This last week was a lot. I know you know. We started off with Valentine’s Day (which could be a high or a low, depending on how it went down), we celebrated athletes coming together from around the world to inspire us all, and we witnessed a national tragedy. All the things.
When humans hurt other humans, the first place I go is grief. Remember how Mister Rogers taught us to look for the helpers? Well, before my head can get to the helpers, my heart goes to the hurting.
Then—I am embarrassed to admit this, but it is true—my gut wants to start dividing the world up into two groups: the people who think the same way I think, and the idiots.
My gut, in other words, goes straight to Us-vs.-Them.
You guys, I don’t even believe in “us” and “them.” There’s only us, all of us. We’re all in this together. I know this. But it takes me a minute to remember.
If my own window into the internet is any indication, I’m not the only one who goes there. (“You’re an idiot” may be the comment I’ve seen most on Facebook this week, leveled at people on all sides of every debate.)
It’s a defense mechanism.
When we’re angry and afraid, either/or feels like a safe place to be.
We fall into thinking, Either you’re with us, or you’re against us. Either you’re part of the solution, or you’re part of the problem. Or put another way: Either you think what I think, or you are wrong.
This is not actually true, and it’s not even helpful.
So this week, soul care is going to look like sitting with the BOTH/AND.
I can send thoughts and prayers, AND I can expect and demand that thoughts turn into action.
We can talk about protecting the rights of responsible adults, AND we can talk about protecting the lives of children in their classrooms. We can remember that we have rights AND we have responsibilities.
We can believe that the US has a mental health problem AND a gun problem AND a whole lot of other problems at the same time. All can be true. Addressing one does not mean ignoring the others. If you think one is more pressing, figure out how you’re going to help with that one first.
I can believe I am right, AND I can understand there are places I may be wrong, at the same time.
I trust that my opinions are valid, AND I am willing to listen to other points of view.
Because… that’s what either/or thinking is. Either/or means we stay locked in argument, never coming together, never making change. I’m done with that.
So that is our work. Not to get sucked in to the either/or, but to stay open to the both/and as we listen to one another and decide how to move forward together.
And by the way, when someone ELSE is stuck in either/or arguments, you don’t have to agree to engage on those terms. You can invite them in to the both/and, and let them know the invitation will still be open when they’re ready to join you.
This isn’t about left and right, guys.
This is about showing up, listening well, and being love in the world.
I want to start off the year (every year) with books that give me new insight into my own self and new ways of seeing the world around me. Perspective shifting, creativity boosting, and wholeness seeking are my jam, especially as we fire up a new calendar.
Here’s what I’m reading to kick off 2018.
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Fresh Start, Fresh Books
Tell Me More
Kelly Corrigan’s Tell Me More, because these might really be the 12 hardest things we all have to say. I cried through the last two chapters, is all I’m saying.
Marion Roach Smith’s Memoir Project, my creativity booster for the new year.
The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, because I want to see things from another perspective and I’ve heard this one should be required reading for humans. (It’s a Young Adult novel.)
Theft By Finding: Diaries
David Sedaris’s Theft By Finding: Diaries because it’s David Sedaris, come on. But also because journals and diaries are a fascinating way to peek into someone’s life and see what they choose to remember. (I have Joan Didion’s South and West on hold at the library for the same reason.)
When my daughter Evelyn was smaller, she would go to bed every night for months smelling like summer: like outdoors and sunshine, with a hint of dried peach juice.
She was only two, so it wasn’t weird if I buried my nose in her hair as she fell asleep. Also, bathing two-year-olds is overrated.
She smelled like wholesome afternoons. She smelled like activity and nature, of finding your place in the great wilds of creation.
She hadn’t really been anywhere outside our walled-in backyard, but let’s not dwell on technicalities.
I love hearing other people’s memories of their childhood summers, the ones that involve running around in a creek all day and catching fireflies in the dusk. Maybe a line of cousins would lean against the old porch and have the mud hosed off their feet before falling into bed at night.
I don’t have those stories myself, or a creek, or a porch, or fireflies, just a sort of quiet longing.
I wish we were in nature more.
