What if you don’t have to get anything right?
Just typing that question causes something in my lower back to release. I can feel my buttocks settle into the cushion on my chair as I stop working quite so hard to live up to whatever unconscious standards are running in the background of my awareness.
How about you?
The hardest thing in life is thinking we need to get it right
It seems to me that the hardest thing in life, the hardest thing in building a business, the hardest thing about raising children or growing vegetables, is dealing with our ideas and judgments about getting things right.
Those ideas about what is and isn’t right keep us from going with what we know is true for us in the moment. Preoccupation with getting it right can make decision-making pure hell.
What makes making the right decision seemingly impossible is believing that there’s a right decision to begin with.
The need to get it right goes deep
The imperative that one must get things right is layered, persistent, sneaky. If you’re like me, you let go of the need to get things right, only to discover that you have a new imperative to not need to get things right.
Even (especially?) illness comes with imperatives about what’s right
As some of you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the beginning of June. As you might imagine, I’ve had lots of different feelings and thoughts about it.
Far and away the hardest thing about it has been the persistent arising of theories or concepts about getting it right.
Having the right feelings. (Yeah, like I’m in charge of that.)
Making the right choices. (For whom? When?)
Sending the right messages. (Hopeless invitation to self-absorption.)
What I’ve learned about making the right decision
I’ve been keeping a journal of my breast cancer journey at CaringBridge, and here’s an excerpt from my entry on June 24 about decision-making and getting things right. I wrote it after deciding to get a bilateral mastectomy, but I think it applies to decision-making in general.
“The hardest part of the past couple of days has been wondering if I’ve made the right decision. And the hardest part of that has been wondering what other people would think of my decision. Here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’ve learned.
- “Decisions make themselves. We don’t know what we are going to do, and then we do. The less sound and fury I can inject in the interim, the better able I will be to discern the “right” decision. More about what constitutes “rightness” below.
- “It’s not over until it’s over. Another way to say this is that I reserve the right to be inconsistent, erratic, and change my mind. If I’m struck with a sudden insight that changes how I see this, I’ll punt. I’m grateful to Dr. Wechter for explicitly giving me permission to change my mind, though she did ask me not to do it the day before surgery. 😉
- “This decision stands until it doesn’t. Insight doesn’t flow from second-guessing. I like how I feel about this decision when I am settled down, and I’m going to stand in that. I won’t be surprised if I second-guess myself anyway, but I don’t intend to put a lot of energy into it.
- “The right decision is the one you make. I have a bias in favor of decisions made from a place of peace, from what Syd Banks called “a nice feeling.” But there is no ultimate basis for grading the rightness of this decision. How could you or I judge? By whether or not the cancer returns? By whether or not a new treatment is discovered in six months? By how these journal entries affect an unknown reader? Will I meet my new best friend on the ferry one day en route to get my new boobs inflated? (Stay tuned. Or not. LOL)
- “We’re all always doing our best. Full stop.”
There is no such thing as the “right way”
When it comes down to it, there is no such thing as the right way to do something; there is only the way we do it. The only justification I have for my choice to have a bilateral mastectomy is that I felt clear, grounded, and peaceful when I let myself want what I want.
And hey, if the best I could do happened to be to make a choice from a place of feeling, confused, ungrounded, and anxious, then that would have to be okay, too.
Because, as I wrote above, I see more clearly than ever that we truly are always doing our best all the time. The only thing that keeps us from seeing that are persistent fantasies and judgments about what our best ought to look like. Those fantasies and judgments are mental constructs, though, and they are utterly trumped by the reality of whatever we are up to in the moment.
I hope to serve, and sometimes I suck at it
As I reflect on my life, I see that I have always hoped to serve. I love it when sharing my experience helps others, and I feel so fortunate that for many years I have been able to earn my living by doing that.
But sometimes when I experience confusion or anxiety or any number of less than, in my opinion, admirable states of mind, I get seriously derailed. I start imagining that I have to get something right in order to be of service, and as soon as I’m on that track, I’m lost in endless self-absorption and self-criticism.
Which pretty much shuts down the creative process, prevents authentic connection and communication, and generates a seemingly accurate self-fulfilling prophecy of wasted potential, meaninglessness, and alienation.
