I just had my birthday a last week. Normally, I am bashful, quiet about my birthday: I don’t want people to fuss, I don’t want people to “do stuff for me,” I don’t want people to HAVE to do anything, I don’t want attention, I don’t feel good about the day – at all. Why? Spotlight is on ME.
This birthday was different – it was the BEST one ever. I turned 37 and loved the entire day. I was excited for the day and opened my heart to all the birthday wishes that came my way. I spent time playing with my kids, made cakes with them, laughed with my brother, went to the beach with friends, went to a meditation spiritual talk with my family, ran five miles, had a birthday dinner made by my incredible chef and husband, and had a super fun chat with my parents with more laughs.
What changed my attitude about my birthday? My slow and bumpy journey of SELF-LOVE. And it all started almost two years ago with unexpected JOB LOSS.
Before we get to my story ….
Have you ever:
- Shouted back at someone who lays on the horn while you are in your car?
- Felt uncomfortable waiting in line – for anything?
- Felt bad because you are backing out your car and a bunch of cars have to wait for you?
- Worked on a project to meet a deadline while your toddler was screaming for/at you?
- Said yes to something when you REALLY wanted to say no or propose a different time/day?
- Been frustrated with the lack of time available to get everything done?
- Put off any exercise because of no time or kids?
- Struggled with finding childcare and after-school care when it seems like all the moms at school have nannies or stay at home with their kids?
- Been overwhelmed with how to do it all? Feed kids, bathe them, keep the house from looking like a frat house, keep up with your kids’ homework, do your work, meet expectations of everyone, eat and shower, support your spouse’s work schedule, communicate boundaries with work so you can have a life, respond to work e-mails —all while feeling guilty with WORK and LIFE because … (drum roll please):
- You like the approval of others.
- You like helping and being in service to others.
- You want to do your BEST work for others and be a great mom, wife, and/or friend.
I get it. Probably not surprising but the above list was my reality in 2012. I liked and still like the approval of others. I loved and still love getting awards and appreciation from others for doing great work. I liked and still like being in service of others.
When I ask people about what IDEAL work means to them, almost always the response includes being in service to others.
Working to be in service to others is a GREAT thing. The challenge I have found is that while we are serving others, we have forgotten about ourselves. This makes sense when we have little kids and/or when we have a CRAZY demanding job that can take over our perceived identity. It is no wonder so many of us laugh at the concept of “work-life balance.” Whether it’s the job, or the kids – we may need a rebirth to remember who we REALLY are in this world – without all the titles, friends, and people around us.
WORK AND LIFE IS NOT ONLY ABOUT SERVING OTHERS – WORK AND LIFE HAS TO INCLUDE SERVING YOU
You: “What? About me? That’s totally selfish if I think of myself. I know selfish people and they drive me crazy. They are inconsiderate – they are late – and they just really only think of their own needs before everyone else.”
Me: “What if I were to tell you – that you are the center of the universe. That we each have our own universe in our mind and our reality. The key to self-love is to be grounded in your present moment.”
You: “How do I do self-love without feeling selfish?”
Me: “Read below.”
Lets get back to my story of Job Loss:
I had a pit in my stomach and quiet tears rolling down my cheeks as I walked through the Chicago O’Hare airport to my gate with my business suit, heels, and laptop. By the time I got to the gate, I decided I did not need to “have it all.” I had changed from my corporate 20’s “climb-the-ladder” ways. Like so many working parents, I felt a pull to be more present for my baby girl and five-year-old boy. Since her birth, I decided a 30-hour/week job would be a better work-life fit. The reality: these jobs are hard to find and I gave up searching after six months. I decided to leave the 50-hour/week job that I liked for an unknown but interesting new job at a local company without the travel. After a short time at the new job, my boss scheduled a “touch base” meeting. She opened with small talk and then busted out that she was going with a different organizational structure (that did not include me). Here is the thing – I was not let go for any performance reasons and received no advanced warning at all. And, this happens to people every day in our job market.
So, I again had a pit in my stomach and quiet tears rolling down my cheeks as I walked midday toward the train back to our Chicago suburb with my business suit, heels, and no laptop. The day that I was let go, a few things went through my mind:
- Both fear and painful acceptance that there is no job security ANYWHERE
- My resume is ruined
- What will people think?
