Episode #78: Freedom to Surrender
Letting go of what we know can be terrifying. But holding on too tightly to things that are no longer for us can keep us stuck and ultimately make us sick. In this episode I share how surrender has been a gateway in my life. This gateway not only sent me along the path to professional opportunities but also has been the recurring theme in my reclamation of my health and well-being after decades spent performing at all costs. Listen to learn more about the freedom that can come with surrender.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders, Entrepreneurs, and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
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A couple of newsletters ago I mentioned that for the last several months, I have been very present to the experience of “surrender” and what it has meant to me over the years and for me. I talked about surrendering the idea of having to hustle for my worth.
Heck, the reason there hasn’t been a new podcast in a while is that I surrendered both to the truth about my energy–particularly my creative energy–and also chose to focus the holiday season on being as present as possible with my kids.
And then, for so many of us the last month has been one of illness and interruptions and schools being closed from all of the things.
Today I am going to talk about surrender again . . . the surrender that ultimately allowed me to heal and reclaim my life over the last decade.
I know that when some people look at the journey I have been on . . . from CEO and superwoman . . . to severely mentally ill and struggling with a host of physical ailments. . . to almost taking my own life . . . to divorced, unemployed and arguably unemployable at least at the same professional level . . . through multiple iterations of building streams of income from scratch . . . it is easy to focus on what I have lost. Sometimes I even feel tempted to fall down that rabbit hole.
And it is even easier to feel afraid.
One might think–and actually I know I have some friends who specifically think this--well if THAT is what it takes to transform my life, I will just stay where I am thank you very much; even if I have to regularly escape my life through work, alcohol, spending, drugs, or any other number of coping mechanisms in order to survive it. Never mind that my body and mind are beginning to fail.
Maybe there is a new medication for that? Can someone patch me back together please so that I don’t actually have to stop what I am doing or face the reality of my situation?!?!
OH the years I spent running into the wall, collapsing, patching myself back together, pulling myself up by my bootstraps and going again.
And it is true that trauma often does spur transformation. But I don’t believe that the act of transformation by necessity has to be traumatic.
Are there things we leave behind on the journey back to ourselves? Absolutely.
Are there people, places and things that cannot or will not come on this journey with us? Yes.
Must we grieve the changes along the way? Most certainly. Even changes for our good involve grief.
But I am not convinced that throwing a grenade into your current life is the only path back home. Or that you have to wait until the five alarm fire is consuming everything before you take action.
One of the most powerful moments in my own healing journey came when the voice inside me said . . . “I will not let you go until you stop trying to get away.” I assign to this moment the final shift that took me from fighting to complete and total surrender.
And yes, I lost everything but my life and my kids on the path to complete surrender. But I cannot help but wonder if there might have been a gentler way.
What if I had heeded the many, many warning signs on the decades long path to my almost total destruction?
What if I had given myself permission to stop performing and to start living?
What if I had nurtured my body, mind and soul that way that I nurture others?
What if I had said yes to myself more often and no to other people well before I was completely fried.
But I was hell bent on persistence.
I made an art form out of putting one foot in front of the other no matter what fresh hell I was experiencing.
I prided myself on my ability to make sense from chaos and survive.
Spoken like a true product of trauma, yes?
I am not here to say that we are the cause of all of our suffering. I don’t believe that is true.
But I do believe that we receive invitation after invitation from the Universe to step back into alignment, embodiment and wholehearted living . . . along the path to what I would call transformation.
And how we respond to those invitations matters. Will we get on our knees and surrender our perception of control? Because of course that is what it is right, a perception? Or will we go down fighting tooth and nail to maintain our position in a construct that frankly is going to take us down with it. Our cultural norms are not necessarily tied to our well-being and in many respects have become significantly divorced from what is actually true and needed for our time on this earth.
When I finally stopped trying to be the person I thought I was “supposed” to be–when I finally surrendered all of my preconceived notions–that was when my healing journey began. That was when I started to walk the path back to myself.
We humans like to hold on really really tightly to things that aren’t for us or that maybe were but are no longer for us. You know the saying, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We would rather tenaciously hold our grip on the things that we know rather than risk letting go (and letting ourselves face the unknown).
I think our tendency to hold on so tightly is exacerbated by the fact that we have been conditioned to believe that certain things (accomplishments) will make us feel worthy and safe (a job, title, career, family, income, recognition). I think it is also true to say that many of us have been conditioned to believe that morality will make us feel worthy and safe.
And oh the disillusionment when we actually get the thing we always wanted and find ourselves still empty and afraid.
My theory is that the longer we hold on, the harder it will be to transform the systems, frameworks, roles, relationships and coping mechanisms we have used to cope so far . . . it is like we have built a fortress around this way of being in a futile attempt to protect it. And systems are built to perpetuate themselves.
Just as it is true that the longer we proceed on a path to burnout, the more devastating the effects of burnout will be.
And the longer we live a life divided from our soul’s true nature the sicker we will become.
The longer it will take to heal. To piece back together a life that is a fuller, more embodied, version of the life we were put here to live.
That doesn’t mean we cannot heal. But the stimulus that ultimately results in getting us to the place of letting go may be proportionate to the degree to which we have been holding for dear life with a vice grip and the years we have spent reinforcing our walls.
