Learning to Get Out of My Own Way
I read this book recently that was a beautiful fiction with two protagonists: one is a middle-aged woman and the reader of a diary that has washed ashore near her Pacific Northwest home, and the other is a teenage girl from Japan and the diary’s owner and writer. The story unfolds as the woman reads the girl’s diary, and it presents this wonderful idea of multiplicity that has stuck with me since reading the final page. It posits that for every thing we worry about, and for every worst-case scenario we can dream up, there is an opposite best-case scenario and myriad other outcomes in between those two extremes that are also possible.
As someone who has historically worried incessantly, I found this notion really freeing, and also very comforting.
What I’ve been coming around to more and more over the past few years of deepening my studies around mindfulness techniques and philosophy is the idea that we do not live in a binary universe. Yet, we continue to perpetuate this idea.
We believe that an outcome is either good, or it’s bad. We’ve either succeeded, or we’ve failed. If it’s a no right now, then it can never be a yes.
But life doesn’t happen on the extremes. There is this wonderful spectrum of all other possibilities that await us; we simply have to be open to them.
Each day I aim to relinquish the control that the either/or mindset has had on me for most of my life, and I am actively working to embrace and give more power to the both/and. Feeling gratitude for the outcome that was not what I expected, and finding the lesson within it. Allowing myself to feel the fullness of the disappointment, sadness, or anger that may arise, and also remaining open to the idea that the Universe/God/Source/Whatever-you-want-to-call-it has something else in mind for me. Considering the possibility that even though it didn’t happen right now doesn’t mean it never well, and remaining open to the magic of divine timing.
I know that I have been suffering at the hands of my own expectations for decades, and this was a primary driver in me seeking to learn more about mindfulness. I could see my destructive patterns, and I was curious to find some relief.
This has been me in a nutshell: I embark on a new journey, and expect that it will be a certain way and end with a certain result. I obsessively cling to this idea of how I think it should be, and when it looks any different from what my expectations are, that’s when the worry crashes over me like a tsunami, completely wiping me out. I feel downtrodden, questioning my abilities, my worthiness, and wallow in self-pity for a good while.
Here is what I can see so clearly now:
My expectations have been holding me back.
My worry has stifled my growth and my happiness.
My time and energy have been absorbed in perpetuating the idea of a worst-case scenario.
A few years ago, I decided I was ready for a change. And what’s been fascinating on this road of discovery is realizing and understanding that my expectations and my worry are constructs of my mind. So the good news is: If I can create them, I can also work with them to shift them.
What I have learned is that it’s this clinging to an idea that is the leading cause of my own suffering. Because I have such a tight grip on what I think it should look like, I’m not allowing the possibility of anything else to appear. And that something else could be even better than anything I could have dreamt of on my own.
While I still have bouts of worry, and I still find myself creating these unrealistic expectations for myself, I now have the tools that allow me to move through these feelings with more resiliency. While I still may be knocked down by that tsunami of worry, instead of fighting the current, trying to convince myself that it isn’t here or isn’t happening, what I aim for now is to ride the wave, get curious about what’s underneath the expectation in the first place, and also observe what’s passing me by.
This requires lots of self-compassion, not judging myself for feeling whatever I am feeling, allowing myself to feel it all deeply, and also dropping the veil of expectation and worry that has been clouding my line of sight so that I can clearly see the other possibilities that exist. And even if I can’t see any other possibilities at the moment, my main work then is to remain open to the idea that other possibilities are out there, and practice patience as I allow the Universe to show them to me whenever it’s ready.
When I notice I’m riding that wave of worry, here are a few questions I ask myself. My goal when asking myself these questions is never to blame, judge, shame, or guilt myself for my honest responses. I like to think of it as I’m an explorer—simply on a fact-finding mission. The answers to these questions have helped me to understand myself better, and they are slowly showing me areas where I am standing in my own way.
My wish for you: May you try them on, and if you find them useful, may you use them to continue to have heartfelt and honest conversations with yourself so that you begin to lift the veil that is keeping you from seeing the world clearly. May you use these to help you embrace all of the possibilities in the in between.
What is the energy that I brought into this?
Where our mind goes, our energy follows. What were the quality of your thoughts as you embarked on this endeavor? How might you want to change your thoughts, and therefore your energy, if you decide to try again?
What is my intention?
Sometimes we do things because we’re on autopilot, and we think it’s what we should do. Now is the time to unpack that. Uncovering our intention underneath the action can often shed light to reveal a truth we had not yet known, and this allows us to make any adjustments as we dust ourselves off and get back up again.
What support do I need in order to show up as my full self in this endeavor?
We don’t often allow ourselves the luxury of honestly asking for and then following up with receiving the support that we need. Whether it’s asking a friend to come with you to a networking event where you won’t know anyone, or asking your partner to cook dinner in advance so you can have extra time to complete your project, don’t be shy to ask for what you need. More often than not, those close to us are more than happy to show up for us. We just have to ask.
What do I want?
This question has been the biggest teacher for me lately. How often do we let ourselves really ask for what we want? We have become so habituated that sometimes what we think we want is simply because it naturally follows a linear progression from what we previously had. But life isn’t linear, and it often doesn’t make sense. Just because you’ve been on one path does not mean you have to stay. Set aside some significant time to dive into this question for yourself, and often the answers are so profoundly revealing that in and of themselves they have the capacity to shift one’s perspective significantly.
If you find yourself drowning by your own tsunami of worry, please know that you are not alone. I’ll be a life raft for you. Let’s connect during my Virtual Office Hours; sign up for a free, 30-minute chat with me.