Monday, 12 September 2016

The Sharing Rules (or, "I'm broken, not stupid")

I posted an abbreviated version of this on a secret facebook group I am a part of. A tribe of people who are there because they value change and growth and understand struggle. People who seem to be on a journey towards vulnerability, belonging and worthiness.

A journey to truly discover and find bravery to reveal their authentic selves.

These are my thoughts on sharing... 

On being vulnerable. And I posted them in a safe place first, a place where I keep folks are already abiding by the rules.

But then I realized, I am applying these rules in my entire life, with everybody, and they deserve to know the rules of the game.

I had a conversation with a very dear friend the other day and she said to me, "The only difference between us is that you like to open up and share, and I do not". She was being honest. I love this.

But here's the truth, I don't like to share. I like people to think I'm perfect. I like people to see how "together" I have it.

I'm a wife, mom of 4 and business owner.

But I can do this. I can run 2 businesses, keep my home in relative order and keep my husband satisfied by being a wildly sexual woman after a day of snotty noses, spaghetti kisses and the toilet that ALWAYS has poop in it (this is a story for another day).

No. Problem.

But that is a big fucking lie. And you know it.

You know it because you're here, reading this. You are desperately searching to find some flaw, some loophole in my neat and tidy marriage, happy kids and cute, but acceptably crazy life.

You are dying inside to know that you are not alone.

You scan your screen for little hints that might slip through the cracks .... maybe she doesn't have it all completely together ... you know, just like me.

But lately I've found myself committed to cutting the crap. I am done. I am so tired and so depressed and so exhausted of feeling so, so very alone. And I have thrown myself into this, under the bus, at the altar so that maybe I can help one person, even just one, know that they too are not alone.

My motto has become: BE FEARLESSLY AUTHENTIC.

I used to be pretty certain that everyone would appreciate this.

I've gotta tell you though, my new commitment to "authenticity" has brought about some strange and surprising reactions.

Sometimes I walk away and laugh.

Sometimes I cry.

Sometimes I think I will quickly determine how accurate my right hook is.

I am not sure why or exactly what provokes it ... but I cannot stand when people feel fake.

Fake empathy, fake enthusiasm, fake interest.  

It literally makes me crazy.

I understand that there are times in life we need to feel and be something we are not yet. I understand that sometimes we need to put on a brave face when we're scared or a smile when we are falling apart.  These are emergencies.  Times when you can't afford to lose it.

That's not what I mean.

What I am referring to is people who are in such deep denial or disregard of their actual feelings or state or experiences that they can no longer inform their face of the lie. They have convinced themselves they are "fine" or "strong" or "together" .... but the gig is up.

It seeps out.

In word, in tone, in gesture. In feigned empathy or concern. 

True colors are shown in bold, bull-like confidence. In cliches and phrases that tell you they are not connecting with you, they are "handling" you.

I am done with being handled. 

I am broken, I am messy, I am complicated. I am authentic and broken open and willing to share what is hidden deep inside.

But this does not ...

I repeat, THIS DOES NOT apply to people who are NOT ALSO willing to break open and go into their own dark places.
I will not discuss my brokenness with someone who thinks they are whole and can fix me.

I will not share my most vulnerable, real self with someone who hides their flaws and scars and preaches at me. My heart and my spirit are too tender and I've worked too hard to open that up to the scrutiny of someone who is afraid of their own inner self.

Not a chance.

I am broken. I am not stupid.

So it's not that I entirely enjoy sharing. 

I actually kind of LOATHE it ... but I know I have to. 

It was only through people who shared that I was brought "back".  They drew my clunky, broken messy life back through a tiny sliver of light that shone through the darkness. 

And please understand, the reason I write, the reason I do this public display is because the people who saved me are people I HAVE NEVER MET. 

They saved me from afar.  Through blogs and books and virtual communities.  They saved me because they were brave enough to share, to put their stories "out there". 

And so now I too share.

But those who I invite to share back with me must pass the initiation rules. 

They are (basically) as follows:

You must be willing.  You can be terrified.  You can even be silent, but you must be willing to yourself be authentic.

You must tell it like it is.  Not because you are whole and correct. But because you too have hurts and scars and unspeakable joys and can share from a place of deep empathy.

You must be able to keep it real. I can smell falseness from a mile away.  I want nothing to do with that.

You must be journeying.  You must know there is a "journey" to begin with.  You must not believe you have "arrived".

And that is it. 

I do not care where you are on your journey.  But if authenticity and vulnerability and finding a sense of worth and belonging in this big, scary and messy world is something you value, we can share.

