Episode 18: Paddle Out

“Don’t give up in your mind something that your body hasn’t even attempted yet.”

That thought popped into my head this morning.  I was just sitting in silence, enjoying a quiet morning. Or trying to enjoy it, I should say. Way back, in the recesses of my mind, nagging fear was doing a number on my peace.

I took a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. I counted my blessings. I stretched. I even walked to the ocean and just marvelled at its beauty. I didn’t look at my phone. I didn’t check my emails. And all this before 8am. I’m telling you, I did everything right. Or rather, I did everything that today’s ‘mindfulness’ gurus tell you to do.

Yet there it was, the anxiety. The unknown. The dull panic that somehow, somewhere, in some way I was failing.

Now, I haven’t taken the Enneagram (I know, who am I?) But I Googled the different types, and if I were to hazard a guess, I believe I would fall into the “Three” category. (Don’t ream me out if I come back in a few weeks admitting I guessed wrong, just go with it, ok?) Type “Three” is also known as the Achiever. It’s pretty self explanatory, but basically the greatest fear of an achiever is feeling worthless. It doesn’t matter what definition of ‘success’ you adhere to (money, family life, travel, faith…), an achiever’s greatest nagging fear is that at the end of the day, they won’t ‘be somebody.’

I’m very aware that not everyone is wired like me. (In fact, I take great joy in the concept that no one is wired quite like me). But I do believe that all of us carry attributes of the Achiever, whether it shows up in large or small doses in your life. I think this mindset, while it has always existed, has become a full-blown trend with the rise of social media and online connection. Our world has expanded, and with it, the pressure to ‘be somebody’ has become an infinitely larger task. The definition of success has expanded: it now requires achievements based outside of your immediate peer group, social circle, and city. Success is global.

I’m not sitting here saying all of this is inherently bad. I think the upside is that our dreams have to grow. The only option is to continue moving forward and to keep dreaming bigger. But the part we often overlook, and the part that can take us out, is the beauty of learning not to look at others. Comparison is the thief of so much. It’s tied to jealousy, discontentment, anxiety, and eventually isolation. The idea that, in order to succeed you must “go it alone” and all that other nonsense.

So how does my “potential” Enneagram label relate to the thought that popped into my head this morning?

“Don’t give up in your mind something that your body hasn’t even attempted yet.”

The downside of my desire to achieve: the pressure, the comparison, and the fear of failing were all planting seeds of self-doubt in my head. In other words, I was giving up on a dream before it even left the dreaming stage – before it even left my mind! All because of fear.

To give more context, I have a big dream that’s been residing (mostly in my head) for about a year now. It’s going to be really exciting, but at the moment I just need to start on it. And the problem, as I’ve explained to some friends, is this dream is going to require a lot of dominos to fall over in the right timing. Let me explain further: in order for this dream to succeed, I can already see all the things that need to happen (just right) in a certain timeline. It’s all laid out in my mind, like a dominos track some kid spent hours tediously aligning. Here’s the fear: I lay out all my dominos, invest all my time, and it fails. I, the Achiever, become “worthless.” (According to my Enneagram, at least).  So what’s the safest bet? I put it off. I ignore the dream. I stick to “what I know” and I protect myself from failure. Yet, in that process I also perform the ultimate act of self-sabotage. Because, let’s be honest, who ever heard of an achiever who never achieved something?  I would be crushing the very identity inside of me, and all because of fear!

The funny part is I have done this before in my life, but before it was all subconscious. So, as I’ve gotten to know myself better (something I highly recommend) I suddenly saw what I was doing. I wasn’t even giving myself the chance to fail.

This is why I like surfing so much. Or rather, trying to surf. It’s beyond humbling every single time I paddle out. (I wasn’t raised near the ocean, and there is so much to learn it can feel overwhelming at times). I’ve had frustrating, embarrassing days where I just want to stop trying all together. And then I’ve had days that encourage me – maybe I’m not the worst surfer after all. The point is, if I surfed only for the ‘good days’ or for the validation from others, I would definitely have quit by now. Because those days don’t roll around all that often. In the description of an Achiever, the Enneagram talks about how often we pursue things we are already good at, because of the validation factor. Which I’ll admit, feels good. But here’s the thing: if I never pursue something new, I’ll never achieve anything new. No duh, right?

Stay with me, because I really believe that even if you don’t describe yourself as an ‘Achiever,’ the description of the “Three” Enneagram hits home for all of us.

