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Maya Angelou famously said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
Writers know this feeling all too well.
Hemingway congratulated Fitzgerald on birthing one of his novels by saying something to the effect of, “You must feel like you sh*t a log.”
I’d argue that this feeling extends well beyond writers though. It applies to all creators. Which is every one of us. We are all innately creative. We were brought to this earth to share our unique gifts with one another. When we don’t, we feel that sense of pain that Angelou referred to, which can manifest as physical or mental illness, or a more general malaise.
The malaise is what most of us face. It often presents as that feeling like you just have to make it through the day so you can finally get home and relax in front of the television. There’s nothing at all wrong with television, mind you. Television can jog our creativity and give us needed rest and reprieve during hectic seasons of our lives. But if it’s our only form of joy, this is a sign that we’re living a life that is void of purposeful work, deep connection, and rich, memorable experiences, all of which each and every one of us deserve.
There’s nothing wrong with you if this is your reality either. There’s no shame in living this way. For the most part, we’re doing the best we can with the tools that we have. So, if your toolbox when it comes to finding joy in your life looks like zoning out in front of the television, or surrounding yourself with just about anyone in order to avoid being alone, or baking cookies and eating a few too many, then that’s okay.
But if you want to part ways with that emptiness you feel inside of you, there is a way to go about it. It’s just not easy. Obviously. If it were easy, we wouldn’t be detouring in all these ways that we do.
My method of detouring, which you may relate to, is via work. As someone who has goals for her business, I’ve noticed that whenever they feel overwhelming, I self-sabotage by prioritizing menial tasks, leaving only my second-best efforts for big-picture thinking and other tasks that will actually move the needle.
It’s clear why we do this. We don’t like being uncomfortable. And so we lean into what makes us feel safe and good—even when that doesn’t yield the life that we ultimately want to create for ourselves.
So, what do we do? How do we stop spinning our wheels and start showing up for ourselves?
1. First, we need to get clear on what we want out of life.
This may sound like a huge task, and it may take some thinking if you’ve never considered it before, but I do believe that most of us have some inkling as to what we want, however deep down. Some questions to ask would be: What does my ideal day look like? What am I doing? Who am I engaging with? Where am I? How do I feel? How do I unwind?
Often, we make things overly complicated. I like to remember that life is a series of days. And so when we know what our ideal day looks like, it’s fairly safe to say that this is the sort of life we want. It doesn’t have to be grand. It just has to fulfill you. You can move through this thought process while journaling or meditating or even while you exercise. Do as you please, just commit to being 100 percent honest with yourself and your core desires. Let the ego go. What does your heart want?
2. When we know what we want, we can and should ask ourselves why.
Why does this lifestyle bring me joy? Why does this activity fulfill me? When we understand ourselves on a deeper level, it’s far easier to commit to creating this life we’ve envisioned. When we don’t, we can slough it all off as mere fantasy. Anchoring our desires into our values grounds them profoundly, helping us take ourselves seriously.
3. Reduce pressure by reframing this as a fun experiment.
I’ve always had a tendency to want to “make the right choice.” But all this does is lead to analysis paralysis. We get caught in a web of uncertainty surrounding our next steps, and so then we do nothing. The most helpful thing to do when we notice this perfectionism rearing its ugly head is to reframe this all as a fun experiment.
We’re not meant to know what will work out. Life is, in part, about getting to know ourselves, and we can only deepen this relationship we have with ourselves when we try something new and see how it feels. That is the point. To grow and expand throughout the journey. Not to “get it right.” So, let go of the desire to and give yourself permission to experiment with your ideas for your business, art project, relationship, personal or spiritual development, and so on.
4. Identify how you distract yourself.
As mentioned, that may be television or prioritizing menial tasks. That may also look like scrolling on social media. Take stock of how you spend your time and ask yourself how you may spend it differently in order to prioritize your values, dreams, and goals.
5. Pay attention to the negative voice that crops up.
When you think about pursuing that which you desire, where does your mind go? Does it feel “impossible”? Or “too confusing”? Or “out of your league”? Does it tell you that you’re “no good” at X, Y, or Z and therefore you “shouldn’t even try”? Rather than trying to squash these thoughts, tune into them. Often, there is valuable information there.
Maybe you do need to learn a skill in order to make what you want happen. Or, maybe the voice is purely a bully that is reminiscent of a childhood frenemy, and your calling is to acknowledge the wound before proving the Negative Nancy that it’s wrong, that you are capable.
Everything in life is a choice. Whether we grumble about “what could have been” or actively pursue our dreams is up to us. No, we may not know how things will turn out. But, remember, that’s not the point.
As Viktor Frankl said, “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state, but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”