When you’re living your life from a full well, life becomes a joyful and fulfilling expression of your creative self. On the other hand, when you’re using people and circumstances as a way to validate who you are, you remain perpetually empty.
Inspired by the courageous, wise members of my July 2014 Trust Yourself program. Quotes from the forum reprinted with permission.
My family and I were driving into town last summer when we saw a blue van pass by with the words “Mr. Pool” printed on the side.
“There goes Mr. Pool,” I said, as we had just hired him to finish hooking up our pool heater. And I had this moment of appreciation for the person who started Mr. Pool.
“Isn’t it great that someone had an idea or had a passion for pools and started his or her own business? It’s so much better than working in an office building for The Man,” I said.
My husband vehemently agreed. After working in cubicles for twenty years in the visual effects industry, my husband has a particular, visceral aversion to The Man.
“But wasn’t there some sense of security when you were working for those big companies?”
I look back to see my sons listening intently to this conversation.
“Yes, but it was false security. There was a set paycheck but you could always get laid off. There were benefits but you could always get fired. And mostly you have this sense of your work being used for someone else’s benefit. You lose touch with your own creative and financial agency. So you think there’s certainty but it’s all illusion,” he says.
Life is uncertain, but when our lives are navigated by our inner compass, tuned to the North star of the crystal of our self-trust, we can flow with the uncertainty. When we’re following a life of independence and passion, thereby living from a full well of Self, we can handle the uncertainties with greater equanimity. The waters of the well absorb the uncertainty and we develop a capacity to trust in life, to make mistakes, to let go of caring what others think, and even to fail. When we’re living a life of passion, we’re also able to remove the expectation that our partners are supposed to provide us with fullness, aliveness and excitement. This is one of the keys to breaking down the rumination, “What if I’m not in love with partner?”: learning to fall in love with yourself and your life.
Yet so few people follow the wild and unpredictable trail of passion. Instead, they follow a well-trodden road paved by a culture based on the assembly line mentality, and from the time they graduate college they climb on the corporate or social or financial ladder with hopes of getting to the top. But what’s at the top? And what is the cost of sacrificing a dream or a creative life for the false security and structure of the predictable lifestyle?
I work with many people who, paralyzed by their self-doubt and their fear of failure, abandon listening to the whispers of yes within and instead hang tenaciously to the cliffs of security that the mainstream world provides. They may have even compromised their sense of self for so long – trying to be the good girl or good boy that their parents and teachers expected – that they’ve lost sight of their dream. My clients often say things like, “People often talk about following your dream, but I don’t even know what my dream is.” Or the clients that have followed someone else’s or the culture’s dreams for so long that when they’re finally spit out the other side they feel lost and rudderless amidst the formlessness of regular life.
As Phoenix from the last Trust Yourself forum so poignantly shared:
To your final point about sucking it up, I think I can relate. Driven by a variety of factors, I too have lived a long time grinding hard within the established structures in nearly every area of my life with monumental financial and generally dismal psychic results. Like you, I’ve done it for so long I don’t even know what I really want and what really fills me up. People have mentioned on the thread for this week’s call about being afraid that without the generally unrewarding but happily distracting structure of their work, they would simply fade and disappear. I’m in that right now. I have no work, and no immediate financial need to seek it. (hooray!) But like you, I am now struggling with how to build a new life for myself in the total absence of structure for the first time in my life. And half the time, I do feel like I’m fading.
There is so much paradox and mixed messages in how we raise our young people. Parents are told that babies need a predictable schedule, so first-time mothers and fathers turn their lives and mental wellness inside out to make sure that their little ones eat, sleep, and poop regularly (yes, we even receive the message that we can control our babies’ poop schedules). We then send them to predictable school and then off into the predictable 9-5 world. But what happens, as Phoenix writes, when we leave that 9-5 world? If we haven’t learned how to create a fulfilling life from the inside out as children because the structure has always been handed to us, how do we expect adults to know how to do it?
Featherlight shared a similar struggle on the forum:
But the structure of work is an externally imposed structure. And when I suddenly find free time I am almost paralysed by it! For a long time I have been aware of this idea that I cannot structure my own time. In the depths of my anxiety/depression I felt that if it were up to me, I would see no meaning or importance in anything. I would not take any action. I would just fade away and cease to exist.
I find I beat myself up about my inability to impose a motivating, meaningful structure. If I do not have a routine I tend to slow down. I find tasks expand to fill the time, while I might avoid some altogether. I can still be quite productive, but I can feel bad on the inside. Depending on my mood a lack of structure can cause me to feel very low. How is it that other people successfully structure their lives? Is it my lack of self trust, or my temperament that makes me struggle? Or am I being too hard on myself, setting unrealistic expectations?
What both of these wise members are writing about is the result of conforming and contorting ourselves to fit into the societally prescribed rhythm and schedule. We learn early in life, from the time we start school, that we have to wake up early regardless of what our bodies need or our innate rhythm. People often laugh when I tell them that one of the reasons we homeschool is so that we can honor our son’s innate night-owl nature; his body simply doesn’t power down until after 11pm at night, just like his artist father. It never has and it probably never will. But because he doesn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn, we can honor his rhythm and, thus, he can learn to honor his own rhythm. I often hear from clients that it was nothing short of miserable to have to pull themselves out of bed against every fiber of their body’s pleas for sleep. This might seem like a small imposition in the grand scheme of the world’s pain, but when we’re discussing the topic of how a sense of Self is nourished or torn down, it’s important to consider all factors, and our sleep patterns are one of them.
The repair work is to learn – or remember – your unique rhythm, temperament, sensitivities, likes, and dislikes. The healing task is to learn how to fill your well of Self, not by externally imposed structures and definitions but by internally indicated needs, longings, and aspirations. When you know yourself and love yourself you will trust yourself. And with self-trust intact, you won’t need anything external to offer direction or to make you feel whole. That shimmering touchtone of self-trust lives untouched and untarnished inside your well of Self. It’s your birthright and your wisdom. Are you ready to find it?