The snow crunched underneath my boots and the cold air hit the back of my lungs with a vengeance. One foot in front of the other, I watched as my legs miraculously carried me one step closer to the summit. My heart pounded and my eyes squinted in the snow white winter sunlight.
Body heavy with the weight of all my winter gear, I felt tired and discouraged, fantasizing about turning back. Determined to keep trying I lifted another snowy boot, one at a time, winding my way around several more switchbacks. And then there it was: the top.
Smiling, I thought to myself, “this is life”:
Effort. Paradox. Nourishment. Unknown. Longing. Disappointment. Aspiration. Commitment. Arrival. Repeat.
Several times a week I make a point to put on my hiking boots and venture out into the wilderness. No matter how hot or cold it might be, this time of moving my body in nature provides me with some much needed perspective on this wild ride called human life.
Getting high up in the mountains helps me to take a break from the nitty gritty everyday tasks and activities that make a life go ‘round and instead tap into a bird’s eye view of what I’m really working toward.
Giving birth to new conditions in ourselves and in our lives takes dedication and determination. The major things we long for and are striving toward rarely, if ever, happen overnight. Even if certain accomplishments appear to have come out of nowhere, when we look a little deeper there were many incremental steps, decisions, actions and conditions that all paved the way for this new experience to finally pop through and become our new reality.
So whether you are working toward a major career goal, resolution in certain relationships, creating the family you long for, having a health breakthrough or anything else, I want to remind you that change and healing take time. The processes of transformation and accomplishment occur slowly and in phases.
Before I became a therapist and coach, I worked as a birth doula. Typically the most intense and grueling part of labor is what is referred to as ‘transition.’ This is the stage just prior to pushing when women are most likely to feel as if they can’t do it anymore and they don’t know how they will make it to the other side. Ironically, this is also typically the shortest part of the labor, and the last frontier before being able to push and welcome the baby into loving arms.
Unlike with childbirth, where there is really no going back, in other areas of our lives, when we arrive at this ‘transition’ moment and the intensity, heat and self-doubt are at an all time high, we can very cleverly trick ourselves into turning around, just before we reach the summit.
So if you or anyone you know right now is working toward a big change, here are a few loving reminders to help you stick with it and not give up, particularly if you’re in the midst of a demanding ‘transition’ phase.
- Root yourself in the deeper “WHY”
Over the years of repeatedly reinventing my life and giving birth to new conditions, I have found that I often don’t fully arrive in the new conditions until I go through a period of losing almost all faith, being completely distraught and fed-up with the current paradigm. It is important that in these darkest hours, we place ourselves on the altar of our big “WHY.” I encourage you to remember what had you set your sights on this vision in the first place? Often times there is one layer of motivation such as money, other material gain, a degree or some other external form of recognition. These are all very important and relevant, but I’ll encourage you to explore a notch deeper. What is your core motivation? Typically this is something that will move you and strike a deep chord in your heart. For example: wanting to be a role model for your child, being the first in your family to graduate college or helping other women to get out of domestic violence situations when you lived through that yourself. When we tap into these soul-stirring “WHY’S” it helps us to get back up when we’ve fallen down and to continue putting one foot in front of the other.
- Pace yourself
Because our dreams and goals are often labor intensive, it is important to pace ourselves and not burn out. Avoiding burn out requires paying attention to both our input and output as women. One simple way I like to explain this to my clients is by looking at the breath. If we don’t inhale, we can’t exhale, and if we don’t exhale we can’t inhale. This most basic foundation of human life, breath, models for us a universal law that is relevant to all other areas of life. So if you find yourself in high gear most of the time, giving to others, working really hard and striving for accomplishments, I would encourage you to consider how and where you are also getting replenishment. Sometimes this requires adding or subtracting certain elements from our lives, whereas other times it is simply a perceptual shift of starting to register and recognize more fully where the nourishment already exists without having to change anything.
- Make room for variety and spontaneity
Novel experiences such as meeting a new person, visiting an unusual place, trying a unique activity or anything else unfamiliar increases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates learning, memory and motivation in humans. When we are feeling stuck, hopeless and in a rut about how to overcome major obstacles, we often can’t come to highly useful solutions without shaking things up a bit. By making the choice to take a break and pursuing something novel, we give the brain a chance to understand more fully why something might be feeling hard. For example, an experience you’re having might be reminiscent of an upsetting early childhood experience. The dopamine also helps us to get re-motivated around the reward or goal we are seeking. It also inspires us to continue learning whatever new skills and tools we need in order to keep reaching toward our aspiration.
Remember, the effort, hours, sweat and tears that get put into any significant pursuit are ultimately what make these things so satisfying when we actually do achieve them. It is through the incremental earning of new conditions that we build confidence, character and a deeper faith in ourselves.
So no matter where you are in your journey, have faith that the summit is just around the corner. And whether it takes months, years or even decades to arrive, the glory and freedom waiting for you at the top are totally worth what it takes to get back up and continue putting one foot in front of the other.