I wish we had more wild places to explore.
There is a creek in the next town over, but getting there requires a car trip and packing a bag. By the time all those car seats get buckled, the minivan starts driving to the library on autopilot.
I just wish there were green hiking trails and trees and wildflowers at the end of the lane. I don’t want nature to have to be an ordeal.
The only thing is, I need wilderness with no bugs or bites.
Well, that, and no snakes. And no giant piles of dog poop.
I’d like hikes, the kind that didn’t ever require first aid kits. The kind that never end in bruised shins and scraped knees. Or hunger. Or thirst. Or cranky, weary children.
Also, since we’re making a list: no things to carry. No backpacks full of sunscreen and bug spray and water bottles and lunches that turn out, inevitably, to be squashed and unsatisfying anyway.
I could do with fewer “treasures,” by which I mean empty snail casings and sun-dried dung that someone has handed to me for identification purposes.
And no wet socks.
The only thing worse than hiking with wet socks would be taking them off to hike sockless. We cannot overcome wet socks. Oh, or muddy socks! Or socks all covered in prickly burrs.
It would be great, too, if nature had clean, well-stocked bathrooms. I don’t think this is too much to ask, given that so few people would use them. I wouldn’t need a bathroom attendant handing out fingertip towels or anything, but would good lighting really be so difficult?
(Wait, all those former kids with their summertime memories—were they peeing in the creek all day? I have never considered this before.)
So… it does not happen for us much.
The nature, I mean. And when my kids really do play in a creek, even for just an hour on a hot afternoon, I make them shower off the mud and algae and moss and who-knows-what-else the minute they get home. Creek germs: ew.
That isn’t my jam, then. “Last child in the woods,” we are not. (I have six kids. If one of them is the last child in the woods, it means I forgot to do a head count before driving away. Not good.)
Instead we pitch the pop-up tent in the backyard.
We don’t sleep out there, but I am considering investing in a freestanding fire pit for s’mores.
And when all we’ve done all day is play in the backyard under the jacarandas, they can take that dirty hair and sunshine to bed with them.
Because here’s the deal: I think I want more nature, but what I really want is to not have to wash any hiking clothes. At least for now. (Not forever. But until the kids can wash their own socks, maybe.) This is a good realization to have, even if it does not involve any fireflies.
That pull in my heart is not telling me to go live in a yurt.
That longing for nature? I think underneath it’s a longing for contentment, for simplicity, for connection to a deeper reality than the one on my screens. For now, I can find that even in places that have indoor plumbing.
You know what’s weird? Life asks us to be brave every single day, even though approximately zero percent of us ever FEEL brave.
But you still do the brave things.
You have the hard conversations. You teach your kids things you kind of wish they didn’t need to know. You stand in your truth when it would be easier to smile and nod. You get out of bed when every fiber in your being is yelling, “nap!” (At least sometimes.)
We’re not talking about life-altering acts of daring here, just the everyday stuff. But where do you come up with the that kind of small-but-mighty courage? That’s what we’re chatting about over at my friend Erica’s site, The Life on Purpose Movement.
Where to Find Everyday Bravery
The other day, I had to do a Hard Thing. It doesn’t even matter what the hard thing was. That is not the point here.
Okay fine, I’ll tell you. I had to stand up in front of a room full of people and tell them stuff. (You could call this “giving a speech,” but that would feel overwhelming all over again, so let’s go with “tell them stuff.” I can tell people stuff all day long.)
Would I forget all the words I wanted to say? Would I forget all words, period? Would they all get up and leave halfway through? Also, would they like my necklace?
These were the things that worried me.
I don’t have to do that every day, but every day has hard things: having the uncomfortable conversation, telling your kiddo no when she really wants a yes, excusing yourself from that gathering you did not even want to be invited to in the first place, sharing the things you care about with the people in your life.
Even the easy things are hard, some days.
That’s why I’m sharing my four best ideas for finding everyday courage over at The Life on Purpose Movement. Come and get ‘em—and then tell me where YOU find bravery in the everyday. I need all the help I can get. 😉
I believe that: that you are enough, just as you are, just as you were made to be.
