or wondering if there is something wrong with you, you deserve to start rediscovering who you really are separate from whom your relationship has convinced you that you are. You deserve to share your story and let someone come alongside you to speak truth and love into you life. You deserve a safe, reciprocal, life-giving relationship.  You deserve healthy love.

A Daring Update

When I was in the second or third grade, I decided I wanted to hold a Bible study for my friends. I picked which story I wanted to teach (I think it was Zaccheus), got my felt board together (gotta love old school felt boards), planned out my refreshments (what’s a Bible study without snacks), and invited some of my friends.  I was all set until... no one showed up.  Yep not a high point in those childhood memories, and it probably explains why I always have these great ideas for throwing parties but never follow through with them. But that’s not really the point of my sharing this story… Let’s fast forward into adulthood… Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to so many wonderful groups of women sharing my stories and hearing theirs. During this time, one of my goals has been to start hosting women’s retreats and creating time and space where women can engage in deep learning and vulnerable sharing as they rediscover their voice and freedom. This goal started coming to life in a most wonderful way earlier this year when I started holding Daring Way™ retreats.

I shared in an earlier post about The Daring Way™, but just to recap… The Daring Way™ is curriculum and methodology based on best selling author and TED sensation Brené Brown’s research and writing on shame and vulnerability. The material takes you on a journey as you uncover what is weighing you down and holding you back from living the life of joy, purpose, and courage that you were created to live. I like to think of the Daring Way experience as unpacking a suitcase. You start by sorting through what needs to be taken out and left behind, and then you re-pack the suitcase with what you need to bring with you on this journey of showing up in your life, letting yourself be truly seen, and living brave. The Daring Way™ helps us find the path from our beautifully decorated prison cell to the freedom of loving vulnerably, living freely, and daring greatly.

There have been five Daring Way™ retreats since March and it one has been inspiring and breath taking as these brave women enter into this two day experience perhaps a little uncertain, a little weary and leave with the taste of freedom on their lips and courage in their hearts. Each retreat has moved me to tears as I have seen light bulbs go off and the chains of perfectionism, comparison, and self-doubt fall to the ground. I am so incredibly grateful for many things in my professional life, but being able to walk this daring journey with these wonderful women is certainly at the top of the list.

With that being said, I am thrilled to announce there will be three more Daring Way experiences this fall. For the first time, there will be an eight week Daring Moms group on Wednesday mornings starting September 24th.   As I think and plan for this group, I am getting more and more excited. Moms of all ages and life stages are invited to participate in this intimate time of fellowship and learning. Details regarding Daring Moms, the October 25-26 Daring Way™ for Women retreat, and the November 6-7 Daring Way for Helpers are listed below.

My little Bible study story doesn’t entirely have a sad ending. Thirty years later I can say with a humble and grateful heart that I am doing what I always dreamed of doing. Thank you to the amazing women that have participated in The Daring Way™ so far. Thank you for your time, your energy, and your courage. Thank you for playing such an important role in my story and my journey into the arena. I look forward to meeting more daring women in the months ahead and seeing more bags unpacked, hearing more chains hit the floor, and sharing in more stories of discovering freedom and purpose. Here’s to daring greatly together!

Daring Moms: Living and Loving as Your True Self - September 24- November 12

Calling all Moms! The kids are headed back to school and now is a chance to give yourself a little gift. Join us for DARING MOMS on Wednesday mornings starting in September! As mothers, we are always trying to find the balance between taking care of our families and taking care of ourselves. Join us for an all new DARING MOMS group and have the opportunity to do both!

DARING MOMS is an eight week small group that will help us break free of the “mom guilt”, the comparison trap, and the second-guessing that clouds the experience of motherhood. Based on Brené Brown's The Daring  Way™ curriculum, you will learn to practice vulnerability and develop deeper relationships with your spouse, children, and friends. You will leave this group with a greater sense of yourself and strategies on how to bring a culture of compassion, courage, and vulnerability into your families, The group is on Wednesday mornings from 9:30-11:30 from September 24- November 12. Drop the kids off at school, grab a coffee, and join us for a unique time of fellowship and learning!  For more information, click here.

The Daring Way™ for Women: Show Up, Be Seen, Live Brave™- October 25-26

Would you like to break free of the comparison trap and self-doubt?  Would you like to be brave in more areas of your life by owning your story and clarifying your sense of purpose?  Are you tired struggling with feeling not good enough?  During this two-day retreat held specifically for women, participants will have the opportunity to identify the negative beliefs that are holding them back and the relationships and areas of their lives where they would like to practice more courage and vulnerability.  For more information, click here.

