|Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on November 16, 2016 at 7:30 AM|
A few weeks ago I received some disappointing news. A book proposal that I’d been working on with a small publishing company was suddenly, and surprisingly, rejected. The idea for the book had been percolating in my mind for 4 years, and I spent 2 years sharing my concepts and ideas with the acquisitions editor. She gave me very encouraging feedback all along the way, which is why I was so surprised when she wrote to tell me her publisher was rejecting my work.
However, after the initial shock wore off, I noticed a new feeling emerging.
I realized that I’d been trying too hard to force my ideas to fit within this particular publishing company’s niche - to the point that my proposal didn’t feel authentic anymore. In fact, the entire time I was writing the proposal I had a sense of unease. It was like I had to force myself to write, which is odd for me, since writing is one of my passions.
The irony is that the book is based on a popular blog I wrote 4 years ago called Stop Trying So Hard. In other words, I was trying too hard to write a book about not trying too hard. So the proposal got shut down.
Sometimes the universe has a wicked sense of humour.
The rejection of my proposal was the “pièce de résistance” of several months of soul-searching about my career. I’ve spent much of the summer and early fall ruminating about what’s next for me professionally. Right now, my website and bio describe me as an “author, speaker, researcher and yoga teacher.” Well, it’s been 6 years since I wrote my book, and 4 years since I gave a talk for the general public or taught a yoga class. So what am I actually doing? Is my website even accurate anymore?
One thing that I have been doing a lot of is research. However, I know based on my time in grad school, and the various academic positions I’ve held, that too much research isn’t good for me. Research often traps me in my analytical, logical mind and blocks me from my creativity. Over the past 4 years I’ve had full-time (or close to full-time) research-related work, which has simply been too much. As I once read somewhere, "Be careful what you're good at. You could end up doing it for the rest of your life."
Over the past few months I’ve been using my achievement-oriented mindset to help me decide what direction to take next professionally. In other words, I keep journaling and brainstorming and obsessing about WTF I’m doing with my life. I come up with ideas like, “Screw that publisher! Maybe I should just self-publish my new book,” or “Maybe I should lead a retreat in Prague,” or “Maybe I should design a new online course.” One of the reasons the publisher rejected my proposal is that they don't think I have a big enough online platform to promote the book. This led me to several other ideas like, “Maybe I should host a free webinar to get more followers on Facebook,” or “Maybe I should collaborate with someone so we can help each other grow our email lists.”
But do you know what? Every single one of these ideas feels flat. They feel inauthentic and cheesy. It’s not that I have anything against online courses or personal development retreats - I’ve led many of these types of events in the past and I probably will continue to do so in the future.
Just not right now.
This leads to an important question: Exactly what do I want to be doing with my time right now?
I keep asking myself how I can best serve myself and serve the world via the gifts I’ve been given. I keep asking, “What does love want to produce through me right now?” When I manage to slow down my inner achievement addict (who thinks I should be producing new products), a quieter, more subtle voice emerges. It’s barely a whisper, but I know that it is the voice of my soul. And here is what it says:
“Right now, the universe wants to produce a softer version of you.”
You see, I’ve spent most of my adult life living within very hard edges. I’ve focused obsessively on achievement - a mindset that brought me all the way to Harvard, which is fantastic. But I’ve been too serious. Too focused. Too perfect. I’ve used my achievements to define my identity and my sense of self-worth.
The universe wants me to release my iron grip on my life and start colouring outside the lines. It wants me to let up on my hyper-masculine obsession with achievement, and let in a feminine energy that involves yielding to creativity instead of forcing it to happen. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’m very grateful for everything that my inner masculine has brought into my life, and I have no intention of eliminating him. I just need to give him permission to let go of the reins a little.
This process began when I left Harvard 1.5 years ago to enter into what Bill Plotkin calls “the unknown.” In his book Soulcraft, Plotkin describes the process of entering a “second adulthood” where we come into closer contact with our soul. This second adulthood is often precipitated by a loss of various structures that once made up our identity. Sometimes this loss comes from receiving a terminal diagnosis, or a divorce, or surviving a natural disaster. Whatever the external cause, the result is a period of time spent in the unknown, where many of the labels that previously defined you no longer exist.
I’ve spent the last 1.5 years in the unknown, and I’m not exactly sure when this period is going to end. In fact, I feel it deepening.
Spending two months living in the woods, and then moving to the Czech Republic, has stripped away much of my former identity. I’ve entered into a world where hardly anyone knows me or has any idea what I do for a living. I can walk down the street in Prague with an almost 0% chance of seeing anyone I know. The Canadian values and structures that I was raised with either don't exist here or take on a different form. Often, my language doesn't even exist here. I don’t speak Czech, so I spend a lot of time being non-verbal in social situations, which allows me to exit my often overpowering verbal, analytical mind and access subtle non-verbal cues that I never would have noticed otherwise. I live thousands of miles away from most of my friends and family. I don’t own a home or a car. I don’t even own my furniture (I rent a furnished apartment).
I seem to be doing the exact opposite of what most people my age are doing. Instead of “settling down” with stable structures like a house, car, and corporate job, I’ve spent the past year and a half systematically dismantling every single structure that once helped me feel secure.
Am I crazy? Perhaps. But this leap into the unknown seems to be exactly what my soul desires.
The result is that it feels as if the boundaries around my personal and professional lives are loosening. The rigid boxes, titles, and roles that I used to place myself in are more diffuse and open to possibilities than they used to be. After all, when you don’t have external structures to define what your career should look like, or what your relationship should look like, or what your friendships should look like, it gives you the freedom to re-create these structures in a way that is most aligned for you.
