“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” – Carol Burnett –
I was running. The day glorious. The spring air was clean and fresh, new signs of life popped up in the neighborhood all around me, green tulip shoots poked through dead mulch and tiny, yellow forsythia buds were beginning to emerge. As I rounded a corner, my brow sweaty, lungs and heart pumping, I felt the fire of life beating within. The music blasted in my ears, my legs pushed me forward with every stride, and my head, oh my head was the most alive of all. I realized, while thinking and dreaming (as I do when I’m running) something I had always known and yet never understood. In that moment, it became as clear as the crystal spring creeks rushing near my route, that I was completely in control of my own life.
“Duh. Of course you’re in control of my own life, who else would be?” you may be wondering.
But here’s the thing woman, we all claim to know we’re in control, and yet we don’t live as if we do. Not until all the pieces we’ve heard a million times and a million different ways come together to complete the picture, do we really understand what it means to be in total control of our life. Something sparks a recognizing within us, and the puzzle we’d been constructing our entire life suddenly comes into focus and is finally clear. That day, I felt like someone had smashed my skull open and I was peering inside. All the lies and stories and bullshit beliefs I’d clung to as truth were like worms, wriggling and sliding all over each other, completely controlling my actions, making me forget the real truth.
I am in control of my own life.
Cue the singing woodland animals!
I had been reading a lot, completely absorbed in Glennon Doyle’s blog and first book, Carry On Warrior; The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. My mind tumbled the content over and over as I ran. Glennon was the first person whose words resonated so clearly with my own heart that I was able to hear in a way I couldn’t before. She validated my struggles in motherhood. She acknowledge the hard in words that I couldn’t myself articulate. After years of thankless mothering, rocking babies in the wee hours, nursing in public restroom stalls, cleaning up fistfulls of spaghetti off kitchen walls, dragging overtired, screaming toddlers out of Target, it was empowering and liberating to be “seen” in her words, to know I wasn’t alone.
But it wasn’t the parenting chapters that made me realize my power. It was realizing I’d lived most of my young adult and adult life split in two: the public self, who says the right things in order to belong, and the secret self, who thinks other things. Nearly all of us spend our entire lives layering up, “becoming” the people the world tells us to be.
The messages we receive about who we are, what we are capable of, and who we should be start the day we are born. Well intending parents and relatives pass their paradigms to us. Advertisers play on our insecurities so we will buy and buy and buy. Most of us move through life without hearing the unique and individual voice inside, calling us to find our own path and accomplish beyond our self imposed limitations and society’s expectations. We ignore our desires or dismiss them as trivial while we shuffle from one thing to the next, rushing from life’s big events and milestones. Our hours become filled with busy work, as if perpetual motion is the key to success and happiness. In reality, all that motion and overwhelm leaves us no time to actually think about what we want. We unknowingly relinquish all of our power and control when we forget to remember who we are, when we forget to even ask “what do I want?”
As Glennon Doyle explains, “Many of us spend the first part of our adult lives becoming—stepping into the roles we take on so that they come to define our lives. But I’ve learned that we don’t really grow up until we unbecome….Ask a woman who she is and she’ll tell you who she loves, who she serves and what she does. I am a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend, a career woman. The fact that we define ourselves by our roles can be an admirable thing—it’s how we build a life and make a living. But it’s also precarious. Roles change. Sometimes overnight.
If a woman defines herself as a wife, what happens if her spouse leaves? If a woman defines herself as a mother, what happens when the kids go to college? If I am a career woman, what happens if the company folds? Placing our identity inside of ever-changing roles means that who we are can be taken from us. That is why it’s so easy for women to live in fear instead of at peace. That is why we cling to our people too tightly, close our eyes to things we need to look at hard, refuse to ask questions that need to be asked. We build sand castles and then try to live inside of them, fearing the inevitable tide.”
The Illusion of Control
When we live by other people’s rules, accept norms as just “the way it is,” and believe the world knows what’s best for us, we surrender our control. That spring day I realized what I had come to see as absolute truth was nothing more than other people’s opinions.
During that run, I finally understood that the very loud, very opinionated voices actually only have influence over me if I allow them to. In that moment, I decided to stop listening to everyone else and get better at hearing myself. In that moment, I traded the illusion of control for actual control.
Something incredible happens when you have the courage to reject what you’ve been told, when you trust yourself more than the rest of the entire world…you’re free. You’re free to think, act, do, un-become, grow, experience, and feel exactly as you choose. You’re free from expectation. You’re free from guilt. You’re free from regret. You’re completely and utterly free. I couldn’t agree more with Elizabeth Gilbert when she said “I’m tired of being good, now all I want is to be free.”