And in those moments my life looks like a wasteland. The idea of service seems like a cruel delusion.
And that’s how it is for all of us. When we are lost, we see loss and waste.
But it’s not real
It sucks to feel like we suck. But the important thing to know about those self-fulfilling prophecies is that they are only seemingly accurate. Because our scary self-fulfilling prophecies are dreams. They are not real.
And sooner or later we come home to ourselves.
We come home sooner when we understand what is going on
We come home to ourselves sooner rather than later when we understand what is going on.
When we understand that, even though they feel very real and compelling in the moment, our fears and judgments are phantoms, we are less inclined to amplify and invest in them.
And like any fire that lacks fuel or oxygen, even the most intense emotional blaze passes when we don’t feed it.
It may burn for a while, but it will not burn forever.
What would you do if you didn’t have to get it right?
If any of this has resonated, I invite you to hold this question lightly. What would you do now if you didn’t have to get it right?
If no answer appears, that could be your answer. Nowhere is it written that you have to know what you are doing or why you are doing it. Wisdom runs deeper than language, and life is far more mysterious than that.
Talk back: I’d love to hear your thoughts and welcome them in the comments section. Also, if you would like to read my CaringBridge journal, it is being cross-posted to my blog at Owning Pink. owningpink.com/users/molly-gordon
Photo by Werner Weisser via Pixabay
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Pareto principle, the idea that 80% of desired results comes from 20% of your efforts.
Imagine how different life could be if you knew reliably which 20% of what you’re up to is contributing to your success and well-being.
There’s actually a very, very simple way to tell: your state of mind. Simply stated, when you are in a low mood your thinking and choices and behavior will tend to be ineffective at best.
When you’re in a higher state of mind, you tend to see more clearly. You tend to be more compassionate toward yourself and others, which prevents misunderstanding and miscommunication.
In a higher state of mind, you have readier access to insight, and you are simply more creative. You make fewer mistakes, and when you do make mistakes, you tend to recognize them and not make a big deal of correcting them.
The inescapable conclusion would seem to be to pay attention to your state of mind and simply do less when you are in a low mood. In the same vein, it would make sense to step back and decline to engage in someone else’s low mood.
Low moods can be compelling when we believe that they are telling us about the world or other people. If you believe that your mood is giving you reliable information about the state of your life, you’re going to be inclined to act on your thoughts about how to deal with it.
But the reality is that our moods are only ever telling us about our thinking, not our lives. Our moods give us infallible information, not about our circumstances, but about our state of mind and clarity of thought.
If you want to reliably do more of what works in life, learn to recognize what your moods are telling you. Just say no to acting on a low mood–your own or anyone else’s.
That may seem like a radical proposition. If you are like me there will be days when it seems like the only option is to settle in for a House of Cards marathon.
But remember the Pareto principle. You can afford to stop doing a whole lot of things if they are not actually contributing to your wellbeing.
Photo by: Public Domain Pictures via pixabay.com
Should it be as big as possible? And big in terms of what? Money? Prestige? Power?
I’d like to suggest that bigness is at best a poor measure of the value and import of a life. Rather than size or scope, I suggest we look to characteristics such as grace, relatedness, peace, generosity – even, and this is my favorite, joy.
A few weeks ago I listened to Juliet Stevenson’s exquisite reading of George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Stevenson’s beautiful voice and nuanced interpretations animated this beloved classic. There were so many things to love in the novel and in the performance that although it was a whopping 35 (!) hours long I’m looking forward to listening again.
What on earth could compel me to devote that much time to listening to a novel? The simplest way I can explain it is that the writing and reading left me with a nice feeling. The kind of nice evening that is profoundly orienting, that points us in the direction of our best selves.
Ringing in my ears and in my heart even now are these closing lines. This is for everyone who has ever thought that they need somehow to live bigger, be more, have more, or do more in order to make a difference. It all counts, people, even, or perhaps especially, the small stuff.
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Would you like to explore the immense practicality of joy?
The following quote about joy landed in my inbox last week, and it resonated deeply with me and how I see my life and work these days. It has everything to do with what I am up to as a coach.
