I used to believe that happiness and fun were for other people.
During my divorce, I became aware that my denial had caused an underlying tension in nearly everything I did, and tension is the opposite of freedom. In my career, people-pleasing and workaholism became escapes. I kept jumping through hoop after hoop in order to receive recognition and earn a gold star. But no amount of gold stars was ever enough to fill the emptiness of living an inauthentic life.
My hard work was also an attempt to be good and “do things right.” In my mind, being wrong meant I’d be punished—which, on a deep level, is what I expected most of the time. I was always, always looking for what I was doing wrong.
That truth was brought home to me one day about five years ago when I was visiting my dear friend Cheryl Richardson and her husband Michael. As Michael and I left the house to get groceries, he tossed me the keys to his brand new sports car, and invited me to drive it. Now, I don’t love to drive, and I hadn’t owned a car in years. Somehow, though, I found it in me to say yes although I didn’t really give myself permission to enjoy it and have fun. We were in rural Massachusetts, and it was pretty mellow, not many traffic lights. I was nervous behind the wheel, but I managed. That is, until we approached the store and found only street parking. I pulled up to the curb and heard a sound you never, ever want to hear when you’re driving your friend’s new car.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I was freaking out inside, and on the outside, I was frozen with fear. I was so sure Michael would be angry with me, so I braced myself for the inevitable punishment. Instead, he said, “I forgot to tell you that the profile of this car is wider than most. I’m so sorry.”
Now, Michael’s gentle temperament is a gift—not everyone would be so kind if you scraped their new car against the curb. At the same time, I noticed that I had an expectation that I would be punished. It wasn’t too big a leap to see that same expectation was the root cause of my fear of expressing my opinion or allowing my voice the freedom it deserved.
For so long, I had been so responsible and so hell-bent on people-pleasing that I didn’t have much appreciation or reverence for fun. I thought play was a waste of time and that people who engaged in it were lazy or not on a serious path. I thought fun was something to get away with. I have since learned that play is actually vital and healing. I couldn’t even let myself enjoy driving a sports car!
What about you?
Do you allow yourself to let go and have fun?
Or are you using obligation to shelter yourself?
What could you do today to invite more joy into your life?
As my friend Wayne Dyer often said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When we start to think differently, the outside world begins to change. Transformation thrusts us into the unfamiliar. We tend to be afraid of the unfamiliar—which we perceive as an abyss—even though the familiar can be uncomfortable or even painful. We are enslaved by our habitual patterns because as lifeless as they may be, they give us a sense of certainty that we crave. But living according to habits is like never trying a new recipe: We miss all the other flavors that are possible.
You don’t actually have to make the leap in order to reap the benefits of a new possibility. All you have to do is start to visualize different options. By willingly considering what potentialities may exist in the abyss of the unknown, you can begin to imagine yourself free.
By November 2012, I had worked at Hay House for a decade, without ever taking a week off. Spending an average of two thirds each year on the road – 213 days was my record, and 73-days straight with just carry-on luggage! I didn’t long for additional travel and, when I was at home, working was an escape from whatever was going on in my personal life.
I had long since maxed out the allotment of vacation days I was allowed to accrue and, since I hadn’t cashed any in, I was essentially losing time and money. And then, Hurricane Sandy hit.
So instead of producing and speaking at our I Can Do It conference in New York City – where our venue suffered significant damage – I scrambled for two days to postpone and reschedule 30 authors and 2500 attendees, and then found myself on the most unexpected roadtrip. Letting those I needed to know that I was going off the grid, and then spending the next nine days camping and hiking through four National Parks was medicine. Yosemite, Zion, Bryce and Canyonlands changed me.
It took several days for me to let go of the worry that the world would crumble without me having access to cell service and wifi in every moment. It took time for me to let go into letting go. I was able to witness myself talking myself out of joy and then giving myself permission to play.
I no longer force myself to do what I don’t want to do anymore. I don’t do anything that feels like a “should” or just because I think would be good for me. I can’t rally like I used to. Can’t just muscle through it if I don’t want to do it. I used to wonder if it would ever come back, that ability to plow full steam ahead into the “doing.” And instead of allowing myself to sink into the reprieve and truly enjoy it, I used to spend a lot of time – a lot of time – beating myself up for not letting myself be. That road trip was a turning point into presence.
What beliefs and fears are silently running your life and holding you back from bursting forth into freedom?
Are you ready for a new flavor? Ready to to give yourself permission to play? Join the conversation on Facebook.