But I also believe surrender can be gentle. Hopeful. Exciting even. Particularly if we give ourselves permission to consider that the life that is in alignment with our well-being is also more beautiful than the life in which we spend all of our time and energy patrolling the fortress walls just waiting for someone or something to attack and take everything we are trying to protect.
I was talking to a dear friend the other day about the uncertainty that comes with bringing a child into the world. And about learning to not only cede control but also ask for help–we’ll call this a very early stage lesson in my lifelong lessons about learning not to trust other people and then learning to trust them again (often other people) and learning to ask for help–when I went into pre-term labor with both of my last two babies.
I talked about the experience of ceding control and trusting the Universe when I re-organized myself out of my first, ten-year career in commercial real estate when I was the primary wage earner and had two children and did not have a back-up job, right before the bottom dropped out of the real estate market in 2008. For a couple of months, my professional friends were stunned that I would leave a job without a new job lined up. And a few months later I looked prescient.
The reasons why I had not yet looked for another job don’t really matter for the purposes of this story. But that experience was a seminal moment in stepping out on faith that the next professional step would present itself. Which it did.
But here was the “ah-ha” I had while talking with my friend. When I embarked on my second career, as a CEO of a regional nonprofit, I tried to bring the lessons about surrendering control with me. And to some extent I did. There were a lot of decisions and outcomes for which I decided to focus on the inputs . . . the ingredients for the vision I held for the organization. . . the culture, the people, systems and processes, the business model . . . while also being aware that, in the end, I couldn’t control whether we got where I wanted us to go.
But here is what I see now, that I didn’t see then . . . frankly I didn’t see it until I was explaining it to my friend . . . I was willing to relinquish control ONLY AFTER I pulled every lever that could be pulled. In other words, I was only willing to give myself permission to relinquish control of the outcome if I made sure no single stone was left unturned . . . if anything and everything that we had a semblance of influence over was examined, tested, taken apart when needed, re-built sometimes from scratch, and executed (with great intention if not perfection) and re-examined and so on . . .
And here is the thing . . . self-efficacy can be great for burnout prevention, mental health, and particularly for trauma healing . . . the idea that we have the ability to “do something” about our circumstances matters a lot. Even if we cannot fix the thing, being able to “do something” is very important to our nervous system (sidebar I am currently reading Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski and this is a point they make in the book).
I absolutely can understand, in hindsight, why the grown up me tried to control every single thing I had a modicum of influence over (particularly my own words, behavior, choices, and emotional experience–well let’s be honest–my complete lack of emotional experience, oh, and effort) in order to feel marginally safe and hopeful in my life.
But can you imagine what happened after I spent 6 years trying to control all of the inputs??? While also adding a third child to my household, watching my mother die, and losing her as my lifeline???? And decades before that being freakishly independent and self-sufficient.
Well, you can listen to episode one of this podcast for all of the gory details but let’s just say burnout happened at the level that has taken me almost a decade to recover from.
It turns out that surrender, true surrender, doesn’t actually happen when you are still turning all of the knobs and spinning all of the plates and just moving all of the things around in an epic game of calendar tetris instead of actually taking things off the grid.
What is different about my understanding of surrender today compared to my understanding of surrender more than a decade ago, is that I start each day with a cleaner slate. Sure, I have things I want, and even things I think I need to accomplish, each day.
But my baseline is built from my fundamental self-care practices . . . hard core bedtime with 8-9 hours in bed each night, water (always a work in progress), food (also a work in progress), 3-5 gym workouts per week, nightly meditation courtesy of the Calm app, and remembering to breathe whenever I find myself holding my breath. That is the baseline for me. The foundation from which I build each and every day. The foundation that allows me to channel resilience in the face of adversity and uncertainty and also allows me to continue to progress on my healing journey. Because I am often checking in with my body and trying to listen to what it needs and what it is asking for.
I am not trying to control ALL OF THE THINGS. I am not trying to BE ALL OF THE THINGS.
And when the day, week, month or year doesn’t work out the way I imagined or hoped, I observe and interrupt the stories in my head about what it all means–about chaos being the result of some abject failure on my part–I lean into my self-care practices, I come back to the things I am grateful for such as secure walls in a solid home, heat or air conditioning, food, healthy children, the ability to move my body most days in a way that helps me feel healthy and strong and so on.
I remind myself that suffering is not an indication of lack of moral character. That suffering is a universal part of the human experience. I think back on the healing journey I have walked so far and pay attention and am grateful for the progress.
I surrender. Truly surrender. And in surrendering, I neither push myself to the edges of my capacity by trying to do more than any single human should hold themselves accountable for, but I also relax into a flow of things that is bigger than me, that has always been bigger than me. And that often brings me gifts in the most unexpected packages.
When I release whatever I think should be, or what no longer is for me, time and time again I find gifts of presence, peace, gratitude, relief and healing there. I am more myself than I was a decade ago. I am healthier and stronger than I was a decade ago. I am more present in my life than I was then. And I no longer spend each and every day feeling like I am being chased by a bear.
Healing is possible. But it starts with surrender.
Thank you for listening today.
The FREE Well-Being Challenge starts next week on February 1st!! 30 days of simple, accessible practices delivered straight to your inbox for 30 days. Go to www.boothandrews.com/wellbeingchallenge (or you can click on the link in my bio @theboothandrews on Instagram) to register now.
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