The Daring Way™ for Helpers: Working and Living with Courage and Compassion

Does self doubt ever plague your enjoyment of your work with clients, students, and congregants?  Are you struggling with burnout and wanting to clarify your purpose in the helping profession?  Would you like to be free of the negative thoughts and old baggage that can interfere with your work and relationships?  If you are a mental health professional, educator, or member of the clergy, you do not want to miss this special two day retreat.  Throughout the retreat, you will study Dr. Brené Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability and will develop a greater understanding of how shame influences your relationships, habits, and goal setting.   Additionally, you will have the opportunity to identify how you would like to show up and be seen in your personal and professional life as you outline a self-compassion and courage practice that you can integrate into your daily routine.  The Daring Way™ curriculum will transform the way you view yourself, your clients, and your personal relationships.  This retreat is coed. Please note this workshop is an opportunity for mental health professionals to experience The Daring Way™ methodology and apply it to their own personal journey.   Attending this training does not certify you to be a Certified Daring Way Facilitator or to use the copyrighted Daring Way™ exercises in your practice.  For more information, click here.

To learn more about The Daring Way™, click here.

To Register for an upcoming Daring Way™ group or retreat, click here.

What Are You Good At?

I have found the quickest way to bring deafening silence to a therapy session is to ask this question: What are you good at?

Let’s be honest, this question brings any conversation to a grinding halt. My guess is that even the thought of having to list your strengths elicits an internal groan. I’ll tell you anything about myself, but don’t make me say out loud for the world to hear what I’m good at!

Why is it so hard for us to verbalize this very basic and important fact about ourselves?   Why is it so hard for us to say, “I’m good at ________ ”?   It’s like we have convinced ourselves that we aren’t supposed to think we are good at anything and somehow that is the marking of humility. We seem to be caught in this trap of either not believing we are good at anything OR fearing that other people are going to think that we think we are good at something. Heaven forbid! (Insert sarcastic tone) As a result, we walk around thinking things like…

I don’t want people to think I’m a know-it all so I’m just going to keep my thoughts to myself during the meeting.

I don’t want people to think that I’m bragging so I’m not going to tell anyone about my promotion.

I am scared to try this new venture because I don’t want people to think that I think I’m all that.

I don’t want people to think that I think I’m good at that so let me add in how I mess all these other things up and how I can’t do this or that.

I think we all fall victims to this twisted logic at some point. I know I certainly have! When I was creating the copy for my website I basically had to rock and hum I felt so uncomfortable writing about myself. It just feels so vulnerable and exposing, doesn’t it?  What will people think? What will people say? So and so is much better at that so I shouldn’t put that I do that.  All those lovely thoughts raced through my head as Adam Sandler’s voice echoed in the background saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you.” Ugh! The ways we mentally torture ourselves!

And yes, sometimes we really don’t think we are good at things, but sometimes we do not let ourselves think we are good at things, or even try new things, because we are worried how it will come across to others. Sometimes we even struggle to say thank you after a compliment because we are afraid that by saying thank you, the person may think we are agreeing with them! Again, heaven forbid!

And we wonder why we don’t feel good about ourselves and why we are swimming in a sea of low self worth?? Are we even giving ourselves a chance? Are we even leaving a crack in the door that we could… wait for it, wait for it… be good at something?!

Where in the world does this come from? Where did we get the idea that by naming and claiming our strengths we are crossing into this horror of horrors zone of egotistical boasting?

I think women, in particular, have a fear of being perceived as arrogant. As much as we fear being not enough, I think we have an equally intense fear of being too much.   We don’t want to be too loud, too opinionated, too needy, too confident. We find ourselves dancing this delicate cha-cha in which we try to assert ourselves while at the same time downplaying every strength and gift. We live shamed into silence by the question who do you think you are-   Who do you think you are to try that? Who do you think you are to offer that opinion?

Additionally, I think we struggle to name our strengths because sometimes we mistakenly associate having a strength with being the best, and if we find someone who does something better, then we automatically discount that characteristic or ability in ourselves. Well, that isn’t necessarily a strength because Sally Sue is much better at it than I am. What a disservice we are doing to ourselves by minimizing, discounting, or even down right rejecting our strengths!

But again, where does this come from?

