When clients come into my office, saying 'I can't,' I offer them up a hard dose of The Truth. I stare them in the eyes and tell them straight up. I lower my voice and quietly serve them my pronouncement – 'That's okay.'
It's okay that you can't.
Can't forgive your parents for being douchbags? That's okay. Can't believe in yourself and just go for what you want? That’s fine. Can't stop internetting and eating too many muffins? Also okay. Can’t stick to the plan and just do it already? Absolutely, positively okay. Just perfect, in fact.
And it feels strange, doesn’t it? In a culture that constantly urges us to never accept second best, and experience more, and live life to the very, absolute, maximum, gut-busting fullest … simply being okay with something feels terribly wrong; like failing in some way.
What get’s lost when we buy into the hype, however, is something very important. And what I want to offer you in this post is the idea that instead of always pushing through our cant’s, or beating ourselves up for having them, there is a beautiful third option ... which is to start truly connecting with the parts of you that are saying no.
Start getting curious about what's going on. But not in a demanding Why can’t I just do this already!? way.
Instead, get yourself into a grounded, accepting, and spacious place, and ask with real curiosity: What is it about this situation (or how I'm approaching it) that just isn't working for me right now?
Approaching our cant's with the spirit of curiosity and compassion opens us up to hear the richness of the subtext behind them.
To use an example from my own life:
I spent my young adulthood pushing myself ruthlessly to succeed in the corporate world. And I did. Whenever I experienced a challenge, or a sense within myself that I just couldn't do it, I took that as permission to push that much harder. By my mid-twenties, I had a great job at Nokia in Berlin, and everything in place to execute step two of my career plan, which was to start my own research consultancy is the field of IT.
There was just one problem, however ... I couldn't. Whenever I sat down to figure out my next steps, I hit a block.
I read books, took classes, sought advice, and made plans, but never actually made any progress towards my dream!
For a long time my life was frustrating and exhausting, but it took a series of depressive episodes that kept me home from work before I finally woke up to myself. Only then did I actually start listening to the parts of me that were struggling – the parts that simply refused to continue along the life path I’d set for myself.
When I first started listening to my cant's, my ability to connect with myself was pretty basic, and my thinking negative:
I can’t … because every time I think about the future, my heart drops.
I can’t … the thought of pouring my life energy into another software business leaves me feeling cold.
I can’t … I feel completely overwhelmed
I can’t … everything feels difficult and I don't want to get out of bed.
I was so mired in my own limiting beliefs and overwhelming emotions, that my choice at the time was use my cant’s to make myself wrong – to assume that if I was struggling then I must be lacking skills, resilience, will, fortitude … and to use that as a reason to find another way to ‘fix’ myself into succeeding in life.
What I’d like to do with this post, however, is to help you shortcut past the many years of soul-searching that led me to let go of that ‘I’m wrong’ perspective, and come home to myself instead.
Because it’s only when I opened up to the idea that the parts of me resisting my efforts could actually be (shock, horror!) RIGHT, that I was I able to start walking my true path and finding a sense of fulfilment within myself.
I became able to see my cant's, not as failures, but as opportunities to come into a deeper connection with myself and what I was born to do (which, by the way is the source of true fulfilment in life).
I was able to identify and expand on the positive messages that existed within them, and discover whole parts of myself that I'd completely disowned in my rush to fix myself into corporate success; these were the parts of me that were saying, in so many different ways:
I can’t … because I crave an inherently deeper connection with the people I work with.
I can’t … because I’m wildly curious, spiritual, and free.
I can’t … because I’m extremely empathetic, and it hurts to pretend I'm not.
I can’t … because I was born to work with ideas and emotions, not busy myself with the nitty gritty of software project completion.
The shift here, was in learning to accept, love, honour and build upon the parts of myself that were struggling, rather than ruthlessly requiring them to shut up, buck up, and get in line.
Now, I’m not saying accepting your cant's is necessarily easy. It takes a lot of courage to turn around and accept the very limitations we’ve been struggling for many years to overcome.
Personally, it took me a very long time to make that shift … partly because I’m extremely hard-headed :P, but mostly because accepting my cant's bumped me right up against my fear of leaving the (perceived) safety of the corporate world (dun dun dunnnnnn … stay tuned for a related post: Letting go of old dreams and stepping into the unknown without crapping your pants).
However, while denying or forcing through our cant’s will often hold us in a pattern of outward success – we might get the project done, or find a better job, or become financially secure – the end result is that we are still caught in an inward cycle of disconnect and abuse.
Whatever outward success or sense of security we might achieve, if we continue to ignore the treasure-trove of messages our cant's are trying to tell us, we will continue to feel pressured, distracted, and disconnected from ourselves and the things we were born to do.
The good news here is that you don't need to upend your life or quit the security of your job in order to find that sense of connection within yourself (unless you really want to, that is). All you need to start engaging with the path of inner fulfilment, is a willingness to get curious.
And you can start to get curious with the following exercise:
- Think of any time that you've made a mistake in life – particularly one you make all the time.
- Slow down and pay close attention to how you talk to yourself in the moments you make that mistake. Write down your internal monologue on a piece of paper, being very honest about the words you use.
- Repeat steps 1 & 2 several times, and look for themes. Notice if you are approaching your cant’s from a positive or negative perspective, and start questioning any situation where you are automatically assuming you're wrong and need to be 'fixed.'
- In the places where you’re dealing with yourself negatively, challenge yourself to flip the script. Allow yourself to let go of your self-judgement, and ask from a place of pure curiosity: Why can’t I do what I want to do, and what positive thing does that say about who I am and what I love?
- Write the answers to #4 down on another piece of paper, and refer to them often as you make life choices and go about your day.
So simple right? But don't fall into the trap of minimizing what we're doing here: connecting with yourself and learning how to be true to who you are is the journey of a lifetime.
It's a journey which asks you to answer some fundamental questions within yourself, such as: Do you have the courage to accept who you are? Do you trust yourself enough to respect your limitations? And are you ready to let go of your limiting stories about what’s possible, and step into your innate knowledge of what you're here experience in life?
And perhaps you are nodding ‘Yes’ … which is exciting, amazing, wonderful!
Or perhaps you are saying, 'No, not right now … I can’t …”
And you know what: that’s okay :-).
Please add a comment below, or feel free to contact me directly with your reaction to this post.
- What are your cant's and what have you learnt about yourself by listening to them?
- Were you able to isolate some limiting beliefs that are holding you back, or does your future still feel unclear?
I'd love to hear what you discovered about yourself today.