I get the most wonderful things in my email inbox from you loves. (Even though I’m appallingly slow to respond sometimes; I do read and appreciate them all!) This week we’re talking about how life is messy, and that’s ok– we can make it a gorgeous mess.
Last week I got a message from someone who’s stuck between a rock and a hard place in her life right now, when all resources (time, money, energy, opportunity) are thin on the ground. She had just watched our documentary and wrote that she’d been encouraged to see me show what she called “strength and endurance through change without shrinking.” She went on to say, “I don’t know how you don’t collapse and stay small. I think I recoil. I love your braveness.”
I wrote her back, but I wanted to write it to all of you in case you were perhaps thinking the same thing.
Listen, dearheart, I DO collapse. I collapse all the time! In the most embarrassing places and moments!
Yes, I do so hope that our documentary sparks a chord of bravery inside everyone who watches it; that’s partly why we made it. But in my experience, true bravery involves LOTS of moments of feeling small, shrinking, and collapsing, with a nice sprinkle of mortification for extra depth of flavor. So please don’t think that I’m a paragon of strength and endurance, bounding gracefully through fields of wildflowers, rainbows and accolades blowing through my hair.
Let me tell you how it actually goes.
Strength and endurance mostly looks like me lying across the bed, bawling my eyes out into a snotty pillowcase. It looks like me putting on my running shoes and churning my way around our neighborhood until the steam coming out of my ears has settled down from a furious roar to a gentler hiss. It looks like waking up, thinking of the day ahead, and feeling the churchbell of doom and overwhelm down in my bones. It looks like hiding under the covers because it’s all just too much right then. It looks like me yelling every swear word I know, at top volume, in my minivan where no one can hear me. It’s me having tear tracks on my face in the photo on my Canadian driver’s license because that last pile of paperwork just did me in. (True story.)
In other words, it’s not dignified in the slightest.
That’s not because I’m depressed, dearheart! or even because anything is going terribly wrong!
It’s just because I’m a human being trying to live the biggest life I know how to live.
This means that it takes me to the very edge of what I can handle.
For instance, I’ve gotten emails in the past year containing news so shocking and sad that I ended up curled in a ball on the floor, numb. We’ve had devastating breaks with people we trusted that left us both feeling hollow and betrayed. We’ve faced challenges in our parenting, our marriage, and our work that left us looking at each other in total bewilderment, raising our hands in the universal gesture of “Well now I really have absolutely NO idea what to do about this; I think maybe we’ll just have to burn it all down and move.” I’ve had things flop so colossally in my professional life that it’s made me question every instinct I have and wonder if maybe I could get a nice job as an accountant somewhere. Except you know damn well that I would be the world’s worst accountant.
So please don’t think that I stride through the world impervious, steadily beaming out courage and good cheer.
Nope, it’s a lot messier than that.
(But that’s the ideal, right?!?!? I mean I pretty much assume that my heroes go through life with spirits of teflon and nerves of steel. We are so bombarded by images and stories of people who are on the other side of it all, telling their stories from the comfortable shores of triumph and success. And we watch actors playing characters who never fall apart, but merely button their $3,000 suit and raise their chin a little higher. And so we think that we’re supposed to never collapse. Never feel overwhelmed. Never stay up late into the night watching the original Anne of Green Gables and weeping a good cathartic weep into the wine.)
But here is the thing that all those TV writers don’t seem to understand, when they pen all those scenes where the actress takes a tremulous breath, then pulls on an impossible reserve of daring and resilience and rises to the challenge with an articulate speech and ferocious passion, only a slight flutter in her slender neck to betray her inner turmoil– while we wonder what’s wrong with us because not only did we not take on a roomful of corrupt judges today, we can’t even stop the milk from leaking all over the fridge.
In my experience, life is more like a sticky fridge than a courtroom drama. Most of the time we’re flailing and falling and it’s a shitstorm and we have no idea what we’re doing but whoops while we were doing it the dog got out again.
