I attended a conference last week as a show of support for a friend of mine who was one of the speakers. The overall topic was about Intentional Living, specifically how prolonged and toxic stress can weave its way into every facet of our lives and become a breeding ground for disconnection, both from ourselves and others.
It was an interesting topic, particularly as this is something several of my close friends and I have been discussing at length over the course of both the last several years, and particularly now that I am back, the last several months. In our collective experience, we have noticed that as we get older our tolerance level for unnecessary drama and stress has become less and less.
One of the greatest gifts I received when I stepped away from my previous life to move abroad was the ability to drop back down and re-center. I was in a constant state of doing, which as you can imagine and maybe even relate to, makes it difficult to process all the different components of life, good and bad.
We are so conditioned to think stress is okay, we don’t even realize when it has crossed the line from normal to toxic. We attach our levels of stress to things like success or accomplishment. The more stressed we are, the more successful we must be – in our career, in our relationships, as parents. When in fact, we are falling apart because we don’t even know how to live, how to actively engage. We are constantly distracted.
There is nothing wrong with success and hustle. In fact, I love the hustle. And yes, there are healthy amounts of stress. But where it becomes unhealthy is when it leaves you blinded to the reality that you are no longer capable of truly being present in your life.
Living abroad and giving up everything familiar allowed me the space to consciously undo all the things I had allowed in my life. And little did I know just how many things would need to become undone so that I could find this place of peace again. I could find myself again.
To say it is a process of learning the art of letting go would be an understatement. And naturally, some things are easier to let go of then others. And sometimes just as important as letting go, is awareness and beyond that, acceptance.
I was just having this conversation with a girlfriend last week, discussing the difference in who we are as women, comparing our lives and thoughts from our 20s, our 30’s and now our 40’s. There is a level of acceptance and comfort that comes with aging and life experience. And as much as we would like to think the 20-something versions of ourselves would have listened to the 40-something versions, the reality is that there are simply some things in life you must learn along the way. Nobody can tell you. Life will show you.
Experience teaches you what you are and are not willing to put up with in your life. You become acutely aware of people and things who are and are not good for you. You accept who and what you are, and you begin to own those things without apology.
By consciously undoing all the things you thought you were supposed to be or do, you start to live from a place of authenticity. Which, in a world of perfectly manicured social media feeds, is refreshing.
As my friend who spoke at the conference eloquently described it: you begin to live in the ampersand (&) of life.
When you are so busy living for everyone else, wearing the mask of what you think they want your life to look like or trying to measure up to their standards of who you should be, you shield yourself from true connection.
A fabricated life is one that breeds things like gossip and judgement.
And I don’t know about you, but for me, I simply don’t have room for those things in my life. They fall under the umbrella of unacceptable.
I remember years ago, during a time in my life where I was in front of a lot of people, thrust into the spotlight. One of my dearest friends asked me the simple question, “how are you doing?” And when I completely skimmed the surface and responded to her the same way I would to anyone else, she called me out on it. “Jenn, I love you, but I don’t want to hear the same song and dance that everyone else gets. I know you aren’t fine and I am here for you. Be honest with me. Be honest with yourself.”
I can close my eyes and recall everything about that conversation on the back steps of my condo at the time. We had been friends for years, but it was in that moment that I realized she was someone who would walk with me through every phase of life because she cared enough to be honest with me, to call me out on my own crap, and to push me to be vulnerable.
There were no frills or highlight reels. There was simply unconditional acceptance. Which, let’s be honest, if you aren’t getting that in your friendships or relationships, it might be time to find new friends or to get comfortable with being single!
For me, the process of undoing began when I gave up everything to go abroad on the promise of a fresh start. Doing so allowed me an opportunity to breathe again and live life from a place of awareness. I slowed down and got real about the stress factors in my life.
And never in a million years did I think in doing so, my life would be completely unraveled and I would end up back on this side of the world two years later navigating through starting over.
But here I am. And while there are certain things about who I am that remain, other things have changed dramatically. You can’t take risks in life without change, without opportunities for growth and expect to always stay the same. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
From the outside looking in, my life may seem messy and anything but manicured to perfection, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is life…undone.
Sometimes it takes letting go of all the broken pieces you had been holding together, so they can be replaced with new ones. By undoing, you become exactly who you were meant to be and experience life from a place of authenticity, connection, acceptance, and community.
Are you holding on to something in your life that is doing more harm than good – a job, a friendship, a relationship? Have you allowed toxic stress to take the wheel and drive you through life? Do you engage in gossip or judgement as opposed to acceptance?
Only you can answer those questions for yourself. And if you said yes to any of them, perhaps it’s time to allow yourself to come undone.
Cheers to a new week.