What's important

Leave the heart in - Part 2: The myth of 'if you love it, it's easy'.

What is it? An adage? A maxim? Perhaps it’s a myth with just a sprinkling or hint of truth left in it. That in terms of work, if you love it, it’s easy.

 

And so it goes that if you want to love your work, then you have to find something you love doing … And it will be easy, breezy, lemon squeezy. Right?

 

Well let's just qualify that. Yes, when you love what you do, it is a lot easier - you only have to think of a day in a job you hate or doing work that bores you to death to understand that. But it's also slightly simplistic and probably even somewhat mythical as well. Yes, I do agree that if everyone was doing work they loved, then the world would be a brighter place. Everything clicks into place a lot better when we do what we love -  our talents are naturally utilised, we have a lot more internal drive, natural motivation and creativity. Agree.

 

However, there is another side to that belief and that is that when you really care about something and your heart's fully in it, it can get hard. Very, very hard.

 

Caring deeply about something, your mission, a message, your brand, your vision, can get very emotional. It’s the heart and the emotion that gives it life and inspires others to connect and invest their emotions too. It makes what you do real and the connections you form with other people real because it really matters. It’s the heart in things that make them stand out.

 

But it’s not always easy.

 

Yesterday I was writing about how doing things a bit differently (Leave the heart in - Part 1), doing things from the heart, can sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable, even a bit wrong, but that just because it feels that way doesn’t mean it is wrong and definitely doesn’t mean you should quit. Having your heart in something can make it difficult to separate yourself from the opinion of others, especially if it's negative, and not take things personally. You can get too caught up in it, too close, and lose your perspective. The truth is, you can become a little obsessed. Brightly inspired is good. It comes from something deep inside and resonates with meaning that acts like a magnet to others, but having your heart in something also means you can get hurt. It can be extremely stressful just because you care so damn much and will do almost anything to see that vision to reality. And sometimes that bright inspiration can tip over into white knuckle obsession. That's when you can't let go, maybe you can't sleep, it's hard to slow down and small things seem enormously upsetting.

 

When having your heart in something starts to feel like this, you can start to doubt whether it's worth it and whether you really actually care about it like you thought you did after all. It's confusing and it can all feel very, very wrong. The really sad thing is that when people who really care about something and have fully invested their heart and soul start to feel like this, they often start thinking their thing is wrong. That their heart was wrong after all. That actually they can't really love it because if they did, wouldn't it be easy? No, having your heart in it can be a lot harder than not because with your heart in it, you've got more skin in the game - a whole heart in the game and that is certainly not always easy.

 

But does that mean it's wrong? Does that mean the thing you loved and believed in is no longer worth it?
Probably not. So here's the thing, before you give up on it because it feels too hard and therefore feel sure that clearly it's wrong, ease the load first. Talk to your good friends and supporters and clients and customers who believe in what you do - they'll remind you of its worth because they're not as close to it as you are and won't have lost their perspective. Outsource the stuff that you're not so good at, the stuff that saps your time and energy, leaves you feeling deflated, spent and robs energy from the parts you put your heart into.

 

Get rid of some of the sand, the jobs that don't utilise your unique strengths, but keep the heart in it. The whole thing's not wrong, heart's not wrong, it's just been overwhelmed by all the demands of loving and really caring about something. Don't make the mistake of thinking that because it's no longer easy, that it's wrong. Change it around, iterate, improve, but leave the heart in it. If you take the heart out of your business, take the heart of your marketing and communications, then you’ve left nothing for people to connect with … and then what’s the point?

 

Heart is not the problem. Get rid of some of the other stuff so that keeping your heart in the game is easier, more sustainable, but leave the heart in. At the end of the day, it’s the only thing that keeps your business human. 

Photo credit: BruceEmmerling via pixabay - http://pixabay.com/en/new-york-city-building-tower-224396/

 

Leave the heart in - Part 1: How to tell if it's actually wrong or whether it just feels wrong because your heart's in it

Sometimes doing things a little bit differently can feel pretty uncomfortable and often downright scary. Just because it’s different can make it feel bad even when it’s right. That’s why in business especially, we tend to avoid that feeling and go with what we know, or what we’re told we should know and what has always worked … for everyone else. With what the stats say, what the analyst says, the market indicators, the current condition, the economic climate. You know, business is business right? We’ve always done it this way - question that wisdom at your own peril … or would you be brave enough to do things differently if you really believed something was important enough? Even when doing it feels all weird and confronting and, well, like it’s wrong?