Like most of our baggage in life, I think this lovely little suitcase originated in middle school.

In Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons discusses how bullying and silent treatments function in female adolescent relationships. She says the worst thing a peer can say about an adolescent girl is

She thinks that she’s all that.

The phrase alone sends shivers up my spine because I know Simmons is right. Simmons says that once a girl is given this label she is deemed as arrogant and cocky and is shunned from the group. It is the social deathblow to a woman of any age and has been repeated in school hallways, dorm rooms, conference rooms, and neighborhood streets across the land as a way of demarcating us vs. her. Every woman, if she is honest with herself, knows the power of this statement because she has either used it to negatively describe another woman or she has feared it being said about her.

We are socialized to fear that if we come across as too confident then we will be ostracized, we will lose the very connection we desire. We end up caught in death grip of feeling not enough and fearing we are too much all at the same time. And so… we start to cha-cha. We try to be confident, but not too confident. We name our gifts, but we give nineteen disclaimers. We accept the positive feedback, but we follow it up with a rundown of how the presentation could have been better and what we left out.  How destructive this thinking is to our hearts and minds!

What if we started thinking differently? What if you gave yourself permission to say, “I’m a good _________”? What if you sat down and named your strengths without disclaimers and explanations? And then- this is the biggie- what if you believed them to be true? What if you believed you really had innate, God-given gifts that have been refined and enhanced by your life experiences? How would your life be different? How would that slice of truth change your interactions, the things you try, how you feel about yourself?

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Discovering your voice, clarifying your purpose, and breaking free of the chains that hold you back, starts with allowing yourself to recognize your gifts and talents. For some of us, that is a scary and uncomfortable task because we live our days downplaying and doubting our abilities. But your life does not have to be defined by the fears of not being enough or being too much. Your plans do not have to be shot down by the shaming question of who do you think you are. You can start living and seeing your self differently. Identifying your strengths and talents is not being arrogant; it is showing acceptance and gratitude for your unique abilities and gifts. Buried talents end up being just that- buried. They do not grow. They do not blossom. They just stay buried in darkness.

What do you need to do to start owning the truth that you are good at, not just one thing, but many things? Do you need to give yourself permission to claim that truth? Do you need to let go of some the old messages that planted negative seeds in your soul? Do you need to take time to discover your strengths and talents? Your strengths need light shining down on them. They need you to boldly name and claim them rather than burying them out of fear, insecurity, or misguided attempts at humility. Steward your strengths, cultivate your strengths; don’t bury them.

So… what are you good at? Come on, you can do it.   I know you can. Take a deep breath and let me hear you say it.

Here’s your challenge: List 10 strengths. Write them down and share them with someone. (In fact, share them below- I’d love to read them!)   It will be the most empowering, exhilarating, and scariest thing you do all week! You’re gonna love it!

Why Are You So Busy??

The days are starting to cool off, I have heard rumors of pumpkin flavored M&Ms, and my Pinterest main page is filled with Autumn décor and soup recipes.  All of this tells me that, indeed, Fall is before us.  Like so many, I love Fall, and as I shared a couple of weeks ago, I see the start of Fall as an opportunity to press the restart button.  After taking a breath over Summer, the Fall marks a chance to shift and change things.  For me personally, Fall is usually a fairly busy season, so inevitably I find myself wrestling with the seemingly always present conundrum of how to create more balance in my life.  And at some point during this season, I will inevitably ask myself… Why am I so busy??

Busy is indeed a treadmill.  In my life, at least, it is a treadmill that seems to gain speed and increase in incline without the touch of even a button.   When we are trying to keep up with the treadmill of Busy, we often feel that our lives our haphazard, unbalanced, and maybe even pointless and directionless.  We know we have a lot to do, but sometimes we can’t even say why we are doing it all.  Busy takes away our sense of center, and after living in constant motion, eventually we grow tired.  We need a break, but we don’t know how to take one.

One of the greatest theives of our sense of peace, joy, and wellness is busyness.  We will never be able to effectively manage our time or our lives if we stay on this neverending treadmill.  There is a difference between having a full schedule and being busy.  A full schedule is just that- full.  It may be full of commitments, responsibilities, and to do items, but all of these things move us forward in a clear direction.  We’re not just spinning in place, but we are moving towards something. They contribute to a greater sense of purpose and direction in our lives.  Our schedules may be full, but we don’t feel like a prisoner to our calendars, and we don’t feel that our worth is measured by the number of checks on our to do lists.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a lot of activity in your life, but we can get addicted to busy.  We can get where we don’t know how to say no and we don’t know how to slow down without feeling restless, or worse, guilty.  We can get to the point where busyness becomes a badge of honor or a marking of worth so we stay busy simply for the sake of being busy.

