From relationships taking a turn for the worst; to crappy jobs and scenarios; to other internal interpersonal conflicts, I've spent a lot of time ignoring my instincts. What have I learned from this? Two things: 1) trust your gut; 2) when the Universe calls, listen.
The times I ignored my gut-feelings about something always ended badly. This was especially the case with (nearly) every relationship I've ever been in. There were always signs that I ignored in effort to try my hardest; to not give up; to give them the benefit of the doubt. This meant I stayed in relationships well passed their "use by" date. And, of course, the longer I stayed the greater the hope they had for it all working it out. Consequently, the greater the hope; the harder the fall when the breakup occurred. The harder the breakup; the messier, more dramatic, more tragic the breakup. Why, oh why, had I ignored those signs? It didn't have to be that painful for either of us if I had just been open to accepting the truth right in front of me. (Sigh. Oh, my love life.)
Need an example of a sign from a relationship that I shouldn't have ignored? Here is one.
My first serious boyfriend in high school had a reputation for being a liar. I came to believe that he was misunderstood. Aren't we all in our adolescence? Then, before we even decided to have a relationship, I found out he had been lying to me for an entire summer. He explained his way out of it. I let him. I chose to believe he was sorry and wouldn't do it again. Then we spent three years together in a long distance relationship.
Toward the end of that time, I came to realize I was outgrowing him and our relationship. I need to do me for awhile, especially heading into college and not wanting to be attached. Naturally, I attempted to break up with him. So begins a very long train wreck with plenty of lying. Unfortunately for him, his lies ended up denounced. (You'll have to read my book to find out what that means, or just know me really well to understand that reference.) The charade was over. And, naturally, once one truth comes out, so do a whole bunch of others. I began to realize he was probably lying to me about a whole load of things over the last three years. Three years I couldn't get back; three years I could have prevented.
When the Universe calls, listen. (Or simply look at the evidence and don't be an idiot.)
There were times I ignored my gut-feelings about academic paths or my career aspirations. Perfect example. It was my senior year of undergrad and I had to make a decision about going on to a higher degree in psychology or in creative writing. Psychology had been the plan since I entered undergrad. This was my 'financially secure' path. I would go and become a licensed clinician and then treat patients on the clinical level. Specifically, I wanted to work with adults with persistent mental health diagnoses (think Schizophrenia, OCD, Manic Depression, etc.) Eventually when I became established enough, I would write.
Yet as my senior year drew to a close, my burning desire was to go into a M.F.A program for writing. It seemed to spring up out of nowhere. Like a fever. I had always known writing was what fueled me. I also knew (and was told) it wasn't practical. It's impracticality and assumed financial insecurity made it something to be feared. So I applied only to masters programs in counseling. I was accepted to a few and chose one.
Within the first semester of the program, I was miserable. So, the Universe calls me a second time.
Writing whispers in my ear. I start to consider what it would mean to switch masters programs. What would it actually mean for me to go ahead and pursue my passion? But where would I go? I loved my Graduate Teaching Assistantship in Women's Studies so much, I couldn't bare the idea of leaving. Miraculously, the University of Akron was a part of a consortium M.F.A. program. The Universe knows what it's doing. Somewhat ashamedly, I told my parents I was switching masters. In 2010, I graduated with my M.F.A. and a passable (albeit highly problematic) draft of a memoir. And I felt I had done exactly what I was supposed to.
When the Universe calls, listen.
Other times I ignored my instincts about jobs. Next best case example. When the publishing company I was working for was acquired and our office was closed, we all lost our jobs. I was also super pregnant at the time. As a result, I had to spend a majority of my maternity leave searching for and applying to new jobs. My publishing gig had been perfect. Finally I had felt like the masters I had attained in writing was being put to use. I was where I belonged and I would make a career out of working with books. It was crushing to be let go from something I loved and also during a really emotional and transitional time.
I attempted to think about other industries where my skills would transfer versus what degree I had. Somehow, I managed to land an interview with a law firm. As soon as I walked into the office my gut was telling me something. Something was unsettling. They called me the same day and offered me the job. Reluctantly, I accepted. We needed the second income.
