The missing piece
This is long, but it's important for me to share my story with you.
When I was about 30, I wanted to figure out how I could use my talents to work for myself, to work from home. It has always been there, a desire, a yearning to be self-employed. To me, that seemed like the ultimate freedom. It still is today. So why didn’t I do this sooner?
What was missing from my life, back when I was 30, was any kind of belief in myself. There wasn’t even an inkling, a fraction of a fraction of self-confidence, of knowing my own value. In fact, if I did have even a fraction of a fraction of confidence in myself at 30, that quickly disappeared as soon as I met and married my first husband, Paul. Whatever strength of purpose I had -- to improve my own life, to pursue a career change, to allow myself to be more free and for things to get messy or uncertain, and to be ok with that -- it was so weak and small and fragile, that it had no hope of surviving the onslaught of challenges that I went through in that relationship.
The fact is, I’ve always known ‘deep down’ that my career would be somewhat lonely and of my own making. I imagined I would be a novelist, working from home. I knew what I wanted, but I settled for less. I caved because of income concerns. I decided I needed to be more dependable than that. Anyway, who did I think I was, when I considered being my own boss? I had no real talent, people would see right through me, they’d never want what I had to offer, or so I thought. It felt too risky.
Fast-forward to 2016. I am 48 years old, and it’s 18 years later. The desire for self-employment is still there. This time I’ve engineered a plan of escape. This time I have James, who is supportive and rooting for me. Cheering me on, ‘yes, you can do this!’ I have a coach who does the same. The only barrier to leaping is me: my own limiting beliefs.
I am so ready to do it, by this time. For years, I read books that gave me insight into how to go from an office job to a life of freedom and self-employment. For years, I worked on myself to overcome my limiting beliefs. For years, I studied, planned, dreamed and imagined what I could do to make that new chapter of my life possible.
And then the choice was no longer mine to make. I was let go. Fired, really. From a job that had grown too comfortable, that it was too painful to stay. “And the day came, when the risk it took to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom,” said Anais Nin. This is one of my favorite quotes, because I felt that pain. I really did.
They did me a favor, bringing down the ax. Cutting me loose. It was ok, because I had built up another landing platform: a life coaching practice. I was a certified coach but had no clients.
For a year, I devoted myself to my new career of coaching. With this new freedom, I felt deeply responsible to be successful. If I couldn’t pull this off, I’d be losing out on this once in a lifetime opportunity, I thought. With a mentor coach on board, I waded through the infinite possibilities of how to make it work. I continued to absorb as much information as possible: best practices of entrepreneurs, how to make six figures in a year, how to be an online marketing guru, how to be a powerful coach.
For a year, I was driven by fear. Fear of failure. Fear of having to get another office job. Fear of disappointing my new husband. Fear of not having the right mindset or skillset to be self-employed, or to even be a coach.
After a year, I was exhausted and disillusioned. I knew I was relying too much on outside opinions, other people’s advice, and none of it felt like it really fit. None of it felt true to me. It was difficult to follow, while at the same time felt cookie-cutter, like a one-size-fits-all solution. I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole -- just like I had in my last job. I was stressed out. I’d spent my entire savings and had no clients, no business to show for it.
I needed something new. I let go of my mentor coach and decided I needed a different approach to being self-employed. I hired a new coach, one I suspected would be more practical and offer me steps for moving closer to my business goals. I also signed up an online marketing consultant/coach to work on the internet side of things.
Although I was attempting to do more inner-listening and going with my gut, I still wasn’t happy. It was thanks to my new coach that I gave myself permission to do more self-discovery. I told her I wanted to give myself some time off to simply take a break, a rest, from the constant doing, the figuring out, the forcing of the business. Working on the business was stressing me out, it felt like a chore. I was not doing it with passion, but out of fear.
My coach agreed: take time off. Whatever you think you need. So I did.
On my birthday, my 50th birthday, December 22nd, I made the choice to take a month or five weeks off. I wanted to see what I could do to get my head back in the game and wanted to do it by simply removing any “business” thoughts from my mind. I called it a retreat. A few weeks later, I heard the word “metreat” and that summed it up exactly. I was going to treat me to a month of simply living. Not doing, not trying, not forcing, not strategizing. Simply living. Being.
