I wrote to my pal Mara Glatzel because I’d been contemplating the following question for a while: how does one figure out where to stand on the line between “I’m not doing _____ because I’m taking care of myself” and “I’m doing _____ (this very difficult thing that is uncomfortable) in order to stretch my borders”? And she seemed like the best person I could think of to answer this question for myself and for my audience.
…True self-trust exists in finding your own distinction between “I’m not ready” and “I need to be really honest with myself about the fact that I am freaking out and I need to summon everything that I’ve got if I want to proceed.”
Listen to Mara read this piece here:
I stood before the dune in the early morning light–suddenly conscious, suddenly frozen in the face of the enormity of the structure of sand before me. I felt so small by comparison, standing humbly with my hands clutched at my waist as I opened my mouth and prepared to pray for my life.
I wanted to be honest. I wanted to speak to the desire blooming in my belly.
But, in that moment, I felt as though I was on my hands and knees in the sand, attempting to scale the astounding mountain before me. In that moment, I was certain only of the looming weight of failure.
As I stood at the foot of that dune of sand, with prayers in my heart and tissues in my pocket, I realized that everything in my life had been feeling that way over the couple of months prior–the overwhelm that peaks and threatens to topple me, my body slight in comparison to the sheer magnitude of my ambition.
My desire to go back to school. The student loans. My credit card debt. The marriage I hungered for. The business that I hadn’t yet even given myself permission to dream of. All looming, all huge. All bigger than me as tears ran down my face and I spoke, as plainly as I could, of my desire and my fear, surrendering to the honesty of my feelings.
In the morning, under the heat of the sun, an elder sat beside me as I shared my experience standing at the base of the dune during the night. Very succinctly, he told me, “Mara, you cannot pray your way over the mountain. You cannot muscle your way through it, sand in your mouth and hair. You have to see through the mountain to the other side. It is the strength of your belief and desire for what’s on the other side that empowers you, giving you the strength to proceed.”
Walking a path of ambition and utter humanity is a personal journey, but it is one that has no shortage of external advice telling you how to do things, when to do things, and the correct order for getting started. That well-intentioned advice is never more than a Google search away and you are surrounded by people who are ready to take advantage of your fear and momentary lack of self-trust, swooping in to help you get to where you want to go.
However, true self-trust exists in finding your own distinction between “I’m not ready” and “I need to be really honest with myself about the fact that I am freaking out and I need to summon everything that I’ve got if I want to proceed.”
You must allow yourself to take action on your own terms and in your own right timing, building your capacity for living bravely and for speaking to yourself honestly. You must teach yourself to answer the question, am I on the wrong track or am I hiding? You must cultivate the internal fortitude of standing behind your decisions as you make them, because you might be the only person who shares your vision for your life as you want it.
But before you can do any of that, you must learn to trust yourself.
True self-trust is born in moments of straightforward conversation and inspired action in following through with the promises that you make yourself.
This is the self-trust that you cultivate when you enter into a relationship with yourself – feeling your connection to your spirit bloom in the specificity of your desires, ambitions, personal power, and the full breadth of your feelings. In viewing your connection to yourself and your life as a relationship, your perspective shifts. Moments of sheer willpower and extraordinary feats of forcing yourself through your to do list become conversations, evaluations of truth and yearning. You no longer have to whip yourself along, forcing yourself into decision after decision informed by what you think you “should” do.
When you view your connection with yourself as a relationship, you are called to be more present, to feel the efficacy of compromise, to know that action is best sought through showing up, every day, to earn your own trust.
Let’s try an experiment.
In this moment, close your eyes. Feel your feet on the floor. Take a couple of deep breaths.
Imagine that thing that you want to do. That thing that you’ve been going over again and again in your mind, trying to figure out if it’s right for you even though it fills you with fear. Run over the details of doing that thing for a moment, feeling yourself in the act of doing it in real time.