“The problem is that, in the headlong rush to achieve whatever they believe will make them more valuable, Threes can become so alienated from themselves that they no longer know what they truly want, or what their real feelings or interests are. In this state, they are easy prey to self–deception, deceit, and falseness of all kinds. Thus, the deeper problem is that their search for a way to be of value increasingly takes them further away from their own Essential Self with its core of real value. From their earliest years, as Threes become dependent on receiving attention from others and in pursuing the values that others reward, they gradually lose touch with themselves. Step by step, their own inner core, their “heart’s desire,” is left behind until they no longer recognize it.”

Abandoning my ‘heart’s desire’ for my entire life sounds like the worst kind of punishment imaginable. Yet here I am, taking careful, cautious, fearful steps to ensure my true self never sees the light of day!

The other Saturday I surfed with two friends who are infinitely better at it than I am. We went out in bigger waves than I was probably ready for, and I spent the majority of the morning paddling away from the giant waves and trying not to be crushed. I paddled up to my friend, laughing at my own incompetence, and admitted that I probably couldn’t catch these waves. The best part of this story is that some of the locals I was surfing with were talking to me like I knew what I was doing. I asked my friend why the heck they thought I looked experienced enough to be here. She laughed and said,

“Because you’re out here.”

My point is this: you’ll never succeed if you don’t put yourself out there. Even if it feels like you’re in over your head, even if you don’t have a “next step” planned, and even if you think everyone will watch you fail. Get out there. You may be surprised by how people react to the simple fact that you were brave enough to paddle out.

And as far as this ridiculous tendency of listening to comparison as the voice of reason in your head goes? Just stop. Stop looking at the things that create those emotions inside you – yes, this may mean cutting back on social media. There’s a fine line between inspiration and comparison, and social media dances on it all day long. I follow a lot of entrepreneurs on Instagram, and one posted a quote about “living the life no one wants now, in order to have the life everyone wants 20 years from now.” (That’s a huge paraphrase, but you get the gist).

That quote actually helped me a lot. It got me thinking about my life, and I want a really big life. Whatever that looks like, I won’t deny the fact that I’m an achiever at heart, and I have some big dreams. But that quote gave me peace and contentment for the moment I’m in. Because, while I desire a big life, currently my life feels very small. I mean, the glamorous hidden world of a single young adult who works from home truly just involves a lot of pyjamas and coffee. Not too many ball gowns, consistent glamorous events, or even travelling (currently). It looks like saying no to some things I want in order to work for the things I want more.

A small life looks like sacrifice.

But for me that’s ok. You know something wild? I know someone else who lived a small life with great impact. Jesus never traveled more than two hundred miles from his hometown. He never owned a home, never held an office, never went to college. He had 12 followers, not a church of 12, 000. He loved the people he came in contact with, the people he literally bumped into, or the people who touched his robes.  He didn’t do one of the things that we associate with greatness. He wasn’t ‘somebody’ on a global scale. Something tells me that if he were here now, he wouldn’t give much thought to social media. He wouldn’t rush away from the crowds that surrounded him in order to get to the trendy place to be. He wouldn’t let the fear of missing out or failing direct his path; Jesus only ever did what His Father did. He didn’t set out to become a household name; he set out to love people really well. The same way the Father loves us.

So that’s what it boils down to.  On the days when the weight of anxiety, fear, and my desire to know where I should line up each domino crushes me, I remember to love. I remember to look outside myself, and try to become love instead. That doesn’t mean I don’t dream big. It doesn’t mean my time, my goals, and my work are things I give away freely (sometimes I wish I was better at releasing my hold on these things).

It just means that my stress has no permanent hold on me. I don’t live in a bubble of anxiety, both excited for and fearing what the future brings. Because if I follow along where the Father leads, then all my future accomplishments or failures have been known by Him all along. And I’m good with that.

And if I’m following His footsteps, my life gets to be full of freedom, community, and love. It has room for breaks and rest stops, and it includes people I meet along the way. Not a solo, anxiety-ridden race to the top that I see people striving for on the daily. My life becomes one that gives and receives love. Bob Goff puts it best:

“People like me who overstate the good we’ve done usually do so because we’re looking for validation. We’re ticket counters. People who are ticket counters are insecure about how much God loves us, so we mistakenly try to quantify how much we love Him back by offering Him success or accomplishments or status or titles. Here’s the problem: these are just a bunch of tickets that mean nothing to Him. He wants our hearts, not our help… People who are turning into love don’t need all the spin, because they aren’t looking for applause or validation from others any longer. They’ve experienced giving away God’s love as it’s own reward.”

