“I’m in this swamp,” she said. “And I keep slogging along, but it just keeps getting stickier and muddier.”
Oh, yes, I thought. I know this place.
I know it well.
You know how sometimes you hit a perfect storm? You’ve been hopeful and brave and you set out to do something big– and now you’re not sure if you’re supposed to keep going, or take all the disasters as a sign to walk away.
Maybe you’re working on a big project that keeps getting more and more bogged down. You’ve got a reno project that keeps getting further and further from finished. Your colleagues turn into toddlers, and now you’re basically parenting at the office (and at home! fun!). That old tangle that you thought was resolved shows up again, with new snarls. Meanwhile, at the same time, your most steadfast friend hits something in her personal life that turns her into a puddle. The school calls. Your partner gets sick. Plans fall through. The flight gets canceled. The news gets heart-shreddingly worse every day as we hurtle ever toward fascism. (Oh wait, was this supposed to be a hypothetical example??)
I know you’ve been in this place, because we all hit this swamp at some point or another. Sometimes it’s external and visible; sometimes it’s a lonely and invisible bog inside your mind and heart that only you even know you’re in.
I was talking to a beloved client the other day who’s navigating one of these times in the swamp.
First I told her, “It’s not your imagination. This really is a LOT to carry. You’re not being a wimp, I promise.” She gave a choked sound somewhere between relief and grief.
And then I told her, “So here’s what you’re going to do. With all that heavy swampy stuckness pulling at you– all those needy people clamoring for your energy and attention and time– you’re going to turn and go the exact opposite direction. In the midst of swampy sludginess, you’re going to embody clarity and forward momentum. In the midst of whining and complaining, you’re going to step up and lead yourself like a badass leading leader. When the sadness and sorrow and lethargy threaten to overwhelm you, you’re going to plug yourself in to currents of beauty, courage, and hope.”
“Ok,” she said. Tentatively.
“Let me be clear,” I said. “What I’m asking you to do is basically IMPOSSIBLE.”
“But you can TOTALLY do it.”
She sighed. “Yes. Yes I can.”
This is the thing– the utterly impossible thing– that so many of us are finding ourselves needing to do.
To rise up when life is pulling us down.
To bring light when the darkness feels impenetrable.
To channel hope and courage when the sludge of despair twines around our hearts.
To move toward a goal when everyone around you has given up.
To feel joy when everyone around you is sunk in depression.
To paint with bright pink when all you see is beige.
We are conditioned to go along with what we see. To go with the flow. To fit in. It’s a basic human survival instinct.
But sometimes everything around us is sticky and sludgy and heavy and sad and the urge to sink into it is OVERWHELMING– and yet.
You can hear a little rogue hum just behind one ear. It sounds like a mosquito, impossible to catch but impossible to ignore. Maybe this isn’t all there is. Maybe it could be different. This is all ludicrous. There has to be more than this. I can’t see a better way forward, but I think there must be one.
To listen to that hum of possibility? To believe it? And then to hold on to THAT reality instead of believing the very convincing sludginess all around you? It’s scandalous. It’s revolutionary. It’s so fucking brave. It’ll shift EVERYTHING.
And it’ll probably feel terrifying.
But you can totally do it.
In fact, we need you to.
It won’t always look big or dramatic. Sometimes it’s as simple (and difficult) as staying calm when your kid loses their shit. Or choosing to watch a documentary instead of the insane nightly news cyclone. Or dancing it out instead of numbing out on social media. Or reminding yourself that you’re safe even when you feel scared. Or letting yourself laugh out loud even if you live with someone who is very sad. Or to keep working toward something even when you keep hitting roadblocks. Or dressing like a badass even if people raise their eyebrows.
These small bits of courage are HUGE. To fight against the currents in our own life takes enormous bravery. It’s a declaration that the reality inside you– the one that might exist only in your own imagination or yearning or inspiration– is just as potentially real as the convincing swamp of shittiness all around you.
It will feel absolutely impossible.
And you can TOTALLY do it.
Not alone, mind you. You’ll have to call on more than just your small human body and heart. Luckily, this is utterly possible, because you have all the love and fire and hope and outrage and courage of the whole universe just waiting to be called on.
And you WILL need to call on them.
Because we can’t do the almost-impossible when we’re depleted. And let’s be honest, most of our human batteries get depleted just by ordinary life, let alone extraordinary circumstances. (In fact, most of you kindred spirits skate dangerously close to depleted a lottttt of the time.)
Make no mistake: it takes EXTRAORDINARY emotional strength to do an energetic u-turn. To hold on to your own reality when everyone says you’re ridiculous. To zig when everything around you is zagging. To bring a different energy into a space.
This kind of visionary leadership requires BIG energy. So you’re going to need to plug yourself into big currents to hold on to a different frequency, to dance to your own music, or to pull yourself out of the swamp with a gloriously squelching sound.
Here are some of the biggest, best currents I know:
- Books, especially novels and memoirs from brave humans
- Movies about human courage
- Anything that makes you laugh
- Nature: just look at what it dares!
- Activism in any form
- Music, all of it
This is not an exhaustive list. Obviously.
In fact, you may want to plug into something entirely different. Last week I wrote about how I’ve been slightly obsessed with the Brambly Hedge books. Enormous larders full of preserves. Secret staircases. Yule logs. Baskets full of primroses. Towering cakes. Swoon.
Now those might not seem like real courage bringers. But I have been working at my edge a lot recently, doing things that feel scary and vulnerable, and so it makes sense that I’m craving big counter-doses of coziness. No wonder I’m craving the essence of home, somewhere safe and snug, warm and brimming with bright berries and crackling fires and homemade quilts. So weirdly, the more I snuggle into that, the bigger and braver I can keep being.
Whatever you’re craving– whatever you WISH could be true— plug yourself into that. You’re connecting yourself to that energy, that trajectory, that momentum. It doesn’t need to be esoteric; maybe you want to go roller skating or bing-watch all the seasons of West Wing or paint your fingernails bright red or Konmari your whole world. GO FOR IT.
Hear me: it will probably seem frivolous. For sure you won’t have time in your schedule. It might irritate the people around you. DO IT ANYWAY. That’s the magic part; filling your soul up with the energy of what you LONG for instead of drowning in what you’re in the midst of. That’s how you make a path from here to there; turning your yearnings into your internal reality, and then turning that internal reality into tiny but tangible actions.
So let yourself make small, seemingly silly changes. Paint a room, change your hair, hire a coach, wear those outrageous gloves. Those things aren’t silly at all.
Because every change is a declaration of hope that there can be something better.
Every change. No matter how small. Each one turns you toward where you want to be. And then you just keep tuning in to the currents that keep you fueled up to keep walking there.
Listen to me, dearheart. No matter how sticky and sludgy the swamp, don’t believe that the swamp is all there is. Don’t believe you’re just supposed to accept living knee-deep in mud. You’re made for oceans and rivers and blowing grass and mountains and climbing trees. Keep your eyes on where you’re going next. Don’t accept the story that everything is doomed and it’s all hopeless and you should just get used to the swamp.
That’s just a shitty story.
And we can tell WAY better ones.
Fire is crackling; larders are stocked; let the good stories roll.