(Above: I guess everyone tries to hurry life along sometimes).
Are you as compassionate with yourself as you are with your children? I just became aware of an area of my life where I was being very hard on myself. Maybe you can relate.
I have a confession to make. There’s a big area of my life where I haven’t been taking my own advice.
My last two posts (here and here) were about how children teach us to loosen our grip on time. I observed that our culture prizes efficiency, which gives rise to beliefs that create stress: that time can be wasted; that the faster the better; the expectation of continual, linear improvement.
Babies and children, before we socialize them, don’t believe any of that, so they can show us another way to be. From them we learn that every moment is full of interest if you pay attention; that growth is more like a spiral than a line and happens perfectly in its own time – is, in fact, stymied by our efforts to control or hurry it; that every stage of their development is better savored than rushed through.
I’ve learned these lessons well as they pertain to my children.
But as they pertain to me? Not so much.
My pain is this: I have not earned an income on which I could live, let alone support a family, since 2002, when I became a mother.
In that time I have mothered my children well and been a rock for my family throughout the frequent moves and deployments of Navy life. I have been a childbirth educator to over 200 families, supported ten mothers through the births of their babies, and coached dozens of beautiful souls through their life transitions.
But I cannot give myself a break for earning so little money – for the openings in my coaching roster, the vacancies in my brand new prenatal program, the small reach of my newsletter, blog and Facebook posts. When will I have a thriving practice?
I finally got wise to myself when I paid attention to two, grown up teachers. One was someone I found myself judging. The other was someone I found myself admiring. Strong reactions to people, both positive and negative, are for me a clear bell announcing that they have something to teach me.
The person I judged talked so much about money. Expensive this. Can’t afford that. I thought, “He shouldn’t be so obsessed with money! He should focus on what he has, not on what he doesn’t have.” His negativity seemed to cut off his enjoyment of life. “He should let loose!” I thought.
When people upset me, I do the Work on my judgments of them. It is my experience that on the other side of my judgments is wisdom, freedom and love. It was certainly true with my negative friend.
He shouldn’t be so obsessed with money. Is that true? Can I be absolutely certain that I’m right and he’s wrong? I notice that when I believe that thought I feel very constricted, controlling and stop being present with this person or with myself. Without the thought, I can be a compassionate listener to my friend, who is clearly worried. When I turn the thought around, I discover that I’m the one obsessed with money – I see all the ways that I have been not valuing the work I do because I have reduced it all to “the bottom line.” Ugh! How often I have self-righteously judged that reductionist tendency in our culture, when all along I’ve believed in it myself!
He shouldn’t be so negative. Really? I’m the one who is being negative, reducing myself to my net worth. Allowing my Social Security statement to be a humiliating judgment of my worth. When I do that, I am not seeing what I believe in my heart is the true juice of life: love, joy and gratitude.
He should let loose. As Katie would say, “If it’s so great, why don’t you do it?” Immediately I see all the ways I have held myself back – out of the shame of not earning well, embarrassment for not having a larger practice, uncertainty that I had any right to put myself forward. How often have I put my family off because of a so-deep-down-I-couldn’t-even-see-it belief that I had not earned fun because I have not earned enough money?
In contrast, the person I admired is a new business owner who is almost overwhelmed with clients. He went from occasional shoots to fully booked in two weeks. I know his story because I worked with him and found him fun and professional. He said yes to everything, nothing was a bother. He also charged me very little. He just wants to cover his expenses and do more work because he loves it. He plays.
I don’t mean to suggest that people who love their work and are playful cannot also be well paid. I have no doubt that my friend will eventually increase his prices, if only to control demand. But being led by play, instead of being led by a need to be paid in order to validate the worth of what he does, makes all the difference. It reminds me of what my friend and master coach Nona Jordan says – I’m paraphrasing here – “It’s not money’s responsibility to give you self-worth. You have to give it to yourself.”
Between questioning my judgments and noticing my friend’s very different approach to his business, I have relaxed profoundly about where my practice is now.
Doing the Work helped me to realize that I was trying to hurry my practice and – possibly – vexing its growth in the process. I was failing to notice and enjoy where I was, both professionally and personally, because I was focused on where I was not: the next milestone. Now I could see how far I’d come and appreciate where I am, right now – just as I am able to appreciate my children and my clients.
Like my children, my business friend has shown me an example of what it looks like to live according to different values – values more aligned with what I preach than what I practice, at least as an entrepreneur!
Imperfectly and intermittently, I will allow my practice to grow organically, as children do, in perfect timing.
What is one area of your life where you could be gentler with yourself? If you are not sure, notice what you judge in others and what you admire. Your thoughts about others will give you insight into yourself.