Doug took the photo of me running along the beach at dawn one morning last week when we were at Folly Beach, and it helps me remember the incredibly powerful feeling I always have as I run with the surf crashing beside me.
Every morning Doug, Griffin, and I woke early so that we could watch the sun rise and compose haikus – “Sunrise Haikus” are one of my absolute favorite family traditions! – and then I would take off for a run while Doug and Griffin made breakfast.
The days were filled with swimming in the ocean, long walks (one day we logged over 30,000 steps – or almost 15 miles!) and yummy food.
Griffin goes back to school tomorrow, so our beach trip was the perfect way to wrap the summer.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always associated this time of year with new beginnings – when everything feels fresh, exciting and possible.
Today I want to focus on helping you take this energy and take brave and decisive action in the direction of your dreams!
Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”
If we try, we can remember our own past bravery as a way to help us feel more courageous today. Sometimes, though, when we look back on our life, we can only remember the times things didn’t work out. And those memories can get in the way of choosing to be brave today.
We say to ourselves: Things went wrong in the past, what if things go wrong again?
Things haven’t always worked out great for me. When I returned from Mexico after working with Doctors Without Borders, I had no job waiting for me. My husband wasn’t working and we had used up all of our savings.
As soon as I got back to the States I applied for every job in the nursing field I could find – even jobs that were way below my level of expertise (and former earnings). I went 2 months before I received a job offer.
The job was as a community health nurse. It would have required working 5 days a week, and because it involved a lot of travel and paperwork, very little of that time would be devoted to actual patient care.
I knew I needed the income, but when offered the position, I just couldn’t accept it. Every fiber of my being knew that I would be miserable at that job. I thanked the nurse manager but declined the offer, hung up the phone, and BURST into tears.
I felt cursed by the warnings of my father and so many well-meaning others who had told me that I was foolish for quitting my good job to take a volunteer position in Mexico, and that I was crazy to think that I could find an even better job on my return.
All that is to say that I am familiar with the demons of grief, anxiety, self-doubt and despair. Very familiar.
My leaps of faith and acts of bravery haven’t always worked out exactly the way I had hoped. In fact they’ve often found me down on my knees in despair asking God how I could have been brought this far to fail.
Another month after that “down on my knees” dark place, I did get my dream job, working as a nurse-midwife for a busy hospital-based birthing center that cared for predominantly Latina patients – working 24 hours a week for more pay than I made working 50-60 hours a week in my former midwifery position.
I worked that job happily for 11 years before I decided that it was time to leave it for my next leap – where you find me today.
And, yes, one year after quitting that job, this particular leap hasn’t worked out exactly the way I hoped either.
My experience has not always been filled with bright sunshine and walks on the beach. And yet, when I finally stopped fighting the questions and the doubts and the fears and allowed myself to simply be sad or confused, I realized that everything actually was okay.
Even when things are not at all the way I want and expect them to be, they are still okay.
“Things are still okay”? What does that mean?
What could that possibly mean when, every day, people all over the world die because of poverty, disease, drugs and violence?
It doesn’t mean that I accept that suffering is unavoidable or acceptable. It doesn’t mean that I stop doing all that I can do to bring more justice, more kindness, and more peace to the world.
What it means to me is that I can focus on what I am doing and – most importantly – how I am doing it, and then I can let go of needing to control, or even worry about, the outcome.
I have survived failures before, and I will survive them again.
And I practice remembering that things always get better, eventually.
For example, the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho has said, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not, then it’s not the end.“ I’ve contemplated that quote enough in good times that it helps me keep putting one foot in front of the other when things get tough.
It also helps to take note of exactly what we’re afraid of. Have you noticed that fear almost always comes up when, confronted with a present challenge, we remember something bad from our past? Have you noticed that it also comes up when we imagine something bad that could take place in the future?
Don’t get me wrong – some things should evoke fear. Driving too fast on a twisty road should make you afraid enough to slow down.
Getting bitten by a possibly rabid raccoon (that happened to my husband once!) should elicit a fear response, enough so that you decide to consult a doctor about what to do.
As a character says in Kate DiCamillo’s children’s story, The Tale of Despereux, there are many wonderful things out there to be afraid of. But your regrets about the past or worries about the future probably don’t make the grade.
In these instances, recognizing your fears for what they are – stories about the past that might not now apply, or stories about the future that might never come true – will help.
So will bringing your attention back to what is actually happening right now. How cool would it be if you could just stop thinking about all the memorable and impressive ways you could screw up? You can – it’s a skill you can develop through ten minutes of mindful breathing every day.
One last thing: You know how I told two stories about quitting the 2 different jobs? One had me down on my knees in despair and the other didn’t. Do you want to know what made the difference?
The fact that, when I quit the second time, I had quit once before. Having quit once and survived and succeeded, I had that first success as a model of the good things that could happen. And that’s what I want to leave you with – the things you gain by succeeding in the face of risk.
I’m SO much more comfortable with uncertainty now. I just don’t get that worked up by a lack of (so called) security.
These days, I just BELIEVE IN MYSELF that much more than I believe in the fears and the doubts. And that makes all the difference.