Whether or not you believe in God is irrelevant here. All of us, to some extent, count tickets. Whether we trying to show them off to God or others isn’t the point. The point is that these tickets, just like the ones you won at carnivals as a kid, have no real value in the real world. In the grand scheme of things, our accomplishments, success, and titles aren’t worth much. Giving away love, though, that is it’s own reward. I think most of us believe this deep down, but the problem is we think giving away love is going to hard and uncomfortable and messy. Here’s a secret: sometimes it will be. Our society isn’t used to receiving love without a price tag. But here’s another secret: the more you give love away, the easier it becomes. And there’s more of it that comes back to you.

To me, that’s the real beauty of a small life. Earlier, when I said it looks like sacrifice, I didn’t intend for the word to sound painful or harsh. Sacrificial living can be the most fulfilling experience in the world. So my challenge is this: escape anxiety by focusing less on you, and more on those around you. Chances are, the people around you may be exactly who you needed in order to make your dream grow.

So let your dreams escape your mind, and actually let them loose in the real world! Trade selfishness in for sacrifice and watch the difference it makes. And do it all, knowing full well there may be moments of fear, but you don’t have to stay in those moments. In fact, there is a life of abundance just waiting for you outside of your fear.

“The greatest problem for God is not sin….. he has dealt with that already in Jesus. It is finished! His greatest problem is that we are afraid.”

So get out there and take a risk.

Episode 17: Take a Hike

I’ve been dwelling on fear lately. Wait, I should rephrase that. I’ve been mulling over the reality of the word again, but I haven’t felt particularly afraid in some time. That’s a kind of cool thing to brag on isn’t it? I’m not afraid of anything. Except it isn’t true, and I actually don’t want it to be. Because I’ve realized that without a bit of healthy fear we aren’t truly living. Without a few butterflies in our stomachs every now and then, we aren’t really taking risks, are we? Without the knowledge that you are stepping into a situation of which the outcome is unknown, you’ll never leave your comfort zone.

See, I hadn’t been afraid in some time. I was cruising. Life wasn’t perfect by any means but there was nothing triggering me on a regular basis. Nothing making me think and overthink my life in the wee hours of the night. There were no big pending decisions in my life where I didn’t see a guaranteed positive outcome.  There were no reasons to be afraid. I wasn’t necessarily living on the mountaintop experiences, you know… the really really good ones. But I was probably midway through a trek, somewhere in the middle. Grinding out some never-ending switchbacks. A little tired, a little hungry, but mostly satisfied with the view.

Lately I’ve been mulling over the upside of emotions. I truly believe we were purposefully created with emotions. We were designed to thrive, live, and engage with real life while being tuned into our emotions. Emotions bring us joy, love, and laughter. They unlock new levels of intimacy in relationship, and honestly they just make life a lot more fun to live. They aren’t meant to be separate or numbed; they exist with intention. I also know that fear does wonders to heighten emotion. Have you ever watched someone who is absolutely terrified of roller coasters actually ride a roller coaster? Usually they buckle in, knees shaking, and immediately burst into tears. Or they actually make it through the ride, but the moment it ends they flee the scene of the crime – also ending the experience in tears.

It’s like the only way our bodies can process the extremity of fear is by bottling it into our heightened emotions.

I find that interesting.

So if emotions can be a good thing, and fear can be a good thing, why do they both feel crippling more often than not? I’ve been wrestling a lot with this. Because we don’t currently, nor will we ever experience a perfect life on this earth. Emotions and fear aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Yet I refuse to believe that we were designed to be a slave to them.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

So what if we leaned into fear? What if the worst-case scenario were exposed? Brought to light? Shown for what it really is? What if we began to recognize that all of life is made up of highs and lows? Really tall, breathtaking, beautiful mountaintops and really low, deep, dark valleys. Regardless of how much anxiety we experience on the journey, we are inevitably going to experience bits of both of those throughout our lives.

So, why all the anxiety?

Recently I realized that fear isn’t the valley itself. It’s the emotion you engage with as you freak out about potentially, possibly ending up in a valley. In other words it’s entirely self-made, and entirely avoidable.

I’ve ended up in a couple valleys lately. Often I don’t see them coming. One of them I did. The funny part is that with the one I saw coming, you know, that deep dark scary ditch looming ahead of me? The valley wasn’t actually so bad in the end. It was a pretty short one, and I found myself kind of prepared for it.

The worst part of that valley was the anxiety and fear I experienced before I even entered it.