 

I had this experience recently with something totally unrelated to work, but it made me think about how it feels to do something different and why it can feel wrong even when we’re sure it’s good or right. This year I wanted to do something different to the usual teacher thank you cards passed around for parents to sign at the end of the school year. That works really well and actually we still did that again this year, but I wanted to do something that was from the kids, that they’d created and contributed to themselves. So my kids and I came up with this idea to cut out lots of butterflies and hearts for all the kids write on and decorate. Once they were all done, we thought we’d make a collage of thank you messages.

 

Great idea and everyone was enthusiastically onboard. It’s just that when it came to making the collage, it became clear that my talent as an artist extends only as far as the idea. I do have some wonderful, visionary (ok, maybe lofty) ideas, but my skills in actual implementation means it’s often a good idea to outsource (and that leads me to another discussion about knowing your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses, but I’ll post that tomorrow). Anyway, after all this organising and collecting and coordinating the hearts and butterflies, I was sadly disappointed when I came to put it all together.

 

I was almost overwhelmed by the feeling that what I’d created wasn’t good enough and that I’d wasted people’s time in trying to do something different. I felt embarrassed about putting myself out there and I was wishing I hadn’t. What I wished was that I’d just stuck to what we’d always done - buy a card, pass it around for the parents to sign and kick in some cash. I really regretted trying to do something with more meaning and although I knew it was the thought that counted, I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I’d done something wrong.

 

The truth is that sometimes that weird feeling, that vulnerability, is a good thing because it shows that what you're doing still has the heart left in it - that it's a real, living and breathing thing that matters. It feel wrong not because it is wrong, but because we’re not used to feeling that way. We have a tendency to play it safe, toe the line, do what’s done because we equate fear with an indication that something’s wrong. It comes from our crocodile brain that had to protect us from predators way back in the dark ages, but hasn’t changed much with the times. Actually we’re mostly pretty safe now and sometimes that feeling's just discomfort about showing heart when we've been conditioned to think that's a risky business.

 

Ok, so maybe showing heart is "risky". Maybe you are being vulnerable, but is that necessarily bad? What if your intentions are pure and you really care about this thing, should you not do it because it feels awkward and weird? Is that enough of a reason to retreat back into ordinary?

Well here's a test; does that fear of being vulnerable open your heart or close it? Do you feel expansive or smaller? Closer to what's true and real and on your path, or further from it?


Compare that to the alternative. How do you feel when you think about going safe, toeing the line, keeping the heart out, tried and true, 'best practice'? A little bit dead perhaps? A little bit deflated? Smaller, blander, safer, more ho-hum? Constricted by any chance?


Is that the way you want to connect with people? Is that the way you want to show up? Maybe it is, and that's fine. You'll know if it's fine for you because you won't have a weird feeling of fear and there really won't be an issue. If that's the case, good for you, go for it. But if your inner voice is shaking its head and saying, "We could, but I don't know, it just doesn't feel right", then that's your guy. You've got to put the heart back in and listen to that inner voice.


And what's the worst that could happen? So what if it's not perfect, polished, praised by the analyst and approved by the board? Leaving the heart in takes some work, it's a bit rougher than the polished tried and true. So iterate. Get comfortable with the feeling and learn. Improve. Make it better, polish it, argue the point, sell it, solve it, ship it. But leave the heart in. You're trying a new path, a path that feels a bit scary, but which has the potential to connect more and be more meaningful. It feels weird because heart’s not always common, not because it's wrong. You can make it better, you can SEO it, polish it more, edit it more, research it more, analyse it more, but leave the heart in it - that's the bit that's right, not the bit that's wrong. 

