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It’s Impossible to Create a Bad Life, If You’re Good to Yourself

(This piece is loosely adapted and excerpted from Thriving Through Uncertainty: Moving Beyond Fear of the Unknown and Making Change Work for You published by Tarcher/Penguin-Randomhouse by permission of the author)

As a career and success coach, I hear my fair share of wanting to bulldoze through change, especially when life seems to throb like a toothache, turn into the life you never thought you’d have, or slow to a crawl through the rubbery land of powerlessness.   

Everybody wants to rush through transition like it’s a bad root canal.  But transition is a threshold. It’s a sacred life appointment—the crossing from one world to another. You will reclaim yourself here, be infused with messages you could receive no other way. This is not just positive mumbo jumbo. I am describing to you a possibility that exists for you, right now, right here, and will not come again, at least, not in this way.

I know, maybe, you’d still rather the root canal.

It’s natural to feel this way. Sometimes, growth can make us feel helpless.

When life becomes uncomfortable, we are being invited to explore our own personal power and dormant capacities. We have the opportunity to turn “scared” into “sacred” and experience a universe of expansion instead of contraction. But it’s up to us. It’s a choice. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. But only if we consciously choose for it to be that way.

The Opportunity of Transition

Will you side with your higher intelligence or will you side with your darker fears? Which part of you will create this next part of your life? It takes a life-changing relationship with yourself to create a life-changing life.

The author C.S. Lewis writes, “Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.”
What inner voice do you listen to? Is it kind, encouraging, and wise? Does it advocate for your welfare? Is it a hip older sister, a merry wizard, or a fervent Jesus or a Guide that calls you to your True Identity?

Or is it just so bored with your inadequacy? Punishing like an SS officer? Taunting you like the boys on the schoolyard, who made you wet your pants? Who is your inner traveling companion on this trip around the globe? This isn’t about how you present yourself to the world. It’s how you view yourself when no one else is around. It’s the voice of your thoughts when you’re not listening to anyone else. 

This adviser runs your life. This adviser is your life. 

You’re either listening to your vitality or your weakness– love or fear. Everything you will ever see and think runs through this filter. The writer Anais Nin said this: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Your perception is your reality.

Why would you listen to a voice inside you that shames you? You can spend this next part of your life cultivating and listening to a voice that calls your true name—and guides you past every fear or limiting belief. It’s worth everything to develop an allegiance to your light.  

I’ll give you an example from the early years of my career transition. When I left my law firm to write, I wanted to buy myself as much time as possible, so I moved into a tiny postage size studio apartment in the middle of the city to save money. While others were financially and socially climbing, I was sliding downwardly mobile.

My upstairs neighbors seemed to be playing touch football at all hours or yodeling in Spanish, but only when they weren’t having wild parties or riots. You know, I’d tell myself, you’re just living one of those interesting, artsy “urban” lives. Then I’d get the glossy alumni magazine from Harvard and just the cover of it would make me cry. Everyone looked calm and established and proud. Not one of them looked as though they were lost on the journey of being themselves– or even had a blade of grass out of place on their lawn. They had lawns.

Because at that time in my life, I was still paying more attention to external circumstances than inner experience, I felt like an amoeba on the totem pole of life achievement and success. I also firmly believed that if Harvard Law School could rescind degrees, they’d do a factory recall on mine.

“When will I be established? When will I move on? When will I have what other people have?” I cried and gurgled these questions to my boyfriend. Mascara ran down my cheeks; I looked like a mash up of a bad water color painting, a raccoon, and a drag queen. Thankfully, the boyfriend looked at me as though I was Athena the Goddess.

“One day you’re going to feel very sentimental about all this,” he said. He had me look around the room and take it in—“the writer’s early years.” Never mind that “the writer”—that would be me– wasn’t that young, wasn’t living in a garret in Paris– and wasn’t even writing on a regular basis. Still, as I imagined a future of publishing a book, I looked upon this renegade nest more softly. I came to see the choice to downsize not as one of embarrassment and failure, but one of courage. I was a woman who was willing to stalk her dreams and potential, yes, at any cost.

It’s your choice how you hold your experience. And what you see now, will often determine what you will see later. You get to decide how you tell your story—which often creates your story. This awareness is worth the price of the journey.

I did end up becoming a successful, published writer. It turned out to be true in “real life,” because I continued to see it as true in Real Life, the inner chambers of my being. It was a practice. It was a discipline. It was the choice to side with myself instead of against myself–every single day of every single year.

It turns out, unlike what my inner critic railed, my own encouragement didn’t coddle me into becoming a pathetic sloth who would end up living on cat food or out of dumpsters, desperate, and unwashed, not to mention unpublished, though quite well-versed in the rationalization of affirmations.  No, indeed. Encouragement got me off my own back, off the couch, and pounding the distance with a fire I never knew I had. It was just easier to fight for myself when I wasn’t fighting with myself.

If you’re in transition right now, it’s a kind of an emotional check-point. It’s not just a time when the train got stuck in the tunnel, or the Universe dropped your call, all your calls, and suggested you try another carrier. It’s a time behind the scenes that sets the stage for what is to come.

When the illusion of a guaranteed result or situation falls away, you have the opportunity to expand. It’s time to discover who you are now or who you’ve always been deep in your core. This may require that you unconditionally accept yourself, even when you do not look like the “image” of yourself you prefer. You may need to shake loose of how you think things have to be—for you to be okay.  This is an initiation to uncommon freedom. 

The ways of transition are training grounds of mysterious powers. You leave behind the protection and the hindrance of the familiar. Sometimes you are stripped of worldly comforts, casual identities, and chances to just coast or “make do.” These times may bring you to raw knees.

You will not be comforted by platitudes. Or even “common sense” strategies. You search for the unnameable truth and homecoming that only you can find. You may hunger now for a new influence or paradigm.  This soul searching may bring you to the self-help section of the bookstore, an expedition to Peru, the silence of the woods, a rabbi or a woman in New Jersey who talks to angels but doesn’t take Discover cards. Your search will bring you to yourself.

Transition makes you question everything, which will give you real answers.

When conditions change and old assumptions fall away, you will seek and discover the truth in the quarry of your depths. Your depths will bring you to your heights. Because when you connect with your quiet soul intelligence when all the props are gone– you find a strength and love that knows no limits. Sometimes it’s only limits– that can teach us how unlimited we are.As you cross a threshold, it’s your chance to decide who you are— instead of allowing the world to decide for you.

Once you really know the ardent love that inhabits you, the love you are here to give, the love that walks beside you, and the love that will bring you all the way, then there is no longer a transition. You’ve arrived. And the circumstances won’t matter a fig.

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