It was a train wreck from the beginning.
The industry and its lingo was entirely foreign and I wasn't being trained. Being someone that usually was a quick learner and also wanted to make a difference no matter what job I was in, the struggle felt real. I was also a new mom and exhausted. I cried in the bathroom stalls during the first weeks. Without going into any more details of how it went from there, lets just say I started looking for new employment and left that position before even making it a year.
When the Universe calls, listen.
Why did I ignore my gut? Why did I overlook the signs? When the Universe calls repeatedly, how can I choose to not pick up? If I look deeply at these examples, I realize that the truths underlying all of them are these:
I didn't believe:
1. that I was enough; or,
2. that my dreams were acceptable; or,
3. that the only person whose permission I needed to be myself, was my own.
In the example of the first serious relationship, I had fallen in love with him. (Yes, insert eye roll. I was fifteen. Cut me some slack.) As such, I didn't want to believe he would continue to lie to me. I would be the exception. Haven't we all had at least one time in our lives where we felt that would be true? Additionally, I felt attracted to him because he felt he was the 'black sheep' in some way, and so did I. At the time, I, too, felt misunderstood at home. (What teenager doesn't feel that?) I was outspoken, liberal minded, and more than anything else, I wanted to be a writer. These three things seemed too much against the grain. He seemed to "get me." And that meant a lot. It meant a lot to be given permission by someone to be me.
In the instance of the academic programs and career paths, I chose psychology initially because of practicality. Because it seemed the safer and more lucrative path. More importantly, because it seemed the more accepted path. It had a clear trajectory. A clear end-game. More predictable outcomes and security. It wouldn't scare my parents. And it wouldn't disappoint them. But it wasn't what I truly wanted. It certainly wasn't what burned inside me. And it wasn't something I knew when I was five that I wanted to spend my life doing. Yet, I had been given permission and encouragement to pursue this field.
When I came to make the decision I would switch masters programs, it was terrifying.
How would I be able to make the case to my parents that I could make it as a graduate with an M.F.A. degree? Because this was their real fear. Not so much about whether I would write about them and what would I say, but how would I survive. How would I be financially sound and be able to provide for myself? As an adult with loans and bills and expenses and also as a mom, I totally get this now in a way I didn't before. They weren't trying to be dream crushers. They were looking after my financial future and making sure I wasn't going into my independence half-cocked. But back in my early 20s, I wanted permission and encouragement to go after my dreams, not the feeling I had to defend them.
When I finally landed the job at the publishing company, I felt right where I belonged. I felt like I had finally made it. My M.F.A. was being used and was also lucrative. I loved what I was doing. And I could proudly talk about my day job, working with books AND making money. Of course, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Losing that job felt like going right back to the beginning. In some ways, it really was. From there I went to the firm. After the firm, I landed in my current employment. Somewhere in between, everything else fell apart.
There at rock bottom, the Universe calls me to go to women's weekend. I listen. Thank God.
Women's weekend awakened me and set me on course to start taking charge of and changing my life. The word "intention" frequently was used. This word struck me and stuck with me. When you read my bio on my home page and it says that I set "intentions for the year instead of resolutions" it's because of that first women's weekend. Women's weekend fueled me. It opened my mind and heart to consider who I am really. Who am I authentically? What is my purpose? My calling? What kind of life do I want to create for myself? Or what legacy do I want to leave behind? What model do I want to be for my son, my family, my friends, the people around me?
I began to do some serious self-reflection and self-work. Luckily, I wasn't alone. In addition to the incredible personal experience that women's weekend granted me, I also met incredible women. One of whom is quite easily one of my closest and dearest friends now, only a little over a year later. (Hi, Cindy, you amazing, lovable, badass!) We had but one genuine conversation toward the end of our weekend that had us both realizing our common interest was writing.
A few months later, we found ourselves meeting for lunch and talking about how women's weekend had called us to do something greater. In just one post-camp conversation, we knew instantly how well we could work together and how comfortable we felt in each other's presence. We were both on the same journey but under different circumstances. Over the last year or two, we both had been through some intense life-changing experiences and huge transitions.