But I want to be clear about what that means, and what it does not mean.
Because “you are enough” does not mean that you have been measured and considered and judged, and that you have finally earned the label of “enough.”
It doesn’t mean that you’ve worked long enough, tried hard enough, presented well enough. It’s simply who you are. The you that you are is enough.
You don’t have to be more, or do more, or buy more to be who you are meant to be.
That’s what I mean when I say you are enough.
You are enough does not mean that you are a final product, complete and finished, all done growing and changing and learning things forevermore.
You are enough does not mean that you are all-powerful and perfect, either.
You are enough does not mean that you are everything.
The pursuit of enough flies in the face of the pursuit of everything. Having a good grasp on “enough” means you don’t have to get everything, and you certainly don’t have to be everything.
You are enough does not mean that you have to be self-sufficient. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need anyone or anything else. It means you understand how much you do need, how small you are in this great grand universe — and that you don’t have to be even one inch bigger than that.
You are enough absolutely does not mean that you never need help. When you know you are enough, it’s easier to ask for help. It’s easier to admit your weaknesses. You know that your imperfections and your difficulties don’t reflect on your worth, because you are already enough, just as you are.
You are enough does not mean that you are flawless, or that you never make mistakes.
You know that you make mistakes. You know that I make mistakes. I make mistakes every single day. I am aware of my flaws before I even roll out of bed. Every day.
That doesn’t mean that my flaws are the truest, most important thing about me, it just means that I acknowledge them. I see them there. They exist. (Hi, flaws! YOU’RE MINE.)
If “being enough” means “being perfect,” then you are enough is just another reason to hide your true self. You hear that kind of “you are enough,” and you think: well! I know I’m not perfect, so either I’m not enough, or I have to hide who I really am.
You are enough means that you were made to be you, as you are, on purpose.
It is no mistake that you are this person, in this place, at this time.
You are enough as you are, mess and all, beautiful and broken, showing up for your life every day. That’s all you have to be and all you have to do. You’re already enough.
You are enough means you can grow and change and continue to become, because you aren’t trying to prove yourself.
You’re just trying to be yourself.
You are enough means that you don’t have to strive to become more worthy, more valid, more acceptable, or more loved. You already are all of those things.
There are things you might want to be more of. More open. More honest. More true. More authentic. More free. More connected. More intentional. More purposeful. Those are all expressions of your enough-ness. They aren’t about changing yourself, they’re about being yourself.
You were enough before, you are enough now, and you will continue to be enough as you become more of who you were made to be.
That’s what I mean when I say that you are enough.
And you are.
Originally published September 28, 2015.
Your friends are enough, too. Share this to remind them:
I have this situation in my life right now that I don’t like AT ALL. It’s all a big mess and I feel stuck. I know we can do hard things, but how do I know if the hard thing I should do is change the mess, or if the hard thing I should do is suck it up and stick with it and get stronger in the process?
I guess my question is really How do I know when to change my life, and when to change myself?
The Thing About Growing
Are you a gardener, B.? Because I want you to know right now that I cannot keep even a succulent alive, no matter how hard I try. But I do know that seeds turn into sprouts that turn into all kinds of things—flowers and dragonfruit and spaghetti squash. The flower is nothing like the seed, but the essence of the thing doesn’t change. The pumpkin seed does not become an oak tree.
What I’m saying, B., is there’s a difference between changing yourself and growing. When you’re growing, you’re becoming more fully yourself—stronger, truer, more awake, more alive, more of who you were made to be. You’re uncovering the YOU that has been buried for one reason or another. You’re developing into the self you always had inside you.
You’ll feel different on the other side, but not because you’ve changed your essential self. You’ll feel different because you’re practicing new ways of being that self in the world.
But when we talk about changing ourselves, sometimes what we really mean is, How do I fit into this mold I was not made for? And the answer, of course, is that you don’t. You don’t need to change to meet someone else’s expectations. You don’t have to take the story that the world has given you and try to fit yourself into it, if that’s not YOUR story.