Tune into your feelings around it. Do you feel expansive and exhilarated? Does your fear feel like the contagious bubbling of excited nerves in the pit of your stomach? Are your shoulders back, your heart open? Do you feel yourself wanting to put on the brakes because, if it were possible, if you could REALLY make it happen, it would change everything? Do you feel that opening of wonder and possibility around having to reimagine your understanding of who you are and what you’re capable of to make space for this new thing – an act of pride and also a twinge of bewilderment?
Or does it feel like you’re locked up in the chokey* with nothing but nails poking you and a shortage of fresh air? Are your shoulders rounded forward, your chest tight and stance protective? When you think about doing that thing, do you feel constrained or tied down to something heavy? Does it restrict your freedom? If you are really honest with yourself, is this something that you want to take on or say yes to?
You can trust in your body–and your spirit–to give you vital information about whether or not to proceed, but this trust comes through practice.
You can tune in, allowing your consciousness to leave your thoughts for just a moment to drop into the tension in your shoulders and spiraling in your heart. Be gentle with yourself here. Allow yourself to become curious instead of definitive. The presence of fear doesn’t negate your readiness. You can be afraid and you can be ready. When you open yourself up to being present in your body, you are able to determine whether it is fear that will ignite your excitement or if it is debilitating fear, the kind of fear that begs you pause to re-evaluate or change course all together.
This is how you learn how to be in relationship with yourself, by making one well-intentioned decision and then another. By pausing to ask the question, what do I really want? By listening to the answer.
By allowing yourself the kindness of knowing that your experience of the process of doing something is just as important as the end result and adjusting your timeline and plan accordingly.
As you navigate your life, you have the final word. With each well-intentioned choice, you become more firmly rooted in your relationship with yourself.
You get to choose whether or not to proceed.
It is crucial that you know that there is no wrong choice here. No one is going to come to your house and pull you out of bed by your toe, demanding that you take action.
You are the only one who gets to decide if something is worth the risk–that the possibility of making that thing happen is so enticing it is worth the inevitable revisions that it will require and the unpredictable possibility of failure. That you are willing to become a fool for that thing, whatever it is. That you are willing to tolerate all of your feelings–the excitement, the stress, the fear–because you want it so badly that, for you, there is no other way but forward.
You get to reinterpret perceived failures as valuable information for moving forward. You get to choose–and you get to change your mind.
It is your prerogative to keep checking with yourself in this way, and not to assume that you know the right answer. You get to keep asking the questions: Do I want what I once wanted? Is this a priority for me right now?
When you stand at the base of the mountain and encounter the sandsucking feeling of surrendering to your fear, you are in a moment of opportunity. You can choose to remain with yourself, your focus turning inward as you begin to determine the quality of the fear. You can choose not to abandon yourself at the mere presence of the mountain, staying by your own side even when (if you’re honest) you’d rather distract yourself with a Netflix binge or pull the comforter over your head. Each moment that you remain, each moment that you stay open to your feelings in the face of your desire, you strengthen your capacity. You bolster your self-trust.
As you stand at the base of the mountain, open your heart to the possibility of being on the other side and decide whether or not it’s worth the risk. Tune into your body. Ask yourself what you know to be true. Trust that you have the answers to your own questions – and that your decisions are good enough.
And, then, choose what to do next.
*The Chokey is a very tall but narrow cupboard from Roald Dahl’s Matilda that Mrs. Trunchbull uses as punishment. The Chokey is filled with broken glass sticking out in the walls with nails on the door and those who wobble while standing inside will either be spiked by the glass or the nails. In short, it’s terrifying – feeling that kind of fear is a neon blinking sign begging you to stop and majorly re-evaluate.
Bio: Mara Glatzel, MSW is an intuitive guide and energy healer for women who are yearning to belong to themselves. As she gathers women together, Mara facilitates daily conversations about intention, truth, and celebration. She is a creative leader, a wild celebrator of the sacred mundane, and expert at living in her own skin with grace and ease. At the core of her work is the desire to live a well-intentioned life, which means… more joy, grit, and vibrant imperfection to spare. Hang out with Mara on Instagram, Facebook, or sign-up to receive weekly missives filled to the brim with the absolute best of what she’s got–unfiltered vulnerability and heart-opening encouragement.