I mean, if these words make your shoulders tense up, you know where I’m coming from. We’re all human, folks, we have good days and bad, and most of the time we only show the good – we don’t let people see behind the mask. But you know what, we only get one life, and old age (and unfortunately youth and middle age) are gifts not afforded to everyone. Why go through the motions of this life with anything other than courage, being true to yourself, and doing what makes you (and those around you) better and happy? None of us have it all figured out, so strip away the expectations of who you’re supposed to be and what your life is supposed to look like. Don’t run from who you are at your core – turn around and hug that person. To put it bluntly, solve your sh*t and enjoy this life – and that’s part of what I’m doing here.
Some of you know that I usually do a monthly challenge – well, welcome to November: Let Go! The physical, I like and can often do – I can push, I can sweat, I can create a killer playlist. But, the internal – literally repeating to myself, “Let it go, Heidi, let it freaking go,” has been just as brutal this month. It has ranged from putting down my phone after an annoying text so that it doesn’t occupy mental space, to closing Instagram when a post makes me feel bad about myself, to catching myself (and apologizing) when I’m being snippy or dismissive to someone who doesn’t deserve it, to actually releasing people from my life (with as much grace as possible). I’ve been consciously trying to let go of what drains me, what consumes me, what triggers me, what no longer serves me, and a lot of that comes from within me. You have to continually work on that person who stares back at you in the mirror – the place where there is no mask, no hiding – and make your peace with that face.
This raw truth piece is a part of my challenge, and I’ve stopped and started so many times over the month. I have written, crossed out entire sections and pages, scribbled notes in the margins, gotten mad, cried, walked away …. and finally sat down to let it all pour out. And that release feels soooo good! THAT is the beauty of letting go! And then I realized that is my pattern, my process – I’m a problem solver, a thinker, a listener, a (former) people pleaser, a helper, a fixer, – and then a do-er. I will sit back, examine a situation from all angles, including the players, figure it out, calculate risk, come up with a plan (and probably a conclusion) – and then jump in, and all in, at that. I’ll cannonball off the highest platform, but only after, in 3 seconds or 3 minutes, coming up with a strategy and way to protect myself. Welcome to control and self preservation.
But, you know the biggest fear for this controlling personality – vulnerability. Prime example – there is this bench at the gym where, once your lower half is in, you’re basically at a 45° angle and look like Superman taking off. Empowering, right?! Yeah, I despise that 3ft piece of equipment, and every time Deno makes me do it, I stomp my feet like a child, whine, get angry, pace back and forth, and then finally get in. I wish I could say that, once in, I feel like Wonder Woman, and powerfully bend and rise, but ohhh no – my body freezes, my mind and muscles compete with each other, and after I finally take the first plunge, I hold my breath and borderline cry. It’s like a trust fall, but in the opposite direction, and that is what vulnerability feels like for me. But you know what, I never face plant, the bench and I are stronger than I think, and with each attempt, I unclench my teeth, take a huge breath, trust the support and myself, and let go. And it gets a tad easier … tad. So, that’s how I’m also tackling vulnerability – in part for me, but also for what it brings about in others. If I can show up as my imperfect, fearful, authentic, chaotic self, hopefully it inspires others to do the same. And that is a beautiful thing! To be vulnerable is to be brave and courageous, and I wouldn’t ask or expect others to do something that I’m not willing to try.
Each day I make a conscious decision to show up and be present in life – to try to open up, especially when I don’t want to. Some days I win, some I fail, miserably. Some days my wall gets a level higher, and some days I smash it with a sledgehammer. I am an extremely guarded, private person, which may seem odd to those who think I’m pretty open and social. I am – to a point. I talk all day long, for work and life, and I love conversation and learning and people. But, I also highly value my quiet/down time … yet there is a difference between quiet and distant. It takes a lot for me to truly open up, to share the nitty gritty, to give you a peek behind the wall. I fully admit that I’m a work in progress. When I’m at my worst – whether there’s too much on my mind, or I’m overwhelmed by work or life, or my feelings are really hurt – I shut down and go on auto pilot. I will keep conversations short and surface, I will avoid eye contact, and I will remove myself. It’s like a huge game of Jenga, and to pull one piece (aka, explain one thing that is wrong) will allow the whole tower to collapse. I think it’s a coping mechanism of being in the public eye for so long, to continually have to be “on” – you put on your game face, compartmentalize, and do what you have to do to get through the day because you have a job to do or people who depend on you. The problem is that days add up, and so do emotions, and so do walls, and the weight becomes too much for any person to bear. And if you don’t find an outlet and let it go, you’ll collapse, just like that Jenga tower, which is now life size, or you’ll burn down so much more. Y’all, that is no bueno, and I say that with great love and compassion, because I’ve been there, more times than I’d like to admit.
The rational solution to this – don’t let it all build. When issues present themselves, talk about them, open up, and say what is actually on in your mind. Honesty is an incredible, expedient problem solver (but also remember that honesty without tact is cruelty). Make a change and find a solution, and if that’s not possible, let it gooooo and walk away. Don’t overanalyze, don’t beat yourself up and don’t blame. You are in charge of your life.
You know what also helps – asking for freaking help. Now, I would rather run on the treadmill (and I loathe the treadmill) than ask for help, but I am trying to do better. I know it’s irrational, but somehow help equates to vulnerability in my mind (not in others, just me). And to need help is to demonstrate that I can’t do something on my own, and that then equates to failure. Harsh, I know! Believe me, you will never be harder on me than I am on myself. But, when you are extremely stubborn, fiercely independent and have an absurd work ethic, it is ingrained in you that it all comes down to you – you don’t let others down, you power through, you find a way, and you do.not.quit! “If you’re going through hell, keep going” runs through my mind, but so does “Find joy in the journey” … welcome to my balancing act between hard and soft. Like vulnerability, to ask for help is NOT weakness, it is NOT failure. It IS courageous, it IS honest, it IS intelligent, it IS human.
Well, I think that’s enough soul shine for one sitting. If any germ of an idea here resonates with you, and helps you moving forward, then mission accomplished. I am a wealth of positive affirmations and support and smiles, but sometimes you have to get in the mud and dirt of who we are, where the mask slips away, and sit in the dark, with yourself and with others, to find the light. And on days that don’t go so well, that’s okay – let it roll off those tense shoulders and live to fight another day! You get to wake up and move that wonderful body of yours – do you know how fortunate you are – so instead of being your harshest critic, be your biggest fan! Speak kindly to yourself (that was on the Exemplar board last month, and still weighs on my heart) and smile at that person in the mirror – you’ve fought so hard for her/him! There’s no prize for trying to hold it all together ever so perfectly, folks. Perfection doesn’t exist; it’s like the butterfly someone chases. The prize is living and loving and growing!