You deserve to break free of Busy.  You can break the chains of Busy in a variety of ways, but to do so you have to answer this one important question:

Why are you so busy?? 

I don’t mean this from a scheduling perspective.  I mean, what role is Busy playing in your life that you keep going back to that trough.  We don’t do anything unless we get something out of it, even if that something is twisted and unhealthy.  We engage in repeated behaviors because we think we are going to gain something.  What is it you think you are going to gain through busyness?

Sometime back one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist,  wrote an incredibly wise blog post on the role Busy plays in our lives.   Below is an excerpt from her post entitled My Drug and My Defense.

“Busy is both my drug and my defense. By that I mean that I use busy-ness to make me feel numb and safe, the way you use a drug, and I use busy-ness as a way of explaining all the things I dropped, didn’t do well, couldn’t pull together, as a defense…

This is what I do: I keep myself busy, for a whole constellation of reasons. I do it because I'm addicted to the feeling of being capable, because I hate to be bored, because I hate having to face the silence, because it might force me to feel things I don’t want to feel… If I stay busy I don’t have to feel those things, don’t have to worry about them, don’t have to let them blossom in to full-fledged questions. I don’t have to sit and think about that thing someone said about me recently when they didn’t know I was there, something I can’t get out of my mind. And so I run away from it, and from everything, faster, faster, faster.

And I use my busy-ness as an excuse for why I might not succeed, or accomplish the things I want to, or have the relationships I want to have. 

‘I mean, I’m juggling a million things here, of course the book’s not perfect. 

Seriously, where am I supposed to find time to work out and become some gorgeous supermodel, when I have like seven thousand things on my plate? 

I probably didn’t get invited because they knew I’d be out of town anyway, right? Right? Right?’

The busy-ness is a drug to keep me numb and a defense to keep me safe.”

 

Hauntingly insightful and truthful, isn’t it?  Busy truly is a drug and defense.  If I’m really busy then you can’t get mad if I make a mistake or have to bail on something.  BUT if I do everything and never say no then I look even more awesome and people are even more impressed by me because I did everything and I was soooo busy!  That type of high most certainly numbs our self doubt and insecurities.

Is busyness your drug and defense?  Is it your badge of worth and importance?  Why are you busy?

How do you break free from Busy?  You break free by choosing a full schedule over a busy one.  You accept that cutting back is not a sign of weakness or failure.  You learn that because you can do something does not mean you should or have to do it.  You don’t say yes to everything and you don’t say no to everything.   Instead, you invest your time and energy into things that are in line with your priorities and what you have deemed as truly important in your life.

Busy is a burden you do not have to bear.  May you find the courage to step off the treadmill this season.   Here’s to a FULL Fall!

What role does Busy play in your life? How are you choosing full over Busy this week? 

 

Take care!

P.S.  If you would like to read Shauna Niequist’s full post entitled My Drug and My Defense, click here

Our Secret Codes of Perfectionism

Jack was conceived three years ago today.  Or at least this is the day I count as his conception date.  Before you signal the OVERSHARE alarm, let me explain.  Three years ago today, we did our embryo transfer. As I shared in an earlier post, we struggled to get pregnant for some time.  We went through the emotional roller coaster of infertility, doctors’ appointments, unanswered questions, and passing months.  Having both gone through the gamut of testing and months of fertility treatment options, our doctor told us he felt our next reasonable and realistic option was to do IVF.  This is exactly where we did not want to end up.  This was the route we were both hoping to avoid.  We struggled to know if this was the right course of action or if we should continue to wait.  Were we turning something into science that should have been natural?   Were we taking things into our own hands by doing IVF? Maybe we just weren't supposed to have children.  I wrestled with this decision like I have never wrestled before.

From the first shot you give yourself until the day you take a pregnancy test, an IVF cycle takes 40 days.  Forty days.   The spiritual significance of that length of time was not lost on me.  For 40 days, I prayed thy will, not mine and that our sense of peace, joy, and worth would not be based on the outcome.  For 40 days, I tried to surrender all the anxiety, angst, and planning that accompanies infertility.  Although there were certainly moments of nervousness and anticipation, I have to say that during that period I felt more at peace than I had felt in years.  I had finally let go of the nagging thought that not getting pregnant was somehow a failure or a sign that I was missing some mark, and I had accepted that getting pregnant was out of my control.  I didn’t necessarily feel confident we would be decorating a nursery any time soon, but I felt at peace.