(Important caveat here. I mean not ALL of life is like this. Sometimes life is full of joy and color and beauty, like it was last week when we visited Salt Spring Island, and sometimes our kids are so hilarious playing Go Fish and doing spontaneous dances that it’s the highlight of my whole week, and sometimes I get to have conversations with my clients that are so deep and beautiful that I literally kiss the ground in gratitude. I have been truly depressed in my life, and not only was there no color during those times, I couldn’t even imagine there ever being color again– and if you’re in that spot, dearheart, I want you to pick up the phone and call a therapist or a support line right this very minute. That said: more of life looks like flailing and falling down and exhausted-but-still-pulling-the-damn wagon than maybe we admit on Instagram, so maybe we should talk about it. Which we are right now. Ok. Caveat complete.)
But here’s the thing.
YOUR COURAGE LIVES IN YOUR STICKY FRIDGE.
Bravery is just the willingness to try again, even when you’re down on your ass RIGHT in the middle of that messy gorgeous mess.
Real courage isn’t dismayed by the milk-dribbled baby-food-smeared kitchen floor where you find yourself. In fact, that sticky floor is where courage LIVES AND BREATHES, friends.
Because after the collapse, you just get back up again. After the recoil, you tentatively put out a new feeler. After the shrinking into a tiny ball, you dare to uncurl even a smidge and risk stretching one more size bigger than before.
And please do let yourself do this at your own pace, dear one. We can only get bigger ONE size at a time. If you’re a size Tiny in the courage department, you can’t just jump up immediately to a size Beautiful Badass Bodacious. But if you are willing to have the humility and audacity to just do a TINY brave thing, that makes you a little bigger. And then from there, you do another tiny (tiniest bit bigger) brave thing, and then– well you get it.
It’s the doing of those TINY acts of courage that make you bigger.
But even if you’ve been doing brave things for a couple decades now, there’s no skipping the messy parts, at least as far as I’m aware.
You fall down; you cry; you bomb the pitch; you tank the meeting; you get a devastating no; you get your heart broken. You screw up. You yell at your kids. You break your favorite mug. You lose your phone. You get charged a late fee. You hurt someone’s feelings even though you had the very best intentions. You think you’re doing all the right things but it still all goes wrong. ALL THE SHITTY STUFF JUST HAPPENS.
Even rich, famous, successful people find themselves on that sticky floor. Wipe-outs are just part of living a human life!
But a funny thing happens when you accept this. The mess becomes a bit of a gorgeous mess.
You don’t have to be quite so afraid of it, because you know it’s not the end of the story.
You don’t have to be quite so afraid of it, because you know that even the snottiest and loudest of weeping storms will pass through you.
You don’t have to be quite so afraid of it, because after you fall into the mire, you can take a shower.
You don’t have to be quite so afraid of it, because you remember that you’ve survived wipeouts before, and they make really great stories.
But that’s the moment of real bravery, when no one is watching and you’ve run out of tissues and credit and you decide that instead of being embarrassed about it all you’re just going to try again anyway.
This is the kind of courage I want to celebrate.
THIS IS THE MOST BRAVE.
This mess is the most gorgeous mess.
I know you have this courage in you, because you’re still breathing and reading and maybe even sipping your earl grey right now.
In fact, bet you can think of 3 times in your own actual gorgeous messy heroic life when you were smeared and collapsed and mortified and it all seemed hopeless– and yet here you are.
HERE YOU ARE!
So name them to yourself, right now:
1. That time you got your heart broken and yet you still kept putting on pants every day.
2. That time the world played dirty pool and you discovered that there was no referee, no guarantee of fairness; and you kept on playing fair anyway.
3. That moment when you saw all the things stacked against you, that enormous leaning towering stack, and you decided you’d just learn to climb things.
We all have these moments of tiny and enormous bits of courage in our history. You might have had cheerios on your butt and mascara streaming down your face, but dammit you got up anyway. You were a glorious, magnificent, gorgeous mess.
I think that part of you is so brave. So beautiful. So worthy of gratitude and respect. I honor her in you. I’m watching her get bigger and bigger, one soggy collapse and one brave choice at a time.
The gorgeous mess in me honors the gorgeous mess in you. Sticky cheerios and all.