The courage to connect and courageously support

I often think about mothers of newborns and very young children and wonder how smartphones and the advent of Web 2.0 has impacted and changed the experience of early motherhood. When I first became a mother, smart phones were only just entering the market so Facebook and all the other social media icons were not yet as ubiquitous to every day life as they are now. I see posts from friends with babies and toddlers sharing milestones, cute photos and videos, and also the not-so-cute times. The sleep deprivation, the frustration with teething and sickness, the inability to ‘get anything done’, the urgent and dire need to ‘get out of the house’, the overwhelm of trying to fit too much into a day and then think of something to cook for dinner. Whenever I read these posts, it takes me back to a time when I too shared the same experiences, but didn’t have a smartphone to be able to tap into a willing cheer squad.

 

 

I was thinking about all this recently when a friend of mine with a very young baby wrote a post about being worn out looking after her unsettled colicky baby. Her post and replying comments took me right back to when my second child was a baby and also very unsettled. It reminded me of how I felt during that time and how I became isolated and depressed, even though I didn’t really know it at the time. My overwhelming desire was to reach out to her and help her in the way I wished someone had have been able to reach out to me. I wanted to tell her what I wished someone had have been able to tell me.

 

When my baby 'turned' from being a content, quiet little baby into a tormented, frustrated, crying little red ball at about 6 weeks, I think I would have liked my older self to have looked my younger self in the eye and tell me about the necessity of having the courage to trust my instincts and prioritise self-nurture. That this, regardless of what I believed was most important and what being a ‘good’ and ‘capable’ mother meant to me, that these things had to come first. I know what the younger self would have thought too. She would have brushed it off as obvious to the point of being irrelevant because the real priority was to figure out how to settle this baby so I could get all this other stuff done. In other words, I, like many others, I daresay, theoretically saw the importance of nurturing instincts and understanding unrealistic expectations, but not to the extent of being able to prevent myself from becoming isolated and depressed. Making the link between instincts, self-nuture and maintaining meaningful and healthy connections with others, along with the active pursuit of accountability for your own well-being is probably difficult to do without the 20/20 vision of hindsight.

 

And so day after day I’d try something new, looked for those magic gripe drops, tried the swaddling technique that was slightly different to the 7 others I’d tried, upset myself and my baby with control crying, soothing music, a more rigid feeding routine, altering my own diet, stressed myself out by trying not to be stressed and read yet another article telling me my baby was upset because I was stressed and that he was merely taking cues from me, so I should sit down and have a cup of tea. Viola! Not.

 

Looking for solutions is fine, but there's rarely a silver bullet and sometimes not even a name for ‘it'. The truth is some babies cry, a lot, and sometimes we never really find out why. Just when you think something’s ‘done the trick’, you’re just as likely to have the wheels fall off and have to head back to the drawing board … again. Early motherhood is demanding, even when everything’s smooth sailing, and downright treacherous when it’s not. When you're new to this, to this enormous, relentless job, your instincts are probably your best friend. But we can’t see instincts, were never taught instincts at school and they were possibly not even mentioned, or merely skimmed over at your anti natal class, they’re not to be found in the baby isle at Coles and your mum probably brushes them off as inferior to actual experience. But your instincts are important and they need to be honed and developed, and the only way to do this is to practise listening to them. It means being kind to yourself, it means being your own mother in a way, and making that your first priority because in truth there is no other time that you need to mother yourself more than when you become a mother yourself. If you’re so tired and exhausted and confused that you can’t even imagine having instincts, but you know you need to breastfeed and bond with that baby, if that's all you can manage, well that's absolutely enough and that’s more than ok.

 

It's all so intense and magnified when you're 'in it', but time marches on and when you look back you realise how small a time in your whole life it actually was, and therefore so precious ... and tiring, and hard, and scary, but always never the less, precious. I wish new mothers were told more strongly and relentlessly that if "all" (as if it's nothing!!) you do is sleep, breast feed and talk to your friends during this time, punctuated by some walks outside, and snuggles and talks with your partner, best friend or significant other, then you're doing a brilliant and perfect job. So ingrained is the expectation that we will be ‘super mums’ immediately (whatever that means anyway), that we’re not even explicitly told to have these expectations, we just automatically do. Now that you’re a mother, you’re supposed to have everything sorted - a perfectly content baby whose different cries you fully understand and efficiently respond to, an immaculate house, a tidy pantry, delicious and nutritious dinners, washing and ironing up-to-date, a tidy social life and coffee calendar, an exercise regime, baby weight lost, swimming lesson and baby yoga, blissful breastfeeding with copious amounts of milk, a nice fat baby, and let’s not forget, extreme happiness because everybody tells you these will be the best years of your life. 

