The message started about five years ago: “back off, slow down”. I thought it was a quaint idea. After all, I was beginning to move up in my organization, starting to make a bigger difference, becoming a leader in the more formal sense.
But the message kept coming the next few years. Now I was annoyed – how could I possibly back off or slow down? I was in charge of a major initiative at work – a thought leader, a change agent getting attention even beyond my home state. I ran three departments (one of which operates 24-7-365) and supervised 20 people. I had a home to maintain, a body to keep uber fit, friends and a sister to be supportive of, men to date!
The voice continued even after I went back out on my own and restarted my business two years ago.
Slow down or back off? No way José! I’ve got to hustle, market, learn about finances, go to mixers and conferences, blast on social media, get clients, and make a difference in the world in a way more fulfilling to my soul!
It’s funny how we blame external circumstances for our plight, yet once free of those circumstances end up recreating those very dynamics ourselves. Wherever you go, there you are indeed. I like to joke that my current boss is the most oppressive one I’ve ever had.
But it’s no joke when you start to notice your health declining, weight increasing, relationships suffering and mood souring in a way that feels more like the new normal than a temporary phase. Even though I was pulling in twice the income than I projected or hoped, and connecting with outstanding clients and partners, I was still anxious, still hustling, still saying “yes, yes, yes” – out of fear.
I like to say that our bodies are like two-year-olds: if you don’t listen or pay attention early on they get louder and louder until suddenly you’re in the towel aisle of Target on a Saturday morning dealing with an epic screaming, biting, kicking tantrum. My sister and I also talk about our inner toddlers – those emotional, younger, closer-to-the-source parts of ourselves that have needs and wants that aren’t welcome in adult culture and therefore get ignored, shushed, or even spanked.
Those inner toddlers can end up throwing tantrums in Target as well. Mine finally threw a tantrum. I had become exhausted, frustrated, overwhelmed, irritated, anxious, and all over the place mentally. So I finally listened, and I went on retreat earlier this month to an amazing place called Vista Verde in the Carson National Forest. All by myself in the woods for 6 days.
It was amazing. Not “fun” – I literally experienced every human emotion in those 6 days – but life changing. Life affirming. Validating. A relief.
I learned that calm, peace, clarity and rest are within arm’s reach. It didn’t take me a week to “unwind” nor did I spend the entire time sleeping as I suspected. Within a day I was grounded, connected, clear, and relaxed. I learned that this state is always within reach as long as I focus my intention, attention and environment on it.
I also learned that listening to myself – to my body and my inner toddlers – doesn’t mean I have indulge their every whim. I don’t have to obey them. It strikes me as odd when I hear parents talk about their children not listening to them, when what they really want is for their children to obey them. Often their children are listening, they’re just saying no in their own way!
Yet listening to ourselves is key to our happiness. I was afraid to trust that small voice inside. I’m a problem solver. It’s not just what I do in much of my work, it’s part of my essence. Knowing that I had – had – to go on retreat without knowing what that meant or what I’d do there or what I was supposed to accomplish was uncomfortable. But finally I took the message seriously, I heeded it, and not only am I a better person for it, I’m making changes in how I care for myself and approach my business that allow me to be more authentic, connected, conscious, generous, humorous and kind – qualities I encourage in others. Integrity is my highest personal and professional value. If I’m not embodying my values and my vision for the world, I’m out of alignment. I’m less effective and less powerful – in all aspects of life.
Now I make a point to check in with my body and my toddlers multiple times each day: How are you feeling? What’s that about? What do you need right now? It’s hilarious to me that even though I chose not to make biological parenting part of my life, I’ve still ended up parenting (in a way!) and having conversations with myself that I wish my parents would have had. I’ve been amazed how much just listening makes a difference in what happens next in my body, mind, and emotions. Instead of tantrums there is now attention, understanding, insight, options, negotiation, mentoring and clearer boundaries.
What are your inner toddlers saying? What is your body telling you? What is that still, small voice pointing towards that you’ve been ignoring? What’s at stake if you don’t take it seriously?
Perhaps it’s time to listen.
What shows up for you when you start to listen differently?