If not, that's fine, but you will meet my "outer self" at the door. 

She will show you around the main room, I think you'll find it quite nice.  I will be kind and courteous and polite and I will mind my language and manners and keep my life quiet and orderly for you here in this bright and well-ordered room.

But you do not get to see the basement or the attic or the closets or the dark corners. 

They are off limits for now.  

A day might come where you find yourself looking into the dark corners in your own life.  

At that point, come to me.  Drop everything and run.  Barefoot if you need to.

I will be waiting and we will sit, share, and open up ... we will let small cracks of light into our broken places, together

Bravely forth, 

Jac :)

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Dear Husband Thinking of Leaving ...

Dear Husband,

I know that you have been thinking of leaving us.

I don't know if there is someone else.  I don't know exactly when or how you will go.

But I know you've been thinking about it.  Because I have too.

This marriage isn't what we bargained for is it?  It's not a happily ever after.  There's no more spark.

Remember when we used to love each other's company?  Laugh, tease, hang out?

Before sleepless nights and fights over who will get up with the kids.  Before bills that can't be paid and plans that don't work out.  Between exhausting days and broken dreams ... this wasn't what we signed up for, was it?

Or maybe it was.  Maybe they just didn't warn us.

For better or for worse, we vowed.

They like to skip over the "worse" part.  But we know now what that looks like.

Fights about who does more, about how to fold the laundry and where to store the cutting boards. Insidious, lingering fights that lead to tension and snappy, mean comments. 

And silence.  

"Worse" is two ships passing in the night. A marriage that has dissolved into a really cold business arrangement.  Two bodies avoiding each other. Finding their own ways to occupy their time.  Avoiding conversation.

Worse isn't one bad event, a tragedy or a day, although these things may play a role.

"Worse" is a feeling.  A tight gripping around your chest.  A lump in your throat.  A welling of tears that won't go back down.  And then nothing.  A deadness almost, where once there was life and growth and excitement.

So I know that you've thought about leaving me, because I have too.

This life we've built is full of commitments, anchors and responsibilities.  All of them tie us down, make us feel unappreciated, broken.

How did we get here?  Neither of us meant to create this life of burden and struggle.

I know you did not mean to shut me out.  To close me off.  To find new interests.

And I did not mean to lose my body and then withdraw my sexuality and my free spirit.  I did not mean to turn into a judgmental and resentful person.

But we are broken.

Nobody told us this beautiful and holy marriage would break us down into shattered pieces of who we were.

Nobody warned us that this would be the hardest, most grueling battle we would ever fight.

But it did.  And it does.  And that is the point.

You are not supposed to stay with me because it the thing that is the easiest and most convenient to do.

I am not supposed to stay with you for "better" alone.

We are supposed to stay when all we want to do is leave.  When life here is too much to bear.  Too hard, too boring, too unexciting, too stressful, too uncertain, too unsatisfying, too much.

We are meant to be broken.  So broken, in fact,  that there is no semblance of our former selves left.

And then, I think, we can rebuild. Together.  From the ashes we will form something.  Something completely new.  Something that will withstand the fire and wind and the hell that life may bring.

Something that will carry our family through the "worse".

Life fed us a lie Husband, that we are entitled to certainty and satisfaction.

But that is not true.  We are owed no such thing. We are not owed infatuation or ease or comfort.

This marriage is a gift, not because we will always feel from it a sense of happiness, comfort or complete bliss.

This marriage is a gift because it will give us space to be broken (which life will do to us anyways, regardless of whether we reside in a marriage or not).  It will give us a place to share our brokenness.

To connect authentically with someone who can truly say "I am down here, with you.  I feel hurt and shame and vulnerability.  And it feels bad. " 

This may seem depressing, but in fact it is liberating.  These dark places are where we find the deepest, strongest and most intimate connection we can with another human being.  The places where we say, "Can we be broken together?"

And suddenly, like the pieces of a puzzle coming together to reveal the final, bigger picture, we will see what we are here to do, and to be.

I know we are not there yet.  I know that our pieces are scattered and broken and we feel lost and torn apart.

But we would be robbing ourselves of a rich and deep experience if we walked away. We would rob ourselves of connection and relationship.

And so I will not leave.

And I ask you to consider sitting with me a while.  Even if we must sit in silence, staring at our feet on the floor.  Muttering.  Feeling hurt.

It is this hurt, this loneliness, this shame and this disillusionment that tells us ... We belong here.