When you take back control and tell the well meaning voices “thanks but I’ll take it from here,” you’re also accepting full responsibility for your life. It’s a package deal really. If you want the power to decide what’s best, if you want to be free from the expectations of others, you also have to take radical responsibility for the outcome of your life. You can’t blame your parents anymore, or your mean boss or even your demanding children. As Jen Sincero says “it’s not your fault if you’re fucked up…it’s your fault if you stay fucked up.”
If you fully believe that you and you alone are in control of your life, than you must believe that you and you alone are responsible for it. You are responsible for your happiness. You are responsible for your results. You are responsible for creating a life you love.
And here lies the disconnect. We say we want control, and maybe we even have the courage to claim it, and yet we still live as if life is happening “to us” instead of “by us.” We still make excuses for why we aren’t where we want to be. We still feel it’s everyone else’s job to notice us, praise us, help us, understand us, or make us feel loved. We still bitch about everything from the weather to our ass size. We’re still letting other people and circumstances determine our happiness and acting as if joy isn’t available to us, at least not right now anyways. Someday. Always someday, but never right now.
Every day, every minute of your life, time is passing by. Until you move from blaming others and complaining to personal action, things will never change. Radical responsibility begins when you take responsibility for your entire life and not just aspects of it. It’s fully believing that if you don’t like what you’re experiencing, the problem is not what’s out in the world, but what’s within you.
Radical responsibility is when you accept that you are not a victim but a creator.
I am still guilty of getting frustrated at my kids (a lot). I mean, if they would just pick up their dishes instead of leaving them on the coffee table I wouldn’t have to become this screaming, nagging, crabby mom right?! Well, yes and no. Of course when people don’t pull their weight, do as they “should”, listen, or cooperate it’s hard not to say “see! It’s not my fault, it’s THEIR fault!”
Yes, it’s their fault they didn’t pick up the dishes but your reaction is your fault.
You are responsible for how you handle whatever life throws at you.
You are responsible for your words, thoughts, and actions.
You are responsible for deciding you will be happy whatever the kids do (or don’t do).
Nothing Changes Until You Do
Maintaining this level of focus on your own well being amidst the very real chaos of life is a lot of fucking work. It’s simple, but not easy. It takes intention, planning, and practice. Deciding to be exactly be who you want to be (even when the entire world seems hell bent against you), requires some serious internal strength. You’re not going to head out tomorrow and complete a marathon if you haven’t trained, and you aren’t going to just become all zen today if you haven’t trained your mind like an elite athlete either.
Changing your external world begins with internal effort and a daily commitment to outgrowing your old beliefs, focusing your intentions, and the patience to start again every time you slide back into old habits.
My growth accelerated at lightning speed when I committed to a non-negotiable daily spiritual practice. This isn’t about God or religion, this about learning to connect with yourself, to hear your voice amidst the very loud ones in the outside world (and within your own head). Dedicate 10-15 minutes every morning, before the craziness begins to clear your mind and connect with yourself. Before anything else can change you must get control of that runaway train in your mind and start paying attention to what has your attention.
Meditate for as long as you can, start with 2 minutes and work up to 10. Practice silencing the running to do lists, the worry, the fears, and the overwhelm. Gently release thoughts as they come, focus on your breath and aim to keep your mind clear. As most things, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. After your mind is clear, spend 5-10 minutes journaling.
When I journal, I first purge all the negativity out of my head. I let myself bitch and moan about whatever is on my mind, uncensored. When all the worries and fears and petty grievances have been aired, I pivot to gratitude and capture everything I am thankful for. Next, I’m ready to uncover the good stuff, the stuff that is usually hiding underneath our worry, to dos, and overwhelm. I imagine who I want to be, capture ideas, and write in a fury about anything that comes to mind. Here I begin to access all the ideas and thoughts I otherwise never make time to hear. This is where I remember who I am and who I want to be. After all this focused intention I am in a far better position to head out into the world. When I start my day from a clear and focused place, remaining committed to positivity is much easier. I mean Oprah does it and that woman is pretty smart, happy, and successful…just saying.
Squeezing these 15 minutes into in my morning was easier than I expected, but learning to shift my energy away from complaining, negativity, and pessimism has been another story altogether. Humans have anywhere from 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day, as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as the day before. When we start changing today’s thoughts, and working hard to focus on what we do want instead of succumbing to what we don’t, it’s amazing how quickly things can turn around.
If your life isn’t where you want it to be, if you aren’t happy, if you’re overwhelmed, if you’re so damn tired of your same worn out, played out story, it’s time to change it, because woman, nothing changes until you do.