- What do I do now?
The day I lost my job, in a negative/joking manner I said to my husband: “this job was just an experiment.” Since that moment, I now know that this is actually true. All jobs are experiments. These experiments are essentially experiences that give us energy, take away our energy, or somewhere in between. In all jobs we have great moments, learning moments, and challenging moments – daily, hourly, weekly, yearly.
So, I started my adventure into unemployment. And my knees LITERALLY hit the floor that week along with my self-worth, fears, and vulnerability all exposed and ready for action: Anxiety over when I would work again, fears about what this all meant, and uncertainty on what to do next.
Part of me was in panic mode. First order of business: I reduced our expenses to the minimum and calculated how many months we had in our savings. Done. Next, I found coupons and deals. I would buy groceries and feel depressed when I paid the cashier. Then, the feelings: I felt guilty about spending money on a few days of daycare since I wasn’t really “working.” And I looked for answers to my life questions with impatience and annoyance. I should be working. I felt sad. I was in scarcity mode.
I knew I needed and wanted to shift from this scarcity mindset, but I did not know how to start.
Now what to do with all this time? My mind said: “Keep moving and doing, go go go.” I wanted to fill the space to quiet the fear voices. This open space was extra scary as we have a family, mortgage, and bills. We had it all figured out (so we thought) and now I had no idea what was next. I lost a job once before in 2000 when my life fit in a small U-haul. There was more at stake this time around.
Part of me needed structure to this new open space so I created daily schedules. (yes … hour by hour.) During the first month, I spent time with the kids more, watched Ted talks, cried, volunteered a few times, clicked around on job boards, did some interviews, updated my LinkedIn profile, organized the house, ran or did yoga three times a week, went to the library, and started reading interesting books.
There were days that I forced myself to go to yoga or run or go to the library. I didn’t want to go. I felt awkward, as I was supposed to be at work and felt out of place with the midmorning gym crowd. I felt like I needed to be “on job-search mode” all the time. I felt that I was a slacker if I was not fully focused on finding answers to fix my issue of unemployment.
And then … I would watch myself react and create my own drama. This crazy loud voice would say – “yoga, reading, running – those things are not helping you get a job – go get a job already!” This was quite a show to watch, seeing myself in my own crazy head create scenarios, planning, and planning even more. My mind was swirling around in fear and anxiety of when I would have an income again.
My default way of living and working is to collect data, analyze, look for patterns, and take action. When I am in anxiety mode, information is my comfort food. At the time, I looked and lurked for signs, patterns, and answers and I pressured it to come faster. My obsession was trying to make sense of the situation when I really needed to just accept it and move on to living life versus thinking and planning.
There was a moment when I asked out loud for help. I knew I was a very lucky and blessed person and there were people with far bigger challenges than my unemployment issue. Yet, the answers were not coming. I was willing to accept that something just did not feel right to me.
When I stopped pushing and worrying about every little thing, something funny happened. I started to accept my reality. I started to find sources of insight (or they found me) that truly provided a personal guide for me out of the swirling scarcity mindset of fear and anxiety. Through all of this, I did find some good sources in various places that frankly made me feel a little better.
One small mindset shift occurred after I watched Brene’s Brown Ted Talk and read her book Daring Greatly. I started to hear this inner voice that looked for approval from others. I started to see that I was making choices based on fear of criticism. I realized I was playing it safe all the time and was not willing to be “in the arena” as Brene calls it. I was on the side, proud of myself for avoiding failure and controlling outcomes. When really, I was letting my fears control me. I was living for the future and contemplating the past.
What helped me move from scarcity mode … was just to be aware. Deepak Chopra talks about being an observer of your own self. This is easier said than done and takes ongoing practice. I read that having a mantra can help build awareness. I didn’t really believe that a mantra would work to be honest. But, I decided I needed to try something. I would say the mantra “I am blessed, I am grateful” when those fear voices would come in, or I had high stress from a screaming child, or I had anxiety from work. A year later, I can say without pause that this mantra helps me focus on what is happening NOW rather than swirl in the future or past. And, this mantra has helped me be a calmer person in times of chaos in our house, with kids or with work.