I’d only done this one other time, after I'd left Paul. That time, I gave myself 18 months. It was the happiest time of my life. I eliminated all responsibilities, all chores that didn’t bring me joy. I removed all “shoulds” from my life. What I kept, and that gave me structure and stability, was my job. Even though it was the same job that had become too comfortable and also painful, it was not stressing me out at the time. That didn’t happen until much later. That time off led me to finding James and us getting married, and it changed my life quite drastically.
This time, the metreat was shorter. In all, I took about 10 weeks, from the end of December through the first week in March. While on this break, I also went on an overnight, away-from-home retreat, a spiritual retreat. While there, I had an epiphany. I suddenly knew my true passion, my soul work.
However, I wasn’t taking this time off to figure out how to make my soul’s calling into a profitable venture. I wanted only to receive messages. Those messages came at me frequently, and I listened and let them in. That was the task I’d given myself. Some of those messages did lead to actions, which I’ll share those some other time.
What did I learn and get out of all this? That we are all driven by something. I am driven by my need for freedom, by my desire for independence. I also feel called to make an impact on the world, to change people’s lives for the better. To teach what I’ve learned. At its highest level, my life is driven by a need to see the world become a better place, a happier place, a healthier place. I will never NOT have this drive.
The difficulty comes when I look at what others are doing and think: I can do that too. If they’re doing it, why can’t I? Then I try to do exactly what they’re doing or have done and I wonder why it’s so difficult, why it stresses me out, or why I'm not getting the same results.
It took me some time, but then I understood. Of course you can’t just mimic successful people. It’s not about what they do, it’s about who they are. You can’t do what they do, because you’re not them. You have to do what you do. You have to listen to your own instincts.
It isn’t about adopting a “can do” attitude, and taking on all the hokey personal development mumbo jumbo that others successful coaches and business people are spouting. It’s about being true to you. Being real. Being authentic. To do that, you need to own your shit. Your fears. Your lack of confidence. Your vulnerabilities. Your dreams and hopes and visions. Your quirky truths. Confess your bullshit, your lies. Be transparent.
So I’ve been on this long journey of self-discovery. And discovering myself, my true self, not the one others tell me I need to be more like, is the missing piece to the whole entrepreneurial adventure I’m on. It is so true that becoming who I want to be, the kind of person who will go out and make the world a better place, and make a living doing it, is all about self-discovery and self-development.
Here’s what I know was missing for me. What wasn’t clear to me for that whole year before taking 10 weeks off: I was missing self-trust, a firm self-belief in who I am in my core, in my heart of hearts.
I think of the lotus flower, so delicate, sitting on the water. Below the surface, what we don't see, is that the roots of this flower are submerged firmly in the mud. We are like this flower. We have roots and mud that hold us in place, even when hidden. We have to be willing to go down into the mud and see what's there, what nourishes us, what helps us to grow.
When you know who you are that deeply and strongly, no one can ever again pull you off-center. I take that back. They can try to pull you off center and you might even fall, but you will very quickly get back up again and stand firm in the belief that you have your own back. That you know better than anyone else what you want and need to do. Someone else could know you really well. They could have 100% belief in you. But even they can’t know what you need to do. Only you can know that.
Knowing your life purpose is what ties it all together for me. Yes, all the other spiritual stuff can work. It’s all good. But for some of us, and I guess I’m one of them, we need to dive even deeper into self-discovery. Into knowing, beyond a doubt, what we are here for. You can only know that, what you’re here for, when you know who you are. What you’re truly capable of.
It’s so easy to say: ‘You can do anything you set your mind to.’ But that’s a lazy and false message.
The truth is: You do best what you put your heart into. Not your mind. It’s all in the heart. When the heart is listened to, the mind will follow. Let your heart lead. It’s the only way.
As much as I am listening within and trusting my heart's voice, I couldn't have got to where I am without some help. It is thanks to many people that I figured out this important lesson. Here are a few:
Glennon Doyle and her book "Love Warrior"
Phoebe Mrozcek and The Unbecoming podcast, especially the episode called "The Downshift"
Kyle Cease and the Evolving Outloud video (2 days of amazing content packed into a $20 download)
The Shift Network and Rhys Thomas for offering his course "The 12 Gateways to Your Life Purpose," and giving me a scholarship for it.