Guest Post by Steph Brokopp
Gaining control by letting go. What a paradox. But how true it is. Heck, Disney even made a movie about it and right now I bet many of you have THAT song running through your head. (Sorry!)
If you’ve been a follower of Compounding Courage, then you know that the topic of letting go is certainly relevant. I’d like to thank Julie, Stacey and Dana for giving me the encouragement to share my story. While I have always enjoyed writing, most of the topics have been on things other than myself, so opening up and sharing things about ME was a little uncomfortable. However, as I’ve learned change often doesn’t happen until you step outside of your comfort zone.
Before I dive in, first a little bit about me. I’m a small-town girl who had big dreams of leaving the small-time life behind and moving onto something bigger. Something better. However, the furthest away I ever got was Des Moines, Iowa – not exactly the “something bigger” I had dreamed about – before a job opportunity pulled me back closer to my hometown.
I worked hard. I threw myself into my work. And I enjoyed it. But I also felt I had something to prove. Here, I was the girl who said she was going places, yet she was working at a company that was just 7 miles away from her hometown. I felt inadequate because I didn’t fulfill the “dream” that my high school self had envisioned. So, to minimize the insecurities that I was feeling, I focused on staying busy because that felt good.
Busy = Control
Over the next decade+, I continued to focus on work, taking on more responsibility even though by then I had gotten married and had a young daughter at home. I said “yes” to the work trips that would take me out of town for several days. I said “yes” to the additional projects, because after all, I could handle it. Until I couldn’t. Shortly before I had my son, I had a panic attack. I first blamed it on the pregnancy since my son had wedged his tiny butt against my rib cage for most of my third trimester and thus, my ability to breathe was impeded. But it wasn’t my pregnancy that caused me to feel like I couldn’t catch my breath. It was me constantly saying “yes” to others, and essentially “no” to myself. Even if I couldn’t verbally say the words, my body was saying “no” for me.
After I had my son, I moved into a part-time position, eager to find a way to bring balance into my life. But that was short-lived. Even before I was done with my maternity leave, I had signed up to take a realtor course so that I could sell real estate in addition to my part-time job. Then, a few months later my church reached out asking me to become the nursery volunteer coordinator. Eventually, my two part-time jobs, coupled with my volunteer responsibilities, essentially had me working more hours than I had when I was in a full-time role. I knew that I was probably taking on too much, but I didn’t really understand why I was doing this. I just knew I had to keep busy. For me, keeping busy was the only way I knew how to remain in control of my life. If I stopped, then I had time to think. Time to feel. And this was something I was trying to avoid.
I’d like to say that I came to this realization sooner vs later, but that’s not the case. I eventually went back to a full-time position, working even more hours than I had before, coming home late and logging into work after the kids had gone to bed. My kids were struggling. My marriage was struggling. But I was “too busy” to deal with it. During this time my mom was diagnosed with cancer and lost her battle three days before Christmas. Losing my mom was incredibly painful, but instead of embracing my grief and allowing myself to feel my emotions, I dove back into my drug of choice, busyness. I couldn’t control losing my mom. I couldn’t control the emptiness I was feeling inside. But I could write pretty darn good standard operating procedures and I could pull together project plans and execute these as “flawlessly” as possible. (Caveat – I HATE the word, “flawlessly”, as that is such an illogical and completely bullshit goal, but I digress.) My work was where I felt in control. Where I could escape all the yuck of my personal life. Then, it all changed.
Forced to Stop
Nothing like a pandemic to force you to suddenly stop. The busyness that I had been so accustomed to, was no longer. I remember going into my work conference call knowing that we may be going on furlough, but until I actually heard it, it didn’t really sink in. And subsequently when it was determined that the furlough would be extended by another month, and then yet another, the reality of it all started to hit home.
As Brene Brown said in her book, Daring Greatly, “’Crazy-busy’ is a great armor, it’s a great way for numbing. What a lot of us do is that we stay so busy, and so out in front of our life, that the truth of how we’re feeling and what we really need can’t catch up with us.”
And now, all of those feelings were catching up with me. Big time. For the first few weeks I was desperately trying to cling to some sense of control. I put together an unrealistic school schedule, became overly involved with the kids’ homework, started a list of home projects that “needed” to be done, made sure we walked the dog twice a day (which, was lucky to get walked even once a week prior to this) and started a Couch to 5K program.
But then it started to crumble. My kids rebuked the schedule. My son struggled with his schoolwork, which resulted in one or both of us crying intermittently every few hours. I was growing resentful of my husband who continued to work (at home) and was locked away in the home office for much of the day, unaware of the anarchy that was often happening at the kitchen table. I was keeping myself “busy” by trying to control everything (and everyone) around me and it was not working. I had to let go.
Letting go is painful. A good friend shared that letting go is like a rope burning through your hands. You are trying so hard to hang on and maintain control, that you don’t realize that holding onto that rope is doing more damage than letting go.
As I began to re-listen to some of my favorite authors, I started to understand that the reason I was holding on so tight and keeping myself so busy was my fear of vulnerability. I was fearful of appearing weak, inefficient, incapable. Staying busy allowed people to see my accomplishments, my external persona, but not the stories, experiences and emotions that truly make up, me.
I’m a work-in-progress as must of this realization has only occurred very recently. It’s a day-by-day, or sometimes, hour-by-hour process but I keep reminding myself that letting go is the most freeing feeling of all.
Here are a few things I’ve been doing or have implemented that I have found to be helpful on my journey of letting go:
- Starting each day with a list of what I need to let go in order to be fully present. I first learned about this during a Compounding Courage Saturday AM Coffee Klatch and began to implement this into my morning routine. It helps me start my day on a positive note and I find myself referencing back to what I wrote throughout the day.
- Surrounding myself with “bucket-fillers”. Connecting with friends that are authentic, where I don’t feel like I need to hide behind a persona; they are okay with the real me, warts and all.
- Limiting social media. Too often after scrolling Facebook or Instagram, I come away feeling depleted, unworthy because I’m comparing their highlight reels to my life. It is so not worth it.
- Stop “should-ing” all over myself. My counselor coined this phrase, which I love. This means I need to stop telling myself how I “should” feel or act or do. Being forced to STOP during this pandemic has given me time to identify those activities that fulfill me and those that I’m simply doing because I “should”.
Create a schedule with plenty of white space. I’m a schedule gal, so not having a schedule just simply won’t happen. BUT I need to allow for white space. Time for the unexpected. Time for the unplanned.