Can we all just agree that life past the age of 25 is just a little bit nutty? It doesn’t matter if you have kids or not, are married or not, have a job or not, whatever walk of life you lead, chances are you spend 75% of it feeling like the wheels are going to fall off of it at any moment. Agreed? Now that we have agreed on this, I will not bore you with the details around my own nutty life as an explanation as to why it has been TWO MONTHS since I have gotten around to writing anything. Sheesh.
Instead, here are some musings from that nutty life of mine and some thoughts that have been rolling around my often loud, never still brain:
For the better part of a year now I have been fascinated with/determined to tackle the elusive concept of surrender. My personality (Type 1 on the Enneagram, INFJ for you Meyers Briggs die hards) does not take kindly to surrender. It feels passive. It feels like giving up. It feels yucky. Until recently.
Recently, through many, many, MANY years of therapy and generally just banging my head against the same wall, I have finally seen a softer side of surrender. The side that explains why people so often pair the word “sweet” with my mortal nemesis, surrender. I’ve come to see the peace surrender brings, and not peace because you lost, but the peace that arrives with victory. I’ve come to see surrender brings bounty to the table, not scarcity. I’ve come to see it offers a life of freedom, not one spent in the chains of a loser’s jail.
Allow me to share with you just a few ways I’ve convinced my Type One, INFJ brain to embrace surrender.
- I’ve learned surrender is a choice. Choice is big with me. It’s not that I need a lot of choices, in fact, just give me three options instead of twenty and I am a happy camper, but I need to feel the control of choice. This past week I was sitting on my counselor’s couch and telling her I needed to figure out a better way to stick to my work boundaries. To her credit, she didn’t remind me we have had this same discussion MONTHLY since I started my job almost a year ago. (I told you. I like to bang my head against the same walls multiple times.) Instead, she wisely chose a different tact. She reminded me that scientifically, psychologically, we as human beings are only capable of wearing so many hats in one day. Meaning, with the 24 hours I have been given in each day, I can probably only manage to balance 3 roles at a time. The hat options are plentiful: family, work, mom, wife, sister, daughter, self care, exercise, chef, writer, volunteer, etc etc. While I may in fact actually BE all of those things every single minute of each of those 24 hours, I can only choose to engage with around 3-4 of them at a time.
Now, let me tell you what I heard her say and what I repeated back to her, “Ok, yeah. I get it. I’m only human. I only have the capacity to handle three of those things each day. That’s a good reminder.”
“Oh no!” she exclaimed. “You are actually quite capable and so you will try to wear almost all of them every day and you might actually appear to succeed at keeping them all balanced perfectly on your head.” (Hello, type one, remember?) “BUT you won’t be healthy. Don’t tell yourself you aren’t capable of handling them, because that will only create a challenge you will feel like you need to rise to meet. Instead, tell yourself you are CHOOSING only three of them each day. Give yourself the freedom of choice.”
This changed the game for me. Having a choice gives that little control demon in my brain just the right amount of juice he needs to shut up. Having a choice doesn’t flare up any of my “I’m not __________ enough” demons. I have the freedom to choose what will get my time and attention each day and I am disciplined enough to know I will pick the others up the next day or the day after that. And the hats I chose to wear that day receive my undivided attention and as a result, just fit better that day.
I choose to surrender to my own humanity.
2. I’ve started writing permission slips for myself. This isn’t my own brilliant original idea. It, of course, came from the unmatchable Brene Brown. I am a big rule follower. I have secret fears that I might have accidentally become a Nazi temporarily had I lived in the WW2 era, simply because I would have followed the new governmental rules. It’s a common nightmare I have. Also, coincidentally a big symptom of my Type One-ness in that I constantly fear deep down I am morally corrupt and evil. But I digress and also, please continue to be my friend. I do actually possess good qualities. I make excellent guac.
Moving on, I like rules! And if the right person gives me permission, I won’t think twice about what I have been tasked to do. I remember at the age of 6 begging my mother to forbid me from playing with a little neighborhood girl down the street, Mary Susan. I did not like Mary Susan. She was a little bit mean and manipulative and also just always wanted to play with dolls and I despised dolls. But I was a very polite 6 year old who didn’t know how to stick up for herself or address conflict, other than a quick “na-na-na-boo-boo” while running away, and so I came up with a genius idea. If my mother forbade me from playing with her, I wouldn’t have to anymore! My mother found this request ridiculous and did not have the time in her hat wearing day to deal with my silliness so my plan was thwarted and I was forced to play with a lot of dolls until we moved a few years later.
I like permission. I like following the rules. What Brene Brown has taught me to do is to make myself powerful enough to get to change my own rules, to give myself permission. I now give myself permission to be human and make mistakes. I give myself permission to set a boundary and then guard it with my life. I even give myself permission to quit sometimes. This one is still a tricky one for me and is often carried out with much mourning and gnashing of teeth. But when I do it carefully and thoughtfully, man! Does it bring the truest of freedoms.
3. I’ve stopped planning. Well, not really, I still plan. I still plan our meals for the week and when the house will get cleaned and when I can get the oil changed in the car and when we can take a break for a week and head to the beach. But I have stopped planning for ALL of the worst case scenarios. There are some unanswered questions in my life right now. There are some BIG forks coming up in the road. I don’t do forks. I do road maps. Even better, I do Siri telling me each direction I will be taking and when there is a stupid amount of traffic up ahead and how to avoid it. My usually M.O. when presented with a fork way up ahead is to begin planning for it NOW. I create multiple end game scenarios. If A happens then I do B and then that leads to C. Unless of course, A1 happens in which case you react with B9 and that leads to C57. All of this planning would always prove to be exhausting and eventually maddening because it is IMPOSSIBLE to predict all of the factors and inevitably, when the dust would settle I would find myself at ZZ76, which I didn’t even know existed when I began the worst case scenario road map!
So I don’t make huge contingency plans for the future anymore. Instead, I watch and I wait a lot. It sometimes feels infuriating. It sometimes feels like a waste of time. But it also presents its own unique brand of power to me. It shows me the choices I have to make and it slows down the timeline in which I have to make them. It gives me room to breathe. It keeps me from running in circles while waiting for the world to end. And it reminds me the world never really does come to an end. Life changes, I adjust. Loss occurs, I grieve. Life is given, I celebrate.
None of this is rocket science. All of it can be found in a variety of self help books or by sitting on a counselor’s couch a couple times a month. And all of it has lead me to a place of sweet, sweet surrender. Stress still happens. I still spin out. I happened to have taken a very angry walk around my neighborhood just yesterday because I was on the verge of a massive spin out. But I took a breath. I looked at my choices. I picked a hat. I wrote a permission slip. And I surrendered.