My (Wrong) Story
For a long time, I was living in a story that could have been called All The Things I Cannot Say. See, I wanted community. I wanted people who would be my people, and I wanted it so much that I was careful not to give those people any reason to stop including me. I figured the whole, true version of myself would give them PLENTY of reasons, so that self was not invited to make an appearance. I made the real me be real quiet.
I thought that if I said the things I was thinking, I would lose that community. And B.? I was not actually wrong about that. But I was wrong about something else. I was wrong about the idea that being part of a group was more important than being who I was made to be. I was wrong about changing myself instead of changing the story.
I didn’t need to become someone else. I needed to change the story from “everyone will reject me and I’ll be alone forever” to “when I’m willing to be who I am, I’ll be able to find or create the kind of community where I can belong.” I needed to change the story.
Changing The Story
We buy into stories like “This is Just What a Good Parent Does,” and “Everyone Else Has It All Together.” We get stuck in the story that goes, “This Is How It Is, I Can’t Change Anything” or the one that says “Life Has to Be Complicated,” or “I Can’t Be Happy Until…” None of these are good stories, and none of them are YOUR story.
And B., it’s absolutely true that the heroines of good stories TRANSFORM. When I find myself asking, What gives? Is it ME or is it EVERYTHING ELSE?—the answer is usually YES. Yes it is. Yes, it’s both/and. It’s me and it’s everything else, and both sides are going to have to give a little. I’m going to have to make changes AND I’m going to have to stretch and grow and become more of myself in the process.
But the bottom line for me is this: If you can’t be yourself, you’re in the wrong story.
And here’s what I’ve noticed: I can tell when I’m in the wrong story—whichever wrong story it is—by how it feels. The wrong story doesn’t just feel hard, the wrong story feels wrong. It feels like there’s a mismatch between the me on the inside and the me on the outside. Not good.
I can’t tell you whether you need to change the story, B., but I can tell you how I know when I need to. These are the biggest Turn Back Now signs for me, the ones with flashing lights that say PAY ATTENTION! WRONG WAY! TRY AGAIN, HON. (Signs can be friendly like that.)
When I’m in the wrong story, I find myself thinking: “What I really should have said was…” a lot.
That’s because you can’t speak up much when you’re living in the wrong story.
See, as soon as you start talking, you get catapulted out of the wrong story. Talking makes one of two things happen. Either you discover that it actually IS okay to be who you are in the story you’re already living—in which case, the story has changed. It’s not the wrong story after all. Or you find yourself uninvited from the story you’re living in, and you get to find a new one.
Either way, speaking up changes the story. Once your true self starts talking—whether you’re saying, “I can do this,” or “I’m not doing that,” or “I’m ready,” or “This is how I feel,” or “I don’t believe that”—the wrong story is on its way out.
The “Being a Person” Test
If you can’t be a person in the story you’re in, that’s the wrong story.
If the story you’re living in doesn’t leave room for you to have needs, that’s not your story. If you can’t ever change your mind in the story you’re living in, that’s not your story. If you can’t rest, can’t stretch yourself, can’t be sometimes-not-okay, can’t try something new, can’t cry, can’t say no, can’t have a full range of human emotions, that’s not your story.
You were made to be YOU, and if you can’t be that person where you are, it’s time for a new story.
When you’re living in the wrong story, something in your spirit says: not this. You might not hear it right away, especially if you aren’t in the habit of listening to yourself, because it starts out as a whisper.
But don’t worry, those whispers get louder the longer you ignore them. (If you need help listening for that inner voice, check out the free Find Yourself mini-course. We’ll practice.)
At first, maybe all you know is: This isn’t right for me. This isn’t the right path. This isn’t the way forward. Something needs to change.
You might not know what the right story IS, you just know it’s not this one. That’s okay. You don’t have to know where you’re going to know where you aren’t headed anymore. Start by getting curious about the voice that says not this. See what you hear next.
When you need to step into YOUR story
So, B., do you need to grow? YES. I can say that pretty confidently because we all need to grow all the freaking time. Do you need to CHANGE? Well… if by change you mean squash yourself into a box, erm… not so much. I just don’t think so.