 

Now I hate to sound cynical, but seriously? I’m skeptical and I feel strongly that these often unspoken expectations are not only unrealistic, but dramatically increase new mothers’ likelihood of experiencing feelings of failure, isolation and depression. It’s often said that failing to do anything about a problem is the same as contributing to it, and it seems to me that while most of us would agree that these kinds of expectations are unrealistic, we tend to smile and go along with them anyway. What we really need to be taught is how to unlearn them. We need to be told the way it really is and supported in being much, much more realistic in what the job actually entails, its excruciating demands and what’s actually important.

 

We are living in a period in time where most of us were brought up being told we can do and be anything. We’re used to technology and with that comes a certain impatience and expectation that everything can be ‘fixed’. If you don’t like something, don’t tolerate it - get an app, read an e-book, find a guru, fix it! And again, I’m a modern woman and I not only like that approach, for the most part, but I employ it often in everyday life to huge advantage. However I’m also becoming increasingly aware of the need for real connection in life to tap into the collective human wisdom that remains essentially unchanged through the ages. It’s so easy to get caught up in ’stuff’ and become deaf to the knowledge that has accumulated through millions of lives lived. What mother looks back and says she really should have done more housework! No mother, ever. There’s something in that, why ignore it?

 

For me, I felt like everyone had a million suggestions as to how to 'fix' my baby and I felt enormous pressure to 'solve' his problem, which in turn lead to nothing but an enormous feeling of failure and depression when I couldn't. This feeling was further compounded by my expectation that I could also get everything else done, but I couldn’t, and neither did I let it go. What I wish someone would have said to me was to stop focusing on trying to 'fix' him, and instead shift to focusing on how I was going to get through this. I needed to bring down expectations and nurture myself so I could stay relaxed and solid for my baby. I now know that it's absolutely ok if that means that all you do for days on end is sleep together and feed. Let it be. Or sleep together when possible and play blocks with your toddler. Whatever, the point is it’s just a moment in time and this too will pass. Take the time to intentionally trust yourself and nurture your instincts. Your mental health and ability to cope will be greatly strengthened and your baby will respond to your focused, calm attention. 

 

Perhaps even if this had have been said to me, perhaps I wouldn’t have been able to hear it anyway because I know how ingrained my own expectations of myself were and I now also know how unrealistic and dangerous they were. It takes great courage to question your beliefs, to interrogate your modus operandi and that’s because within it we entwine our identity. Our identity as a ‘good’ mother, a ‘hard working’, ‘organised’, ‘thriving’, ‘natural’, ‘capable' mother are all wound up in our expectations of ourselves and compounded by a society that both praises these apparitions and expresses awkward discomfort with being different.

 

Mothers however, if nothing else, must be courageous, and let me tell you, even though I for one often felt as far from courageous than is humanly possible, it comes with the job; mothers are instinctively courageous. One thing you learn about courage though is that it’s not as sexy as brave. It’s often unseen, unheard and often feels exactly like fear, but the difference is that it’s relentless. It doesn’t go away and deep inside you know to trust its voice. Sometimes it sounds very different to your own voice, the voices of your friends, your family and even the voice of the world, but you’ll know it because deep down, you know it’s the truth. This is what mothers need to know.

We've got the apps, we've got Google, we've got the medicine and the natural remedies, we've got the research, we've got the studies, we've got society at large telling us what’s right and what’s wrong, but what we perhaps haven’t got is the connection that none of that can ‘fix’ anything without the ability to tap into and trust our own instincts. To share what hindsight has taught us about what’s important at a time that’s so fleeting. To help develop the courage to define our own priorities based on love and self-nurture, rather than an unrealistic and impossibly outdated super-mum machine ideal. It’s probably easier in a lot of ways to go along with the machine, but it doesn’t change anything and it unnecessarily contributes to the already present and inherently unavoidable risk of post natal depression. New mums need to be told that it’s ok to not do it all, it’s ok to not even want to! It’s ok to not be ‘perfect’. It’s ok to feel overwhelmed and depressed. It’s ok if your baby cries a lot - he won’t cry forever so let’s just now see how to get you through this in one piece, with your sanity in tact.