Did you know that valleys are survivable? Just think about it: we’ve all made it through them before. Sometimes a little worse for wear, but we always survive. You could be in one right now. Not only that, but valleys actually develop good things in your life. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve learned to lean into the valleys more and more, especially as I’ve learned the beauty of community and love. (It’s not really wise to go them alone). By lean into them I mean that if I see one coming I give some friends a heads up. “Guys, it’s getting dark in here. Guys, I can’t really see where I’m going. Guys, I can finally see the end! Can you meet me there?” It’s like taking a little walkie talkie with you on your hike.

But to strip them of their intimidation factor, valleys are simply another place that I occasionally find myself in. But I have found that while I’m in them, if I look up on the cavern walls I can see writings and pictures – descriptions of a God that I never saw on top of the mountain. Attributes and accolades; writings penned by those who have gone before me. Images that describe sides of God I couldn’t see or experience before, simply because I wasn’t in the right place.

But the best part is yet to come. Remember when I said that valleys are dark? What happens to your eyes in the dark: they adjust. They begin seeing in a new low light, picking up on details that would’ve been lost to the bright sunlight of an alpine meadow. Your other senses even perk up and improve. In valleys of my past I learned that I am strong. I learned that I am extremely capable of making my way through uncharted territory. I learned that not only are there these incredible, unknown sides of God – but I realized they’re actually inside me as well. I found inner strengths and gifts I never knew were there, because I never had to use them. But if God carries these strengths, and He lives inside me, then it only makes sense I am also infinitely stronger than I know. Valleys allow you to tap into more capability, more creativity, more vulnerability, and more strength than you know.

“The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides people into failure.” – Bob Goff

I love that quote, because it’s outlandish. That the source of all love would lead us into places of darkness, fear, maybe even heartbreak? But why?

Because we’re on a hike! And on every hike there are many paths that don’t lead directly to top of the mountain. I sometimes wish I could know all the incredible sides of myself without ever leaving the views from the top, but then I think about how unrealistic of a life that is. There will always be unknowns. There will always be curves in the road. There will always be circumstances outside our control. Bob Goff tells a story in his book Everybody Always about landing a plane blind. He didn’t have all three green lights working: the ones that would have told him all his landing gear was in place. He also didn’t have any way of finding out what was wrong with his plane while he was in the air. His only option was just to try to land the freaking plane.

We’re faced with situations like that daily. Not literally, but daily. We all want three green lights. We want clarity. We want peace. We want a map and a headlamp to guide us through the upcoming valleys. That isn’t usually what happens. I think Bob Goff explains it best:

“We’ve all had circumstances like this in our lives. We bank on something happening and it doesn’t. A job. A date. A bonus. An answer. A verdict. We’re all waiting for more information, more confirmation, more certainty at some point. Sometimes anything more will do. We want clarity and instead we get confusion. We want answers and we just get more questions… All the signs pointed in one direction, then in an instant, something went wrong. The flight plan we laid out for ourselves took us high over the mountaintops, but the one we actually got flung us deep into the valleys. In short, most of us want more green lights than we have. It’s easy to forget that our faith, life, and experiences are all the green lights we need. What we need to do is stop circling the field and get the plane on the ground. God doesn’t allow these kinds of things to happen to mess with our heads; He uses these circumstances to shape our hearts.

…God may not give us all the green lights we want, but I’m confident He gives us all the green lights He wants us to have at the time.”

We don’t get all the lights all the time.

But we do get the option of leaning into the fear. Leaning into the unknown. Rejecting the anxiety. Embracing the reality that, no, you didn’t chose the valley, but you’re going to come out a changed person. The more you lean in, the easier that reaction becomes in the future. It’s like anything: practice makes perfect.

I’d love to reach a place in my life where anxious thoughts aren’t my initial response to the unknown. I’d love to continue to embrace the valleys. I’d love to walk into them confidently, knowing full well that when I leave that cavern my life will be all the better for it. And if the valley just really sucks (as they often do) I want to walk out knowing I did nothing wrong. That valley wasn’t a punishment, it just happened to be in my path. I was just on a hike, and sometimes on hikes you end up where you didn’t expect, intend, or desire to go.

But when I think about the hikes where I’ve ended up in the wrong spots and missed all the right turns, I always remember very clearly everything I learned when I wasn’t where I intended to be.

Who knows, maybe there’s something to be said for letting ourselves be where God intends us to be, rather than where we try to place ourselves.

“Failure is just part of the process, and it’s not just okay; it’s better than okay. God doesn’t want failure to shut us down. God didn’t make it a three-strikes-and-you’re-out sort of thing. It’s more about how God helps us dust ourselves off so we can swing for the fences again. And all of this without keeping a meticulous record of our screw-ups.” 