We were both looking to make changes and take action over our lives.
Similarly to me, she too had always looked for permission and validation from others rather than providing it to herself. (Thus, we call ourselves "reformed people pleasers.") We bonded. And we got together frequently to figure out what was this larger, bigger thing that we wanted to pursue. Week after week, we met. We talked.
Week after week, we were each journeying personally to take action in our own lives. I finally set goals for myself with writing, started working on this website, began engaging in my own creative life and purpose. I opened myself up to the what if. What if I just go for it? If I just say "fuck it" and do this thing I love, is that so bad? What is the worst that can happen?
As I started to open my mind to the possibilities, I began to believe that they were possible. Once I believed they were possible, I felt ready to make them so. Action started. One step at a time. I started to feel alive. I felt I was finally doing it. Making my life what I wanted it to be. No one else's permission. Just mine. It's all I need. All I ever needed.
When you start to change your own energy, shit starts to happen. You become your own damn Fairy Godmother. Poof! Your dreams start to come true.
Simultaneously, the same kind of organic flow of energy was happening with this creative project Cindy and I were trying to wrap our heads around. Then one night, it hit us like a bolt while we were just Googling images and words that spoke to us. We found our title: Universe is Calling You.
(I can see you all going, "Aha... I get it ...")
From there, things took off on their own. We created an Instagram page to get started. Our motto: Hear that? That's YOUR power. Right now, our page focuses on the two of us sharing our own personal journeys, thoughts and reflections, on what it is to transform yourself and your life. It's about listening to your own internal guidance system. And, of course, there is plenty of advice. The most important of which is:
When the Universe calls, listen.
We've taken some additional steps to try to grow what we are trying to do. We created business cards. And we offered a fireside gathering and burning ceremony at this year's women's weekend. This was a lot of fun because we invited everyone to attend but our invitations were so mysterious that some were a little worried about what might happen at the gathering. We were deliberately vague in our invitation only because what we were going to do was so simple: come; write down anything you want to let go of that is standing in your way; burn it. Instead, our vagueness became mystery and mystery became fear and anxiety. Someone actually thought we were going to all get naked and do some primal ritual in our birthday suits. Cindy and I were worried that with those kinds of anxiety-inducing thoughts, no one would show up.
When nearly every single woman in attendance at women's weekend found a seat around our fire, we were STUNNED.
Some we were convinced only came because they liked us. But not a single person who came sat idle. Every one of them found something to write down. Every one of them stood and walked to the fire to burn their barriers. And, every single one of them set a new intention for themselves to begin making the steps and taking the actions they want to in order to create the new path they want to forge.
We all have shit standing in our way. Unfortunately, so often, it is our selves.
Since this year's women's weekend (just a few weeks ago now), Cindy and I have slowed down and hit the pause button. Universe is Calling You (UICY) is our side hustle to our individual side hustles (my writing; her podcasting). We both are trying to figure out a whole mess of other interpersonal shit. And we are both trying to figure out where does UICY go next. How do we want to grow this page and this community we've started to build - currently at a following of a little over 100. There is something to our message. There is something to the idea of personal transformation and journey. It's universal (pun intended). We all go through transformations and transitions. Their relevancy to our lives, their intensity is relative to each of us. But we all experience this. We want to help. We're trying to figure out how.
But neither of us would have believed over a year ago that we could. That we had anything to say or to offer others.
Neither of us would have had the bravery or courage to let our authentic selves and all our flaws, all our past failures, all our bull shit hang out there. We had to get out of our own way. And we had to be willing to be uncomfortable facing our own truth. Facing ourselves. And then we had to understand how our individual journeys make us each unique, and also gives us voice and power to help others. We've had to be willing to quiet our own minds, so we can hear what something greater is trying to tell us.
We've learned to trust our guts. Pay attention to the signs. Be open to challenges and possibilities. And, most importantly, to listen when the Universe calls.
Over the last year, I have felt more like my true self than I have in decades. I'm pretty certain it's because I've finally stopped waiting to be given permission by others to live the life I want, or to be who I am called to be.
I am brave.
I will be me.
I am enough.