“What are you willing to give up in order to have the life you pretend you want?” Liz Gilbert, the wildly successful, beloved author of Eat, Pray, Love, told an audience of several hundred women at Miami’s Unity on the Bay Church that this has been the most important question in her life.
At the time, Liz was in her twenties, working a string of menial jobs in order to survive in New York City. The question was posed to her by a woman she deeply admired. She yearned for time to write and wasn’t finding it. This “older” woman, in her fifties, had what Liz wanted most of all—a full-time creative life.
The question devastated her. What are you willing to give up in order to have the life you pretend you want? She realized that until she was willing to claim that life by devoting herself to it, and even sacrificing herself to it, she was pretending.
The woman had even more tough love for her–going on to tell her that she’d have to not only say no to things she didn’t want to do, she’d have to say no to things she did want to do.
This, Liz told us, is how claim what we care most about. We may have to give up things we want to do. And until we do that, we are only pretending. To have the lives we yearn for we need to set priorities and to honor them.
Today’s woman, Liz said, is fierce, courageous, badass, fabulous, compassionate, giving, but we lack the most important quality we need to have the lives we want.
We are not relaxed.
And being relaxed she said, is the key separating the wheat from the chaff of life—finding what is truly and deeply meaningful, important and worthwhile. Separating what we want from what we pretend we want.
But this doesn’t mean taking the occasional hot bath or a nap and waiting until the chaos and the difficulties are over. We cannot wait until everything settles down, sprinkling a few guilty breaks in between the 10,000 things that demand our attention.
My coaching clients, who often come to me in crisis situations—divorce, illness, job upheaval—have heard me say this very thing over and over. We cannot wait. We must meet even the deepest challenges, with an attitude of calm, both inside and out. It’s the key to being at our best as we handle our very full lives. It’s the key to protecting our time, our health and immune systems, our ability to make decisions, and the only hope we have for deeply and lasting joy in our lives.
Imagine that tomorrow you wake up to the exact chaos and demands that exist in your life today, but with one significant difference. Imagine you wake up relaxed. Imaging that you step into the fray of your life with ease.
Imagine you are handling your same life, from the minor annoyances to the major crises, from the traffic jams to the divorce, from the red wine spilled on the rug to the upheaval at your workplace, imagine handling that life, your life exactly as it is, from a state of relaxed ease.
This doesn’t mean we’re blithely ignoring the realities of our lives. This isn’t denial or irresponsibility. But we take responsibility for only that for which we are truly responsible, and we approach it all as calmly as possible. We understand the difference between worry, which debilitates us, and concern, which allows us to respond appropriately.
To do this, Liz pointed to three necessary elements:
- Priorities: What do we care most deeply about? What and who do we want to spend out limited time with? What are we willing to give up to have the life we want? Facebook? Television? Wine? The pull of other people’s business—things they are totally capable of handling on their own? Setting priorities means we let our friends and families manage their responsibilities. And we protect our very limited time and energy wherever possible.
- Boundaries: To set boundaries, we need to know our priorities, and from there, we draw a sacred circle around them.Joseph Campbell was once asked the question what is sacred. His response? You draw a circle and say everything within it is sacred. We can do it ourselves. It isn’t up to a priest, a pastor, a rabbi, or an imam. We can do it privately, alone. We get to say what is sacred for us, what comes inside the circle and what stays outside.For women, Liz reminded us, the sacred must include our bodies. We must protect and respect our amazing, sacred bodies.
- Mysticism: If this is the only world we are tuned into, it’s brutal–full of chaos, suffering, and dysfunction. To stay calm and relaxed, we must have a sense of the magic beyond us, that ineffable inner awareness that lets us know that “every little thing is gonna’ be alright” and “this, too, shall pass.”We may not get what we want. People betray us and leave us and accidents and illnesses still happen, but the message of the mystics is always this: it’s all going to be alright.Liz told us about how when my mentor, Martha Beck, did her PhD on successful women, they told her all the the obvious things about attaining leadership—finding mentors, setting priorities, etc. But the more she pressed the question, the more these women began to confide in her about their mystical experiences. I heard a voice, I had a dream, I was guided. They said things that made no logical sense.It’s such a common experience, isn’t it? Why did you do that, choose that, how did that happen? I have no idea. It’s beyond logic.
I’m often asked why I dropped out of another coach training after spending a year and $10,000 on it to start over again with Martha Beck. I have no idea. I just knew I had to. I wanted to in a way that was beyond reason. And this action which made no logical or financial sense was the single most important action I ever took to turn my life around from one dominated by doubt and anxiety to one filled with deeply meaningful work and joy that abides.
So sit with this question until the answer comes: “What are you willing to give up in order to have the life you pretend you want?”And as you wait for the answer, find as much calm as you can, wherever you can.
Let’s start the New Year with Liz’s formula. Let’s set priorities, let’s protect them with strong boundaries, and let’s listen to those whispers and inner voices and internal tugs, calling us to go beyond logic and fear, and into the magic and connection and love that awaits us all.