The embryo transfer was scheduled for Sunday, July 25th.  Although I was praying daily and repeating all sorts of surrender mantras, I read the instructions for what I was supposed to do that day over and over.  I had two responsibilities: show up on time and drink 40 ounces of water before the appointment. That was my part that day. The morning of the transfer I carefully measured my 40 ounces.  I started drinking.

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, the nurse did an ultrasound to check my bladder and she casually said, “Oh you don’t have quite enough water in you.  You need to drink more water.”

I instantly felt my throat tighten and my eyes start to burn with tears, and as clearly as if someone was speaking into my ear, I heard…

You didn’t do it right.

I was stunned.  I was shocked.  I was so shocked that I wanted to ask my husband if he had heard it as well.  It was water…it was water!!  It wasn’t going to make any difference on whether or not I got pregnant.  All I had to do was drink another Solo cup of water.  Where was this thought coming from?  I thought I had given up all the self-blame and high expectations.  But there lurking in the shadows was that old thought that if only I could do it right then everything would be okay.

I just want to do it right.  This thought had been setting the tone of my inner dialogue for as long as I could remember.  It applied to most everything I did and every decision I made.  For you see, I just want to do it right was my secret code.  It was my secret code of perfectionism.  I knew it wasn’t possible to be perfect, but I wasn’t trying to be perfect… I was just trying to do it everything right.  Because if I did everything right, then everything would work out.  Right?  Right?!?

 

Isn’t that what our secret codes of perfectionism convince us to believe?

Everyone has a secret code.  Everyone has a secret code that masks his or her attempted perfectionism.  We readily say that perfection isn’t possible; rather, we just want to do our best or we just like things done a certain way or we really prefer to work hard.  But there is a difference between perfection and preference.  Perfection is rigid and unforgiving while preference is flexible.  When we get honest about our secret codes, then we can get honest about the root lie behind our attempted perfectionism.

Perfection is protection.

Or so we think.

Perfectionism is all about protection.  If I can be perfect, if I can do it right, if I can keep everyone happy, then I will be protected against failure, criticism, hurt, and rejection.  If I can always make the right decision, then maybe I will avoid pain and disappointment.  If I cross every T and dot every i, then what I am afraid of most won’t happen.  Everything will work out because I did it right.  This is the lie that perfectionism tries to convince us is true.  This is the lie that keeps us up at night wondering what more we could do or where we missed the mark.  This is the lie that pummels our spirit and fills us with blame when things don’t work out.  This is the lie that robs us of peace.

The problem with this lie is that it lures you down a never-ending dark alley of overthinking, overworking, overscheduling.  You start to think, whether consciously or subconsciously, that how you look, how charming you were on the date, how you completed a certain daily task can change your life.  You start to think that you can control your destiny with just enough hard work.  The reality is you can do everything right and still not get the guy, the family, the job, the promotion, the love.  You can try and forecast every worst-case scenario and there are still going to be things beyond your control.

 

After I finished drinking my water, our doctor and the embryologist came in to discuss the transfer and next steps.  I sat there trying to take everything in.  Trying to take in everything the doctors were saying, trying to understand the significance of hearing that old thought for the first time in a while.  Sitting there, I realized this wasn’t about being perfect and this wasn’t about science.  This was about something Greater.  I started to fight back tears again but this time for a different reason.

That day I came face to face with the damaging power of my secret code.  I also came face to face with the abundant peace that comes with surrender.   Surrender is the antidote to perfectionism.  Surrender is recognizing what you can control, what you can’t, and having the wisdom to know the difference.  It is recognizing where you end and where God begins.  Surrender means embracing the mystery of faith.  It is not defeat or giving up; instead, it is peace and freedom.

We break free from our secret codes of perfectionism by getting honest about what they are and getting honest about what we think they will protect us from.  We break free by daily, sometimes hourly, laying down our expectations and attempts to control the unknown.  We break free by learning to embrace the ambiguity and uncertainty of life rather than fearing it.   Fear not, friends, there is abundant peace ahead.

What are your secret codes of perfectionism?  How do you use attempted perfectionism as a form of protection?  What are you trying to protect yourself from?