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
My yoga teacher shared in class that life is not about changing the world and serving others. Life is about serving yourself with love and then actually that self-love is what creates change in others.
Am I at the mercy of serving others so much that I lose myself in the process? What does that do to my energy and the energy of those around me?
We don’t want to give away what we aren’t giving ourselves. The action of over-giving and having no boundaries or “people pleasing” leaves us empty. Yet, we worry about focusing too much on ourselves that we over compensate. Self-love is not selfish. Self-love is your energy and your central power system to be YOUR best in service to others.
We are mirrors.
I need to be patient with me – so I can be patient with you, family, friends around me, with the world.
I need to take care of me – so I can take care of you, family, friends around me, with the world.
I need to spend energy (time and money) on me – so I can spend energy (time and money) with you, family, friends around me, with the world.
I need to LOVE me – so I can LOVE you, family, love friends around me, love the world.
When I realized this truth above, I realized we are mirrors. How strong is your mirror? How strong is your reflection? That is the power of self-love from within. The more we love ourselves despite setbacks and fears, the more we shine and help others shine. And, the more others can help us in our self-love journey.
So, what does self-love REALLY look like in action?
1) Create Space
If you do one thing after reading this article, apply these two words in your day for the next three days: “Create Space.”
“Create Space” is all about being REALLY clear about energy boundaries with people at work and in life. This is all about being grounded in your own energy rather than absorb the stress of your kid, the frantic energy of your boss, or the person honking their horn at you.
You can use this as you are standing in line … ANY LINE. Notice your body. If you are like me, you might get anxious when you are waiting in line at the grocery store or coffee shop. This is a normal reaction to waiting in line.
Use the “Create space” mantra to separate you and the person in front of you. You can still serve people around you, support your kids, and do great work. Yet, if you keep “create space” in your mind as you go about your day, you are learning the awareness of your energy versus others.
We tend to cross over and take on the energy and emotions all around us without even realizing what is happening. And, we tend to create stress and anxious energy ourselves through trying to maximize every minute of the day, and we can leave ourselves feeling overworked and overwhelmed.
Give yourself space to breathe … deeply. Use any mantra to help you create space. Be aware.
2) Do YOUR Best
“Give to the world the best you have … and the best will come back to you”
This quote is hanging on my 92-year-old grandmother’s wall. Self-love includes doing YOUR best and also includes accepting that what BEST looks like for you will change depending on the year, month, and even day. Some days our BEST feels great, other days our BEST doesn’t feel so great, and some days we find ourselves in a swirl of perfectionism. The goal of perfectionism was part of my life before job loss. Since then, I have a different outlook. I focus on doing my BEST based on my current conditions. It is REALLY okay to be late to cub scouts. It is REALLY okay to feed your kids takeout food or cereal for dinner. It is REALLY okay to change a meeting time or ask for another day to respond to e-mail.
At the end of the day, forgive yourself for what you didn’t get done today and honor yourself for what you did for yourself and others. You did YOUR best.
3) Do the MUSTS
4) Build Energy Flow
Energy flow comes through breathing with exercise or meditation. Create and protect time that allows you to build energy flow. This can be a walk. This can be any exercise for 10 or more minutes. This can be meditation even if you don’t know how to meditate. My friend Sam Shelley shares his own experience with meditation in this blog post. Sam: “I deserve five minutes a day to meditate.”
Give yourself energy flow. You deserve it AND you will feel the difference.
5) Find Inspiration
Inspiration can come in surprising places. Click here to check out my favorite videos and articles related to launching your ideal work and life.
One Saturday last year, my inspiration came from cleaning out old papers. I found this quote and since then I have leaned on Marianne Williamson’s words to help me through my journey of self-love. Marianne describes the mirror:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Marianne Williamson
Kara Smith is a talent development / HR leader and is the founder of the Soul of Work project: www.soulofwork.org, a think tank and not for profit learning lab. The mission & intention of the Soul of Work project is to bring best practices, tools, and practical insights from thought leaders to help professionals get hired, build more sustainable economic fulfillment in both work & life, and do their best work. As part of this mission, the Soul of Work project is dedicated to actively fundraise and donate to aligned non-profit organizations. Learn more here: www.soulofwork.org/giving. Kara is a working mother who believes we do our BEST work when we align work with our life.