A Worthwhile Journey – What Is My Life Trying to Teach Me?

Andrea Chilcote

Spiral stairway in the Alabama State Capitol. —Lissoy at En.Wikipedia Commons

by Andrea Chilcote

Many times I’ve shared Richard Bach‘s quote, “You teach best what you need to learn.” And while it’s been my experience – and a good one at that – there’s a little part of me that feels like an imposter. The reason? Because even though I’ve “learned” it, I’m still learning and probably will be for life.

Here’s a mundane example: Organizational skills don’t come naturally to me. So when, early in my career, I learned basic time management tools and tricks that made life and work much easier, I was excited to begin teaching these same skills. Make no mistake, I struggle to maintain the basic practices on a daily basis. Yet if the need arises, I can still help others implement those techniques.

Where is the fine line between having mastered something to the degree that one is qualified to teach it, and the humility to admit that personal growth is ongoing and never done? Therein lies the integrity of the matter.

In his article, “Am I Done With My Personal Work?” Raphael Cushnir tells a story of working with his teacher on an old feeling that had resurfaced. He writes, poignantly:

“None of this was new. It was a well-worn point of my personal journey, revisited anew at a deeper rung of my life spiral. It would have been easy to throw up my hands and walk away, to cry out, ‘This?! Again?! I thought I was done with it years ago!’ It would have been just as easy to see this recurrence as proof that I’m back where I started, no different or better off than when I first began to address my issues consciously.”

A number of my clients are struggling with something I have been working on most of my life. We’ll call it trying to “boil the ocean.” They are compelled to take on that which is difficult, to commit to more than is humanly possible, and they shun help even when it’s available before their very eyes.

I know a lot about this way of being. And I’ve transformed it in my own life, though it still surfaces, only as Cushnir says, “at a deeper rung of my life spiral.”

Over the years, I’ve learned I have physical, mental and emotional limits. I’ve learned that a “hair’s on fire,” stressed-out demeanor is unattractive and does little to foster confidence. And, I’ve grown comfortable asking for and accepting help in many areas of life. I’m qualified to help these people in part because I have true empathy for where they are now, and I’ve walked a path of change that’s before them, should they choose it. And I’m still learning right alongside them.

One of my teachers, Judy Goodman, says you can’t give people what you don’t have and you can’t take people where you haven’t been. And, she asks her students to answer this question: “What is my life trying to teach me?” – most certainly implying that the learning journey is life-long.

Letting Go

Letting GoToday I am reblogging my 2012 post about Letting Go. Do you need to free the spirit of another to travel his or her own path?

by Andrea Chilcote

This past weekend was very special for my family. Our foster Husky dog, Lucky, went to his forever home.

Three weeks ago, late on Saturday night, I got an urgent email from a worker at the county shelter. They had brought in a half-dead Siberian Husky who had been attacked by dogs. He faced a certain death if not claimed, immediately, by a  rescue group. Fortunately, I was able to reach two such angels from Thefetchfoundation.com and they arranged for me to retrieve him to the safety of my home. It turns out his wounds were serious but treatable, and he was a pup, less than a year old.

Happily, through anything-but-coincidental events, the perfect family came along to adopt Lucky. In three short weeks I had bonded with him as he healed, and shed tears as I prepared him for his journey.

That day I was reminded of the fleeting relationships we have with some people (as well as animals) in our lives. Of course, most of us are all blessed with life-long friendships and family bonds. And we also meet and connect with people who come and go. These brief connections offer us gifts in the form of life lessons or a simple helping hand when needed, and they take gifts from us. Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a transitory relationship? They’re easier to release when it seems we gave more than we were given, or when there was more hurt than happiness. But there are others that we try to hang on to, in order to recreate the magic after the magic has faded.

Consider this. There are people who enter our lives in pure synchronicity, for a clear and finite purpose, then exit. The purpose of the relationship may be ours or theirs, and we often don’t ever fully understand the “why” of it all. The important thing is the memory, the life lesson, or the gift exchanged.

In the animal rescue world, there are people called “foster failures.” These kind folks take in animals to foster, but cannot give them up – eventually rendering themselves unable to foster because their kennel is full, so to speak. For many homeless and helpless animals, it’s a blessing there is so much needed compassion. In human relationships, it’s a bit different. Some people need to be allowed to “fly away” and find the right connections for the next leg of their journey. (www.wakeupcloud.com/outgrowing-your-friends/)

I know in my heart that sweet Lucky belongs with his new family, even as I miss his sparkling blues eyes and loving demeanor. And, I know what we both meant to each other’s lives, however brief the interlude. Do you need to free the spirit of another to travel his or her own path?