We are in exactly the right place to bring our brokenness together and discover exactly what this life has for us.

It will be messy.  It will be gritty.  And we will write many terrible chapters before the story comes to a close.

But we will be together.  Broken.  Together.

(For more inspiration and information on reconciling with a life of uncertainty and discomfort, please check out the work of Peter Rollins.  Also, watch the video for Casting Crowns' "Broken Together". 

Also, although our marriage has been very tough, I would never advocate staying in a marriage where there was abuse or violence.  Please seek help if you find yourself in this place.)

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Drop the Cape, Super-Mom

This last two years have been very hard for me.

I don't like to admit it. I like to be strong.

"Hahaha yes I am a mom of 4. Oh yes I home school. And run my own business.   Sure it's crazy but we're so blessed." (She says smiling with a glance downwards. So humble. So strong). 

I can give this bullshit speech in my sleep.  I quite literally gave it the other day to a girl I'd recently met. She (as folks often do when they know me through work and haven't yet met my family)  marveled at the fact that I had 4 KIDS. And seem sane.

I delivered my speech as I always do, complete with smile and downward gaze as though I hadn't spent the better half of the morning bawling,  fighting with the kids and stressing about our current life and financial crisis.

I cheerily loaded my kids up in the van and drove off. Quite proud of how well I'd acted and quite convinced she was impressed with my togetherness and competence.

Why do I do this?

Why do any of us do this?

We act as though managing 27 levels of stress and obligations is a commendable feat.  We wear our over-committed schedules and our fake ability to cope as a badge of honor. We praise the ones who seemingly do it all.

And in the process we damage everyone around us.

We perpetuate the myth that the more you do the better you are. We heap steaming crap on the pile of shit that everyone is already digging out from under when we pride ourselves on how flawless and together we are.

Maybe you don't do that.

Maybe your Facebook,  Twitter, Instagram and snap chat reflect accurately the joys and challenges of your life. Maybe your posts aren't filled only with amazing dinner pictures,  family togetherness, and just enough glamourized and dramatic struggle to gain the attention you're seeking. Maybe you are able to be authentic and genuine  about your life without falling into the common trap of the victim or poor me routine. Maybe what we see on social media is in fact an accurate representation of your sweet and perfectly balanced life.

Or maybe that doesn't exist and you've succeded in bullshitting yourself like I have.

But what then, you ask, should we put on Facebook? 

I don't know.

And who really cares.

I literally just about didn't let my 8 and 6 and a half year old ride their scooters around the block the other day in our small town because what if someone saw and judged me and put it on Facebook?

My ability to make sound and reasonable decisions or judgements about my life is skewed by the completely false and attention-seeking world of social media.

Now please don't comment with a whole bunch of #Facebookhater kind of stuff.

Social media is great tool . In fact although I seem a bit cynical here my beef isn't really with the internet at all.

It's with people like me.

People who put so much emphasis on doing it all.

It's the sentiment that the more stressed out you are the more successful you must be.  The more tasks you juggle, the more competent you are. The more you do, the more worthy you are.

Want to see if you're guilty of any of this false advertisement? Here's a test.

Imagine how you'd feel if I told you that for each day this next week, these had to be your Facebook posts:

"Today I slept in so I fed the kids rice cakes and processed cheese for breakfast"
"We can't afford to pay our power bill."
"My husband's busy work schedule and the extra 15 pounds I gained with our last baby has sure made for a lousy sex life"
"I'm depressed. I probably need therapy but I'm too tired and ashamed to admit it."
"I really love my kids. I think they're great and deserve good things"
"I can't cook. I hate cleaning. I'm really not a  very great housewife".
"Today I took my kids to the park and sat on my phone the whole time" (no "lol" here)
"I think I deserve better. I am sad and tired.  Everyone else seems to have it together."

You could keep going.

I suspect I'm not the only one with whom these statements resonate. Maybe one of them, maybe more.

These are truths.

We feel alone. We feel tired. We feel self-pity.

So what do we do?

We post pictures of our food and our perfect family and try to make ourselves feel better.

We don't feel better but we do perpetuate the cycle of isolation and sadness by creating for others a false sense of our reality.

In the developed, affluent culture we live we are seeing unprecedented levels of depression,  anxiety and mental health issues.

I think a lot of that is related to EXPECTATIONS.

"I should be more like her. I'm not enough. I could do more."

And the world we see tells us WE CAN have it all.

As women especially, but also as humans,  we need to drop the super-human standards. Nobody is ACTUALLY reaching them.  It's a bunch of smoke in mirrors.

