Calamity thrusts us into the heart of things. But first it shakes everything loose, sending us on a scavenger hunt to gather the ripped apart pieces of ourselves and our lives in order to reassemble them in a whole, new way.
As I type these words, the black letters on my white screen make this volcanic process look so orderly. So straightforward. If C follows B and B follows A, then what’s the problem?
The problem is that as I live this experience, I know it is both these things and also not them at all.
Each day, what it takes to quell the anxiety that catastrophe brings differs. Some days it’s to exercise intensely and keep the routine going, regardless of how I feel. Other days it’s to stay at home, eat popcorn, and not talk to anyone. Some days it’s to talk, talk. And then talk some more.
On those days, while talking often feels like a salve to the scorching uncertainty that deep change brings, if I’m not careful, it can quickly end up leaving me feeling worse.
For example, usually when I want to talk, I call my mom. After two, life shattering events happening back to back over the past year-and-a-half, and calling my mom pretty much everyday throughout, she still picks up the phone every time. Let’s acknowledge that this, in and of itself, is a miracle and a gift. THANK YOU, Mom.
Each time, she listens as I talk. And, depending upon my emotion du jour, sometimes I hang up with the advice “I think you should start dating again.” Other days it’s: “I don’t think you should start dating again” (or insert any activity in place of “dating”).
Like a sailor always tries to align her boat’s sail with the wind to increase speed and ease, I know my mom’s advice aims to do the same. Her heart probably hurts for me more than my own; and, all she wants is for me to feel whole and happy again.
In the past, I’ve sought business advice. Coaches have urged, “Make it about them, not about you.” Simultaneously, others have urged, “Stop sacrificing yourself and making it about them. Make it about you.”
Over the years, as I’ve navigated basing my livelihood on my personal evolution, some friends have urged: “Share more, be more real.” Others have warned, “Guard your privacy, stop sharing so much.”
I’m not judging my mom, my advisors, or my friends. I was the one who asked for their help. But there’s a lot of danger in both the seeking and the giving of advice.
Here’s why: When everything’s shaken loose in someone’s life, everything means everything. Including one’s inner sense of direction, purpose, and very sense of self. Now, this is neither something to be alarmed by nor is it something to fix. Let’s remember that this massive upheaval is, in fact, the whole point of a crisis.
When everything’s shaken loose, those who love us want nothing more than to see us on solid ground again. They offer advice because they want to help us stitch our Humpty Dumpty selves back together again.
The truth is, no one can reassemble ourselves but us, we can do this on no one’s time but our own, and this process is inherently painful. The only way to stop grieving is to grieve, and the only way to stop feeling pain is to feel the pain. We are the only ones who can do this work for ourselves.
We need those whom we love and trust to serve like those silly, inflatable bumpers used to keep the ball from going into the gutter when we’re first learning how to bowl. When we start veering to far to the left, we need them to nudge us back into the center of our lane. We need their constant, soft presence to help us find the path forward when we keep bee-lining it toward the gutter. They can’t find the path for us, but they can help us feel resourced and deeply cared for as we do the hard work of finding it ourselves.
As a mentor myself, women come to me with tragedies that they need help navigating. The best thing I can do for them is share the tools that have helped me, help them tease apart their conflicting parts and desires, as well as give them space to express themselves and be witnessed and loved unconditionally.
Amidst this, I, too, have been guilty of giving advice; but, more and more, when women come to me with complex questions, I turn it around and ask them what they think the answer is. I hold their feet to the fire of the initiation into unwavering self-trust.
Because the answers for all that we face in our lives only and always lives within us. We need people around us to lovingly and patiently remind us of this truth and to keep reminding us to return to ourselves when we, inevitably, try to escape.
The next time you (or I) feel the urge to seek or give advice, pause. Get present with yourself and the person you’re with. Listen. Feel yourself. Share your love rather than your opinion. Reflect back what you see about this being in front of you. Let this person, especially if this person is you, be exactly who and where they are. The rest will become clear as and when it’s ready.
And, remember, this, too, is advice. So take it with a grain of salt.