How we hold ourselves back (yet how it’s not all that bad)

Hot air balloon of shoulds and coulds

I was skyping with my friend Doris the other day. I told her I wanted to dedicate myself fully to my long-time dream of writing.

The thing is, I could decide to do whatever I want with my time. My husband is the breadwinner of the family. So I have that luxury.

But there are things that I feel that I should be doing. I feel that I should work and earn money. To just write, with a very low chance of ever making money… Well, so far I haven’t allowed myself to do it.

I also tend to get derailed by all the things that I could be doing. If I illustrate my own blog posts I could also illustrate for pay. If I write about self-help I could also offer coaching.

In that way I keep adding projects and even whole professions to my life.

The question is: If I’m yearning to write and I don’t need to earn money, then why don’t I? Why do I end up pursuing all those other things?

“Isn’t it funny,” Doris said. “It’s like we’re in this hot air ballon, and we’re about to take off. But we don’t allow ourselves to gain hight. Instead we use all these sandbags to make sure we don’t climb to high.”

Hot air balloon of shoulds and couldsThe hot air balloon is our real dream. It’s our big, hairy, audacious goal. And the sandbags are our should and our coulds. It’s the stuff that we feel we ought to do. It’s all the shiny objects; all the things that we could do.

Shoulds and could not all bad

But are the shoulds and the coulds all bad?

“If I only knew what’s right,” I said to Doris, feeling a bit exasperated. “Is making money the most important thing? Or is pursuing my long-term dream of writing the most important thing? If I could only figure out what is right.”

Doris answered, “Both of them are important. That is the thing. You will never be able to figure out what is right, because both of them are right at the same time.”

Yes, that is the thing. So often we find ourself choosing between two equally important values. Two equally high priorities.

The fact is, if I would focus 100% of my time on writing I’d probably freak out. Because I’m not planning to make any money with it. I’ve tried that route before (freelance writing) and I decided it wasn’t for me. If I would pursue writing alone my inner reptile voice would become very loud. It would continue to scream about the importance of making money until I caved in.

That is the thing. What we really want, our big, hairy audacious goal, it is—audacious. It’s scary. We need courage to pursue it. And in the worst case it gets so scary that we jump out of the basket.

Useful sandbags

Here is were the sandbags come in. If we leave a few sandbags in the form of our shoulds and our coulds—that can actually be a good thing. Useful ballast. They make the journey less scary. We know we won’t lift too high too soon. We remain within our comfort zone – or ideally, at the rim of it. But not so far outside that we want to jump.

The right balance

So what is a good balance then? How much helium should we use for the balloon? And how many sandbags should we hang around the basket?

I’d say, use as few sandbags as you can. Try to ditch as many shoulds and coulds as possible. At the the same time, it’s fine if you want to leave a couple.

Here is a simple exercise that you can do from time to time to calibrate your balloon ride.

  1. Write a list of all your shoulds. Do a sentence completion on “I should …” . Do it as many times as you can.
  2. Write a list of all your coulds. Again, do a sentence completion on “I could also …”. See how many shiny objects you’ll come up with.
  3. Make a list of all your real wants. Start the sentence like this: “At this point of time, my authentic desire is…”. I find that works the best. I ask myself this from time to time while walking the dog. Doing this on a regular basis gives a lot of clarity.

In my case I have started to write daily. Finally after years of yearning, I’m now actually doing my dream. At the same time, writing is not the only thing that I’m doing. I’m also dedicating myself to painting. I enjoy painting, but unlike writing, it is something that I do for money. Like Doris said, both are right.

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