I just got off a call with my therapist — my first session with her since June 2023.
My decision to press pause for a few months was less about desire and more about focus. I had such strict deadlines to hit — a preorder campaign! A pub date! A launch cabaret! — that focusing on anything else beyond meeting my basic physical/mental/emotional needs felt like a strain on my system. I am a huge fan of therapy. I knew I’d be back very soon. I just needed a mini break. Between book and life, I was at max capacity, and something had to give.
Well, flash forward to now, and I have the capacity.
And it’s sending me for a loop.
You see, these last few years have been about hitting benchmarks given to me by others. Whether it was a system (publishing industry) or a person (team members), I had many clear goals to hit and many clear deadlines to hit them by. Not gonna lie — after a whole damn adulthood of creating my own goals and deadlines in nearly every industry I’ve been in, having people tell me I needed to do X done by Y so we could start the process of Z felt like a relief.
The book is out there.
X has been done by Y, and Z is long completed.
And it’s time for what comes next in my life.
But after getting a little *too* comfy following very cut-and-dry step-by-steps for so long, I find myself asking:
Uh…what *does* come next?
Some authors talk about the time after you publish your book like a form of postpartum depression. I don’t consider myself in that place per se, but I HAVE felt a sense of uneasiness.
What do I do now? I’ve found myself wondering.
Am I doing everything I should be?
Am I missing anything important?
Am I on track?
Am I dropping the ball anywhere or letting anyone down?
All questions that have crossed my mind, non-rhetorically, over the last few weeks. Of course, Googling or asking doesn’t help — it only feeds the questions. Ironically, I am comfortable with BIG unknowns (Deep ocean! Vastness of outer space! The afterlife, or not!), but the more I focus on the SMALLER unknowns, the more they multiply.
And I’ve found myself getting a little too interested in something I know better than to get too interested in: My Feelings ABOUT My Feelings.
THE FEELINGS ABOUT THE FEELINGS
Negative self-talk, as I describe in WANT YOUR SELF, is when the story you tell yourself, about your Self, takes a dark turn. It’s a turn that belittles who you are and what you stand for, sometimes without you noticing it.
One way that negative self-talk is generated: from your Feelings About Your Feelings.
“Self-talk isn’t good or bad, it’s information — it’s what we do with that information that informs what happens next,” the book says.
What is *also* true is that before the negative self-talk starts up, we often feel something intense or uncomfortable. (Normal human feelings to feel. If you don’t ever feel discomfort in any way, you should probably get that checked out.)
This is where we get tripped up. We feel a certain way — awkward, lonely, angry, envious, out of control — and then we have feelings ABOUT those feelings.
I feel awkward turns into this is a bad feeling turns into I must be so weird.
I feel lonely turns into this is a bad feeling turns into I must not be lovable.
I feel envious turns into this is a bad feeling turns into I must not be good enough (or, I must be an asshole, if you’re like me and have historically associated envy with something only egomaniacs or insecure people feel).
You get the picture. The Feelings About The Feelings steer the ship.
I have proof of my own self-direction and self-generation. Soooo much proof. YEARS worth of proof, actually!! It’s what’s gotten me here. I AM ALREADY someone who makes goals, sets them in place, and goes after them.
I’m tempted to whine and ask myself, But where is that person now?!
The truth is, that person is HERE.
I know I STILL AM that person.
I am just OUT OF SHAPE.
What does that mean? Well, like I said — my benchmarks and deadlines have been set by other people/systems for two whole years now. After a whole damn lifetime of meticulously crafting my own maps, it’s been really nice to have someone else next to me telling me where to go. My Thomas Guide reader, if you will (if you’re old enough to remember those!).
And even though I know — I LOGICALLY KNOW! — that I know how to tell myself where to go and how to chart my own path, I’m out of practice.
But that’s not the thing.
The thing is that being out of practice makes me
Phrases like “forge your own path!” and “create the life you want to live!” pop into my brain like little whack-a-more gremlins and honestly they make me want to crawl into a hole somewhere with a jar of sunflower seed butter and a very large spoon and some Muppet Show reruns and just check out from the world entirely. Forge my own PATH?! Are you kidding me? It all feels so deflating to even START thinking about.
The Feelings I Have (bummed-outness, frustration, defeat) About The Feelings I Have (unfamiliarity, awkwardness, discomfort) are two different things, but I feel overtaken by the former as I lose sight of the latter.
As I begin the journey of strengthening my self-direction again, I know better than to try skipping steps, or to “get back to where I was” pre-book-deal. Where I was THEN is very different then where I am NOW.
And I don’t want to go back. I want to move forward.
This means that the nitty gritty tactics I used to use to keep myself on track might not work in this iteration of my life. I don’t know what WILL work, but I do know that there’s some foundational habit-building that needs to happen in order for me to find out.
This week, I spoke to author Terri Trespicio for an upcoming episode of the WANTcast. She said something that I thought was so profound — that so many of us want our lives to “be a journey,” but how can our lives be a journey if we’re not willing to discover something new?
Being “willing to discover something new” is daunting, yes — but there ARE some ways to get yourself going so you’re able to be more open to the journey ahead of you, and create your own map and path like so many of us say we want to do.