We need to start speaking openly and vulnerably about how life is. We need trust, loyalty and authenticity to feel safe to share what real life looks like.

Gritty. Hard. Lonely. Beautiful.

Or as the wonderful Glennon Doyle Melton of puts it ... Brut-iful.

Brutal. But so deeply beautiful.

So ladies,  put down your capes and pick up your phones (you know, they do more than take pictures and browse Pinterest).

Call a mom you know. Ask her to bring her crazy, grubby, beautiful kids over for a coffee. Tell her not to worry, your house is kid friendly. Or find her a babysitter and take her out for dinner.  Listen to her. Encourage her. Be honest.

Call a college student and take them for a fancy dinner. They need to know college can be fun, but it can also be horrid and overwhelmingly stressful.  Tell them you know lots of college kids have committed suicide and ask them how that makes them feel.

Call the newly married couple in your church.  Have them over for dinner.  Let them swoon about how great marriage is.  Let them remind you about those times.  But also share with them that it's okay to fight.  That you might wake up one day wondering who the heck this other person is ... and that's okay. Love is a decision, and sometimes it's a tough one.

Call a teenager and instead of telling them, "Ah kid it gets better after high school" (which is totally false!), share with them. Tell them how you're dealing with current challenges and ask about theirs.

Honestly is hard.  Authenticity (without being disingenuine, fake or belittling) is a learned skill.

Practice it.

Nurturing real relationships is the only way to shed the light of truth on our lives and our expectations. When we get to know people, really know them, then what we see on social media can become a fun, anecdotal outlet, but never a standard against which we hold ourselves.

This takes courage. It takes boldness and it takes some honest self-reflection.  It also takes kindness.  Especially to ourselves.

If we can be kind and generous in our assessment of our own life, this will naturally extend out.

And isn't this what we are all looking for ... A little more understanding and connection?

Want to be a real Super-Hero?

Drop the cape and find someone today you can be more open, honest and kind with.

Even if it's just yourself.

Bravely forth my Super-friends,

Jac :)

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Humility. Or, What You Acquire When You Fail at Conflict.

I just wrote a blog about loving conflict.

For those of you who pray, this is the equivalent of praying for patience.


Do you know how you get the gift of patience? Through people and situations that irritate the hell out of you.

Well do you know how you learn to love conflict?  Not sitting by yourself sipping hot coffee and pondering the philosophies of life, that's for sure.

You say you want to love conflict?  Well you're going to get your chance....  Because conflict is gonna' climb all over you.

Literally one day after professing my righteous and noble goal of leaning in and embracing conflict I found myself in the middle of a shit storm with my husband, Brendan.

It started the night before with a little spat over the correction of the dog's bad behaviour, and we picked it all back up the next night without missing a beat.

Hostility, harsh words and accusations of insensitivity and frustration ensued.

Long story short it ended with Brendan warning me to stop quoting Brene Brown to him and me storming out for a drive at 11 at night. (I have to confess I'm giggling a little at the Brene Brown thing).

Life has this funny way, as soon as you commit yourself to some awesome change in habits, mindsets, attitudes or lifestyle, of hitting you with all it's got in the opposite direction.

Commit to your diet? Well why don't we just make that lunchroom donut delivery a double order? (And you forgot your lunch.)

Going to pray more? Well wouldn't you know it the dog ate the bible.

Going to yell less at your kids  ... And then they seem to be the most heinous little beasts ever?

I hear you. This phenomena is real.

Call it coincidence,  call it the enemy, either way there is only one way around it.

Eat your humble pie and move on.

When you set a goal it is usually centered around an end goal, an ideal outcome ... a goal weight, more patience, less anger, cleaner floors, etc.

But no one said it all had to be up and to the right.

You know,  like on a growth or progress chart where your success or achievement is on the left axis, the time line is on the bottom and the goal is in the top right corner.  When you start you plot a line that goes straight up and to the right, directly toward the goal.

But reality is a far more squiggly thing. That line will soar and dip and do loop-de-loops. You will get to your goal, but not in a straight line.

The key is NOT TO QUIT when things get swirling.

Smile. Take a deep breath. Calm down and realize you are a human "being", not a human "finished". It's okay. We all screw up.

You can pick right on up and keep on going.  You can do that.

We all can.

That is the beauty of life.

The only thing that will stop you is pride.

An inability to see that mistakes ARE the journey... And the journey is far more exciting than the goal itself. Fear will tell you you're done for but you are not.

