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Sometimes the Root of Worry is Grief

Equus Coaching

Grief is a fascinating emotion. It doesn’t follow linear time. Pieces of it hide in dark pockets waiting for a safe space and moment to come out and be seen.

This past weekend I participated in a retreat with small group of my wayfinding peers and mentors. Without a personal agenda, I set the intention to allow whatever came up to be. (For anyone who knows me, giving myself permission to not have a plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to be coached by our master of master wayfinders, Martha Beck, is quite unusual.)

Listening to frogs and crickets while sitting under an expansive net of stars in the rain forests of Cashiers, North Carolina, I realized that I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid big Square 1s* that come barreling out of nowhere to knock me off my feet. My habit of planning and organizing is an attempt to play out innumerable future scenarios in the hopes that I can spot a Square 1 coming. And if I can see it coming, that I could somehow lessen the blow or avoid it altogether. (Spoiler alert, this is impossible.)

My husband summarized this best when he said, “When you don’t have something to worry about, you find something to worry about.” (God bless those who truly see us.)

I’ve noticed that because of this, I have not relaxed into happiness. I simply haven’t trusted it. And thus, I’ve been stuck in my Square 3 Hero’s Journey.

Ok, so now what? I thought. Now that I’ve recognized this energy block, what do I do with it? How do I get unstuck?

Equus Coaching is a perfect opportunity to test your energy. A horse is a mirror, which reflects back physically what you’re doing energetically. As I entered the round pen on Day 2, I set the intention to figure out how to release my fear of Square 1 and embrace the elation of Square 4.*

When I tried to spiritually bypass my fear of Square 1 as “necessary for personal growth” and “will bring me to a better place because it all happens for a reason,” my horse Smokey walked to the opposite end of the pen with his hind quarters to me. This was a sign that I didn’t believe what I was saying – I was out of integrity.

When I admitted that, “Square 1s are F-ing HARD! They SUCK!” Smokey ran back toward me and put his head against my chest. When I broke down crying and shared that I didn’t want to be strong all the time, he stayed while stomping and yawning, which physically releases energy.

The heart knows when it is safe to be vulnerable. There’s something special about the sacred space wayfinders hold. It is a pure, gentle and fully accepting cradle of love. To be held so delicately and seen so fully is a true gift.

Although it has been 20 years since my mother’s suicide, I realized that I have not fully processed the grief and post-traumatic-stress around the details of her death. There were still little pockets that needed releasing (and will again and probably again).

In the safe space of my peers and mentors, I allowed all the emotions I’d thought were long past to surface and flow in aching waves through my core and out of my mouth and eyes.

There is no time limit to grieving. There is no deadline to process it. It isn’t a one and done kind of life experience. So if you’ve lost a loved one, or carry guilt and shame about someone’s suicide, know that it is absolutely okay to return to it when you’re ready to let the last pieces go. Even if 20-plus years have passed, it’s okay.

You don’t have to be strong all the time. Give yourself permission to find a safe and sacred space with someone (or people) you trust and let it flow. It does no good and offers no peace holding it in and shoving it down.

I trust that once I’ve fully processed all the remaining pieces, my constant worry about the future will also dissolve on its own. For years, I’d been trying to solve the symptom of anxiety instead of the root cause of grief. While coaching tools can absolutely help with reducing anxiety and managing stress, sometimes it’s a sign that there’s more underneath to explore.

If you, too, constantly worry about the future, I invite you to think about what long-past loss you may have suffered that might need some tender, loving care.

*****

If you don’t have a safe and sacred space to let your grief flow, I’d be honored to hold it for you. Let’s talk.

*Squares 1-4 are Martha Beck terms used in Steering by Starlight and is a framework for identifying coaching tools that might be most useful for a client. Square 1 represents the phase of life where we have the destruction of one identity (or role) before a new one forms. It’s a state of dissolving that can be created by any catalytic life event, such as the death of a loved one.

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From Ball of Stress to Beacon of Serenity

Each day brings new opportunity.

Anyone who has worked with me, even as close as a year ago, would tell you that I’m a natural worrier. They’d tell you that I lived in a constant state of anxiety, trying to prepare and plan for whatever possible thing that could go wrong. By doing so, I actually made a lot of money and progressed quickly because it fit so well into the corporate tech culture of overworking martyrdom. My mantra was: “Proper planning prevents piss-poor performance.” As if I could keep chaos at bay by pre-determining it on a spreadsheet or list.

I wore busyness with pride like somehow being unaware of whether I was coming or going was a crown of prestige. In conversations with friends, social currency came in the form of who got the least amount of sleep and most amount of emergency emails late at night or early morning to respond to. I was important, damnit. The dark circles under my eyes and five cups of coffee a day jitters proved it!

At one point, completely disconnected from how rude it was, I put my cell phone earbuds in my ears while holding my phone ready to answer at a moments notice while in a one-on-one meeting with a coworker that still had fifteen minutes remaining. My mind was preparing for my next meeting before I even finished the one I was currently in. My thoughts were always in the future of “what’s next, what’s coming, what should I be anticipating?”