Here are 3 TOOLS I’ve been using to regain self-direction in a way that feels less daunting, more manageable, and wayyyy more likely to lead me somewhere new and exciting that I don’t even know about yet:
1. GATHER PROOF-OF-HABIT.
After so many years of coaching people on their self-talk, mindset, and goals, I know that so much of it all boils down to building and maintaining habits.
Self-direction is a HABIT.
And how do you build habits?
You start doing them until they’re habitual.
To beat the overwhelm that comes along with that EEK how do I steer my own ship feeling, I remind myself that I have ACTUAL YEARS WORTH OF PROOF that once I get into this habit, I’ll be good to go. I’m just not in the habit YET. The overwhelm isn’t because I don’t know how to do the thing, it’s because it’s not the thing I’ve been doing. There’s a big difference.
2. PRACTICE WITH LOWER STAKES.
I’m not totally on board with the phrase “The way you do one thing is the way you do everything,” but I DO find that the way you build habits in one arena of your life usually leaks over into other areas too.
I decided last week that if I want to function in a way that’s self-directed, I need to practice being self-directed in arenas that *aren’t* big make-or-break-feeling moments or arenas. I need to practice the habit I want when the stakes are low, so I have it there to lean on when the stakes are high.
I want to identify and go after benchmarks of my own making in my career? Then I can start to do that in my workouts too. Or in my grocery lists. Or my weekly schedule. I can make firm decisions and then act on them. There are lots of way I can practice self-direction in the everyday moments of my life. Doing this in the everyday moments helps those big moments feel way more manageable, since you’re not trying to create a new mode of operation out of thin air.
3. REDEFINE FLEXIBILITY.
This week’s WANTcast guest, multi-certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor
Amanda Katz, talked all about this in our conversation together. Most of Amanda’s clients, she said, don’t actually struggle with motivation or discipline. They struggle with flexibility. Here’s Amanda’s definition of flexibility:
“We inaccurately equate being flexible with being careless or being lazy or “go with the flow.” And that’s not necessarily what being flexible is. For somebody who struggles (or has struggled) with their relationship with food, with their weight, with their body, or with exercise, being flexible is actually the opposite of that. Being flexible is having the willingness to do the thing that you don’t want to do to better yourself for tomorrow.“
Which means! Flexibility, for me, is not going with the flow. Or waiting for things to come to me. Or taking cues from my surroundings. Maybe sometimes it is, but that time is not now. That’s the habit I’ve leaned a little too heavily on and it’s not serving me, because it’s not setting me up for long-term success.
Do I want the skill of easy-breeziness? Of course. But I can recognize I’ve over-indexed on it to the point of disconnecting from what I actually need and desire in the moment. I’ve been going for the look of easy-breeziness — waiting for cues from my surroundings, delaying decisions to seem “spontaneous” or “intuitive” to myself (lol), keeping my schedule sparse to just “let the day unfold” — and yet the feeling of ease and breeze is nowhere in sight.
None of these things are bad. They’re actually lovely, sometimes. But other times, like now? I can recognize that I haven’t crafted my days to ACTUALLY FEEL easy-breezy, I’ve just focused on what I think ease and breeze look like.
Flexibility means having that willingness to do the things that’ll set your future self up for success. Like I say in my classes: What are you willing to do now to feel the way you want to feel later? Not what are you capable of…or what do you like to do…what are you WILLING to do?
That doesn’t mean going in the total opposite direction of what I described above, and being super rigid with yourself. That means pivoting when you need to pivot and committing when you need to commit (but might not want to in the moment). It means asking yourself: What is my priority? It means getting clear on who you are and how you want to feel, and then developing an awareness of what decisions will get you there. And then, of course, being proactive, not reactive. The awareness is nothing without action attached.
MY VOICE, MY SELF
One last story.
I realized today that this feeling of losing self-direction and “starting from scratch” isn’t a feeling I’m a stranger to.
When I started singing again in 2020, after 10 years without being in so much as a voice lesson, I felt so incredibly uncomfortable. I winced at any misstep or mistake, walking on the eggshells of my own judgement.
With every break in my voice, I wondered if it meant I no longer had it in me.
But I did. My voice teachers reminded me I did. I reminded *myself* I did. And not in a pseudo-motivational way: there were literal things I knew how to do that I would have never known how to do without over a decade of vocal training already under my belt.
I reminded myself that I was simply out of practice.
I decided to sign up for lessons without any goal attached, just so I was doing it regularly again.
I did what I needed to do to be flexible with what my “practicing” could look like — sometimes it was a structured warm-up session, sometimes it was vocal trills while waiting for the subway to arrive.
And then three years later, when 2023 rolled around, I launched WANT YOUR SELF with a cabaret. 70 minutes of me singing, song after song, style after style.
My voice was still in me.
It had never left.
Working through the discomfort of being (what felt like) a “newbie” again made me realize there was no way I was a newbie.
I was just coming at it anew.
And, while I’m still on the journey of building my strength — is it ever over, really? —I’ve noticed something.
I sound more like ME than I ever have in my entire life.