You are developing fortitude, character and humility.

You'll need these things because what you are moving towards is far greater than you could ever imagine.

So stand up, dust off, lean in, be courageous. You can do this. You can do it again. And again.

Bravely forth my humble fighters,

Jac :)

Thursday, 24 March 2016

My New "Love" of Conflict (Warning: Foul Language)

I started this as a facebook status post but I realized I had far too much to say.

I hate conflict. Contrary to that totally misleading blog title above, conflict (or the thought of potential conflict) washes me over with a wave of physical illness.

Before I continue too much further, I should define what I mean by conflict, or maybe better describe some hypothetical scenarios that I would refer to as triggering "conflict feelings".

 (These are of course only loosely based on reality.  Any resemblance to real persons or situations is purely coincidental).

Conflict feelings arise when I have an encounter with someone (it may be a person I know and I'm in communication with or might be someone I've read about, heard speak or watched but have never met) who has in some way offended or disagreed with me on something I have a strong or fundamental belief about.  This could be very obvious (such as someone stating, "Anyone who goes to church is obviously an idiot") or it could be more obscure or indirect, such as an implication that goes against how I see myself (like a coworker asking "Does it bug you to work at a messy desk?" even though you consider yourself fairly organized, most days).  You may be surprised at how strongly you feel, even about seemingly insignificant topics.

Conflict feelings arise when we are CONFRONTED.  Confrontation can happen in an overtly aggressive way, but by definition confrontation can also mean facing a difficult situation or being forced to consider something in a different way, sometimes through accusations.

I also find conflict feelings can arise through criticism or perceived judgement.

The feelings start as a bit of sickness in the gut, and then as I begin to think about why I feel wronged, offended or defensive, they often turn to anger, resent and a fierce need for justification.

I truly believe that the majority of everyday conflict (within homes, marriages, workplaces, malls, parking lots, etc) comes from a lack of communication or ineffective communication.  I'm not so concerned here with where conflict comes from or how to prevent it in a global sense.

I want to talk instead about how I've started to expose myself to conflict, or things that give me that low gut discomfort, in order to lean in and deal with these feelings.  These gut reactions.

I've had to start with people, topics and conversations that I am NOT directly involved in.  Watching things like political debates, religious debates or speakers who are not from the same camp as I am. People who I don't directly have to answer to, but who elicit these gross feelings inside of me and make me want to defend what is right (well, in my mind).

If you still aren't sure what these feelings I'm talking about are, or if you think you do just fine at handling them, I'll challenge you to a fierce and potentially dangerous mission.  Surf Facebook for a while, or go check out some internet forums on something you are passionate about.

Parenting.  Politics. Religion. Animal abuse.  Human rights. Immigration.  Terrorism.  The government. Vaccinations. Assisted suicide.  Donald Trump.  (sorry did I let that last one sneak in there??)

For some of you, just reading this list already has your mental reel running full speed with all of your opinions, convictions and defenses.

Good.  That's really good.

Now sit with those feelings for a second.  Breathe really deeply and try to bring up more of those feelings (make sure there are no sharp objects or potential victims within your reach!).

Start to think deeper about WHY you are so fired up.  Why does it matter to you?  Why do you think you are right?

I've started writing a lot.  I write down everything.  When I start to experience these feelings bubbling up and I am asking myself the above questions, I will write down what I'm discovering.

Here's an example ...

I was out getting groceries a few weeks ago when I returned to my van to put the groceries in it and leave.  There was a man in his car beside me who, after I sat down to start the van, motioned for me to roll down my window. I did, and he proceeded to tear a strip off me for parking too close to his car.  He ranted that I was inconsiderate and didn't think about how much room he might need to open his door and get in. This lasted about 2 minutes.  I said I was very sorry and drove away.

Then, when I was out of sight, I slung a whole string of profanities his way.  Then I cried.

Instead of brewing like I normally would I decided to do an experiment.  So I pulled over and I wrote. Here is what I came up with (I apologize for the profanities but this is the real deal) :

That fucking ass. Who does he think he is? Shit its not like everyone else there wasn't parked close.  Uggghhh ... I hate mean people.  Did he have to be so angry.  It's not like I meant to inconvenience or annoy him.  

I am ALWAYS helpful.  I guess that's it.  I always try to go out of my way to be kind and helpful.  I am so offended he would think I was just "one of those" snotty or inconsiderate people.  My feelings are hurt.  I wanted to tell him ... I'M NOT LIKE THAT.  I try so hard to help people out and it feels like you just get crapped on for it.  