I think that’s the question for you, B. Is this thing in your life asking you to grow, or expecting you to change?
Because YES, the things in our lives are here to teach us and to grow us and to challenge us. And YES, we have commitments that we’re not going to walk away from, and we have to decide how to be present for those.
And at the same time—you were made to be you. I’ve said this before, but it is no mistake that you are YOU, here, now. If you’re living in a story that doesn’t let you be who you are, that’s the wrong story. Change that if you need to, and do your growing in your own true story.
P.S. – I don’t want to leave you hanging, wondering how to actually DO THAT. If you don’t know where to go next, try these:
Seven old stories you may be telling yourself—and new stories to replace them with—at Simple Homeschool
I know you don’t “do it all” but… HOW DO YOU DO IT ALL?
How do you manage being a wife and a mom and homeschooling six kids (six?? I have TWO and I have no time!) and doing everything else, like having friends, or getting work done, or doing stuff just for you?
How do you find time for everything that matters?
I want to ask you a question, my friend. Stick with me here.
Do you remember the fairy tales where an Evil Witch would set for our hero an Impossible Task? If you can do this Impossible Thing, she would say, you may marry the princess, or you may pass through the forest, or you may live. Did you ever read those?
Okay, let’s go Technicolor: remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas? Remember what the Wizard tells her? He gives her her own Impossible Task. She just has to bring back the broom of the Wicked Witch of the West or die trying, that’s all! No biggie.
Dear friend, do you see what we’ve done? We’ve become the Wizard of our own lives—and the Dorothy. We’ve given ourselves an impossible task. That’s why we can’t do it all.
We’re convinced that everyone else is doing it, though, so we keep looking for the magic bullet that will let us get things done. But there is no magic bullet, because it would take ACTUAL MAGIC to do it all.
I don’t have magic.
I don’t think we need magic to live our lives well. That wouldn’t make sense. We must be able to be the people we’re meant to be without using a time-turner or exploiting a glitch in the matrix.
But the world does kind of conspire against us on this one. There are always, always going to be more good things—maybe even more necessary things—to do than there are minutes in a day.
At no point will a Time Fairy appear, wave a wand, and create open afternoons for you to do all the things that matter. We have to be our own Time Fairies. (So I guess we are kind of magic, in this analogy.)
I don’t have all the answers, and I absolutely don’t do it all. But even if you don’t do it all, you still have to do SOME things. So how do you get to all the things you DO want to do? Let’s talk about that.
Make an Enough List
I used to fall into bed every night super aware of every single thing I had left undone. I would lie awake thinking, There’s never enough time! There’s never, ever enough time. When I finally started listening to myself, I realized I had to find another way of doing things.
Now, my first, best plan for taking care of my most important things is always my Enough List. (Some people call this priority management instead of time management.)
Instead of making a to-do list of EVERYTHING, I make a list of just the three things that will be enough for today. Those get my attention first. Everything else can happen around the edges of those three things. I’m okay with not getting to everything—because if I don’t, I’ll still know I gave my attention to what mattered most to me, and that has to be enough for today.
Do Everything Less
Some of my girlfriends used to meet up for a beach day once a week with all their kids. They would invite me every week, and every week I would think, Maybe this week I can make it work! Nope, maybe NEXT week! Okay, maybe the week after…
Spoiler alert: it never worked the week after, either. It just didn’t fit alongside everything else in my week.
For awhile, I felt like a terrible friend, because the story in my head is that I have to do all the things that matter, all the time. Being a friend matters, so I thought I should be available all the time. If there were six of me, I could probably make that work! But alas, I have only one self and no clones.
This one took me awhile to wrap my head around, but I promise it is true: You can do everything a little bit less, and it still counts.
Can I spend a day at the beach with my friends once a week? Nope, not going to happen. I can’t do it. What I can do is meet up for coffee once a month or so, and text and email in between. But guess what? We’re still friends. I don’t have to be a friend in person all day, every day. Small and imperfect still counts.
Match Your Activity to Your Energy
When my older kids were small, I would do creative work after I put them to bed. But they got older and so did I, and their bedtimes got later, and now if I try to write after they’re in bed, I just end up staring at the screen, typing and deleting the same words over and over again.
