I recently dreamed that I was sentenced to 30 days in jail. It was a four-in-the-morning kind of dream, the kind that makes you toss and turn, wake up for a minute, roll over, go back to sleep and resume the dream. Vivid in most detail, the dream omitted one critical element - the crime I had committed. That detail was bleary. I think maybe I'd removed the wrong library book off of a shelf. (No, I'm not joking).
You don't have to be Freud to deduce that I've been feeling a bit trapped in my life lately. But unlike actual imprisonment, feeling trapped in life is often instructional - simply because it's an illusion. It's like the elephant with its leg tied to a wooden stake. The elephant is strong enough to break the stake and free itself, but doesn't realize it. It stays tied to the stake only because it's been conditioned to do so.
Although we're smarter than elephants, we do sometimes seem to stand with one leg tied to a stake for no reason other than conditioning. After having done some time in my own trap (I've since freed myself, by the way), I noticed that the way out was a heavy dose of what I call "self-definition."
Self-definition is a process. It's an excavation of the soul. It requires us to honestly, deeply and completely answer some challenging questions:
- What do I want?
- What excites me?
- How do I hold myself back?
- How do I allow fear to hold me back?
- How can I be courageous enough to do what I need to do?
- What's my place in the world?
Answering these questions truthfully may not be easy. I challenge you to answer them for each area of your life and notice what you uncover. When I asked myself "What do I want?" I heard two answers. The first: I wanted more sleep. The second and more important answer: I wanted to stop meeting everyone else's needs before my own. I'd fallen into a habit of superseding my own needs much of the time and this response was taking its toll - between my son, my clients, friends, family, and various and sundry other people, I was losing myself in a sea of needs. I'd become tethered to that stake.
Self-definition is about finding the places, conditions and mindsets in which you sparkle and shine, in which you stay focused on your desire and move away from your fear. It helps you notice those times that you pull back and stop yourself just as you get started. You begin to see the many little thoughts and actions that together add up to sabotaging yourself. Finally, you decide to make different choices. Once you step onto that path, you begin to define YOURSELF rather than allowing other people, beliefs and circumstances to determine your identity, life path and course of action.
Self-definition is not about focusing on the specific "hows" and "whats" - how will I get there, what if I don't like it, what if I don't make it, what if I fail, what if I succeed, what are the steps to take, which are the best actions?
Work to avoid these questions - they will instantaneously suck the life out of your beautiful, new self-definition. These questions are based in doubt, rather than faith. Once you are firmly grounded in what is true for you, the "how" and "what" tend to reveal themselves more clearly.
Focus on what YOU want. Then trust that it's right for you. Trust is key here - trust in yourself, trust in the universe, and trust that the right things will happen at exactly the right time. You do that, and you will not be trapped. Your leg will not be tied to a stake, and that my friends, is freedom.
Claudette Rowley, coach and author, helps professionals identify and pursue their true purpose and calling in life. Learn more at Claudette Rowley.com.