The paradox is that this freedom is both liberating and terrifying. I’m reminded of my friends in grad school who did research on choice overload. Honestly, my life is a super-sized bowl of choice overload right now. My husband and I are both self-employed and our work is completely virtual. We own almost nothing right now aside from our dishes, books, clothes, computers, photo albums and a cat. We have no children. We have Canadian and European Union citizenship. This means we have a multitude of choices in terms of where to live and work. Our relationship and our professional lives are open to so many possibilities that it’s almost overwhelming.
I’ve realized that the universe needs to create a softer version of me so that I can exist in this type of environment without completely freaking out. The softer version will show me a new way to live. It will show me a new paradigm that isn’t solely based on achievement and busy-ness and climbing invisible ladders.
So what exactly will this softer version of me look like?
Well for starters, I need to pay the bills, so I will continue to do my research consulting work as long as it is available (albeit on a part-time basis and in a more relaxed way). I do research on yoga and mindfulness in schools, which is a lovely way for me to use my skills to benefit the world. However, this work has been slowing down over the past few months, and it might dry up completely at some point. But instead of forcing myself to frantically create new products or find new consulting gigs, I’m going to spend some time unwinding.
I want to unwind years of achievement addiction that have told me I need to be perfect to be a worthy human being. I’m also going to spend time pursuing pleasure and doing things that light me up. I’m going to spend time being naughty and mischievous - not in a way that hurts anyone - but in a way that helps me feel what it’s like to slack off and break the rules.
My soul no longer wants me to be a perfect “good girl” who pleases everyone else, neglects her own pleasure, and never rocks the boat. My soul wants to read poetry in cafes on a Tuesday morning and have solo dance parties in my living room in the middle of the afternoon. My soul wants to binge watch on Netflix and read books that have nothing to do with personal development. My soul wants to have belly laughs - lots of them. My soul wants to share her truth and have difficult conversations when necessary. My soul wants me to fully inhabit my feminine, sensual body. I’m learning how to do some of this unwinding through my studies of sacred sexuality, which I intend to continue.
I fully acknowledge the fact that I’m privileged to have this lifestyle. But as I’ve mentioned before, this privilege didn’t come out of thin air. I helped create it, and I’m going to milk it for everything it’s worth.
This means that I’m going to be stepping back from a few more structures, in order to go even deeper into the unknown. For example, I’ve been blogging religiously, without fail, every two weeks since 2010. And while I know that consistent blogging is important in terms of growing my online platform, I’ve decided to remove the “every 2 week” rule, at least for now. I will still blog - but it will be on a soul schedule instead of a linear time schedule. I also plan to spend less time on social media.
All of this might sound like I’m moving backwards professionally. It might sound like I’m being lazy or reckless. And in some ways, I guess I am. But I like to think of it more as an incubation period. It’s a time for me to yield to my own pleasure as a way for the universe to show me how I can best serve the world, instead of me trying to force myself to serve in the ways that my ego thinks are most appropriate. This process might take a month, a year, or a decade. While slacking off might come easy for some people, it is excruciating for achievement addicts like me. I might run out of money. I will freak out regularly. In fact, my inner achievement addict is freaking out at this very moment because I’m making these words public.
But I refuse to live anything other than my soul’s most authentic life. This is often challenging, but always worth it. This is also the beauty of soul work. It is often counter-intuitive and paradoxical. I mean, really, shouldn’t I be taking my career to the next level by putting myself out there, growing my platform, making connections, and "knocking it out of the park?" Shouldn’t I be climbing the ladder and saving for retirement?
Right now, my soul says no.
I’m reminded of a story Sera Beak recently shared on Facebook, where she described feeling completely “done” after giving a talk at a personal development gathering. In Sera’s words, after giving the talk she,
“...felt a distinct kind of divine depression, a slap down of my lofty spiritual ideals, a subtle refusal to continue my mission, accompanied by a teenagerly ‘tude: “fuck off universe, this gig totally blows,” and the sinking realization that shit might not “get better” for a loooong time on this planet…no matter what I, or souls far greater than I, do.”
Sera went on to describe Gandhi’s final interview, in which he shared that he was losing hope in humanity. She concludes,
“If Gandhi felt like giving up and things had gone to shit, it’s OK if we “spiritual” people do too. It’s OK to feel “done” sometimes. It’s OK to throw in the transcendent towel, draw the cosmic curtains, hang the “do not disturb sign” on your divine doorknob and watch 6 seasons straight of True Blood.”
And so, this is where I am right now. I’m “done” with my achievement addict. I’m done with producing online courses and regular blogging and teaching yoga and leading personal development retreats. Perhaps not forever, but for now.
I’ve realized that in order to write an authentic book about not trying so hard, I need to truly live it. I need to see what happens when I let go of the rope and practice what I preach. Only then will I be able to re-emerge with the confidence to share what I’ve learned. So I’m hanging my ‘do not disturb’ sign and opening to a softer version of me. I don’t know what this softer version will produce, aside from possibly making me a better human being. Which is, of course, everything.
How could me slowing down possibly serve the world? I have no idea. But I’m about to find out.
I’d like to leave you with a blessing by John O’Donohue, from the book Anam Cara. I hope these words serve you and I on our journeys toward soul-full work:
May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the
secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and
renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.
May you be present in what you do,
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, appreciating your
new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.
From my soul to yours,