Some things (diaper changes, toddler meltdowns, deadlines) you can’t schedule. But for everything else that matters to me, I get to choose how and when to make those things happen—and choosing the right time makes a huge difference in what gets done.
Instead of managing my time, I try to plan around my energy. I focus on creative work, for example, at times of day when my brain is actually turned on. If I plan to write when I write best, I get more done, faster.
It’s not perfect, but matching my activities to my energy level is the closest I’ve come to scheduling magic.
Ditch the Guilt
Making time for everything that matters—even coming close to making time for everything that matters—means saying no to pretty much everything else. (If you don’t even know where to start saying no, I wrote the Do Your Thing e-guide just for you.)
That means you’re going to say no to good things, and saying no means you’re going to disappoint people.
I wish this wasn’t true, because I hate to disappoint people. (I may have a teeny little tendency toward people-pleasing.) But it’s part of the deal, as far as I can tell.
Right this moment, I’m disappointing my kids by saying no to taking them out for ice cream. Actually, at most hours of the day I am disappointing at least one of my kids by not taking them out for ice cream. It’s an ongoing sort of request.
Disappointing people feels awful. And yet… you can trust other people to handle their own feelings. You’re going to disappoint people, but you are also going to be true to who you were made to be. I don’t know about you, but that is a trade-off I am okay with.
And Then: Kindness
You’re never going to arrive at the place where everything is perfect, you have exactly enough stuff for minutes in the day, and now you can stay there forever amen. (Or at least, I have never reached that state of perpetual-time-for-everything-that-matters nirvana.) It’s an ongoing negotiation of priorities and people and needs and desires and sleep. Or desire FOR sleep. Or both.
So pay attention to your priorities. Pay attention to your energy. Pay attention to your expectations. Pay attention to your feelings. But give yourself grace for all the ways that reality refuses to cooperate with your best intentions, too.
Because the other option—the Find Extra Hours In Your Day option—does not exist. That task is impossible, and you don’t need any more impossible tasks. Tell the wizard to come out from behind the curtain and retire already.
But even when we’re in the dark—even when everything seems to have turned to dust and rubble, even when we are alone and broken-down, even when there seems to be no next step—even then, the light is always winning.
The light is always winning.
This is something I am willing to take on faith, when evidence seems to suggest otherwise. I am willing to believe that, as Anne Lamott says, grace bats last. I am even willing to accept that grace and healing do not always look how I expect them to look. (I guess that’s okay, because sometimes I have no idea how healing and grace SHOULD look.)
But even on days when I’m not sure I believe it, even when we seem to be going backward, I still know the light is winning—because I see how we respond. We do not look around at the pain and the disconnection and the anger in the world and say, Well, this is great, let’s make more of this. Let’s just stay right here. We don’t.
We say, What the heck? We have been here before. We’ve ALREADY BEEN HERE. Why are we doing this again? Why are we going BACKWARD?
The darkness only wins if we settle into it. But we don’t.
We’re moving forward, but in a zig-zagging, circle-around-and-try-again sort of way.
So I’m not surprised anymore.
Now when it seems like we’re going backward I remember that we’ve been here before—SO WE KNOW WHAT TO DO. We know how to get out of this place. We’ve been here before, and we know the way.
You know the way. The way is love. The way is always love. Love for your neighbors, love for your children, love for your community. Love for the people you don’t agree with. Love for the people you don’t understand. Love for you. (Some of these categories will overlap.)
Sometimes love looks like being there when you don’t know what to say. Sometimes love looks like making changes. Sometimes love looks like listening to someone you don’t agree with. Sometimes love looks like civility. It all matters.
It’s all love.
If you hear calls to fear: that’s not the way forward. That’s how we get tripped up and end up back where we’ve already been. Fear is never the way. Fear is a signpost. Fear is giving you information. You need to listen to your own fears, but you can’t live in them. Fear doesn’t give good life directions.
The way forward is to show up and to chase hard after love. The path may not be smooth, it may circle back and drive us crazy, but the way forward starts with us, and it always, always starts with love.