Defining Your Destination (2014)

Define Your DestinationHow does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the last in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In this part I discuss transition.

By Andrea Chilcote

Being “in transition” implies you have left one place (physically, mentally or emotionally) and have not yet arrived in another. And one of the more daunting challenges associated with transition is not knowing where you are going. I don’t know about you, but while I am enjoying the journey, I want to have a destination on the horizon.

The process of defining a destination, an intended outcome sounds simple – though we can make it into a complex science project.

I’ve never cared for mind benders, those frustrating puzzles that make your brain hurt. Yet I’ve spent a good portion of my life puzzling over so-called universal principles that feel just like mind benders. I’m referring to profound revelations uttered by philosophers and gurus that you just know are The Truth, yet are paradoxical and seem hard to live by in practical terms.

One such head scratcher is the concept of detachment. According to this gem of wisdom, we must set a clear and compelling vision, then…let it go. The idea is that with attachment, our fears and obsessions will muddy the pure intent, contriving all manner of disaster and plotting contingencies to prevent such. This focus on the details can be exacerbated when one is in transition, because it feels as though all we control is the minutiae.

Does this “law of detachment” mean we should stop wanting what we say we want? No, no—and therein sits the conundrum. The problem often lies in defining what we want. Often what we say we want is just a means of getting to some higher-level, often unexpressed, goal. What we get attached to is the mechanism — this house, this job, this relationship – and we miss all of the beautiful opportunities that show up along the way.

In your heart of hearts, what do you know you truly want? And, what will having that bring you? The answer to the second question is, in all likelihood, what you truly desire. The rest is just method or means, the detailed how-to that your clever mind has calculated. These instructions we issue to the universe squelch our creative wisdom and limit the innate potential available to all. Most of the time, we’re not in charge of the how-to’s anyway. Have you ever looked back after some miraculous achievement and wondered how it all came together? W.H. Murray’s famous statement says it all: ”The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”

So look forward. Craft your vision, paint a picture of your heart’s desire. See it, feel it, imagine it come to life. Then let it be. Go about your day, enjoying each precious and fleeting moment. You might be surprised at what happens next.

Read all three parts on The Spirited Woman site.

Re-Write the Story of Your Life (2014)

Andrea Chilcoteby Andrea Chilcote

How does one “Re-Write the Story of Their Life?” This is the first in a three-part series I wrote in 2012 for The Spirited Woman. In part one I ask, “Which story are you telling?”

Some time ago I had a conversation with a colleague who was making a difficult choice to leave both a job and a marriage that were consuming her very life force. I observed that this opportunity had been knocking on her door for years, getting louder and more persistent over time, and that perhaps she should answer the call. If not, the door was about to be busted through and the house blown down, as the proverbial wolf did in the Three Little Pigs.

A watershed moment for her, she realized that one cannot proclaim to be self-aware and committed to living purposefully, in integrity, if unwilling to make changes in a life that’s not working.

You’ve heard the saying: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” This paradigm is why many people stay in abusive relationships, endure dysfunctional employers, and fail to take the leap toward long-held dreams. Change itself is not what we fear; it’s the transition that we endure getting from here to there that’s not for the faint of heart. Perhaps so many of us today are in “transition” because we have the courage of conviction. What is the spark behind that courage? The choice to take full responsibility for one’s life.

Any story we tell about difficulty in our lives can be told in two ways. In story one, we tell what happened; a play by play account of wins and losses, who did what and why – from our own point of view. The flaw with this method is just that – our own point of view! If things didn’t turn out as we wished, it’s easy to tell a story of what happened to us, what was done to us, and how unfair it all was. Story two is very different. Story two is an account we tell taking full responsibility for everything that happened. It’s a way of examining the beliefs we held, the decisions we made and the actions we took that led to others’ actions or so-called fate stepping in.

Which story is most true? Even though story one is literally true, story two, the story in which we step fully into the great gift of an empowered life, is the only story worth telling.

The purpose of story two is never, ever to create guilt or self-blame. Story two’s true purpose is to free us to remember we are the causal force in our lives, and our choices and decisions produce our results. Sometimes life does just happen, with serious or tragic consequences. Story two gives us a chance to think or behave in a new way even after a very difficult experience.  A liberating idea, don’t you think?

If you have recently taken a leap, or if the wolf is at your door and you find yourself considering transition, use story two to create a map, lay out next steps, start anew. You’re in charge of your life.

My colleague is now living in story two, free from the burden of relinquishing control to others. Easy it is not, and she’s befriending the wolf who knocked, learning each day to savor the journey, one step at a time.

Read parts two and three on The Spirited Woman: