Fear, Disappointment and Failure

I’ve had a few moments of clarity in my life when I realized a truth about myself and how I should live my life. An important turning point occurred when I was deciding my career path and facing my fear of failure pursuing the academic path.   Actually, I confronted this fear more than once while in graduate school and trying to get tenure. Each time I decided I would rather do my best and fail rather than decide I was a failure before someone else did. In other words, it was better to fail following my dreams and desires rather than to quit and live with regret.

Those watershed moments occurred because a major career-path decision was required.  However, we make decisions about big and small things all day long, but just because they’re relatively minor does not make them insignificant. Are those smaller, seemingly less consequential decisions are fear- or desire-based? Is fear or desire determining the overall direction of your life, one tiny decision at a time?

Fear may be an invisible compass in your life if you’re playing it too safe. What areas of your life are you not advancing or in self-protection mode? Where are you wearing your armor or having your guard up? How does that affect your relationships and ability to move forward in your life?

Perhaps you wish to avoid failure or being hurt or disappointed. That’s completely understandable but entirely unrealistic. Life is painful, and to spend our entire life trying to avoid pain and disappointment means we also avoid joy, deep connection and innovation.

The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.- Mark Zuckerberg

What would your life be like without the constant undercurrent of fear? What would you be doing? Who would you be with?

Screw it, Let’s do it! – Richard Branson

Celebrating Life

photo credit:  tonyconigliophotography.com

photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Think back to the last time you had a near-death experience or had just recovered from a nasty illness or setback.  Remember how you felt?  You probably felt exuberant, so alive and grateful to be living.  That feeling is elating.

What separates that moment from any other?  In other words, on a daily basis we tend not to be acutely aware of how precious and beautiful life is, but perhaps we should.

Perhaps we should.

If you think about it, it’s a huge miracle that we exist in the way we do at all: sentient beings living cooperatively on this beautiful planet, enjoying the benefits of culture, technology, health and affluence (mostly).  That we have plentiful and delicious food, entertainment, employment and education (mostly).  That we have friends, loved ones, and even great colleagues (mostly).  That our bodies even allow us to sense the glory of nature, smell delicious food or aromatic flowers, feel the softness of a child’s skin or kitten’s fur, taste the sweetness of a ripe piece of fruit, and hear a classic symphony.   Yes, it’s a true miracle.

Instead, what do we focus on all day?  Our problems, what we don’t have in our lives, what are loved ones are not doing or providing to us, our discomforts, our failures, our shortcomings.  I can hear some of you thinking:  yes but I have financial problems/a bad boss/a chronic illness/an abusive relationship.  I’m not saying our lives are perfect.  I’m saying that we have so much to be grateful for despite our problems.

This focus on the negative is not a bad thing necessarily.  It can be adaptive and good, but only to the degree that we are solving that problem by focusing our attention and energies on it.   But at that point when we are simply worrying or complaining instead of finding a solution, we’re wasting precious time, energy and the opportunity to savor our incredible lives.

If you’ve been living your life this way, you don’t have to feel bad.  The past is the past, and all you have control over is this very moment.  So in this moment, what do you choose?  Pain and heartache?  Or joy and gratitude?

You may have squandered some of your past but don’t squander your now, and your future.

What do you choose?

The Things They Never Tell You About Being A Mother

Being a Mom isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

It’s so much better.

I never want to take for granted the gratitude of others.   But for me, Mother’s Day is also about celebrating one’s children and being grateful to them for enabling me to be in the best role I’ve ever had.

Here’s why I’m grateful to my children on Mother’s Day:

  • Yes, being a parent can be exhausting.  But for me, it was an energizing experience overall.
  • Yes, sometimes I just wanted them to go to bed or go to school, but mostly I looked forward to every chance I could just hang out with them, get a hug or hold their hand.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just hard work, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else, doing anything else, ever.
  • Yes, sometimes it was just yukky, particularly during the diaper or barfing (yes we had that) stages, but I loved seeing my naked baby several times a day and getting to play with his tummy (there wasn’t really an upside to the barfing stage, in retrospect, aside from the great stories I can tell – subject for another blog).
  • Yes , sometimes it was just frustrating and aggravating, but there was 10x as much joy as frustration. Besides, there was a lesson about myself to be learned during those times though I admit it took me a long time to learn them.  I had as much growing up to do as they did, and they were my teachers.  If you think about it, kids can only do what they can do.  So blaming the kid is like blaming a dog for barking or pooping:  it only reflected my need to control or my unrealistic expectations.
  • Yes, sometimes I felt it was a thankless job, but I know how they feel about me and the unique role I played in their lives.  Any time they willingly choose to spend time with me feels like a thank you note in disguise.
  • Yes, sometimes those life stages were difficult and challenging, but I thought they were all amazing and I enjoyed every one of them (some more than others).  It was an honor to watch them grow and transform through each stage.
  • Yes, everyone told me how much work it is raising kids but no one told me what an utter and complete joy it is.  I loved almost every minute of it and, now that they’ve flown the coop, the time with them is ever more precious.

So you Moms out there who are fortunate enough to still have your kids at home:  savor the moment, all of them, and find the silver lining and personal lessons during the challenging times (if you’re not already).  Perhaps the mothering experience will be more than you bargained for too.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Photo credit: tonyconigliophotography.com

Pardon Me While I Cry

Lately I have felt the urge to cry.  All the time.  On the airplane.  In class.  Watching TV.  Talking to friends.  In a meeting.

I’m not depressed.

Quite the opposite.  I’m filled with joy.

It’s the weirdest feeling.  I mean, after spending my whole life not wanting to show my feelings (too scary), and priding myself on not being that type of woman that cries during movies or birthday parties, I find myself constantly on the verge of tears.

I was on the airplane the other day, and literally I got weepy just thinking about how great my life is, and how much gratitude I have for the richness and joy I get to feel every day.

I wanted to cry looking at the river as I was driving to work, as the colors and reflection of the sky on the water was just too beautiful for words.

I cried in class watching one of those manipulative journalism pieces about the seemingly boundless nature of a man’s love for his child.

I got teary thinking about how a classmate is struggling with health or professional issues.

I get misty when someone tells me about making progress with an issue they have been battling with.   They’ve found a little courage, took a risk, and found out they were OK and even learned something

But it’s not all about tears.  I also feel a profound sense of awe when I think of the mysteries of our world, and the idea that I’m a tiny, miniscule part of that world.  I feel inspired when I get a glimpse of understanding that world – or realize that maybe it’s just another figment of my cognition.  I feel uplifted when I see kindness or wisdom in another.  I dance (just a little) in the hallway when I think about how a project ended better than I thought.  I delight in the conversation with a colleague who is passionate and creative and inspired me.  I feel complete and utter bliss when cuddling with my sweetie and my puppy on the couch.

The old Susanna that didn’t feel sadness also didn’t feel most of these good emotions either.   That old Susanna didn’t often give a hug, nor did she get them very often either.  Yes, I’ll cry with you now when you’re feeling pain, but I will cry with joy with you too.   You may get a hug that you didn’t expect and maybe that you’re not terribly comfortable with.   Some may complain that I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve now but that’s OK too.  You’ll know that heart is right there, with you, every time.

Your Life’s Purpose

What are you here to do on this earth?  Do you know?  Do you know what you are uniquely suited for?  Do you know where your talents, interests and values converge to create amazing, meaningful experiences?  Do you jump out of bed every day and think, “I can’t believe I get to do this today!!”

I thought not.

If you’re like most people you probably like or love what you do every day and like or love who you’re with every day.  And there are probably elements of your life that are filled with that purpose.  For me, being a Mom has always been that and always be that.  But I also never wanted to be a Mom full-time (defined as the 40+ hours/week type Mom) for my whole life.  Being a Mom makes me feel like there’s something higher, more important than myself.  That feeling of transcendence is what I’m referring to, and it’s something humans have searched and longed for through the ages.

These days it seems rare to find people searching for their life’s purpose.  We seem to search for a better car, house or phone.  We search for a better-looking mate, cooler friends, or fancier vacations.  At some point in our lives, we stop and realize that these material, superficial things are not what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.  They just make us feel like we want more and that what we have is not good enough.  Thus the mid-life crisis which happens, oh, about now.

What are we searching for?  Joseph Campbell (The Power of Myth), expert in comparative mythology, calls it our bliss.   He describes it as “being in accord with the grand symphony that this world is, to put the harmony of our own body in accord with that harmony.”  Martha Beck (Finding Your Own North Star) calls it our essential self  that forms before birth and consists of your desires, preferences, emotional reactions resulting in your identity. It’s distinct from the social self that is your essential self  buried under filters, restrictions and expectations from self and others.  Paul Coelho (The Alchemist) calls it your Personal Legend, or the thing you want to do, deep down inside, more than anything.

