I recently told someone that I have not been working from a place of inspiration in a long time.
She was surprised, and I was too. She wondered how I could do the personal training work that I do, helping people create change in their lives in order to achieve fitness and health goals, and not be fueled by inspiration. I wondered if it was “bad” for a person who owned a fitness studio to admit that inspiration wasn’t the motivating factor driving my work.
It is an interesting contradiction. But as I pondered the question, I had to look at the realities of my last few years dealing with growing a business, the illness and death of a parent, selling a house, and moving twice. I have been busy, stressed, and tired. I have been sad, happy, and frustrated. I have been confident and, at the same time, doubted and second-guessed myself.
It made sense that it has been awhile since I have felt that brilliant spark and lightness that comes from inspiration (or at least my perspective of it). There has been a lot to take care of. I felt pressured (and frantic at times) to make every minute count. And I have dealt with some pretty heavy and huge life questions and milestones. But I have also had a number of the most productive and creative years of my life.
Fun has been scarce, but satisfaction has been plentiful. I have felt more grounded. I have learned how to really be focused and ignore the distractions in the last few years, even as it seemed like I spun endlessly and continuously bounced like a pinball from task to task. It hasn’t been pretty. In fact my life over the past 3 to 4 years has been downright messy. It reminds me of one of my favorite, life-shifting books. That book is Yearnings; Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. The author is Irwin Kula.
There are polarities in life. We may feel inspired, of we may not. It doesn’t really matter. It’s embracing that life brings both that makes a difference.
In his book, Kula describes how one thing in life can be both happy and sad. There are polar opposites in all of life. If we only accept one without the other, we may never have what we want. For if we only see one reality, anything that does not fit that reality is a threat. And that puts us into a defensive mode, fighting or denying most everything that comes our way.
He shares a story of a bride and her family going through with a wedding even though they just received news that the bride’s grandfather has only a few months left to live. The event was ultimately woven with profound joy and heart-wrenching sadness. If they had cancelled the wedding, they most likely would have missed out on a beautiful and memorable moment in their lives. Their hearts were full.
I have learned that if I don’t get too hung up on whether I am feeling inspired or not, I can have so much more than simply accomplishing my goals. It certainly has been messy to embrace the reality that my business may succeed or it may fail. It has been confusing to move forward even though my inner voice is sometimes yelling, “jump ship.” And it has been lonely to keep falling down with no one but myself to pull me back up again.
But it has been in the messiness between the polarities of success and failure that I have found an extraordinary quality of life. It’s not like anything I have ever experienced. I don’t wish myself in any other place than where I am right now.
If my life was a piano, I have certainly played all of the notes in the last few years. It may not have always been fun, but the songs are richer and more real.
I have often used this analogy when coaching clients through change. As humans, we tend to always want the high notes – for things to always turn out “happy.” And we want to avoid the low notes – to not have sadness. But think about what a song would be like if only the absolutely highest notes. Not much listening pleasure there! But what about the songs that use both ends of the keyboard and everything in between. They have interesting melodies. They sound richer and more satisfying. They have more range.
If we get too hung up on which side of life we are on, – Did we win, or did we lose? Am I a success or a failure? Is my marriage going to work or not? – I believe the pieces of ourselves that can lead to a very rich life go undiscovered. And our perspectives get stilted. Our lives get smaller. We end up fighting to land on one side of life while doing everything possible to escape the other. We end up living life in constant battle. It is stressful and certainly less enjoyable than it could be. The truth is that the messiness in the middle is where we can relax, grow, and gain perspective that leads to greater fulfillment.
Learning to embrace the reality that my business may succeed or it may fail has unleashed a level of determination, creativity, and awareness that I have not known before. In the past, I have always been successful by throwing myself into my work and working very hard to accomplish a goal. It’s not that I denied failure or was afraid of it. I was just too busying working on being successful to notice or be aware of when I failed. Failure wasn’t even on my radar screen. The choices I gave myself were being successful or being unsuccessful. If I was being unsuccessful in something, I simply worked harder to get back to success. And because of that, I set up a vicious cycle of working harder and harder. And what I got in return was this – I was either successful, or I was dead tired. Not a very satisfying way to live life.
Seeing and acknowledging failure is a different teacher and creates a broader mindset.
Where as being unsuccessful taught me to try harder and to work harder, embracing the existence of failure has taught me (and at times forced me) to develop more skills, determination, and perseverance. By seeing my business (and life) through the filters of success and failure, I ask myself different questions, and I see where new skills will be helpful. My skin is thicker, because I see less things that threaten me and my success. I give little time to distractions; they waste my energy. And I see my energy as a gift and something to be managed very carefully. I invest my energy in my life and what I want to accomplish.
There is more to me now. Using my piano analogy, I have more range. My new vantage point gives me more things to try when life throws a challenge my way. I know how to work with more determination and with more perseverance than ever before. I didn’t need these skills when I only defined the world in terms of success. When my two choices were being successful or not being successful, all I needed then were the skills I had and an unlimited source of energy.
I used to view the world fairly linearly. I would identify a goal, put a plan together, work the plan and wrap things up in neat, orderly packages. The on to the next goal. I tended to find the path of least resistance, follow that, and accomplish my mission. I was very productive but I was always on a similar looking path.
Failure teaches you that there is no path of least resistance. If there isn’t resistance, there is no path. And whatever path you find, it will be messy – as there is rarely much in life that comes in neat, tidy packages – but it will be gratifying.
With the messiness, much more seems possible.
When you choose to deal or embrace the messiness, you have the opportunity to expand your life and reach towards the edge of your potential. At least that is what it seems to me. It isn’t always pretty and fun. But there is less to get anxious or miffed about. And the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction is more real and and more substantial. You have more energy to tend to what is most important to you because you are not worrying about the way life should be. Rather you are living life the way it is.
As I embrace the messiness in life, I am finding a new inner voice. “It’s possible. This is really possible.” Sometimes it is hard to hear, but it is there. Slowly and surely it is getting louder. It’s replaced an old (and worn out) question of mine – whether I am going to get what I want in life. That whisper of possibility is what moves me now. I am learning to open myself up to a world of possibility. And I am pretty excited about that.
Pam Strand is owner of Strand Fitness, a personal training studio located in Downtown Wheaton, IL and serving Glen Ellyn, Winfield, and other Western Suburbs. In addition to writing about fitness, Pam enjoys sharing her thoughts and lessons about life and life’s journey. To learn more about her work and the work of Strand Fitness, please visit our website – www.strandfitnessllc.com.