As a lawyer turned writer, then as a creative turned business owner, not to mention as a plain old human being, I have often felt helpless. Flustered. And full of self-hatred and shame. I often assume, no, I know, that everyone else knows how to do everything just right-- and frankly this makes me sick.
But I am moving past “helplessness” and it’s like seeing the sun rise for the first time.
I want to take you with me. If you have ever felt inept as though you can’t run a business, write a screenplay, find a lover or an answer, or roll up your yoga mat evenly which, personally I think is a covert form of hell, I want to tell you a story about going past imaginary limits. It’s a story of self-forgiveness. It’s a story of hitting your full potential. Actually, it’s a story of folding a goddamn blanket. But it’s really a story of unfoldment, of how to teach yourself to do anything in this world you want or need to do.
I’d been visiting a friend who is a famous author and speaker and staying in her charming guest house in San Francisco. “What do you want me to do with the bedding?” I ask her, as I’m leaving early the next morning and won’t see her. “Oh, fold the blankets back up and leave it at the foot of the bed with the others,” she says casually. I try not to twitch or gasp. I was hoping she would say “Just leave it in a reckless heap like you leave everything. I’ll take care of it. I’ll be the good mommy.” But no such luck. I am on my own here. With bedding issues.
In the morning, I pack up and the only thing I need to do is face the dreaded task of “folding the blanket.” I stare at the crumpled outrage. Obviously, I was fighting Godzilla in my sleep. Then I study the other white blankets at the foot of the bed, deriding me, white cotton folded with German engineering, resting like smug doves.
My stomach clenches. I am going to screw this up. I am a screw up. I am going to create a lumpy, ugly, bulging inept pile that announces either raw disregard or reprehensible incompetence. I think about writing a note apologizing. I feel like an idiot. Folding things neatly. I missed that class in kindergarten. I was probably having a cigarette or a Jujube.
I am totally intimidated by this inanimate white bed cover. But, really, it’s the shame of being me. How are you a woman of a certain age and you do not know how to fold a blanket neatly? I never had a mother teach me, a little one whispers within. And just as I write this, I bet my mother never had a mother teach her either. But at the time, I was only angry at my mother for not providing the skills, the fundamentals of being a functioning adult in this world. I also haven’t been willing to learn these basics either. This, too, stings with embarrassment.
I’m going to do this wrong. I’m going to make a mess. These fears stop me from trying anything new in my life. You can do this, I tell myself. Be patient, a grand voice within instructs. Look at it. Decide that you can. And with this mercy, I begin to break out of learned helplessness. It doesn’t matter if I have felt incompetent for a thousand years. Helplessness is an electric fence around me, but it turns out that I can turn off the current at any time. It’s not just here. It’s everywhere in my life. I’ve been learning to question the part of me that says it can’t be done. It won’t be done. it won’t be done right or like other normal, well adjusted, well cared for people would have done it.
For example, I had just been telling my friend that night, I am going beyond learned helplessness in my business. I have been terrified of hiring people, of doing it wrong, making a mistake, because in the past, I just wanted to get it over with, be at some finish line, and avoid the process. I didn’t trust myself and I didn’t want to take the time to learn what I needed or to discover my own rhythm in doing this. Several years ago, I hired a company to hire for me and it was a disaster, which only heightened my fears. But in retrospect, I get it. It wasn’t that I can’t “attract the right people.” Now I believe it’s that the Wisdom of the Universe wouldn’t allow me to play pass the hot potato with my issues or skip the opportunity to step into empowerment.
Empowerment is a choice. It’s a choice to go slow. It’s a choice to be present. It’s a choice to love yourself while you face any challenge that holds you back from full expression.
This time as I begin to hire different positions in my business, I am ready to take my time. I am ready to make mistakes. I am ready to stumble, fall, and get up and keep going. I am not going to allow frustration to have the last say of the day. I am going to be unstoppable. It’s mercy that gives me these muscles.
Make this go away, Make this go away, my impatience and desperation, the twin gargoyles, howl in fierce unison. But I am not going to allow my fears to turn into facts any longer. It’s only my belief that I can’t do something that has kept me from doing it. Now, I have created a new teacher-mother-authority within me. She whispers, we can do this, honey. We’ll just take as long as we need. We’ll learn as we go. I’ve decided to stop assuming I can’t do things. I am going to start assuming that I can --- and not only that, but with the requisite time and self-love, I can do them well.
But let me tell you what else happened the day I folded the blanket. I didn’t just forgive myself. I forgave my mother. I walked beyond my history. First, I stood before that blanket as though I was naked, on trial, and on camera. And then, at last, I slowed down and faced the task before me, even as everything within me wanted to bolt. I listened to thoughts that set me free: I don’t have to allow this blanket to make me feel bad about myself. There is no shame in feeling that something is a challenge. I am not broken. I am inexperienced. But I am not powerless.
That’s when I flashed on memories of my mother. My mother wasn’t a very good housekeeper. Often my father would yell at her, call her stupid, she would drop things by accident, and he would grab any task away from her. My mother also didn’t have any interest in learning how to improve. And I am my mother’s daughter. I haven’t wanted to learn either. I just wanted to be rescued.
That morning, I decided to fold the blanket with Zen attention, devotion, and care, because I was tired of feeling small. I was going to rescue myself. I am going to walk beyond, Mommy, I said to myself. I am going to go where you have never been. I am going to take your shame, my shame, and who knows if there’s generations of this self-punishment, and I am going to stop it.
And this is my new truth. I am going to clean up this pain. Even though shame sometimes feels like a gray sop bucket overflowing. Even if it seems impossible. I am going to start small and do what I can. I am not going to be your daughter anymore in that way, Mommy. I am not going to blame you. I am not going to tell the story to others or myself, that it’s because you never taught me. I will teach myself. I will learn. I will heal. I will fold a goddamn blanket and be a goddess in this world. I will write books, hire teams, and I will lead leaders. I will stand on top of a mountain you couldn’t climb and I won’t do it out of anger or to make you wrong. I will do it for both of us. I will do it and transform personal shame.
We are good enough. We are capable. We are worthy. We can do this.
I can do this.
I will do this.
I folded that blanket. It looked normal. I made us look normal Mommy I whispered within. And I left that place and left more than a folded blanket behind.
Turns out, you can do anything you decide to do.
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