 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re all more technologically connected than ever before, and while this definitely presents challenges for people becoming more isolated despite and maybe even because of all that connectivity, it also represents an unprecedented opportunity for meaningful connection. Mothering new babies, whether it be for the first time, or with a small tribe of toddlers, pre-schoolers and older kids, is extremely demanding. We get through it and come out the other side with wisdom and stories, regrets and triumphs, myths and myth busters. No two stories are quite the same because we’re all unique, but we all have something to share, something that might just resonate with someone who’s in the thick of it and who needs to be told, quite simply, it’s ok. And perhaps if it’s said enough our collective wisdom will impact the expectations placed on new mothers and increase their support and well-being. It is, after all, without a doubt, one of the most important jobs in the whole world so it need to be kept real and courageously supported. 

Connection shows up in forming better habits

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook a piece about her addiction to her scales and weighing herself. It wasn’t an extensive post, but it was enough to get a sense of the pain behind this habit and how much of a challenge it was for her to quit it. I really felt for her because I know what it’s like to have created a habit in your life that’s based on negative feelings. I knew that it was going to be hard for her to change her habit, especially because the thinking behind the habit had to change too. That’s the hardest bit, I think. But I was also incredibly proud of her for having the awareness of the need for change, the love for herself to recognise what it was and why it was bad for her, the determination to change it even though it would probably be much easier to ignore her soul voice, and the courage to share her thoughts.

 

It doesn’t matter that I’ve never had an addiction to weighing myself and have in fact never even owned scales. It doesn’t matter a bit because it’s not actually about the scales. It’s about the ‘things’ we’ve employed in our lives to please others, out of obligation, because we think it’s right, as a way to push down and ignore our own feelings, out of fear, out of a feeling of scarcity, of feeling inadequate, of striving to be better, to appear better to others … ay ay ay! Always negative at the core and always drowning out, ignoring and sometimes consciously contradicting the inner voice of our souls.

 

That inner voice can be a problem, a rebel. It doesn’t care about conformity, doesn’t care about ease, about comfort, doesn’t care about anything but the health of our soul, our essential selves. But that can be inconvenient, can’t it? We argue with it. 

 

But having a body like that WILL make me happier. 

I’m stressed, I deserve a glass of wine, and then another… 

My family can wait - this report is more important than them right now. I’m doing it for them!

 

So we push it down. We dumb it down. We ignore it. We make it go away … until we can’t hear it anymore. And we keep doing the thing that does not make us happier, it makes us weak because we come to depend on it and we are, therefore, stunted in growth until we become aware of it, reach out and kick away the crutch.

 

We all have our ‘things’ and the only way we can become aware of our own ‘things’, our own crutches, and help each others with theirs, is through connection with one another. By reaching out and sharing her crutch, my friend did two important things;

 

1. She made it possible for others to recognise their own crutches, scales or different - she created an opportunity for her friends to identify with her and in turn, possibly become more aware about themselves.

2. She allowed me to recognise similar feelings and challenges that I’ve faced in my own life, and moved me to connect with her in encouragement and understanding.

 

Sometimes we don’t want to tell people about these things, sometimes we don’t even see them for what they are, so deaf have we become to our inner voice. But when we see others sharing their challenges and their journeys, there’s something that rekindles that inner voice. Something that tells us it’s not so bad, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, I’m not the only one. It may be uncomfortable, we may look at that soul voice askance and wonder if it’s possible that it could be right after all. We could still doubt it, but never the less, at the very least, we wonder and maybe, just maybe we reach out to that person. And then magic starts to happen.

 

The real beauty in this is that it gives us the opportunity to recognise that we are not that different from one another. Her thing’s scales, my thing’s alcohol or striving, but at the core of it, the core reasons or motivations for employing the crutches in the first place, for ignoring our inner voice and ending up with a negative habit, are similar feelings. Feelings that have to do with feeling less, of negativity, of a lack of acceptance and an absence of sufficient connection at the root issue.

