I've been initiating a lot of big, important changes in my life lately. I seek out change when I notice that some aspect of my life is no longer working and I want something to be different. I look forward to fresh starts and new beginnings, but in order to experience those, I also have to experience some degree of unknown and uncertainty. As a sensitive introvert, *this* is what creates feelings of stress and chaos. I feel the most anxious when I can't control the outcome, when I can't see a clear path to my desired end state, or when I encounter significant detours or obstacles along the way. It's in these moments that I feel the most overwhelmed, and sometimes paralyzed - I stall and can't take any action at all.
I used to see detours and obstacles as a sign that I had made the wrong choice and was on the wrong path. Over time, I've learned to see them in a new way. Rather than immediately assuming that I've chosen wrongly, I've learned to get curious and explore the true meaning of the challenge I'm facing. I ask myself, is it possible that I am headed in the right direction, but there's something about the way I'm approaching the situation that I need to adjust? Or, is this detour a "test" of my endurance or a way to prove to myself that I do really want what I'm pursuing and that I'm willing to do the hard work to arrive at the future I want?
I took a break from my life coaching business to focus on family matters for awhile. When it was time to re-engage with my work, I started taking steps to bring my business back to life. It wasn't long before uncertainty and doubt started creeping in and I became consumed with worry about the financial aspects. As the stress grew, my fears became all-consuming and eventually I found myself procrastinating in my work and surfing the job boards instead. I found a job that sounded appealing, I submitted my resume, and I went through a series of interviews. After my third one, I was pretty confident that I was going to receive an offer. I felt a connection with the people, I believed in the company's mission, and I felt an initial sense of relief regarding finances. I reasoned that if I received this offer, it was a sign that I was supposed to take this job and that it was time to put my business aside.
That night, I didn't sleep well and the next morning, I felt emotional, agitated, and tense. I allowed myself the gift of some time to explore what was at the root of these feelings. After some quiet reflection and writing in my journal, I came to see an unexpected truth: I didn't really want this job. I was pursuing it only to placate my fears and worries: about stepping into my mission and about my financial security. Although my logical, rational brain was pushing me toward safety and security, my heart was pulling me toward the realization of my dreams. In reality, taking this job would mean that I was giving up on my dreams and my business, and more importantly, that I was giving up on myself.
I did receive an offer that very day, which I turned down. Afterwards, I felt an immediate sense of peace. And by the next day, I knew in my heart I had made the right decision. I also knew that I was in for a long, hard, scary road ahead, but I made the commitment to myself right then and there that I wouldn't give up on my business, or myself, without first doing everything in my power to make it work.
Discerning the meaning of the challenges and obstacles we encounter is in itself a learning process. It takes time and practice to learn which obstacles are signs that we are headed in the wrong direction and which are there to build our strength and prepare us for the future that we want. This discernment process involves paying attention to the signals we are receiving from our body, and turning inward, inquiring into the energy of our heart.
Making the choice to follow the path of our heart will require our determination, commitment, focus, and hard work. We need to set aside what others think will be best for us and tune into what *we* think will be best for us. We will certainly face challenges, obstacles, and setbacks. We may procrastinate, stall, and resist, which are all signs of being gripped by fear. Above all, we need to learn to trust: in the process, in our dreams, and in our self. We must cultivate belief in our ability to accomplish our dreams, even if we can't see how yet.
I’ve been questioning and exploring my life purpose for years: why am I really here? Who and how am I being called to be? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? In what ways am I supposed to be serving others? These are big, important questions so I often find myself grasping for or demanding quick answers so I can get on with it. But our deepest callings and our true life purpose may take years to emerge. Each little calling we hear along the way is pulling us forward, preparing us for the next calling and then the next. I have found that understanding the topic of callings has presented a challenge for myself and some of my clients. What is a calling? How do we know when we are being called? How do we know if something is a true calling or just a whim? What if we don’t want to pursue a calling? The whole idea of finding your calling, let alone pursuing it, can feel overwhelming. In this post, I attempt to simplify it enough to get you started and share five things you need to know right now.
We will be invited to participate in a variety of calls over the course of our lives. Some will feel easier than others. Some will be downright terrifying. Sometimes we’ll say ‘yes,’ sometimes we’ll say ‘no,’ and sometimes we’ll say, ‘not yet.’ Each time we say yes, we’ll stretch more, grow more, and move that much closer to evolving to our highest potential. My hope for you is that you be open, be curious, and be willing to explore the possibilities of your calls.
I’m a lifelong learner; my need to grow and evolve is an important part of my being. I’m always striving to become the best version of me that I can be. Sometimes I fail miserably and other times, I make great leaps of transformation.
In the past, my efforts have consistently been self-improvement projects – during which I tried with all my might to change myself to meet others’ needs or expectations. My focus was on fixing my inadequacies. I thought I had to change who I was or how I behaved to please other people (so that I’d be accepted and liked). I would always fail miserably at these efforts because I would set a goal for the change without being clear on why I was making the change. I would create a self-development checklist of all the “actions” I needed to take and I’d attack the project with great vigor - at first. When I acted in a way that was opposite of the change I was trying to make, I’d beat myself up. I’d expect quick results; so when the quick fixes didn’t work, I’d scrap the whole project.
