August 2018 to February 2019 will go down in history as the worst six months of my life.
Cliff’s Notes: Dog Died, Mom Got Cancer, Relationship Ended, Dad Died.
It was a lot.
I’ve read and studied so much about grief in the past few years — at the time, I thought it was to help my clients. Because grief is part of any major life change.
Little did I know, I was preparing to survive the worst year ever.
In some ways, I was prepared. And in other ways: it is impossible to prepare.
These are a handful of tools that helped me survive the worst year of my life.
Hopefully, they will help you in your hour of deepest need.
Just like anything, practice makes better. (I don’t believe in perfect anymore.) After each loss, I got better at each of these. I am so grateful I had many of them in place before my dog Bodhi died — because without them, I would likely be in corner somewhere, drinking cheap box wine and eating ice cream straight from the container.
Without further ado:
How to survive the worst year of your life, in advance:
I come from a family of artists.
My grandmother was a poet. My (other) grandfather was a vaudeville performer and the he wrote scripts and produced in Hollywood.
Mom and Dad met working at Arena Stage in the 1970s — at the height of American Regional Theatre. He was a producer and designer, and she was a stage manager.
He gave Raul Julia his first professional acting job, and she toured to Broadway with Raisin — the musical version of Raisin in the Sun — among other things, before they found their way to New Orleans. (It’s a long story for another day.)
My mother’s sisters are both artists — one was a dancer and actress on Broadway, and the other was a visual artist.
We’re creative people. I come by it honestly. We sing in four part harmony when we have family reunions. It’s like that.
Many of us have a kinda weird relationship with money. Me too.
I’ve ranged from penny pincher — clipping coupons, checking my budget multiple times a day — to completely reckless — not looking at my balances for months on end. Hoping if I ignore it, maybe it would just go away. (Newsflash: it did. But not the way I’d hoped.)
Sometimes my behavior was related to how much money I was making, and sometimes it wasn’t.
In 2018, I promised myself I would take the bull by the horns and do whatever it took to heal this relationship. My theme for 2018 would be “Easy Money.”
Because until now, Money had been anything but easy.
Boundaries are everywhere lately.
From yoga class dharma talks to dating articles. “Just set a boundary,” seems to be the pat answer everyone gives to challenges from overbearing mother-in-laws to trauma recovery. And let’s be honest: that’s a wide range.
The new hip accessory for self-aware people seems to be “Boundary setting.”
But I’ve also noticed folks bemoaning “I am so bad at setting boundaries.” or “He totally did not respect my boundary.” (We’ll always find a way to criticize ourselves, won’t we?)
I think many people don’t actually understand what boundaries are, based on these conversations. And I hear some common misunderstandings over and over.
Do any of these sound familiar?
“I’ll never make enough money.”
“I don’t practice enough.”
“I’m not pretty enough.”
“I’ll never be thin enough.”
“I’m too much for him to handle.”
“What if they find out I don’t know enough?”
Or do you have your own special flavor of scarcity?
These are all scarcity. Different perspectives, different targets, but all scarcity.
The word ‘scarcity’ gets thrown around like a hot potato in circles from personal development to manifestation, from certified financial planners to non-profit execs, from psychological marketers to yoga teachers.
I was on retreat last weekend with all the teachers from Wild Lotus Yoga.
This is the kind of staff retreat you don’t cringe at — there are no ice breaking games, no embarrassing stories, no faked camaraderie.
This was 26 yoga teachers and practitioners, coming together to practice, meditate, sing, and share. We did a little business, sure, but we mostly ate delicious vegetarian fare and had a yoga sleepover.
I arrived on Friday over-tired. I watched the thoughts in my head: “Why are we all wasting our time with this? Will anything productive happen? No one else really understands my business struggles.”
Y’all. It was a whirlwind of whining.
Yoga taught me to watch my thoughts. And in watching, to be free from them.
So I watched.
As the year comes to a close, I can’t help but review. It’s natural to be reflecting on what 2017 was like — and to begin planning and dreaming and hoping for 2018.
But our tendency is to focus on everything that’s gone wrong, every tiny mistake we’ve made, or all the things that didn’t meet our expectations.
So instead, at the end of every project, or every year, or every class, I ask myself three questions:
1. What went well?
2. What could have gone better?
3. What will I do differently next time?
These three questions release that constant need to find the worst case.
Instead, I now have a practice of looking for the things that went well, so that I can expand on those things.
I’m free from the desperate search for problems to solve.
What you focus on grows — Why not look for what crushed instead of what bombed?
I will never forget the Tuesday I walked into my coach’s office at 7am, sat heavy on that cream sofa, and said “I just can’t do this anymore. I have to quit. I don’t know what I’m going to do instead, but I have to quit this job.”
And I did.
I did not pass go. I did not collect $200. I went directly to my boss’s office, closed the door, and resigned.