The essential self pursues her calling and in so doing, taps into her own flow and the flow of the universal energy (Spirituality, An Eye-Opening Endeavor).  When you tap into that universal energy, that energy can be shared with others, and in so doing, helps that other person also feel the universal energy and helps them tap their own.  That flow experience also builds positive emotion and success, so the more you pursue it, the more positive emotion and success you experience, and up you go into a positive spiral.  This is called Broaden and Build by psychologist Barbara Frederickson (Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive).

Sounds good in theory, right?  Yes, it’s hard to find your calling because of our social selves rule much of our time and attention.  We quit paying attention to the things we love because we’re told (either directly or indirectly) that other things are more important:  making big bucks, pursuing a prestigious job, getting good grades.  Pretty soon we forget the things that brought us joy.

Realizing that most of us are mostly living as our social rather than essential self is important to be able to rediscover that essential self (see Breadcrumbs on the Trail of Authenticity).  Once we shed those expectations of self and other, we can be more open to where our talents and interests lie.  We can discover the markers of flow and joy, even if we’ve taken them for granted our whole life.  We can find ways to apply them in a meaningful way and thus craft our Personal Legend.  I am also a firm believer that if you love and are excellent at what you do, then you will be able to be successful with its pursuit.  It may not enough to maintain a McMansion, but you may decide that McMansion is not as important as it once seemed especially when it compares to living your bliss.

Eeny Meeny Miney Mo – I Choose Fear

I sometimes choose fear and blame over love and joy. Perhaps, so do you.

Have you said these words recently?

“I am wrong,” “I made a mistake,” “I was thoughtless,” “I love you,” “I need you,” “I’m sorry.”

The words that reflect a willingness to show vulnerability are so difficult for some to say.  Why is that?

According to Brene Brown, researcher of human emotion, we use protective mechanisms such as blame, perfection, or certainty/absolutes to numb our sense of vulnerability.  The problem with numbing, says Brown, is that when we numb negative emotions, we also numb the positives ones like love, joy and connection to others.

Turns out, people who believe that they’re worthy of love and belonging are more willing to share their vulnerability.  As a person used to never leave home without her emotional walls, I know that they are not erected intentionally.  We just take them for granted, they’re how we roll, our M.O.

“I am worthy,” “I am enough,” “I am lovable.”

These truths are also so difficult for so many of us to really believe.  Why?

So many of us feel, on some level, that these truths do not apply to us.  We are the one exception to these otherwise universal truths.  Our unacknowledged fears are those that are the most powerful, and therefore the most damaging.  By identifying and challenging our previously-subconscious fears and assumptions, we can demystify and deflate their impact.

According to Tara Bennett Goleman, author of Emotional Alchemy, we have some combination of the following core beliefs and fears:

  • Abandonment – we will be abandoned
  • Subjugation – our needs are less important than others
  • Deprivation – we will not get what we need (I’m especially fond of this one)
  • Unlovability  – we are worthy of love and
  • Mistrust – we cannot trust others

These fears cause secondary fears regarding our interaction with the larger world including:

  • Exclusion – we do not belong
  • Vulnerability – catastrophe will occur
  • Failure – we feel like a failure despite outward success
  • Perfectionism – having unrealistically high expectations or
  • Entitlement – feeling special and entitled.

In other words, our subconscious core beliefs such as unlovability may cause us to express those beliefs in a dysfunctional way such as perfectionism or entitlement.

These beliefs and fears are all lies.   Dirty, rotten, stinkin’ lies.  We are ALL worthy of being loved, listened to, cared for, nurtured and being able to trust, no matter what we’ve been told, what we have done, or what secrets we carry from our families or our own pasts.  By failing to confront our subconscious lies, we deprive ourselves of both authentic connection to others and positive emotions like love and joy.

To make matters worse, we are predisposed to be hypersensitive to confirmatory cues that reinforce the fears.  If we believe we are unlovable and someone shows disapproval, then we may blame them for being inconsiderate, judgmental or mean or turn the hate inward and lose our confidence.  The infraction, perhaps inconsequential to someone else, is so hurtful because we are primed to find evidence of our unlovability, then believe it confirms our hidden flaws and destructive assumptions.  This, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophecy since we are now acting unlovable by being so sensitive or defensive. This self-fulfilling pattern will occur as a result of any of our fears.

What are your inner lies?  Which lies are you making your personal reality?   If you think you don’t have any, then you’re lying to yourself.  By avoiding the reality of your inner lies, you are also avoiding your joy and connection to others.  Regarding the past, you can claim ignorance.   What about the future?

Once you bring this decision to consciousness, it is really a no-brainer:  “Let’s see, keep the story going that makes me and others miserable, or let it go and choose love and joy?”

Which do you choose?