One teacher that has profoundly influenced my personal journey is Sylvia Boorstein. It was through her writings I was introduced to the Buddhist teaching: Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
The idea that suffering is not an absolute given, an inevitable outcome of difficult, painful times was a novel one to me. Having a choice in how to respond to the inevitable ups and downs of life is incredibly empowering.
In her book, “Happiness is an Inside Job” Sylvia writes: “Suffering is what happens when we struggle with whatever our life experience is rather than accepting and opening to our experience with a wise and compassionate response.”
For me, accepting experiences with self-compassion and wisdom now means allowing myself to lean into the pain and discomfort, truly and deeply feeling it, mining it for the lessons, and opening up to new opportunities that ultimately emerge.
I’ve since adopted her simple yet powerful mantra whenever life throws me that inevitable curve ball:
“Sweetheart you are in pain, relax, take a breath, let’s pay attention to what is happening. Then we will figure out what to do.”
Addressing ourselves as “sweetheart” we offer ourselves the same kindness, love, and compassion we would to any dear friend or loved one going through a difficult time. Why should we treat ourselves any differently?
Acknowledging yes, we are truly in pain and validating the discomfort we are experiencing is a completely human and normal emotion is an important, often overlooked step. Over the years I’ve since learned all the numbing, ignoring and pretending isn’t helpful. What’s needed is acceptance.
Relaxing by taking a breath offers a mindful pause, an opportunity to create a space to separate from our emotions and recognize that we don’t have to act on all the thoughts that are being triggered by the multitude of emotions understandably swirling in times of pain.
Reminding ourselves to pay attention to what is happening in the here and now allows us to break from any ruminations this event might have triggered in us based on unresolved past events. Being in the present also stops us from catastrophizing – forecasting the absolute worse case scenarios into the future. It gives us the chance to remind myself, “I’m OK”. Right here and right now – I am Okay.
And finally, saying to ourselves, “we WILL figure out what to do” reinforces the idea we have confidence in ourselves that no matter what life throws at us, we can always figure out what's the next thing we need to do. That assurance moves us away from the fear and uncertainty created by an unexpected and often time unwanted event into the action needed to move through it.
Pain IS inevitable in our lives and yet knowing suffering IS optional provides conscious choice. I've found that having faith in myself and some higher power, trusting in myself and in the process, and patiently riding out the storm with a deep knowing that this too shall pass minimizes the fear and lessens the struggle brought about by the many painful and unexpected events that's a natural part of our life's journey.
I'm curious what personal mantra have you found to be helpful when navigating difficult situations?
"Enjoy the Process of Becoming" I wrote. Yes! That’s the label on the box. Then I put down my pen and closed my journal.
Let me explain.
The first meeting I had with my current coach was in September of 2016. At the time I was still trying to figure out my target audience and articulate what was the future vision I wanted to help my ideal clients achieve. Who did I feel most passionate about helping? What was my authentic voice? Who would most likely find value and resonate with my message, process, and tools?
So here was the task: every day for a month I spent the first 2 hours every morning reflecting and writing. I walked myself back through all of my personal and professional experiences. Key turning points, hard fought lessons learned, and the journey I took. Every day I was to sit with and try to connect to the emotion behind my stories. And by our next session, I was to share with him: “if I were to put a label on the box of these stories what would I call it?”
And there it was, my bigger life lesson: “Enjoy the process of becoming….”
Throw away the mantle of perfectionism.
Forget about keeping everything under control.
Lean into the discomfort.
Be fearless in the face of uncertainty.
Define success on your own terms.
Return to your authentic, best self – the one that’s there beneath all the external messages of should’s.
At its essence: You were born worthy. You are already enough!
Imagine what life would be like if we could live through uncertain times without getting stuck in fear and overwhelm.
Which got me thinking:
How can we enjoy the process that is the journey of our lives?
How can we embrace the dynamic, ever-changing qualities of life?
How can we appreciate that if we are not growing we are dying?
What would life be like if we understood there are no failures, only opportunities to learn?
Yes, we are always becoming – so we might as well enJOY it!
The other day I heard Oprah Winfrey ask:
“How do you define success?”
I don’t know about you but the word success has been an emotionally fraught, super-charged word practically all my life.
I’d always been a hard-driving, achievement oriented person – chasing all the culturally defined, external “success milestones”. I did it because I had come to believe the idea that success was a precursor to happiness. I thought that if I put my head down and worked hard enough, that I’d be happy when ________ (fill in the blank).
The reality was somewhat different than the fairytale dream.
I found that once I achieved an external, material goal the jubilation didn’t last long because there was always a new, bigger goal to achieve. So after a brief celebration, I put my head back down, assumed the no-pain no-gain mantra, and plowed ahead more determined than ever to get to that happy place.
