This is letter five.
This letter is about shoelaces and grand ambitions.
If you need to know what color you should paint a room or which wine you should pair with what cheese, I am not the person to turn to.
HOWEVER, if you have a knot in your shoelace or a tangle in the chain of a beloved necklace… well, well, well, step right up, sit on down, and let me work! my! magic!
I am a woman who can untie knots. Of all kinds.
Let’s talk about literal knots first, and then we’ll make our way to the figurative ones.
Part of the reason I can untie knots is because I have a mind that seems to be wired for solving puzzles. Analysis, pattern recognition, the ability to configure things in my “minds eye” without necessarily having to see them arranged in the physical realm are all things that come naturally to me.
The other reason I’m an expert detangler is that, as a child, I was fortunate to have the four components of knot-untying role modeled for me on a regular basis by my dad – most vividly when he had to take splinters out of his hand or mine.
My dad wasn’t explaining any of this to me explicitly, but with my natural wiring, my young mind watching him was like: YES, YES, YES, I GET WHAT IS GOING ON HERE.
My dad was role-modeling these four components:
The belief that it is possible (96% of the time, at least) to get the splinter out (or the knot untied).
The acceptance that it may take some time to figure out how to do it.
The understanding that it may be necessary to try different tools and techniques.
The acknowledgement that beating yourself up with negative self-talk does not have to be part of the process. When frustration arises (which it usually does), you need to quit yer bitchin’ and gently remind your mind about component #1.
Chalking my wizardry with knots up to the fact that I am “patient” glosses over what patience actually is; patience is those four components in action. And impatience is the result of getting stuck at any one of those stages.
My growing facility with untying literal knots, made me seek out “knots” of escalating complexity… Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, logic puzzles, organizing my sister’s room (again and again <— because backsliding is what occurs when your “client” doesn’t actually want you organizing her room) and on and on.
By the time I graduated from college, I had truly become someone who is undaunted by complexity.
And from there I took my little show on the road – first solving the puzzles of people’s physical environments, and then working with the puzzle pieces of people’s lives and careers – using, as my foundational process, those same four components.
Meanwhile, in my early 40’s, due to a confluence of events (that I will share a bit more about in the weeks ahead), I began a period of my life that I now refer to as The Great Dismantlement of my Grand Ambitions.
Like any hot-blooded, native-born American, I wanted allllll that was “promised” to me by my (white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, neurotypical) privilege and by my willingness to be a Good Girl who put her nose to the grindstone and kept it there for over two decades. I wanted all the externals – indubitable acclaim, financial security, and leisure time – and I had decided that this was the decade that I was finally gonna get ’em.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll just say that things did not go to plan.
(My shoelaces didn’t have any knots, but I couldn’t get either of them to stay in a bow so I was tripping and falling and scraping my knees.)
I became increasingly worried and impatient, stuck at all four stages:
I started to believe that What I Wanted wasn’t possible.
I became afraid that I didn’t have enough time to figure it all out.
I felt I had exhausted my tools and techniques.
I began some heavy-duty negative self-talk – not beating myself up, per se, but routinely indulging in stories along the lines of “why even bother” and “does it even matter” and “what’s the point” – which of course sent my mind circling right back to stage One: believing that What I Wanted wasn’t possible.
The Great Dismantlement of my Grand Ambitions was a long and excruciating torment that spanned the past nine years. My saving grace was that I was undaunted by the complexity, so I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I trusted myself, but I didn’t yet trust Life / Source / God / The Universe / Whatever.
Thankfully, (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen:) as my world started to crack, bits of new light started to shine in.
This was one of the first rays:
I heard Dan Sullivan say something that I wrote down and clung to.
Dan is an innovative and kindly soul who (through his very cool biz, Strategic Coach) coaches many of the top entrepreneurs in the world on basically one thing: how to think differently about their challenges and opportunities so that they can identify and take their next steps with confidence.
Speaking about his work with entrepreneurs in general, Dan said:
“I love this conversation. I was put on Earth to have this conversation. Maybe next time around there will be another conversation but this is what I am here to do this time.”
Hearing him express a feeling of satisfaction and “enoughness” rather than a desire for more, more, MORE seemed so… radical. I was struck by his genuine sense of contentment within his purpose. Like Dan, I was already very connected to my purpose (untying knots in the service of expansion). Yet while Dan had contentedly relaxed into his bubbling little hot tub of purpose, I was thrashing and splashing around in mine, discontent with the temperature and fearful my jets would never be powerful enough.
This ray of light, in the form of those three sentences from Dan, prompted an important but unwelcome internal inquisition… a simmering rumination on the question: “What if this was all that it was going to amount to for me in this lifetime… could I become content with that?”
For years I alternated between sitting uncomfortably, skeptically, and oh so resentfully with that question, and then fleeing from it. Thankfully, as more rays of light peeked through more cracks in my life, I gradually softened around the question and was able to sit closer and closer to it for longer and longer periods of time.
“If what I already have is basically all that is meant for me in this lifetime… could I be content with that?”
I finally realized that I could. (My ego would like the record to reflect that it still says: “NO.”)
…that’s when my biz finally made seven-figures!!!!!!!
HAHAHAHAHA – NO, that did not happen.
But that’s how most of these kinds of stories (when they are told) usually end – often misleadingly correlating a big, fat, external REWARD with an internal growth spurt, cuz a) who doesn’t want a reward? and b) internal growth spurts don’t make for glamorous Instagram posts.
But nope. This is just a story about my growth (and growing pains) around expansion…
…a bit about when I learned how to facilitate it… a bit about how the privileged assumption of it can breed discontent… and a bit about why I now relate to it as a form of self-expression rather than as a path to fulfillment.
This past week, eh?
I wish I could give you a reassuring hug. Alas, all I can offer are a few more words… a little reminder I wrote to myself years ago to steady my nerves when I’m staring into the void of uncertainty:
Although I don’t know what the next moment will bring, I know what I can bring to the next moment.
Thinking of you and wishing you fortitude,
Up next: the moment I became a professional actress. There’s drama, I assure you.