Taking Time to Reflect: 2018 Year in Review
This year has been equal parts amazing and chaotic. Filled with infinite joy and heartbreaking struggle. Life's kind of like that, though, isn't it? Now, here's the beautiful part - each year, each day, each moment we can reflect and shift. Not only at the end of the year, but at any point in time.
I wasn't always good at this. I WAS quite skilled at what Shonda Rhimes calls laying track. We lay track in our lives, we continue living the same story so the train can continue on its way. The train doesn't stop. So you need more track. Always more track. Often we're so busy laying track that we don't look where we're headed, reflect on where we've been, or consider the need to get off the freaking train all together.
So how might we go about reflecting in a structured and intentional way? I like to look at my professional and personal lives, and identify successful practices I know I want to continue and those that didn't serve me well this year I need to let go. So friends, grab your coffee and your journal, and let's do this!
1. SUCCESSFUL PRACTICE - CREATING BOUNDARIES & STICKING TO THEM
In my professional life, I had to start saying no. Jen Hatmaker expresses this sentiment eloquently – “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.” I heard awhile back the sage wisdom that every yes we say is a no to something else. It is so simple, but I had never thought about it like this.
Ever since I began my career in education, I have been a yes person, because that is what all the successful and powerful people say, right? Would you like you be on the reading committee? Yep. Would you like to serve on the leadership team? Of course! How about mentoring a new teacher? I’m in. Oh yea, that professional development…would you plan, set up, and lead that too? Yes, yes, and yes. Just a few short years ago, I bought into the belief that if I said no to anything related to my career, success was not going to happen. Even more honest – I bought into the belief that if I said no to something, I might not be seen as a power player in the school. I wouldn’t be amongst the decision-makers, and therefore wouldn’t know all the things. Fear of missing out on being seen as a leader, fear of not advancing in my career, and fear of not being asked ever again drove these beliefs. These are all, of course, lies. When I began to reflect on everything I was saying no to because I said yes to everything asked of me, it turns out it’s rarely worth it in the long run. In the quest to maintain my power status, I missed too many life moments.
And when I started saying no? I felt guilty, as though I wasn't doing my part. But I fought against it and stood my ground. I knew every no allowed me to spend time with family or take care of myself or pursue other dreams. Worth it every time.
2. PRACTICE THAT DIDN'T SERVE ME - QUESTIONING MY GOALS
This year, when I reflected on what my true calling is – to write, to speak, to guide and coach, there was this piece of me that was consumed in self-doubt. Who am I to want to write? To think I could conceivably weave together words in an interesting or novel or captivating way? Who am I to want to speak on stages? To think I could possibly have something to offer women?
This is what we might call the imposter syndrome. It often commandeers our dreams and attempts to convince us that we can’t possibly live them out. That we don’t belong. For me, this is what writing and speaking make me feel like – an imposter. A phony. A fake. As if I am in a great big game of make-believe. I feel like this person who thinks she can be these things, but can’t in actual real-life make them happen. Someone who reaches for her dreams, but doesn’t have any business attempting to occupy a place in those arenas.
I felt, and still feel at times, as though all those humans who have told me along the way that my words were interesting or funny or inspiring must be wrong. They are surely in the minority. They are my friends and family, after all. They are obligated to speak supportive and encouraging words into me, even if everything I’ve ever written is complete crap. From my piece on starfish in the second grade through my master’s thesis that got published in an actual online academic journal – and every piece of writing in between, I was certain that it must all be dreadful. Those teachers and editors and peer reviewers and my cousin Natalie – there is no way they knew what they were talking about. I convinced myself of this. And it became my reality. I fully bought into the idea that even though my writing had some success, there is no way it had any worth.
This notion that you are too much, that your dreams are too big for this world is crap. You don’t have to traverse your time here on Earth feeling as though you don’t belong. Or that your calling is too different or too much or too big. This practice is not serving you. And it is most assuredly not serving the world. The world needs your ideas and your dreams. We need your unique self and for you to live out your calling, whatever you deem it to be.
1. SUCCESSFUL PRACTICE - VULNERABILITY
Oftentimes I find my vulnerability spilling out of me without my say-so or control. I suppress it for so long that it simply becomes too much. My vulnerability – it takes it upon itself to unravel all over the place.
As it frequently does, in seemingly the most inopportune of moments, my vulnerability came tumbling out on the first night of my first trip to see my husband during our long-distance marriage. I had been on edge all day, but as we toured the town and he showed me his apartment I found success in shoving down the fear and doubt and sadness so they wouldn’t bubble to the top.
After the tour ended and without much warning, I sensed my emotions rise to the surface – the doubt and stress and sadness – they intensified with a fury and spilled out before I could bite them away. I stood there, shaking and silently sobbing.
I am a naturally vulnerable person. My inclination is to wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t instinctively keep my opinions to myself. Over the years, though, I learned vulnerability is not always received well. Sharing my feelings and opinions and dreams is not always safe. So little by little, I began to keep them to myself. I fought the urge to express how I felt in the moment. I suppressed the desire to share my dreams and goals with the world, or even with those closest to me. The world taught me there is only one person I can trust with the things closest to my heart… me.
That was a lonely world.
Recently, I have begun the voyage back to myself. At times, it seems I live in what Brené Brown calls a vulnerability hangover, in a constant state of questioning if I’ve shared too much. And sometimes, as was the case with my husband, vulnerability takes matters into its own hands when I attempt to make the decision to hide my real self. I have to fight every day against the teachings of this world that I am too much or too open or too emotional. I fight against the lie that in sharing my deepest darkest feelings with those around me, they will shun me and I will be left feeling alone and shameful. Because that is unequivocally untrue. Vulnerability wins. Every time.
2. PRACTICE THAT DIDN'T SERVE ME - CARRYING THE WEIGHT OF MY PAST
At times, when I thought about the moments surrounding my first (failed) marriage, I became overwhelmed with emotions – regret, sadness, anger. Without warning, I felt the pit in my stomach grow and memories flashed through my mind like a carousel. Around and around. One excruciating recollection after another. Earlier on, I let this happen all too often. I allowed the pictures of my past mistakes to take up residence in my present as a special form of punishment. I deserve this, I told myself. I convinced myself I needed to experience my pain over and over again, as if this would prevent me from ever making a mistake again, from laying track in my life once more. I spent more moments than necessary dwelling on my past, consenting to a present defined by this past.
Your stamina for carrying the weight of your past might be sky high. You may not even realize you’re doing it at this point, or you may be all too aware. Either way, when you allow yourself to place your past down, to let go of the anger you’ve been transporting around with you all these years, you will be amazed at how it feels.
This practice is not simple, though. It may cause shame in the beginning. It may carry with it emotions you’ve shoved so far down year after year. Putting part of your past to rest for good means you first have to bring it to the surface. You must look it in the eye dead on, acknowledge it once more. Doing this may require outside help. Remember, you are not alone. You have friends and family and significant others, though a trained counselor may be your best option here. Don’t let the stigma of being vulnerable with others deter you from putting this piece of your life to rest. Don’t try to do it alone if it is too big, or too overwhelming. When you grow weary in the fight, let someone else stand behind you, shoving you up that mountain, if need be.