It wasn’t until I did a great deal of soul searching, got still, and started revisiting all the “should” messages in my life that I reconnected to my inner voice. The authentic one telling me what was important to me. The one that already knew what gave me meaning and purpose. The one that gave me the permission to define success on my own terms.
That was the most liberating thing I could do and opened me up to access the joy in my life that had always there and had been always available to me – that was just hidden from view. Which is why I just LOVED Oprah’s answer to her own question:
"Success is getting to the point where you are absolutely comfortable with yourself."
Wow. Simple, yet powerful.
For me that's an achievable milestone worth pursuing.
How about you? How comfortable are you with yourself? How much meaning and purpose do you feel in what you are doing? How often are you accessing the joy available to us everyday?
How can I help?
Not surprisingly, when I posted on Facebook about redefining “success” on our own terms generated a great deal of discussion. Apparently, that word is emotionally charged for so many.
What I found particularly interesting was the nearly universal agreement that the definition of success can be thought of as a moving target – one that changes with the decades of our lives. And when I gave it some more thought, I realized how true that has been in my own life. And it also makes sense when we think about it in terms of the arcs of our lives.
David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done – the art of stress-free productivity” writes: “You can’t decide if you’ve succeeded unless you hold it up to the criteria of ‘why’ you are doing anything in the first place, why it is important to you.”
In other words, “Purpose defines Success.”
I think that’s why my early years appeared so much “easier” - the metrics were clear and seemingly predefined. My 20’s was all about building my educational portfolio and starting my career. I was fortunate enough to meet my life partner in graduate school and checked that box off as well. In my 30’s we bought our dream house, started a family, and I was focused on climbing the corporate ladder. Check, check, check.
However in my 40’s I drifted off the traditional course – relocating 4 times to places as varied as Brazil, FL, CA, and PA. There were no set guideposts to follow. The “shoulds” became a moving target– each new location had its own cultural norms and definitions of success. In retrospect I can see what gave meaning, purpose and focus to my life was the desire to be a strong role model for my kids as I sought to rebuild and recreate a steady home life for my family. It became the singular “WHY” of my 40's.
A rather unconventional definition of success. And one that I did not value or appreciate at first since it didn't meet "societal norms". Yet when I hold it up to David Allen’s metrics- did I fulfill my purpose – for sure it was a highly successful decade. Alas, I only saw that in retrospect. As I was living it, the story I told myself was quite different. One that was not that empowering or flattering (here's a link to my interview if you haven't heard my story yet: http://bit.ly/2pRbGu3). One that kept me stuck, uncertain of how to move forward, yet knowing I wanted more.
I’m still in the early years of my 50’s and this decade has already been rather eventful. It seems to be a period full of transitions and recalibration. But having done all the hard work in my 40’s which generated self-awareness, self-compassion, and reconnection to my inner voice I released the shackles of perfectionism and societal “shoulds”. Yes I have finally come to appreciate Oprah’s definition of success: “…. Getting to the point where you are absolutely comfortable with yourself.”
Today I meet so many women in midlife who are going through common transitions:
* Redefining their role as mother as they send their kids off to college.
* Adjusting to their roles as daughters as they support their aging parents.
* Recalibrating career goals
* Dealing with personal illness or illness of a close personal friend or family member.
Be kind to yourself. And heed the helpful advice of David Allen: "Trying to brainstorm a good idea without first asking the question WHY am I doing this. For what purpose? Why is this important to me… only leads to a lack of clarity and increased stress." It's likely to leave you feeling stuck.
Reconnect to your WHY and your next steps will become infinitely more clear.
Positive psychology, the science of coaching, offers many empirically validated tools that can help you to uncover your WHY. It's inside you already, waiting to emerge. Sometimes it just needs a bit of help to reconnect to it.
Please visit my Pinterest page to find free insights, tools, articles and lectures to start you on your way.
“My inner voice is always telling me: you don’t’ belong here, you don’t deserve to be here, you’re an imposter.”
“I prefer to avoid conflict, I’m afraid if I stand up for myself, people won’t like me.”
“If I can’t fix something, I believe it’s because I’m not good enough.”
“I can’t seem to forgive myself for not being further along in my career, right now I feel like I’m such a loser.”
These were just a few of the answers to the questions a client shared with me as we were reviewing the results of an assessment I give at the start of any new coaching engagement. At one point, after hearing her innermost thoughts repeated out loud she burst out laughing. “Wow, that’s harsh.”
Yes, it’s true. We often subconsciously say the cruelest things to ourselves. I know from first-hand experience, I've must have had those EXACT thoughts looping through my head my entire adult life. I discovered that it’s not until we shine a light on them and bring them to our awareness, that we can realize how disempowering and down right mean they are.