My cellphone only left my body to shower or sleep, and even then, it sat less than a foot away from my face on my nightstand in case I heard a beep that would wake me to check it, no matter what time. I recall responding to an email from Scott Coker (former CEO of Strikeforce, current CEO of Bellator) at 1:30 AM because I heard it come through. He’s a night owl and didn’t expect his employees to work that late, and responded to my response with, “Go to sleep. You can deal with this in the morning.” I thought it made me a better employee to always be on, always be responding, always be there.

The reality? I was a stress-case. I stress-ate unhealthy food as a reward system for working hard. My lower back would regularly seize up or go out and was in a constant state of pain. I powered through it, refusing to rest.

One time at Intel, when I had just been assigned to manage the CIO and her IT organization’s internal communications, I threw out my back the night before I was to have my first meeting with her TA (Chief of Staff) and Deputy TA. Despite the spasms of pain that would permeate my body every time I moved my foot, I was determined to not show weakness or “excuses.” I feared that if I rescheduled because of my back, they would think I wasn’t fit to do the job.

Therefore, I clenched through showering, dressing and driving (which in hindsight was extremely dangerous) to the office. I gave myself an extra twenty minutes to slowly inch my way from the parking lot into headquarters. My pain was noticeable enough that a few other employees who I’d never met before offered to carry my laptop bag on my behalf. I finally made it to the conference room where I waited 10 minutes past the start time of the meeting before I sent an email to my new colleagues, who responded that they both decided to work from home and were on the bridge waiting for me to dial in. I almost started crying right then and there, but it would have been too painful to sob.

My level of stress stressed those out around me. Happy? Who had time for that?!

Fast-forward to taking a job as the head of marketing for Angels Baseball, where I thought I had really, truly “made it.” I had a fancy title, my own parking space nameplate, corner office with a view (despite the cliche) and a large team to lead at a recognizable sports team. I went in high-strung and ready to kill it. I was going to prove I was worthy of their faith in me by being the first one in and the last one out. I skipped lunch most days, and when I ate, it was a microwaved bowl of oatmeal at my desk. I put my sweat and tears into marketing even once I got home after my hour and a half commute. This was it, this was going to make my career.

Yet, I was miserable. I won’t get into the details as to why, but after a few months of working there, I spent most of my commute home crying. I was so frazzled that my emotions were always at the tip ready to spill out. Six months in, my husband finally said: “If you’re that unhappy, quit.”

“I can’t quit,” I said. “What will everyone think of me?”

In the end, I did. My husband, who had left his job of 15 years so that I could pursue my dream job in Southern California, hadn’t found his next job yet. We were both unemployed and I was panicked about money and how we’d survive.

Not only did we survive, but we THRIVED! With no idea when we’d land our next paycheck, we had the most amazing three months of my life.

We enjoyed waking up on our own with no alarm clock. We switched our phones’ notifications to silent for email. We walked our dog together out along the beach three times a day together while talking and enjoying our environment. We sat next to each other on the couch while job hunting the first half of the day, then we went and explored the second half of the day. We found the best happy hours for each day of the week to eat and drink on a budget that ended up costing less than it would for groceries to make it. We rode our bikes, ran, worked out on the beach, swam, attended free yoga on the beach classes, and went to various other free meet-up events to simply experience new things. We spent time reading books for FUN and not for business.

Our cost of living dropped immensely with no longer paying for dry cleaning, haircuts, and our propensity to constantly buy new shoes and work outfits. We didn’t feel the need to go to expensive dinners on the weekend as our reward for a week of hard work. Instead, we wore the same 7 sets of jeans and shirts week after week. Flip flops are the bomb, by the way. We cooked a lot at home because we enjoyed trying new recipes and cooking together. Our car-gas bill went down with no longer having long commutes.

We learned to live with so much less. And we appreciated so much more.

What other time in my life will I get the opportunity to spend every day with my best friend before retiring and not because we’re on vacation? This time was such a gift.

It was also a major reset on our perspectives and our stress levels. I had gotten so out of touch with my body and my mind that I didn’t even realize the toll that it was taking on my health and my own emotional well-being. I found myself again.

We also realized we don’t need as much income as we thought we did to live a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. It even shifted how we look at our retirement and the level of savings and investment we set. We would much rather have the time together than the ‘things’ it would buy later.

With this reset, I also morphed my philosophy on work and career. It is possible to life the life you crave. Now, I look forward to my work each and every day. I still have impact, I’m still productive, and I’m still making money. Yet I’m free of stress and my mind is present in my life.

I feel more stability now than I ever did in corporate because, as an entrepreneur, my time is mine and I can go as far as I want to reach. I’m only accountable to myself and I know that anything I put my mind to, I can achieve. My fate is in my hands…and it tastes delicious!

If you want to find the confidence to pursue the life you crave, or if you want to learn how to break down the walls of stress and live more freely, I’m accepting new coaching clients. The first call is free! Email me at inversioncoaching [at] gmail [dot] com.