For more than a decade, I’ve gotten to talk to the most interesting people in the world about the most interesting parts of their lives.
I’m talking about my private clients, who are ambitious, successful, tender, justice-oriented, mystical, grounded, creative, intellectual, sensitive, fierce, world-changing kindred spirits.
While I guard their privacy fiercely and rarely tell their stories, I was telling my husband yesterday how much I’ve learned from them over the years. I felt a rush of gratitude for the rich narratives of their lives, the gift of hearing their stories and watching their trajectories over time.
I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned from them. Once I started typing I couldn’t stop, but I’ve limited myself to just ten. For now.
Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Beloved Clients:
I. There is no “There.” You never arrive. Each season brings its own new challenges and joys. This might sound like bad news, but it also means that it’s of utmost importance to take the joys here now, where/whenever we are, instead of putting them off for later.
2. The strategies that brought you to your current level of success can’t take you to the next level. But on the other hand, your most self-sabotaging behaviors were probably adaptive coping skills that worked really well for a time. Hold your habits and beliefs lightly; the most vibrant and magnetic people let themselves keep evolving.
3. Most of us have to deliberately learn to set boundaries, because that was a skill that was deliberately denied to us (or even punished). Like any new skill, you’ll probably be pretty graceless at it at first. It’s important to practice your moves before you desperately need them, preferably with some help and definitely starting in low-stakes situations. You don’t want to have to set a boundary for the very first time in your life with your ex in a board meeting in front of your boss. Ya know?
4. We live in a vacuum of cultural wisdom around death, birth, and aging. Having a child will change you forever and your parents’ death will rock your world. Never believe what you see on Instagram; these are messy transitions that break us open, and we’ll be a different shape when we put ourselves back together. Without rituals and a map to guide us, we have to make our own path through these intense passages, forging our own wisdom, rituals, and understanding.
5. If it feels icky and weird in your stomach, there’s probably a very good reason and you should listen to it.
6. When you prioritize your own joy, the people around you probably won’t respond well at first if it’s a new behavior. That doesn’t mean they’re terrible people. (But if after a few months they’re still responding poorly– this tells you an unfortunate truth about their character.) You should do it anyway, because ultimately your joy will make their lives better too. Unless they’re a narcissist who actively loathes your joy, in which case you will need your own joy and strength to get out of there which you should do as quickly and with as little guilt as possible.
7. Instead of giving your kids the life you want them to have, you have to LIVE the life you want them to have. This gives them permission to do the same, eventually. It also keeps you sane during the years when they’re a voracious tornado of needs. They’re supposed to be. It’s their job. And it’s our job to persistently but kindly show them that they are allowed to have all their feelings, but they aren’t allowed to hurt people with their feelings, and they are precious and lovable and so are all the other humans on the planet including their parents. No one I know does this perfectly; the best parents are undeterred by messing up and just keep course correcting again and again. Over the years, this repairing-and-trying-again yields a trust and an integrity that is something beautiful to behold.
8. The bravest people are usually the kindest. It’s fear that makes us small and mean. From this perspective, “inner work” is not fluffy or frivolous. Learning to be gentle with ourselves and others when we’re scared– to bring a really safe grounded strong presence to our biggest feelings and most intense moments– is a very big deal because the safer we feel, the braver we are. (And the braver we are, the kinder we are; see above.) When we work on ourselves, not only do we change the emotional DNA we pass down to our families, it’s a gift to our collective human experience.
9. My darling dear, no one is coming to take care of you except you. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s actually the best news, because you are wildly capable of taking care of yourself. Society tells you to invest your energy in being appealing to a prince (romantic or financial)– but you are always your very best investment. No one cares about your financial and career success let alone your emotional health as much as you do: not a boss, mentor, partner, advisor, attorney, investor, spouse, accountant, child, or institution. Stop expecting someone else to watch out for your best interests. That’s your job, and you’re going to be great at it.
10. You’ll always be glad that you acted with integrity. Even if no one is watching, even if you get screwed, even if they don’t deserve it– when you act with integrity, the whole cathedral audience of your soul and spirit and psyche are watching and they sigh with relief. Let me be clear that acting with integrity isn’t the same as being nice or even kind. Sometimes integrity means saying no and disappointing people. It means admitting that you can’t keep a promise or that you messed up. But when you stay in integrity with yourself, and you do it with as much honesty and kindness as you can muster, this will give you a sense of peace that is priceless. Plus? Things have a way of coming back around.
Well gosh, friends, that was fun.
I have to breathe out a breath of gratitude to every single person who has ever let me sit in the hardest, most mysterious parts of their lives with them. What an honor.
I can practically hear you whispering “just one more– don’t forget about the outfit.”
So here is a bonus, #11: A great outfit can shift a lot of things. Do not underestimate its power.
Really, I must agree.