Today, as I celebrate my 60th birthday, I’ve found myself doing a lot of thinking about where I’ve been, where I am and where I’d like to be headed.
When your life begins with a near death experience, you know you’re in for a wild ride. Having survived that initial bump in the road, I went on to survive many others:
- A childhood home laced with chaotic emotions and financial challenges;
- Anorexia and a bleeding ulcer at age 19,
- A nasty, prolonged divorce at age 38 to end a 17-year emotionally abusive “starter” marriage;
- A plethora of dysfunctional coping mechanisms, including sex, overeating, non-stop work and shopping therapy, none of which helped and all of which added new stressors to an already heavy load;
- A decade of depression so severe that finding a reason to go on living was my daily challenge; and
- Utter burnout at age 52—mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually—due to more than five decades of the hamster wheel approach to life in which I hid my low self-esteem and insecurity by raising overwork, perfectionism and over-achievement to an art form.
In 2005, I took a five-year sabbatical to find healing and peace because non-stop work had finally taken its toll. My recovery from burnout, including a sustained 80-pound weight loss and freedom from depression, led to finding my purpose guiding others on their journeys. Through healing and self-exploration, I discovered that loving yourself unconditionally is the key to transforming your personal life, your work and the world.
While my days are permeated with a greater sense of deep peace, lasting joy and meaningful relationships, I’m not a zen mistress on a mountaintop. I still have my ups and downs, still drift off center occasionally, as any of us can do when overwhelmed by stress and gripped by ancient self-destructive scripts. This has been especially true since the release of my book. You might think the hard part would be writing a meaningful, substantive and engaging 195-page book. Not so for me. Staying centered while writing it was a piece of cake compared to trying to do so during the marketing phase. Marketing and sales (or the lack thereof) create the perfect storm for resurrecting any residual doubts about your intrinsic value. When our books aren’t overnight commercial successes (which most books are not), we can get sucked back into confusing how much money we’re making (or not making) as the measure of our self-worth. I’ve been blessed with my fair share of those “opportunities.” And I didn’t always respond with constructive affirmations, meditation and optimism. I had dark moments when I started to question what I was doing and why. And like all of my other dark moments, these became goldmines for anchoring the lessons more deeply, healing old wounds and discovering possibilities for even greater transcendence and transformation. I lovingly refer to these episodes as sweeping leftover karmic crumbs out of the corners.
Today, on the 60th anniversary of my birth, I am refining my intentions concerning how I want to spend my remaining years. The short description is working/doing less while being/living more. Last month I declined a potential speaking engagement for two important reasons.
- I believed the parameters wouldn’t allow me the space to provide real value to the participants. I’m becoming much more rigorous and discerning about my professional commitments as I gain greater clarity on my objective: everything I undertake must provide real value for my clients, not just an opportunity for me to feel or appear important by being on stage or staying incessantly busy.
- My level of commitments must still leave room for me to enjoy a life of balance and harmony. I don’t believe that I’d survive another bout with burnout and I have no desire to find out. My own life is a cautionary tale. When we spend our days not taking care of ourselves, eventually we are no good to ourselves or anyone else. We cannot share anything of lasting value with others by giving from an empty well. When we learn to treat ourselves with love in every moment, then—and only then—will we find ourselves able to be of genuine service to others. And so the most unselfish thing I can do is to give myself space to renew and empower my body, mind, heart and soul with rest, reflection and play.
This new way of being still feels very unsettling and strange. I was amazed at the level of guilt and shame I experienced before and after deciding I was going to skip last month’s speaking event. In terms of the board of directors construct I describe in my book (Chapter 6 of Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life! from Hay House/Balboa Press 2013), my Guardian, Ella, is really struggling against the elimination of one of her favorite fear-based coping mechanisms—overwork. But my Muse, Bee, is starting to feel much more powerful. And my Sage, Claire, is downright intrigued by the potential for greater peace, freedom and joy to be found in focusing on seeking and providing meaning first and foremost rather than frequently measuring things by how much money they bring in, how much prestige (real or imagined) they bestow or how much bigger and safer they make me feel. Safety and security based on performing and possessions is an illusion spun from fear-fueled lies. An ego trip which has disappointed me more times than I care to remember.
Each day, I’m gaining greater clarity on how hard I’ve pushed myself in my quest for safety and security since surviving my traumatic Rh factor exit from the birth canal. By living the way I did for so many years, I may have won lots of awards, scholarships and promotions and made a lot of money (much of it now gone), but I know deep in my soul that I sacrificed much more than I gained. Evident not just in the obvious large-scale deterioration of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, but in the more subtle and insidious undermining of my sense of personal peace in each moment.
There’s no question my retirement from consulting in 2005 and my subsequent healing and incarnation as a coach in 2010 shifted me to a slower, more mindful, more meaning-filled way of living. I know my work as a coach, author, speaker and radio host has touched the lives of many with hope and possibilities, just as they have touched mine. But I’m also starting to recognize that at times I’ve still pushed myself too hard out of the misguided notion that I have to continue to earn my self-worth. It would appear there’s even more opportunity to enjoy working less and living more. Just being of service to myself and others for the beauty and joy that it imparts.
The good news? I’m nowhere near finished. Stay tuned. I’m optimistic about my future. As I delve deeper to be even more honest with myself, I’m starting to get the feeling that this next phase may be even more interesting, and fulfilling, than the past three years. Hard to imagine, but true nonetheless.
Whatever my circumstances, I know who I am and Whose I am—I am a unique cocreative expression of the Divine. Today I am celebrating every aspect of me—the attributes that thrill me and those that frustrate me and everyone who knows me. They are all essential elements of my unique cocreative role in expressing the Divine.
And so it is. Namaste. Amen. Blessed be.