“As one of the seven factors of enlightenment, joy is not only a fruit of awakening but also a prerequisite. Joy creates a spaciousness in the mind that allows us to hold the suffering we experience inside us and around us without becoming overwhelmed, without collapsing into helplessness or despair. ” ~James Baraz, Lighten Up! from a post at Tricycle.
I have come to see the joy is always available, even in the midst of dark hours. Joy is closely allied to insight and wisdom. We can use our sense of the presence or absence of joy as a navigational aid in life.
As a coach I help my clients explore the immense practicality of joy. I point them to the spiritual principles behind the human experience. As their understanding deepens, their joy increases. They act with greater ease, creativity, grace, and wisdom.
I have room for two new clients in March. If this resonates and you’d like to have a conversation to see if we are fit, visit my coaching page and schedule an interview, click here.
I’m writing this post a few hours after being the guest master coach for the Moore Master Coaching program. Coaching in front of an audience is the perfect setup for self-consciousness. Naturally, I think, thoughts arose about how to produce a result, whether or not we were making progress, and if I was making a good impression. Such concerns with performance are human nature.
While such concerns are natural, they also inhibit presence, authentic curiosity, and access to wisdom, which gets in the way of good coaching. (One might argue that it gets in the way of any coaching at all.) What’s more, trying to quell those concerns can set up an internal struggle that makes things worse. What’s the coach to do?
Whether or not we are coaches, everyday life presents us with similar challenges on a regular basis. Frequently we experience insecure thinking that, if we give it significance, inhibits access to the guidance we want and the well-being that is our birthright. The self-help literature is full of suggestions for managing insecure thinking, but the very idea that we need to manage it adds to our anxiety.
If insecure thinking blocks access to guidance and well-being, and if strategies and tactics for managing insecure thinking amplify it, what the heck are we to do?
The answer is simply and always that we are to trust the process. But what does that mean?
In today’s coaching call, what that meant for me was trusting in the innate creativity, resourcefulness, and wholeness of my client (whom, by the way, I had not met prior to the call) as well as the greater space of Intelligence in which the coaching conversation took place. I trusted that those things were present irrespective of the ebb and flow of my insecure thinking.
This is such an important distinction. It is not necessary that we get beyond our insecure thinking in order to access wisdom and well-being. All that is necessary is that we not take that insecure thinking personally. We can trust whether or not we feel trusting!
When we don’t take our insecure thinking personally it becomes background noise. The example I used in debriefing today’s coaching session was the sound of a television playing in the next room when you are trying to read. Whether or not the sound is a distraction depends far more on how much attention you give it than on the actual volume.
When we trust the process, we trust not only that there is a greater source of Intelligence at work in the world than our personal thinking, but also that this source is available to us in real time and in real circumstances independent of our moods. Yes, it helps to have a quiet mind. But that doesn’t mean that guidance only comes to a mind perfectly free of doubt and distraction.
In a very real way, the less we insist that we achieve some perfect state of receptivity and quiet in order to receive guidance, the more readily and frequently we will notice it as it arises.
What’s your understanding of trusting the process? Share it!
Woohoo! The first in a series of free Happiness Hangouts happens this Friday, August 8, at 9:00am Pacific Daylight Time and YOU are invited.
Why? Because it happens that happiness doesn’t just feel good; it’s startlingly practical.
As the name suggests, Happiness Hangouts are all about happiness and its startling bearing on life and biz. We’ll look at:
- Why happiness is a default, not a destination.
- The relationship between happiness and wisdom.
- How to use happiness as a navigational aid in life and business.
There will be some teaching and some coaching and some who-knows-what-else. Think insight meets pragmatism meets sassiness. (Hmmm. The term “wise sass” just occurred to me. I like that!)
How It Works
Happiness Hangouts will use Google’s Hangouts on Air technology to broadcast a live video feed of yours truly. You can watch the live feed on a page at my Web site or via Google+. If you have a Gmail account, I recommend the Google+ option, because you’ll be able to see and participate in the live chat.
In addition to watching, you can participate in the Hangout by teleconference. You’ll receive all the info about how to watch and/or call in when you sign up. You’ll get replay info as well.
Are you in?
Click the link below to sign up for the free Happiness Hangouts.
I hope you’ll be able to join me!