Thursday, January 1, 2015

What I learned in 2014

It's that time again!

I get the feeling that I am late to the game with this post. Many of the blogs and news sites I follow spent the past week on their year-end wrap-ups. And I'm not going to lie: I've been thinking about this post for a few days, now. But I just couldn't bring myself to write it. First, because my January 1 post date is a tradition (I've done it twice!). And also, what if I had learned something amazing last night?

So here we are: January 1, 2015. Spending just a few more minutes looking back.

2014 was one of the best years of my life. Immeasurably better than 2013, for sure. Hanging out at the top of the list with the year I spent in Europe and the year I found my calling. For all the same reasons... This year was momentous and life-changing and deep and broad and bigger than I could have ever imagined.

And I learned a lot about myself, and my passions, and my desires, and my feelings. Way more than I ever could hope to contain in a single post. Or a single conversation. Or a single anything really. So after quite a bit of consideration, I've narrowed my lessons down to two. Two major lessons from 2014. Two big truths that I had not uncovered until this year.

I take up space in the Universe. 

I know what you're thinking: Well that's just silly. Of course you do! You're a scientist! How could it have taken you this long to realize that?! And you're absolutely right. Guilty. My only retort - and it's a whisper - is that our space in the Universe is much more than physical. Even though I had to learn that I do in fact take up physical space, too.

That was the easy part. The physical one. I achieved my goal weight in 2013. And then when that year ended badly I achieved much lower than my goal weight. And finally Rachel had had enough. And she took me out for dinner. And she told me I am beautiful. And then she told me I can't weigh zero. To be clear: I didn't have an eating disorder. I was sad. But the result was the same. I had to realize that I have to weigh something and it should probably be a weight that reflects my strength and vitality.

Recognizing my right - my birthright - to spiritual space in the Universe was much harder. I'm a giver, by nature. And probably by nurture. I was raised to think of others, to have manners, to take care of those around me. It's how we all co-exist helpfully in this world. But I contorted giving to also include not taking. The result is self-sufficiency in a lot of ways, which is good.

The result also is worrying that my thoughts or feelings or opinions might become a burden on the people I love. Taken to its extreme that worry becomes poisonous. And I spent years in a land of extremes, shrinking myself in service of another person's ego. At the time, it was the only way to stay safe. But then that became a habit. And then that became a lifestyle. And I applied it in all the rest of my relationships. And then when I didn't have to do it anymore, I didn't know how to stop.

Until June.

I had a disagreement with a friend. And it hurt me more than it hurt them. And the imbalance made all my concern about burdening them seem so ridiculous. I had to acknowledge my wishes and desires. Out loud. And once it was done, my fear about their possible response was overcome by my indignation and the truth came like a flash: I'm allowed to say what I feel. I'm allowed to take up space in this Universe. But then, that wasn't enough. It's not about permission. It's a fact of my existence. The sentence came forward in big bold print: I take up space in the Universe.

Thank you, NASA.

The only grades that matter are the ones I give myself.

This one was nearly impossible for me to learn. My last five years out of school were no match for the 22 years I spent behind the desk. The books and articles on living my best life were no match for my family's high standards for achievement. And definitely no match for my nature. Because you see, I strive. I get the A. I worry about what I could have done to make that A an A+. I seek challenge. I pursue perfection. I. Strive.

And I apply the same strategies I've honed over two decades for predicting what my teachers and professors will want from me - to get the A - to determine what everyone else in my life will want from me, too. And I don't see their expectations as a burden. I seek them out! They give me something to achieve. A target for my energy and creativity. A guaranteed reward once they're met. And wow, do I love a gold star!

But as my social circle expanded, as my career developed, as my responsibilities increased, all that striving became exhausting. And overwhelming. And stifling to my creativity. And a load that I almost couldn't carry. But how could I say no? How could I turn it off? How could I remove the outside expectations when I had internalized them so deeply? What about my gold star?!?

See what I mean? Nearly impossible. And then...

It seems to me that it always is the counterexample that finally drives a lesson home. Something happens that forces me to ponder simultaneously both sides of the same coin. And then the light turns on. And I get it.

I had a particularly vulnerable few weeks recently. I have been opening my heart and applying my lesson about my space in the Universe and speaking my truth. Especially when that truth will be positive and uplifting to the audience. In essence I am working to show the people I love all of my love, in as many ways as I can design. But all that openness and feeling can sometimes make people uncomfortable - especially the data-driven-science-geniuses I roll with.

And so recently when I opened the lid and poured out my heart, I tried to sit quietly, content in the fact that one of my favorites would get a smile because of me. But instead I sat in the center of my vulnerability. And it was terrifying. What if they didn't like it? What if they didn't understand it? What if it was too much? How would I get my gold star?

And there it was: striving. Only this time I was seriously considering making myself less to fit comfortably inside my imagined-worst-case-scenario of someone else's expectations. Less! How can I strive to be less? That ridiculous question doesn't even fit in my mouth. It is something that I never would say out loud. But I thought it. And all at once every other how can I strive to be... question came into focus. Both sides of the same ridiculous coin. And I get it.

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