Today I want to tell you a little story.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who lived in a beautiful castle. It was full of beauty, color, and light. People gathered in the banquet hall to dance and feast. Scholars and diplomats met in the libraries to talk about the most pressing concerns of the queendom, trying to wrestle justice and kindness out of a tumultuous past. A merry chef presided over the kitchens. Fierce and gentle warrior women tended their horses in the stables. Lush gardens fed everyone. The castle was full of priceless art and great treasures, and happy doves cooed in the turrets.
But one day, there was a terrible storm. Lightning, thunder, rain, havoc. The old wooden door at the main entrance had grown weak over the years, and that night it shattered and smashed under the force of the wind.
The next morning, the woman stood in the entrance and looked at the shattered door with sorrow. All that splintered wood and wreckage. Such a shame.
So she went back inside and packed her handbag. Then she lit a match, said, “So much for that,” set fire to the whole castle, and burned the whole thing down to cinders.
THAT IS A TERRIBLE STORY!!!!!
Can you believe I told you such a terrible fable on a Saturday morning??? I know! I’m sorry!!!!
But bear with me. It’s important. Because this isn’t just a story. Unfortunately, I see people do this to their lives ALL THE TIME.
We hear a lot about resilience. (Thank you, Brene Brown! You rock!) You could also call it “grit” or “persistence” or “an infinite ability to adapt and try again” or “too stubborn to quitness.”
In my mind’s eye, this quality looks like a badass warrior queen who’s channeling Lady Gaga and Serena Williams. She’s so fierce and beautiful!
But most of us haven’t ever been taught to activate that archetype in ourselves. In fact, we were taught to be “nice” and “kind” and “share” and “get along” and “take turns.” Now believe me, I have two preschoolers, and I remind them about 47 times a day to do all those things.
But I also want my kids and my clients (and myself!) to honor and cultivate that fierce energy that dwells in us.
Because what happens when we don’t activate that energy in ourselves?
What happens is that at the first sign of trouble, we cave.
We get a rejection letter and stop sending out our work.
A bully yells at us and we cower and give them what they want.
We get a “no” to something we’ve proposed, so we feel ashamed and bury all our ideas.
Someone breaches a boundary we set and we decide maybe we were wrong for wanting a boundary in the first place.
When something breaks, or explodes, or implodes, we conclude that it means that we’re bad, everything is doomed, and we were stupid to have tried to do anything special in the first place.
Oh, wait, that’s just me? Because I know I have done this. (Only 84,000 times though!) Don’t worry, if that’s been you too, you’re in good company. We’ve all found ourselves on the floor after our loftiest dreams took a brick.
And yet most of us don’t know that in that spot is where we have immense power.
Because we don’t have control over the challenges life throws at us. But we have total control over what we decide to do next.
Too many people, especially women, are taught that a setback, a “no,” or a failure means that THEY are failures. For the most part, boys and men don’t receive the same message. They are taught to get back up and try again. (Both messages have shadow sides, of course; the macho “don’t take no for an answer” that gets taught to many boys absolutely contributes to violence, particularly against women.)
But most women could use a reminder that a “no” is not an eternal pronouncement on their value. It’s just one person’s opinion.
Have you ever gotten an angry email from a colleague and thought, “Probably I should just quit this job.”
Have you ever looked at a sinkful of disgusting dishes and thought, “Welp, that’s it; I guess now I’ll just have to MOVE.”
Have you ever had a bad day at work and thought, “Clearly I am just not cut out for success.”
Of course! We all have.
I think so many of us get thrown off by these setbacks because we just don’t have a ton of practice with failure. If you’re reading this, you probably got good grades. You are probably an overachiever. I bet you work hard. Like….really, really hard. And so when suddenly life plunks down a big blockade in the road, it can feel shocking. Even embarrassing!
This is compounded by the pernicious story circulating in the personal development world that says that if you’re “on the right path,” the universe will align and everything will go smoothly for you.
I am sorry, but life is more complicated than that!
(Yes, I know that, and you know that, but gosh wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t? Isn’t it easier sometimes to conclude, “Well I guess the universe just didn’t WANT that for me,” than to put on our big-girl britches and go fight for what WE want?)
But if you want a beautiful life, you have to be fierce about it. (Fierce AND tender, remember.)
Sticking to a dream, a boundary, or a plan requires tenacity. It requires persistence. It requires courage. And it requires vulnerability–because we have to say, “even if no one else including ‘the universe’ wants this for me, I still want it.”
OH HOLY BRAVE THING!
It takes a lot more courage to build a new door than to walk away and say “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
It takes a lot more courage to try again at something you just failed at than to shrug, “Maybe I’m just not good at that.”
TRYING AGAIN is magic.
TWEAKING WHAT DIDN’T WORK WELL is magic.
FIXING THE BROKEN PART WITHOUT BLOWING UP THE WHOLE THING is magic.
And one thing I know about you, if you’re reading this, is that you have so much courage. And so much magic. And so much power over your own life– more than you think you do, I promise.
You built this life on purpose! You made it gorgeous!
Sure, maybe it needs some tweaking. Maybe it needs a spring clean. But don’t give up on its beauty. Don’t give up on the possibility you felt surging through it when you built it. Don’t give up on what you intended to create: When you took that job. When you married that human. When you had those babies, bought that house, opened that elephant sanctuary, started writing that book proposal. You did it because you knew it had the potential to be something AMAZING.
Maybe it isn’t amazing yet. Maybe it went a little sideways. But before you give up and decide to become a yoga teacher, look at it with fresh eyes. What would Serena Williams or Lady Gaga or Alicia Florick do?
You can bet your ass they wouldn’t just give up.
So let me sing the song of fixing. Of tweaking. Of polishing. Of trying again!
Now one important caveat. Let’s be clear: some situations have become so toxic or untenable that you really do have to just walk away. If your castle has been taken over by pirate rats with a zombie virus, a match might be the perfect thing.
But so much is fixable.
(The funny thing is that the thing most people DO stay too long and try to fix long past the point when it’s healthy and helpful are romantic relationships. Those are fragile and once smashed, can’t often be repaired.)
But everything else?
Don’t give up too soon.
The job. The project. The book. The new habit. The stack of paper. Time and persistence can work WONDERS on these things.
So don’t give up on your dream.
Rally your inner warrior queen, call a contractor, and get a new door. And while you’re at it, make it a gorgeous one.
May your week be full of springtime breezes, blooming buds, and a good nap! And watch for something lovely and fresh coming from me on Monday morning that’ll bring new springtime whiffs of energy and possibility!