How do you tell the difference between obstacles put in front which are a sign, telling you to adjust your course and move in the opposite direction versus those obstacles which are a test, put in your way to see if you’ve learned the lesson? Let me expand – a test to see if you are able to call upon new skills to move beyond and through whatever it is you’ve been resisting in your life.
For me, what I continuously bump up against in my life is letting other people help me and taking time to care for myself. Some would classify me as a highly ambitious, typically type A, mother of three who doesn’t know how to sit still. I agree — this is me. Yet, deep inside of me there’s a person longing for stillness, quiet, and peaceful reflection.
These two parts of my life are often at odds with each other. Not too long ago I found myself watching a tug-of-war between these two aspects of my being as I was preparing to leave for a getaway weekend with my girlfriends. I was leaving my family alone to fend for themselves. I was taking three days away from a project I was in the middle of. I’ll pause here and say that my husband is a highly capable father and routinely manages the household and children’s activities all on his own with great success. It is me, I realize after all these of marriage, that has difficulty letting go and creating space for him to step up and help me out. I am a recovering overachiever.
I digress, where was I again? Right, getting ready for the weekend away. As I’m preparing to leave work on Wednesday evening due to a flight at 10 AM on Thursday morning I felt life closing in on me. In this moment, I remember thinking to myself “This is the sign Erin. There is no way you can leave tomorrow. Just no possible way.”
Here’s a sample of what was running through my mind – that reel of self-talk that isn’t so helpful sometimes.
The soccer schedule just came out and the boys have two events a day and your husband cannot manage this on his own.
What makes you think you get to go to the spa, eat delicious food, sleep in and have all of this time alone for yourself and leave him here to taxi, feed and care for three kids and to deal with all the things that are going to come up?
You’ve got a ton of approvals to get through at work there’s no way you can leave tomorrow and leave this for the next couple of days.
I’m sure many of you can relate and have a whole host of other choice phrases you tell yourself when you find yourself in similar situations. And for a few hours on Wednesday evening, every time I turned around, there was yet another ‘sign‘ telling me that I just couldn’t get away. Signs where everywhere – telling me that I shouldn’t be going on this weekend with the girls or taking this time for myself – it was just too much to ask! As I laid my head on the pillow that night feeling anxious and being negative with myself — something shifted. It suddenly hit me.
Changing the dialogue
The thoughts were racing and the dialogue I was having with myself suddenly shifted.
This is actually just a test.
It is a test to see if I can actually put myself first.
What if it was a test to see how much it would take to stop me from doing what I knew needed to be done for me? Could I pass this test? Was I ready? Had I learned enough to ace it this time?
I’ve been resisting taking care of myself – I mean really deeply caring for my body, mind and spirit – my entire life. I have always had difficulty letting others help me out. I feel inadequate if I need help. In short, I feel lesser, broken and unworthy. If I’m honest, this has been the way I have always been, since I was a child. Over the years I’ve gotten glimpses of what it feels like when you take care of yourself and allow others to help you out. I’ve been spotty at best, and nothing really consistent or deeply fulfilling has emerged until very recently. As I drifted off to sleep that Wednesday evening and contemplated the thought of “signs in our lives” versus “tests in our lives” I felt a peacefulness settle over me like I have never felt before.
Passing the test
I woke up on Thursday morning ready to ace that exam!
My husband would manage the kids. He’s a pro. He’s been doing it for 13 years and he’s never let us down once.
Work was going to be fine. I can leave for 48 hours the project isn’t going to fall apart. I have capable people on my team who have my back.
I deserve this time and it’s up to me to make it happen.
I’m sitting here now, looking back at this experience and extremely proud of myself for passing the test. It wasn’t easy to leave. It wasn’t easy on the ones I left behind to run life when I took some time for me. The project had to wait for a few answers. It wasn’t easy to pass this test and yet it was 100% totally and completely worth it!
Not Easy – Worth It
Not being easy and being impossible or two entirely different things. In order for people to step up and support us in life we have to create space for them to do so. To create space, means stepping back. Stepping back means challenging our internally held socialized and ingrained behaviors. It means honest conversations with ourselves, learning to let go and loosening our grip. It’s not easy and it’s not impossible. It’s hard and possible all at the same time.
This perspective was not available to me nor did I have the skills required to pass this test until I began my work and training as an integral coach. The most basic definition of coaching is to identify new possibilities and help build sustainable capabilities to achieve these new possibilities.
Every time I face this test, it gets easier and easier to pass it. I’m looking forward to to day when I don’t even have to consciously ‘take the test’ and the response to self care and spaciousness is an automatic ‘yes‘. For now, I’m grateful for the chance to grow my skills & change my tomorrow. I’m so deeply excited by the opportunity to be a better me. It takes practice, support & making mistakes that feel like two steps backwards to appreciate the wins and feel deep in my bones that it IS worth it.
What are your signs? What are your tests?
Where do you give into the signs and shrink away?
Where do you take the test?
What would successfully passing the test look like for you?
Why is now the time to seek the support you need to pass the tests in your life?
I write these articles to support leaders in becoming more effective by embracing all parts of themselves and increasing their capacity to practice empathy.
Thank you for being here.