 

But guess what? If I feel like that, then chances are that other people feel the same. If I’m not perfect, then chances are that others aren’t either. Nobody is perfect. It’s an illusion we create in our minds as a result of our feelings of scarcity and lack and inadequacy, and they’re fed and bolstered by a society of thousands of humans all doing the same. But if we connect enough to know that we’re not alone, then we can probably connect enough to also see that if negativity and lack and scarcity and inadequacy mentalities are possible, then it’s plausible that so too are the reverse. And that’s how we evolve as human beings. Through connection, we become more aware, braver, more aspirational, more free, more loving and more open. Through connection with others, we see what is possible in ourselves.

 

Photo credit: Marcus Jeffrey via Flickr

I like how I've become more adaptive

I wrote the following post a little while ago, but I thought I'd share it today because it's a lot about awareness and many of my thoughts here echo my last post. I'm talking here about adapting to situations and feeling relaxed and free as a result. I bet I also felt a greater sense of connection with my kids that day too. 

 

There are so many things that I wish I knew as a much younger mother. You know, like that it's impossible to have a tidy house with toddlers, and to release that unrealistic expectation. And how to *really* *actually* let things go, as opposed to saying it and knowing logically that you should, but remaining emotionally attached to it all the same.

 

Sometimes it feels like I only really learn something as I'm moving out of that phase and into the next the one, but I guess that's what life and learning is all about. When you really get something, really learn something, then that learning is the thing that opens the door up to the next thing. The lesson, the getting it, is the thing that moves you on and if you haven't learnt it, then you can't move on, it'll be the same problem until you do.

 

Letting go, as in really letting go and being able to enjoy the freedom of being pretty adaptable is probably a characteristic of the older mother, wouldn't you say? Of course there are some very special young mothers who, by dint of their personality and their own character, are very adaptable and 'flowy', but usually it's more common in mothers with a few more years' experience.

 

Part of that experience and also the ability to let go, I think, comes from being able to appreciate your own growth. I know I am hardly a Buddhist Lama, but I also know how far I've come. I can recognise that the way I deal with many situations and incidents these days is a far cry from how I would have reacted once upon a time and that, in itself, feels good.

 

My son discovered he has nits this morning before school. It is his year level's assembly this morning and I was on the canteen roster, but none of my kids are going today. And I'm so fine with that, in fact, even a little happy. A surprise break from the morning rush of breakfast and lunches and a day in the sun because no one's actually sick! I don't feel great about letting the canteen manager down, but I don't feel bad either. I'll help out another day; stuff happens when you have kids.

 

Anyway, I felt good this morning for the simple fact that, 1. this wasn't an issue for me, the nits and the kids staying home, and 2. that I had the presence of mind and the self-awareness ,in practice, not just words, to appreciate that I've grown enough for it to not be an issue and to actually feel good about me.

 

It's a small thing, no earth-shattering achievement here - boring in fact, you may say, but it's funny how being aware of the little things can make, and do make a huge difference. I'm convinced that it's these little, tiny, seemingly insignificant things in life, where we actively practise a positive mindset with awareness, that are actually the big stuff. This is what life is really about. This is part of what's meant by living well. I reckon anyway and I'm sure I'm right because I feel good, aligned and relaxed. If you can find things that make you feel like that with zero negative side-effects, then do it again and again. We are what we repeatedly do.

 

I like how I've become more adaptable and I appreciate the feeling of happiness and freedom it gives me. It feels close to how I felt as a child; when we would adapt without thinking about it - kids are really good at that. And right there is another very good reason why getting back to the child within us is another way of finding our true essence and a very good idea! But that's another fascinating story for another day..... Now off to the pharmacy to buy some nit killer!!! :-D

Photo credit: From Tony Alter via Flickr 

When I'm 80 ...

I've been struggling lately. I feel internally confused, short-tempered and pretty negative in my head. I don't know why. Sometimes I think that looking for outside reasons for feeling yukky is problematic. I mean sometimes it is something 'out there' that we need to change, but sometimes everything 'out there' is just as it should be and the only thing that's a problem is our perspective.

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My husband suggested I tackle these feelings by thinking about how I'll feel when I'm 80 years old and looking back on how I felt about things and how I spent my time. These are some of them ...

I will be proud that I got my degree.

I'll be proud of the time I spent with the kids at school and the work I do as part of the school community.

... to be continued ...