No matter how much we want to make a change in our attitude, our behavior, or our ways of thinking, the process is still difficult. We easily get stuck in our old habits, swirl in our fear-based beliefs, and get trapped in our outdated (and often inaccurate) patterns of thinking. When we’re stuck here, we can’t see or understand why the change isn’t happening. We want the change, we want to become a better person, but we critically judge and berate ourselves for not being able to make the shift. Or we excuse or rationalize it away – telling ourselves we’re just wired this way so why bother trying to change?
I’ve come to see that personal growth, at its core, is not about fixing our inadequacies. True personal growth, real transformation, is about slowly uncovering and evolving into the person that we already are – at the deepest level of our soul. Personal transformation is about letting go of the false parts of ourselves that no longer fit: the masks we wear to try to please or fit in with others, the self-protective behaviors we’ve been learning our whole life, and the traits we lean on when we feel like it’s not enough to just be who we are.
Real transformation is less about striving to become someone we think we’re supposed to be and more about relaxing away and releasing the parts of us that no longer fit so that our true selves can emerge. This process takes time; we’ve been building our personas for our whole lives so expecting them to change overnight is not realistic.
There are three things I’ve learned to be true about personal growth:
When we keep these three truths in mind, it creates an environment that supports transformation. We view the whole process more realistically and we find comfort in knowing that we get more than one shot at it. Personal transformation is not often something than happens in a few months; it can take a lifetime to evolve into the person we were created to be. Personal transformation is rarely about learning new behaviors. It involves unlearning our old ways of being, letting go of our fear-based beliefs, and relaxing old habits and patterns.
Transformation is a process, and as life happens there are ups and downs. It’s a journey of discovery – there are moments on mountaintops and moments in deep valleys of despair. (Rick Warren)
When you find yourself in the valleys of despair, remember to give yourself grace and forgiveness. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to make an immediate change. And when you find yourself on a mountaintop, remember to acknowledge your effort, and to celebrate!
We spend much of our life trying to force everything into discrete categories. Am I an introvert or an extrovert? Do I want to be successful at work or do I want to be satisfied at home? Do I focus on my self-care needs, or do I give unselfishly to others? Do I follow the rules or break them? Am I living in fear or acting in courage?
In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that the dualistic mind compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out contrary evidence, and crucifies with impunity. With comparison comes judgment and condemnation naturally follows. Dualistic thinking leads to a decision that one thing is good and the other is bad. Rather than seeing the whole picture, we see only a part of the story - that which affirms our view of the world and the story we have told. Forcing discrete choices with dualistic thinking is not helpful in most of life’s situations and may create turmoil in our relationships.
Non-dualistic thinking, on the other hand, involves wholeness. We move away from either-or in favor of both-and.
Non-duality is incredibly important when we are in times of change or deep personal growth. Real, lasting behavior change takes time; it does not happen overnight or over the course of a few weeks. When we get trapped into non-dualistic thinking, we see ourselves only as passing or failing, changing or not changing. In reality, sometimes we are going to be the person we want to be and act the way we want to act, and other times, we are not. We’re going to slip. We’re going to take two or ten steps backward. We are going to make mistakes.
But failing does not make us a failure. We are imperfect human beings, who throughout the day are subjected to any number of external situations and environmental issues that impact our behavior and the choices we make. As we learn to practice present moment awareness, we’ll notice more quickly when we are getting off track so we can try again. Rather than scoring ourselves pass or fail, we see that we are doing the best we can given the situation and grade ourselves an “A” for our best effort.
When we awaken to our truth we realize we are free (Kristi Bowman).
What is our truth? Sometimes it's hard to find because we are easily influenced by external sources. We hear a good idea and think, I will do that too! And we excitedly start down the course. We muster up our courage and we take swift action. And then - nothing happens. What we were hoping for doesn't materialize. We don't get what we wanted. We feel disconnected from people. It's harder than it should be, or takes longer than we thought it would. We feel isolated and alone.
Then the negative self-talk kicks in. "What was I thinking?" "Why did I think I could pull that off anyway?" "No one understands me." "No one wants what I have to offer." <Insert your version of negative self-talk here.>
We become filled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear and we are unable to act. We get stuck, we stall, we freeze.
And then one day, we step far enough away from the situation to look at it with objective eyes. Then we see what's really going on. We realize: "Wait, this isn't what I wanted at all." In some cases, we discover that the path we pursued is actually opposite of what we really wanted to begin with, had we just taken a moment in the beginning to consider that. Perhaps the path we followed doesn't align to our deeply held beliefs or our innermost core values. Or maybe we neglected our deeply held talents and gifts and tried to do something that we didn't love.
And this new awareness comes not from harsh negative self-talk, but from a more gentle and understanding place. This new awareness is presented to us in a more loving and compassionate tone, because it comes from our heart.
We approach this new awareness with curiosity and openness. We can then say to our self with honesty, grace, and self-compassion: "That way may work GREAT for that person. But it doesn't work great for me." We let go of what's not working. We reframe what it means to "fail" and realize that every situation we encounter - every single one - is an opportunity for learning. Every situation brings with it a lesson and we just need to open up and give it space to emerge. When we are ready, the lesson becomes clear. And then we can choose a new path.
Our heart is wise and knows what it is that we truly want. Our heart approaches everything with light and love and joy. Our mind, on the other hand, swirls around our fears and doubts. Too often, we allow fear to run our life. When we choose fear over love, we dim our inner light.
When we follow our heart, we know our innermost desires. When we follow our heart, we radiate light, love and joy. When we follow our heart, we tell the Universe that we are open to possibilities and are ready to receive the synchronicity and miracles that are just waiting for us to be ready.