-Love Does

Episode 16: (Ir)responsibility: (a verb)

I haven’t written here in forever. It’s been strange, because for a certain period of time this blog was an incredible motivator for me. It was the only space I was able to get feedback, and essentially it became my personal cheerleader, reminding me that writing is indeed a viable career. (Yes, I crave validation as much as the next person). Not saying I still don’t have my dark, fearful, unmotivated days… but it’s been beautiful to see how creativity, as with any skill, thrives when you practice it. I haven’t been writing here because I’ve been writing elsewhere, which is basically the best reason I could ever find. It didn’t happen intentionally, yet it happened. I’ve really been learning the value of having a singular focus, but that’s probably another story for another time. So as the book has taken up more of my thoughts, time, and creative energy I started to realize how far I have come with this whole idea of dreaming.

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Episode 15: Truly known and deeply loved

Who knows me? Who understands me? If everything I did, everything I am known for, and all of my dreams of the future suddenly disappeared one day – who would stick around?

I think one of the most challenging aspects of moving or transitioning is that your community shifts and changes. You suddenly find yourself in a new place with new people you need to somehow convey yourself to. People joke all the time about how hard it is as adults to make new friends; you can’t just walk up to someone new on the playground and start a game of tag anymore (I mean technically you could… anyone game to try it out and report back?) But beyond the lack of accessibility of new friends, (everyone is hiding out in their office buildings or Netflixing alone in their homes!) there’s also the fact that as we grow older our needs change. No longer is the pinnacle of friendship defined by finding someone who also loves Barbie’s or Pokémon, suddenly we find that our expectations of relationship have expanded.

What I mean by that is simple: I desire friendships with people who track with me, are on my level… or in other words, people who know me.

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Episode 14: But now we’re stressed out


It’s such a dirty word in 2018, hey?

We prefer to talk about sleep hygiene, self-love, meditation and minimalism. We strive to rid ourselves of this demon that wreaks havoc on our mental, emotional, and physical health. Yet we don’t really like to talk about it. I’ve often wondered how many people answering the question, “How’re you doing?” with “Oh I’m just so busy!” should really just cut the crap and say, “I’m stressed.”

But maybe that’s just me.

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Episode 13: What are you so ashamed of?

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”
― C.G. Jung

I could not help but notice that people really freaked out (in a good way) when I wrote about shame in my previous post (Epi 4) last summer. That post had infinitely more responses and reaction than any other topic I’ve written about. Honestly, I don’t think it was because it was my most phenomenal writing, I think it was because shame rarely gets called out. Now, I realize I’m not Brené Brown. (But I most definitely will quote her).  I’m not any sort of research expert in the slightest. But I think its safe to say that shame is something we all want to talk about. So I’m gonna keep talking.

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Episode 12: The Art of Creation

I couldn’t sleep last night. Yes, one factor was the venti iced coffe that I pounded way too late in the day (I blame the longer hours of sunlight and the friend who brought me the coffee, but hey that’s life). The other factor was a natural buzz. The kind that keeps you up at night, riding the high of anticipation of whats to come! I was daydreaming, but at night. A process which, for anyone who has tried it, does not easily transfer to “night dreaming, ” instead it just keeps you awake all night long. But I’m not complaining. The buzz was a natural response to the things I’m beginning to see unfold in my life. The buzz (while somewhat due to caffeine) was my body’s response to the excitement that is currently bustling around my brain.

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Episode 11: The Hardest Part

A couple of days ago I was sitting around catching up with a group of friends, and someone began to get real about fear. She had been experiencing some abnormal health symptoms, had gone for tests, and now had an upcoming doctors appointment looming over her head. She summarized her fears about hearing her results quite simply, “I just wish I knew whether it was good or bad.”

Almost immediately, another friend nodded her head in agreement and said, “That’s the hardest part though – the unknown.”

Everyone in the circle nodded in agreement.

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Episode 9: Identity, approval, and the downside of dreams

To start, I don’t actually think dreaming actually has a downside. So perhaps my title was 50% clickbait. But, I do think that dreams get an awful lot of hype around this time of year, especially in the online world. You may have noticed I haven’t posted in a quite some time. It isn’t that I suddenly ran out of things to say (that’s laughable). I think the reality is that I needed a break from the online world. Still do, in fact. Social media has a way of wrapping me around its fingers, and honestly I’m still learning how to resist its gravitational pull.

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