Maybe he is very sad and lonely.  It probably had nothing to do with me.  If I was a little less insecure I could have made it about him, his struggle.  Maybe I could have asked him if there was any way I could help him? Maybe I could have asked him a question?  Whatever it's too late now. 

I want everyone to make generous assumptions about me and not just assume I am a delinquent or bad person.  It is SO FRUSTRATING when people just assume something negative about my intentions.  I try SO HARD to keep people happy. 

And that is often a source of my frustration.  The people-pleaser in me.  That's really what it comes down to. Okay well now I can at least breathe and I'm not so angry.  

And that was it.

I didn't think of it much after that, and I only remembered it again when writing this blog.  In the past, I would have stewed and brewed, posted a ranting facebook post re-iterating the scenario in great detail and defending my position.

But something funny happens when you lean into your feelings and dig down to the root of where they come from.  When you turn them over and shine some light into the dark places.

They cool.  They dissolve.  They may not go away entirely but they'll become a shadow of their former, destructive selves.

It's not stuffing your feelings down and it's not just being resolute and self-defended. It's allowing yourself to fully feel everything, then examine it and determine the more deep and resounding truths hidden there.  The truths about yourself, your tendencies, your hurts and your challenges.

At the end of the day we all want to be happier, and not allowing conflict to get you upset or riled up will inevitably lead to more peace and joy.

So this is why I now say I love conflict.  Not is a sadistic, argumentative way.  In an experimental way.

I watch debates, listen to political leaders and discuss hot topics in a whole new way now.  I am interested and intrigued to see the feelings and reactions that arise.  I examine them, pick them apart and validate them when appropriate.

And then I let them go.

Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it's a disaster.  But either way, I am far less a victim of these situations and my own emotions than I once was.

I haven't yet mastered this art of reflection and leaning in when it comes to things closer to home.  I am still extremely defensive when my feelings are hurt and I remain angry and disgusted when I encounter passive-aggression.  But it's getting better.

It takes courage and commitment to resist our primal, knee-jerk reactions to conflict.  I think it's something we'll work on for the entirety of our lives.  It's a commitment I'm willing to make because I think we live in a world full of dangerous and damaging conflict. Folks are searching and yearning for kindness, compassion and understanding.  And we can't give out what we don't have.

Love and blessings to you in your own experimental lives.  May you face your conflicts with a deeper understanding and more productive reflection.

Bravely forth my heroic friends, 

Jac :)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Secret Life of a Creative Junkie.

Confession time friends.

I have a problem.  And like any true addict I took a long time to even recognize that what I had was a problem.

I mean, being creative is a good thing, right?

Producing things, making things, orchestrating things.  Seems like a stretch to think of these things as anything but valuable.

Those of you who might actually agree (with my facetious banter) are likely those who also believe that "good is good enough" or rarely get overly stressed about what you produce, how much you produce and when it is produced by.

The other folks ... the ones who totally get exactly how these things might create a problem ... you are most likely in some of the same categories that I am.

Helper. Perfectionist. People-pleaser. Workaholic.  The tormented artist. Entrepreneurs.

If you fall under any of these labels you most likely place some of your worth and value in what you create.

Now hear me clearly here.  "Create" does not just refer to art or poetry or books or things of that nature. You might create a business plan.  Create a soccer team or a mom's book club.  You might create amazing landscaping or gardens. You might create a comfortable, well-decorated home and great kids.  You might create wonderful coaching, accounting or home decorating services.

Anything that involves using your mind to come up with new ideas, original developments or unique services falls under the banner of "creativity".

And these "creations", by the time they make it out for public consumption can feel as much a part of our "self" as our beating heart.

So now let me ask you something.

How would you feel if I told you to stop?  Stop making.  Stop producing.  Stop creating.

Not indefinitely.  Maybe not for any longer than a day (or gasp, 3 days).

Let me tell you how this makes me feel.

Like s#$%.  Honestly, I feel like crap and I start to feel the immediate buzz of anxiety and panic.

I start having thoughts like,

Well who will do it if I don't?  What if I miss out on a great idea or opportunity and someone else takes it?  What if I lose clients or my family is mad or the world stops turning on its proper rotation?

Okay I'm getting carried away, but I do that.

For me, new ideas, new creations and thoughts of growth, change and new endeavors are like a drug. When I'm feeling down, I just pick up a book about new business ideas or how to build a better website and pretty soon I'm humming.