 

 

Friendships: Now and Then

Over the past several years, I have asked anyone I could find whether they thought friendship was more challenging in adulthood or childhood. I wondered why my friendships seemed different in this season of life than previously.  I wondered if I was the only one that sometimes felt like everyone had all these friends and girls nights.  Eventually a friend directed me to a New York Times article on adult friendships, and I let out a sigh of relief- I must be normal, I thought, if the New York Times was writing about my latest worry.  According to my friends, the New York Times, and some researchers in the Mid-West, friendship is more challenging in adulthood.  Great.  Now what? The evolution of our friendships in adulthood can feel like a shock to our system.  We wonder if we missed the memo or if someone forgot to even send the memo.  We wonder why no one ever mentioned these relational transitions in the volumes of advice we received over the years regarding adulthood.  At some point, we realize friendships are different now.  The landscape has changed.  It feels more challenging to form and sustain friendships.  It is harder to meet people.  Sometimes it feels like everyone is moving on and you are being left behind.

I think the biggest root of this different landscape is:  CHANGE.  Everyone goes through so much CHANGE in adulthood that it impacts our ability to make and sustain close, in person, in touch friendships.

Previously, we saw people on a regular basis, we lived near one another, and we were involved in the same activities. We had mirrors.  But as we grow older, things interfere with establishing these connections because everyone is in a different place:  single, married, married with children, focusing on career, changing jobs, having a job but not a career, going back to school, financially secure, financially insecure, etc.  It is hard to find that “mirror” and as a result we may feel distant from one another or like no one really knows us.  Also, I think (hopefully) as we grow older, we get to know ourselves better, and we may have less tolerance for conformity and nodding along when really we disagree.  When we were younger, we didn’t really know ourselves so it was easy to mesh and conform to the group.  But we’re older now, and we know what we like and don’t like, what we value, and what we need, so it is harder to ignore or mask all of that for the sake of fitting in.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy in forming new friendships because we can’t help but compare our new friends with our old ones.  Will I laugh the way I did with Joanna, Kim and Melissa?  Will someone understand so much about me like Patty?  Will someone make life so fun and full of color like Annie?  I once read that nostalgia is the worst form of comparison, and I think that is particularly true when it comes to friendship.  Our historical friendships have something that our newer relationships can never have- they know our history.  They know our quirks.  They know our families.  They know how far we’ve come, and they know that on the week you open your new practice you will be riding a roller coaster of emotion so they call and send cards to encourage you and check in on you.  They know you.  There is something truly beautiful about history.

But for most of us we don’t live near our historical friends, and so whereas they know our past, they don’t always know our day-to-day news.  This is where our new friends step in.  They know the things that we are currently facing. They know what book we’re reading, or how work is going, or what we decided to do about that issue with our child.  Our new friends are more likely to know us now and this is a wonderful thing as well.   Sometimes, though, we may feel that although our new friends know what we fixed for dinner, they don’t know us on a deeper level.  This is where patience and vulnerability enter the picture.   No matter how instant the connection, a true friendship takes time.  In our instant gratification society we want a best friend now, but searching for true friendship in adulthood means you have to invest time and you have to invest yourself.

Being vulnerable is critical to developing deeper friendships.  For women, especially, the depth of communication dictates closeness- the more communication, the greater the feeling of closeness.  Intimacy is in the details.   If you never share yourself or your story, people are never going to know you.  If you never share your struggles, people won’t know when to comfort you.  If no one ever really knows you, then you are never going to feel known. Without vulnerability and openness, we stay locked behind our walls performance and perfectionism.  We keep people at arms length.  We miss out on the gift of friendship and growing in connection.  Vulnerability is the key that unlocks the door to deeper friendships.

As you navigate this ever-shifting terrain of adult friendship, remember, our historical friends and our newer friends both serve important roles in our lives.  There is nothing like being able to send a one line email with a FRIENDS quote and know that your old friends know exactly what you are referencing and why.  There is also nothing like sharing in day-to-day life with your newer friends.  If we want closer friendships, we have to let people get close.  If we want to take those newer friendships to a deeper level, we have to invest time and ourselves.  Sometimes this can feel like a risk, but it is worth the risk.  It is worth the risk to be vulnerable and let people see the beautiful mess of our lives.  After all, vulnerability is contagious and the person you open up to might very well be searching for a true friend, too.

 

Challenge:  Share a little more of yourself with a friend today.  OR  Let a friend know how thankful you are to have her/him in your life.