I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to people and relations appearances can be deceiving, words can be used to trick and to hide as much to expose, feelings can’t always be trusted, and that the “truth” in any given situation usually depends on who you ask. In short, there is seldom an absolute truth to any interaction between human beings, and even the truth that can be reliably nailed down in some way is likely to be interpreted differently by each participant and each viewer.
For many years, this made me hesitant to trust my own perceptions of situations I found myself in. I distrusted my feelings, questioned my motives, doubted my observations. Most of all, I ignored my intuition. At the slightest hint of contradiction to my own opinions, I accepted the “truth” of those around me above my own knowing.
This is a post I wrote almost a year ago for another purpose, but it is a very good reminder for me right now to keep mending the boat even when water isn’t actively being added, so I thought I’d share it again here.
My inner critic is the hardest worker I know. She never takes a moment’s rest from her mission of informing me about every way in which I have not yet reached perfection. Believe me, the list is long, but she’s on the job doing her best to make sure not a single possible defect is missed!
This leaves me feeling like I’m moving through life trying to steer my little rowboat (my life) through rough water with a good-sized leak in the bottom of the boat. I spend as much time bailing out water (criticism) as I do rowing to make any forward progress. In fact, there are many times when I spend all of my effort on bailing water just to try to keep my little boat afloat. This leaves no time for rowing or steering. But mostly I manage to get along reasonably well.
“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.” ~e.e. cummings
I waited many years for someone to reveal that what was inside me was valuable—and I’m sure there were those along the way that tried, but there were always so many other negative voices, both within and without, that drown them out. And so I could not receive the message, even if it was there.
“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.” ~Barry Lopez
Stories. They are powerful things. They govern how we experience the world, how we interpret things that happen to us, how we see one another, how we see ourselves. Every bit of meaning we assign to anything—including our assessment of it being good or bad—is a story that is based on other stories. There is nothing that we think that is not a story that is fueled by other stories.
And the most amazing thing about all of this is that we are generally unaware of the content of all of these stories that are determining our experience of our lives. We think that we are just seeing reality as it is when we are really only seeing the version that fits with the stories we have.
Perhaps this is part of the trouble with encouragement that I have been exploring these past few days. Encouragement really means to give courage or confidence to another, although this is often done by offering praise or compliments based on the person’s character or on previous actions that indicate our belief in that person’s talent, ability, or other traits that the person currently doubts. I’ve always seen it as expressing faith in a person who is having a hard time having faith in herself (or himself) in that moment. But this is my story because it is what I want from others when I am discouraged. It’s not their story.
“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.” ~Greek historian Thucydides
I recently followed a Facebook conversation in which people were asked to supply a word that meant success to them. Of all the words mentioned, I discovered that freedom was the one that resonated most with me. For me, being successful means that I have the freedom to do the work that I believe I am called to do and to live life in such a way that it will feed my soul in order to give vitality to my work.
As I continue to ponder what my career future will look like, I repeatedly find that the ideas that draw me most are those that offer this kind of freedom to walk my own path. I know that this kind of life will be challenging and uncertain. I’m not altogether confident all the time that I can find a way to make it work. But I am becoming increasingly certain that any options I consider absolutely must meet that basic criterion for me to be comfortable moving forward with them.
Since I left my full-time employment, I have been trying to let myself take my time to figure out what I will do next. This part-time grant job I have is only funded through the end of next year, so I have moments when I panic because I feel like I’ve made no progress toward creating a workable model of self-employment, and time is marching on! But for the most part, I’ve been able to let that go and wait for answers to spring up on their own.
I’ve been watching for hints of new life to spring up from the ashes. I’ve been listening for those quiet little whispers coming up from my intuition. I’ve been waiting for a signal to show me where to take a step forward. I’ve been hoping for that inner urge to action to bring life to my dreams.
“Being willing to feel your feelings and face your fears are two of the risks you must be willing to take to gain confidence. In order to gain confidence you must be willing to feel every feeling and take actions regardless of those same feelings. But confidence doesn’t come first. Risk does. Therefore, the only way you will build confidence is to do the thing you fear.” ~Rhonda Britten
I recently made a decision about my future that involves a very high level of risk. Unfortunately for me, I am not implementing that decision for a couple of months yet, which gives me plenty of time to second- and third-guess that decision. My fears are constantly reminding me of all my past failures in an effort to preserve the status quo, and this just further undermines my confidence that I can really succeed at this risky endeavor that I have set before myself. Continue reading →