I love to serve.  I love bringing joy, value and worth into people's lives, and I think that is a noble thing.  The problem arises when what comes from me becomes more important than what is within me. 

Here arises the deadly world of scarcity or "never enough".  The same "never enough" that any addict becomes all too familiar with.  Never enough money, drugs, alcohol, sex, work, time, art produced, blog posts, clean floors, etc.

The addiction to "producing" can be just as exhausting, health depleting and damaging as any of the more high profile addictions.  Families are torn apart by exhausted workaholics, over-stressed moms who both work and parent full time and artists who swear that the next piece (book, blog, painting, movie, etc) will be the big one, but once produced it just isn't quite enough.

Want to know the secret?  It won't be enough.  EVER.  The world will never stop consuming what you have to give them.

And that is a good thing, if you recognize it.

The fact that you have something to give that the world needs is truly a mark of beautiful synergy and symbiosis. You need to create. The world needs to consume.

You need to clean. Your family and friends need a clean house.

You need to write and people need to read.

You need to make shoes and those gosh darn little babies just keep on coming out with feet.

This swirling cycle of need and production are really good things.

As long as you don't get drowned in the current.  
As long as you remember that you ARE NOT WHAT YOU CREATE.
As long as you remember that if you didn't create or produce one more thing ever for the rest of your human life, you STILL HAVE WORTH AND VALUE.

Seems simple.


We get so tied up in believing that in order to be of any worth to anyone, to keep everyone happy and to thus ensure that we are "good" we must continue to produce something that will maintain their satisfaction and allegiance.  

But this is the beautiful and mysterious truth ...

What you create and produce, once it leaves your mouth, your mind, your desk or your fingertips, is NO LONGER YOU.  It might have been part of you once.  In your mind, your dreams, your psyche.
But now that you have created it or produced it, you have done your part.

Your job is done.

Let it go.  Your work is done.

The reason the creative junkie feels the need to keep feeding the beast and running themselves to the depths of exertion and exhaustion is because they spend far too long over-analyzing what they've already created.

It was okay, but not quite there.
That was a good effort, but I could do better. 
That meal was nice but tomorrow I will really wow them! 
That art was junk ... I need to start again.
This next business opportunity, it will make up for that last fail.
That session was pretty productive, but if I'd only said ....

You see where I'm going.

What if we decided it is our job to produce or create something, the best something that we can possibly muster up at the moment, and to put it out into the world.  Then our job is to step back. Hand it off and walk away.  Deliver the lesson, and then put down the plans. Start the business and then let it run.  Make the art and then turn away and let the art now do it's job.

Detach.  Smile and breathe a sigh of contentment and relief.

A job well done. Or a job done shitty.  It doesn't matter because I tried my best and now it's done.

I cannot tell you how much my life changed when I read Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, and this quote in particular ...

“Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.” 

I love this so much because it means that it no longer matters if my house is clean enough, my blog is popular enough or my business gets enough likes. I mean, obviously I want to make a living and a good life, but as a responsible human being I can find many ways to make that happen.

Do you know how I am going to make certain that I sabotage myself from creating that good life?

By running myself into the ground with attempts to please the masses, perfect the imperfectible or keep up with the Jones'.  By beating myself up constantly for not being good enough, thin enough, "mom"enough, successful enough or productive enough. By trying to get my next "fix" of accolades or recognition through yet another accomplishment or creation.

I can create.  Heck, I can create an amazing home, a successful business, fantastic kids, art, books or whatever my heart desires.  And I can create a lot of it ... As long as the need for some sort of response to my creation doesn't start to own me, or define me, or destroy me.

As long as I could stop and any time and I would still survive, even thrive, without creating any more. 

If you're anything like me, this is a bit of a scary proposition, but a necessary reflection.  If you want to find peace, satisfaction or any semblance of rest in your life you will have to find the courage to detach yourself from your productivity. You will have to be able to to define yourself outside of your creations.  You will need to base your worth and value on something else.  On you.

It's tough to kick the habit, but let me tell you it's life changing.  And totally worth it.

Because you are worth it.

Bravely Forth my fellow junkies, 

Jac :)

Monday, 21 March 2016

The Feedback Filter ... Who Makes the Cut?

Any self-development, business or leadership content you read these days suggest you get feedback from your target audience.

Last blog I talked about having conversations that matter and speaking into each other's lives.

But when I reflected more on the idea of just having more conversations (without boundaries), I realized that lately I don't take feedback from everyone on every topic. Sure there are some things that I will open up for more public debate (you know, new wall color or flooring, fencing options for our new dog pen, new vehicle purchases) but there are somethings I will NOT accept input on from just anyone.

