If you really want transformation in your life this year, I have four words for you:
Do what scares you.
I am a life coach, so my business is personal transformation. Even before I was a life coach I was into transformation. As a childbirth educator, I help women through one of the biggest transformations of their lives. As an English teacher, I believed in the power of art to enlighten and lift the lives of my students.
But until last year I, a life-long student of transformation, had been missing this key ingredient in my own life. I attempted personal transformation within the lines. I read books and took classes – perhaps someone else had figured out that key bit I was missing? I tried to be skinny and beautiful – these are so important for women in our culture, maybe if I attained them, some kind of superpower would be unleashed within or conferred upon me? Would a new hairstyle, new make- up, new clothes help me to see myself differently?
In those questions, you may see a theme that eluded me as I studied and dieted: I was looking not only for the answers but for permission. If I am educated enough, will you take me seriously? If I am pretty enough, will it be safe to be seen? If I am thin enough, will I have permission to speak up?
When I coach I often ask my clients, “What are you afraid of?” I can see clearly that it’s fear, not circumstances, that are putting her in a box. Naming fears and then examining them is liberating. Creativity and peace are always on the other side of our fears. I’ve written a few posts about this inquiry process here, here and here.
But Inquiry hasn’t gone far enough for me. I was in a box I couldn’t name that was preventing me from living a bigger life.
Meanwhile, I wanted to learn to surf. Ever since I’d heard my teacher Martha Beck say, “We’re here to surf the mystery,” I’d been captivated by the idea of surfing. When we found out we were moving to Hawaii, it seemed the perfect opportunity to learn.
Yet I put it off. I was afraid – of the powerful, vast ocean; of it being hard; of hurting myself, of looking ridiculous.
One day my friend called me and said, “Let’s learn to surf.” No more procrastination!
We took a lesson together and it was harder and more painful and I was more awkward than I’d imagined. It was also weirdly wonderful: the thoughts that had frightened me all through the night before the lesson were totally absent once I was actually on the board in the water. I was totally focused on the moment. Catching a wave was also more thrilling than I had reckoned: to feel that powerful wave under me, propelling me forward as I balanced on the moving board was a totally absorbing, full-body joy.
Still, I would not have gone back – see “hard, painful, awkward” above – had not my friend insisted. She pushed me back into the water again and again. Each time I had a knot of fear in my stomach, and each time I went in anyway. I got tumbled. I got sea water up my nose and in my mouth. I got sore and bruised and scraped on coral and rock. And I experienced moments of transcendence those few times I was able to catch a wave and actually surf it.
One day I entered the water full of fear, just like the other times. But by the time I got out of the water an hour later, the fear was gone. That day there had come a moment when I was paddling, resting, paddling, sun on my back, fleet current under my board and I noticed my whole body smiling. I had braved the fear often enough that I guess it just gave up!
Immediately I noticed a generalized fearlessness that I had never known in my life before. It said, If I can do that, I can do anything.
I had sought this feeling from books and classes, from questioning my fears, from dieting, skin care, make up, hairdressers. . . none of it had given me the sense of expansiveness that braving this fear had done!
I wanted more! At my friend’s encouragement I tackled the next desire/fear on my list: learning to sing.
Every voice lesson is a humbling experience. As with surfing, there is no hiding when you sing. I am learning to open my mouth, to stop over-controlling my breath, to exhale, to stick my tummy out (out??), to aim high, to be heard! As with surfing, among the cringe-worthy moments there are also moments when I hear my voice so bright and clear and strong that it brings tears to my eyes. As with surfing, facing the fear of my own voice again and again gives me a sense of expansiveness that no book or weight loss ever gave me.
Through braving my fears I have given myself the permission I was seeking from others. I have authorized myself.
The past few years I’ve had a recurring nightmare that I’m missing a flight. The hindrances vary each time – there’s fog, it’s too dark, I have no idea what to pack, I can’t find the tickets – but the outcome is always the same: I miss the flight. I’m left behind.
I recently had this dream again, but – I am not making this up – this time I caught the flight.
Through braving my fears I am allowing myself to take flight.
Do you want to take flight in 2015? If so, do what scares you. You will see yourself differently, feel bigger and being brave will become a habit.
If I can support you, I’d be thrilled. To learn how life coaching can help e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.