I first wrote about this on Instagram. I don’t usually cross-post, but I was reminded of this today and wanted to share it with you here, where the words could have a little more room to breathe.
I hear all this talk about doing the things that make me come alive, but… isn’t that selfish? I mean, those things are just for ME. They don’t help anyone else. Shouldn’t I be spending that time feeding the hungry? Or maybe just feeding my kids? Or maybe I’m supposed to do just enough of the stuff that feeds me to give me energy to serve others?
I guess what I’m asking is, how do I justify spending time and energy on myself? Should I? Is it possible to see those things as not selfish?
I want to start by talking about the ocean, because I think we can all agree that the ocean is not selfish, even if it does spend its days rolling around in the sun.
See, the ocean holds a whole bunch of things within itself.
There are dolphins swimming in that ocean, for example, and they need the water to survive. The ocean needs its water for the dolphins.
And not only for the dolphins, right? A whole bunch of things need the ocean water: coral and fish and seaweed and lobsters and colonies of, I don’t know, sea turtles.
The ocean needs its water for all of that. But it also needs water because without water it wouldn’t be an ocean. It would be something else, something entirely different. Something dry.
Could that be useful in its own way? Well, sure.
But it wouldn’t be an ocean.
Part of your job on earth is to figure out: What’s your water?
What lights you up, what wakes you up, what makes you come alive? Because those things help make you who you are. I would even say those are the places you meet God, and meeting God can’t help but change you for the better.
I’m going to go a little bit spiritual on you here and suggest that God actually wants you to be a whole, healthy, thriving human being—not because you are a tool that can be used to serve other people, but just because God made and loves YOU. You matter.
I hear you that you want to help the world, and that is good and that is necessary—and at the same time, I want you to remember that you are part of that world. You are not separate. You being healthy is part of the world being healthy. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and.
The ocean was made to be the ocean, you were made to be you—and BEING THAT PERSON is part of what you’re here to do.
We need you to be who you were made to be.
I’m not saying you should forget about the rest of your life and only do the things that light you up from here on out. But I am saying to make a little room in your life this week to do something that makes you come alive, and then see how you show up in the world afterwards.
This doesn’t have to be a huge assignment. If beauty lights you up, make a point of catching the sunsets. If creating is like breathing for you, carve out one chunk of time for making. If being in nature is your thing, take a walk. And then notice who you are and how you are afterwards.
Because here’s what I’ve noticed.
People who are making space for their own health and wholeness want that same health and wholeness for everyone. Coming more alive and being more compassionate go together.
I think that’s because doing what lights you up reminds you that you matter. (And you do.) When you know it deep down in your bones—that you matter, not because of what you do, not because of how hard you work or how much you give up, just because you were made to be you, on purpose, here, now—you can’t help but realize that everyone else matters just because they were, too.
The opposite is true, too: when we’re stingy with ourselves, it’s hard to be generous toward others. (This might be part of that whole “love your neighbor as yourself” idea Jesus talked about.) When we treat ourselves—and the things that light us up—with suspicion, it’s hard to trust that others are making the best decisions they can. You can’t shut yourself down and expect to stay open to the world around you.
So is it selfish?
To do what lights you up? Of course it can be. Anything can become a selfish act. But I trust that the still, small voice inside you knows the difference between nourishing your spirit and keeping everything for yourself. I trust that you’ll listen for that voice to help you see the needs around you and the needs of your own soul, too. I’m not even worried about this.
(And anyway, we’re not buying the message that taking care of yourself means you have to buy more and keep up with the neighbors. And we don’t believe the message that there’s not enough to go around, either. That’s not lighting anything up. That’s a distraction.)
You do what you do as a way of living out your belief that you matter, and so does everybody else. Because people who come alive want to help everyone else to live, too. People who come alive have life to share. Do that. Be who you were made to be. Find your water. xo.
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Over the summer, a friend invited me to come along to a writing workshop. This sounds like a good plan, right? They were a group of writers, and I write things. Matchy-matchy.
