After months of intense personal work, I recently made some big sharp-right-turn life decisions. And last Sunday was the first morning since I can remember that I’ve woken up feeling like I had enough mental space available to take a walk and pull weeds in my front yard.
I realize this is both a good and bad thing. Good that my mind is starting to relax enough to allow new activities into my day. Bad that I ever got so maxed out that routine yard work or simply walking around our neighborhood with my son felt overwhelming.
I’m structure and routine oriented, so after feeling peace with the initial decision to resign my two long-standing leadership positions, I actually panicked a little. Here’s how it went:
- 6 months leading up to the big decisions: stress, anxiety, worry, fear, debate, restlessness, sadness, grief (I did a ton of intentional emotional/mental work on the front side of the decision to ensure I would feel peace and confidence on the back side)
- Day-of the phone calls: total peace and gratitude.
- 2-3 days after: confidence, relief
- 4 days-2 weeks after: jittery, restlessness, fatigue
- 2 weeks after: total mental exhale
- 4 weeks after: still sweeping some unexpected emotional dust bunnies out of the deep corners.
I didn't expect that last one, but I know I should have. Total life changes don't come without some necessary personal work - before, during, and after the transitions.
My body actually felt heavy last Sunday, that total exhale day, in a really rewarding, grounded way. Like I could feel all my fingers and toes, and was acutely aware of my breathing and all my senses. (Everything I love about yoga, btw.)
My son invited me on his daily morning dog walk, and of course I said yes and threw on my shoes. As we rounded back into our driveway, I saw our front yard beds riddled with weeds, as they had been for weeks. I was kind of surprised we didn’t get a township letter about it, actually. I pull a big weed out every now and then when the kids are playing outside but I’ve honestly been so mentally wiped that the thought of blocking out a half-hour to “tidy up” the yard felt exhausting.
Brother and I made it a game and started making little weed piles on the sidewalk, just like I used to with my dad when we were little. Brother dislodged dried newspaper pulp from the driveway – the paper had gotten doused in a storm and nobody picked it up before it got squished; another task that felt too hard. Brother got bored, and hot, and before long it was just me and my podcasts. (I am listening to a podcast every minute someone doesn’t actively need me for something. I love everything from trail-blazing entrepreneurialism to politics to true crime to personal development to great fiction and everything in between.)
In the yard, a thorn and berry vine I absolutely cannot kill had wound itself yet again through the big zebra grasses near the street, and I yanked and pulled and cut my fingers even through gloves. As I got into the zebra grass, I realized there was weeks… maybe even months or years… of dead grass underneath them. Between freezes and floods and Texas summer and Saharan dust and all the other layers of fresh hell 2020 has dealt us, all our plants here have taken a beating, but these never seem worse for the wear. They look fresh and green and full of life.
But I pulled… and pulled… and pulled hidden dead weight out of those grasses for more than an hour. I even found 2 long-lost yellow Easter eggs, full of sticky, unrecognizable, melted candy. I collected an entire garbage bin worth of weeds and decay.
When I was done, I hadn’t even noticed that my podcast had long-since finished and my husband had silently brought out and turned on a fan out for me. I was dripping in sweat and completely drained.
Dead weight out of the grass. Dead weight out of my mind and heart too.
Personal work requires clearing dead weight
What dead weight is hiding in the corners of your mind and heart? What thoughts of anxiety, restlessness, worry, fear, grief, or shame are robbing you of precious energy and mental/emotional freedom? And what weeds could be choking new growth, creativity, vibrance, or your ability to view your life from a fresh perspective?
My dead weight taking up space is “the past” and “how I think I need to be/do for other people.” My weeds choking new growth are the limiting beliefs of “what if my work never really makes a difference” and “someone else is better suited for that [role/achievement/success/impact] than I am.” Another really nasty weed is a piece of dysfunctional hard-wiring that tells me “you need to be doing something to be valuable and loved.” I can feel a little lost in stillness; jumpy to start the next project or focus my attention on filling someone else’s needs.
Personal work is optional
Whether pruning in the yard or digging into personal work within yourself, it’s all optional. I guess I could have left the dead grass alone. It wasn’t even visible unless you intentionally peered inside and underneath the plants, which were lush and thriving. But now that they’re free to grow without the decay choking them at the roots, I bet they’ll grow even bigger. I guess I don’t have to sweep these weeds out of my mind and heart, either… but I believe that clutter-free clarity is about to make way for the next season in my life I can’t quite yet see on the horizon.
Some weeds don’t pull so easily. The deeper the roots, or the sharper the thorn, the harder the work required… sometimes even a call for help from an extra set of hands. My yard weed needed sharp clippers and poison. My heart weeds need a trusted friend or counselor. And Jesus, who cultivates every bit of any good growth I’ve ever had. No matter the weed, you can’t just pluck leaves off here and there and expect it to disappear. You have to get it by the roots or it will come back. Usually thicker, pricklier, and harder to kill.
So by now, a month into this new-to-me lifestyle, I’m starting to notice some little pesky weeds whose roots I missed on the first pass, trying to wiggle their way back up.
Useful tools for personal work
If you really want some mind-changing tools, check out literally anything Brene Brown has ever written. Her concept of “the rumble” and her checklist for rumble language changed the way I sort through big feelings and broken ideas. This tool is of course tremendous to use in conversations with other people of but it’s made the biggest impact on my life during those times I use it within myself.
Here’s my cheat sheet for weeding out the dead weight of my own anxious thoughts, and I am sure every single one of these questions is credited to someone way smarter than me. Nothing I have ever done is an original thought; which is absolutely okay, because a great student is a great listener, and a great teacher is an expert thief.
Self Awareness 101 checklist
Download/print this list here.
- What am I feeling and thinking right now?
- Why am I actually upset about it?
- What hold does this upsetting thought or feeling have on me?
- Who do I love in my life that is being hurt by it?
- How might this continue to hurt me if I choose to hold onto it?
- What could happen if I were brave enough to let it go?
- What other thought, feeling, or opportunity could take its place?
- How can I honor this thought and then truly release it?
Let it burn go
Sometimes letting go of the super hard stuff feels a little more final with a physical act.
I’m going to tell you a secret: I have a little trick for this. So does my husband.
Jack has literally written things on paper and buried them in intentional places.
I prefer a gentle burn. (You know I love a good plate-breaking, too.)
There’s something really therapeutic about sending my hard-to-release thoughts and feelings into the wind, up to the sky. There’s more than just charcoal in the bottom of our Big Green Egg.
You might be able to just let things go without having to sage the place. That’s okay too (will you tell me what's that like?!). Or you might need a whole lot of extra help with a counselor (it’s worth it – skip the take-out or an impulse online purchase to save the money and go).
However you choose to release what’s got its hold on you, you’ll be free to move forward into what you’re really meant for. And the more space you’ll have in mind, body, and soul to create the special magic that only you can.
That choking weed you’re scared to pull is blocking something infinitely more beautiful from blooming within you.
Here’s to whatever you uproot and release in the process of personal work. It takes guts, time, and maintenance… but it’s undeniably worth it.