“If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.”
Years ago I was offered advice to write down all of the things that I wanted in my life within the following five years, seal it up and wait to open it. I stumbled across this list recently when I was organizing my office (and ironically right before leaving on my first solo vacation in over a decade). Clearly marked, “Open October 2016.” Given that the deadline had passed six months prior, I opened to see my dreams unfold.
Listed: to have found love; to be married with a child or one on the way; health; working part-time doing something that I love; security in myself; sober; have a dog and cat; feel happy.
It’s a simple, yet tall order for only five short years, but then again I was 29 when I wrote it and ready for that next phase of life. Nearly six years later, I sat on my floor staring at the note. I took a photo of it. I giggled. I sighed. A mix of emotions passed over me knowing that significant portions of that list aren’t currently in my life. If you had told me when I wrote it I’d be 35 single, no kids, no pets – just me – I would have told you that you were crazy. Then I probably would have dropped to the floor, curled up in the fetal position and cried, with the inability to move for several days.
Don’t worry. I’m OK. Most often our fears for the future are far worse than the reality. I’m standing tall. I have the foundations on the list, and ultimately the most important: I am sober, healthy and happy.
No husband, no kids, no animals and most definitely not working part-time. In fact, I’m far too often overbooked with commitments: working full time while also launching a business, taking online training, pursuing spiritual growth, exercising, seeing friends…. my calendar is rarely empty. This is where the trip comes in. I’ve learned that it’s important to take care of myself, and recognizing that I was exhausted and overwhelmed; I knew I needed a break.
I looked at that list again and thought, “well I may not have all of this stuff, but I do get to do things like book a trip to Miami…because I can. No one to answer to but myself.” I booked four nights at a luxury hotel to have both beach time and to be nearby a cosmopolitan city. Look out world: here comes an independent woman!
But here’s the thing, we unconsciously make lists all the time. I don’t have to put pen to paper to create unrealistic expectations of the unknown. And while as a coach I help others set realistic goals, sometimes I still don’t set them for myself. For this trip, I packed my list of expectations. I set the bar far higher than I could ever reach: business tasks I wanted to get done, blogs I wanted to write, books I wanted to read, and rest I wanted to get.
The first morning in my extravagant hotel room, after restless sleep, I was hit with a wave of anxiety and fear. What am I doing here? Who do I think I am? Why am I still in my room instead of already at the beach? How did I sleep this late? Why am I anxious and not enjoying this? Maybe I’m not so independent. The negative self-talk bombarded me like a tidal wave I didn’t see coming. The independent woman who left the house brave and confident the day before seemed to be missing.
So I did what any independent almost 35-year-old woman would do. I called mom. Her soothing voice reminded me of the simple fact that I was on vacation and that there was absolutely nothing that was right or wrong about how I spent my time. A few deep breaths re-centered me. I was able to counter my fear with reality. The reality was that I was in an absolutely incredible hotel, by a beach with nothing that HAD to get done. This reality is, of course, a much easier one to get on board with than when we face unexpected hardship.
Yet no matter the circumstance, whenever we hold on to outcomes or expectations, we are sure to be disappointed or flooded with fear. When we let go of those expectations, we experience all that life presents us in the moment with the full range of feelings and complexities that cannot be anticipated. On this trip I felt a lot of feelings, many of which caught me off guard. I felt excited to be alone, and I felt sad to be alone. I felt grief and loss, and I felt happy and full. I felt strong and fearless, and at other times I felt anxious and uneasy.
Just like the list of my future life, my vacation plans were an inspiring vision, but not a predetermined outcome. We don’t know the future. We know the present. Expectations might let us down. Yet, when we can have the courage to practice radical acceptance of the unexpected reality we face, it is often far more beautiful a journey than we imagined. And well, I’ll just be thankful that I got to come to this realization at a swanky hotel on a beach vacation rather than my usual more painful way. Luxury problem to say the least! 😉