It became clear pretty quickly, though, that I had not asked enough questions ahead of time. This group was for writers who write a very different kind of thing than the things I write.
(How can this be, you ask? Okay, just as a hypothetical example, imagine that they were writing, say, action-adventure movie screenplays, and I was writing, well, this. It’s all writing, but the specifics don’t overlap much.)
I did not fit into this group.
Objectively, I did not fit. Think of the produce section at the grocery store. You know how there are separate places for all the different vegetables? One section for carrots, one section for broccoli, one section for potatoes? If this workshop was the potato section, I was a carrot that someone had set down by mistake.
But of course I did not think to tell myself, Oh, I am just in the wrong place. I am a carrot in a potato box.
Nope. I immediately started playing the tape in my head that says, I don’t belong. They don’t want me here. I’m not good enough. Maybe I am just not the kind of person who belongs.
This was ridiculous, and not only because I belong to a lot of things (a family, a book group, a grocery store rewards club). It was ridiculous because that isn’t what belonging means.
That isn’t what belonging means.
Belonging does not mean “we all like the same things and do the same activities and have the same thoughts and opinions forever amen.” Belonging does not mean “we’re all potatoes here.”
Belonging comes from being yourself and being seen, and that can happen anywhere, even with people who are totally different from you, even with people who want different things and believe different things. That’s why you can find belonging around your dinner table, or out in your neighborhood, or at work, or at the coffee shop, or maybe even on your Facebook page or in your Instagram feed.
Belonging comes from being yourself and being seen.
And that’s why, sometimes, we don’t find belonging in any of those places—because belonging isn’t about the people or the place, it’s about how we show up and whether we see each other.
You can go through the world and choose not to be seen, and belonging will be hard to come by wherever you go. Or you might show up, really show up, only to discover that the people around you aren’t ready for that kind of connection.
(That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, by the way. It might mean you’re surrounded by potatoes who don’t yet understand what a carrot has to offer. And now I am going to have to make soup at the end of this story.)
But finding belonging isn’t the only game in town.
Anyway, there I was, sitting in a workshop where I had nothing to contribute, answering as few questions as possible but always in my perkiest voice. “Hi! Thanks for having me! What do I think of your idea? I’m sure it’s great! I don’t actually know what you’re talking about but it sounds terrific!”
Unrelenting perkiness is a signal flare for me. When I hear myself speaking in all-exclamation-points, that is my clue that I’m hiding under a tidal wave of distractingly good cheer. It’s easier to ooze perkiness than to sit with the fear that I’m not good enough to belong.
But there is always another option: I always get to choose whether to look for belonging, or whether to create belonging.
This is what it looks like to create belonging.
What if, instead of feeling out of place, I had turned to the person next to me and asked why they were here, and what they hoped for, and what they loved about their projects? What if I had listened well and made them feel heard? What if I worried less about whether I had anything to add, and more about being present where I was? What if I remembered that belonging is not a transaction—belonging is about connection?
This is the invitation, for each of us: to see the people around us. To ask honest questions, ones that show we’re paying attention. To listen. To celebrate the person in front of us.
This is hard for me when I don’t yet feel like I belong. But someone has to go first. Someone has to create the first moment of belonging for everyone. You and I can do that.
And also? You belong to yourself.
Even if no one reciprocates—even if no one else ever makes you feel like you belong—you still belong to yourself. I still belong to myself, too. That’s why I can create belonging even if I don’t feel it outside me.
Even if no one else gets you, you get you. Even if no one else sees who you are, you see. You know what you’re about. You know who you are and what you need. You belong to yourself.
You can take that belonging and share it with the person next to you, too, because you belong to yourself and we all belong to each other. We just need a little help to remember, sometimes.
So this is your reminder: You belong.
You belong to yourself, you belong in this world, and you are a creator of belonging. You can give yourself space to show up, and you can create space for everyone else to show up, too.
That’s what belonging means, and you belong. Even if you never learn to write an action-adventure movie screenplay in your life. (Spoiler alert: I probably won’t.)
P.S. You belong here. If you need help to remember, come hang out with me on Instagram or Facebook and we’ll practice seeing each other more often.