If we are not careful, over time we begin to believe them. Then those beliefs turn into action – or in most cases inaction. Rather than motivating us, these inner voices turn us into victims. Next thing we know we start telling tell ourselves: “Why bother. It really doesn’t matter what I do because it will never make a difference.” We get complacent. We get frustrated. We might try and take actions, but with limited effect because those voices keep pulling us down. So, of course nothing changes. We feel stuck.
It is often said we teach what we need to learn, which is likely how I found my way into positive psychology and professional coaching when I felt myself hit a really low point in midlife. I had spent years trying to relaunch my professional career after an extended hiatus and, as the victim storyline in my head went: "I was a failure. I wasn't good enough. It was never going to happen." (If you haven't heard my story, here's a direct link: http://bit.ly/2pRbGu3)
I was completely stuck until I discovered teachers and role models like Brené Brown who taught me about vulnerability. I then found Kristen Neff an expert on self-compassion. To rewire that negativity loop in my head, I started practicing loving-kindness meditation, my favorite one entitled "Self Love" was on Barbara Fredrickson 's. And it was Tara Brach who taught me about “Radical Acceptance”.
While I made considerable progress, it wasn't until I started working with a coach that the real changes started happening. Someone who listened without judgment, acknowledged and validated my feelings, and lovingly held me accountable to the commitments I was making to myself (but had not yet followed through on).
Change can be hard.
It takes time.
Sometimes we need a guide who is a few steps ahead of us on the journey.
Someone to help get us moving again.
Someone to shine a light on those subconscious limiting beliefs that are holding us back from achieving our goals.
For links to these tools and much more visit my Pinterest Page:
If you are ready to take the next step beyond self-help books, articles, and letctures, and are interested in learning more about the assessment that can quickly pinpoint exactly what's holding you back from your fulfilling your dreams, contact me for a free consult.
As a Jewish girl growing up in New Jersey, I was raised to never buy retail. I spent my formative years bargain hunting at Loehmans, Mickey Finns, and Syms. The only time I purchased clothes at high-end stores were for special occasion outfits or during “big” sales. To this day if you were to compliment an outfit to anyone in my family the automatic reaction is: “Oh, you like it, can you believe I got it at ________________ for only ________________.”
While many enjoy the “hunt and conquest” involved in this retail sport, I actually walked away with several limiting beliefs: “I can’t afford to pay full price for anything” or “Luxuries are for other people”. “I’m not worth it”.
As I rose the corporate ladder as a marketing executive at Pepsi, earning a comparable six-figure salary to my husband, those voices were temporarily silenced. I figured I worked hard, I make my own money - I can buy retail.
However, when I left the workforce to raise our kids full time, a new limiting belief emerged: “all the money I spend is my husband’s money”. This lead to guilt every time I pulled out the credit card to buy something for myself.
Interestingly I never thought twice about making purchases for my kids – designer clothes for my budding fashionista daughter, the latest baseball equipment for my naturally athletic son. Yet that was just the material “stuff”.
Year after year we invested in our kid's futures by hiring experts to support their passions and interests: private violin teachers, private batting lessons, and private academic tutors. While those investments added up over the years – writing those checks was done without hesitation. The experts took our children’s nascent strengths, skills, and talents and coached them to their highest potential. Their expertise, support, guidance, and accountability developed much more than the kids' competence, it gave my children confidence. My kids came to see, through their dedicated effort, they could achieve whatever they put their mind to. To me that is PRICELESS.
Meanwhile, here I was, a “formerly” successful, highly skilled, very competent woman, struggling with my disempowering narrative (LINK to my story http://bit.ly/2pRbGu3). I felt completely stuck because I had "unsuccessfully" tried to relaunch a professional career several times, in several locations. Which, of course, made me a "failure".
I was stuck in my narrative. I was stuck in my head.
I was stuck and fresh out of ideas, which got me thinking. Why can't I get some professional support? Aren't I worth investing in my future? What message was I sending to my kids if I gave up on my own dreams? If I weren't willing to invest in myself and do the hard work?
So six years ago I took the step of hiring my first certified professional coach. And well, I've never looked back.
Was it terrifying? Absolutely.
Was it hard work? Yes.
Was it a big investment? For Sure.
I could have never done it on my own.
The transformation in my life, well it's PRICELESS.
Not to mention the added bonus that I've finally come to see: I am totally worth it!
Based on her unique life experiences, and certifications in the science of positive psychology and the art of life coaching, Alison offers practical wisdom that helps women navigate midlife transitions with clarity and confidence. www.alisondeutsch.com