Why the censoring?

We live in a culture that has learned to embrace failure, almost as a trendy necessity to success. I mean, who doesn't love a great "rise from the ashes" story to pump you up for your next big endeavor. There are even failure conventions.  REALLY.

I have some failures already in my pocket, and being the creative and curiosity-driven kind of adventurer that I am, I know I will have more.  I have some very trusted friends, family and advisers who I will share these moments of struggle, strife and personal development with.

But they have to make it through the "Feedback Filter".

This is a short and intuitive process I've developed (in my head) to determine whether someone is safe to let into the personal feedback zone.

I naturally struggle with criticism and critique.  I far prefer to be awesome right out of the gates ... study and perfect to nauseum before presenting or launching anything.  But this isn't always possible (or practical or smart). So we turn out things that are a work-in-progress.

Heck I myself am a work in progress.  And I always will be.

So when I'm looking for feedback on something I've done, a new skill I've picked up, my attitudes, approaches and behaviors and whether or not they will support or inhibit my goals, I look for a little feedback.  I am very careful though about those from whom I will elicit this commentary.

The 'feedback filter' serves to tell me many things about a potential candidate's worthiness to speak into the most vulnerable part of my life. The vital component and question regarding said candidate's requirements ...

Are you out there getting your ass kicked?  Or have you recently? 

No I'm not just a jerk who wants to see others get knocked down.

I do want to ensure that those who are sharing their insights into my own struggles, failures and shortcomings are other people who are also out there trying. 

In her book Rising Strong, Brene Brown (yes I love her, as you can now likely tell!) advises:

"We need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives.  For me, if you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback."

I've developed kind of a mental list of people I admire, respect and trust because they are the people who know what its like to be there. In that place where you are taking extraordinary risk (maybe psychologically, emotionally, financially) to reach a crazy goal you are passionate about.

Maybe you are launching a new idea or changing careers.  You could be deciding to do something completely different than your family, friends or colleagues expect of you.

In these vulnerable, exciting, terrifying and wonderful adventures we need to solicit feedback from people who are (or have recently been) in the same kinds of situations.  People who are moving bravely toward their own goals, failing and getting back up. (Note: If they moved toward a brave goal 25 years ago, failed and never tried again, I might not include them my list of candidates.)

If I am wondering if I have what it takes to start up with my new idea, if I am looking for some assessment (honestly and openly) about my strengths and weaknesses, or if I'm just looking for someone to bounce ideas off of, I have a fairly short list of people I consult.

A handful really. Depending on the specific arena I'm entering ...2, maybe 5 people.

And here's the touchy part (I'm wincing one eye as I write this).

It might not be who YOU want it to be. 

It may not be your spouse, sibling, best friend or parent.  These people LOVE you. So much.

They may not be able to honestly reflect on your character strengths and weaknesses for fear of hurting or upsetting you. Or you may be unable to process their feedback without overloading it with innuendo, unspoken assumptions or baggage.  You may just read way too much into it.

You also have to consider that they might not be willing to see you fail at all.  They may try to thwart your efforts or sabotage your plans in an effort to save you from hurt.

Of course, if you are a brave and relentless warrior for change their attempts to stop you may be more painful than the failure would have ever been.

But that IS NOT their intent.

Or maybe they've never taken any risks.  Maybe they have personalities that reside in the "always play-it-safe" category.  Maybe they are not big on self-reflection in their own lives.

You need people on your feedback "safe" list who are open, honest and vulnerable themselves and have their own story of bravery and heartbreak to share. If you choose to share with people you love and they do not have these pre-requisites you will end up resenting them or their feedback.

There will be times, if you are truly moving towards growth and peace that you will need some reflection from others. Honest, raw, authentic and truthful feedback.  And you will need skills in vulnerability, self-compassion and courage in order to take it and make it into something productive. Just make sure that those who you request feedback of (or those who you allow to voluntarily thrust it upon you) are others in the same boat.

Once you are super comfortable receiving feedback openly and vulnerably and assessing it with clarity, calmness and authenticity, then you may try widening your circle.

But this takes immense strength and preparation.  You will know when you are ready because it will be far more exciting and helpful than it is terrifying or painful.

It will be worth it. 

We live, grow and develop in community.  Feedback is an essential part of this.  So ensure that yours (both that which you receive and that which you give) is meaningful, loving and honest.

It will push you forward to new levels you never imagined.

Bravely forth in this my friends,

Jac :)