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

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

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 do. Like 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 do. If I illustrate my own blog posts I could also be a professional illustrator. If I write about self-help I could also offer coaching.

I keep adding projects—and even whole professions—to my life. Sounds familiar?

The question is: If I’m yearning to write, and I don’t need to earn money, then why don’t I just write? Why am I 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 any hight. As soon as we start to lift, we use all these sandbags to make sure we won’t climb to high.”

The hot air balloon of our dreams

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

Hot air balloon with sandbags of shoulds and coulds

But are the shoulds and the coulds really all that bad?

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

Doris answered, “Both of them are right. That’s 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.

But 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. 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 finally caved in.

What we really want, our big, hairy audacious goal, it is—audacious. It is scary. We’ll need courage to pursue it. And in the worst case it gets so scary that we jump out of the basket. Letting the balloon rise into the sky without us.

Useful sandbags

This 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. It’s useful ballast.

They let us feel safe, knowing that we won’t lift too high too soon. We remain within our comfort zone—or, better yet, at the rim of it. But not so far outside that we want to leave the balloon altogether.

The right balance

So what is a good balance then? How many sandbags should we hang around the basket?

Despite the sandbags being somewhat useful, I’d say, use as few of them as you can. Try to ditch as many shoulds and coulds out of your life as possible. Remember, it’s fine if you want to leave a couple. But get rid of the rest.

Sandbag exercise

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

  1. Write a list of all your shoulds. Write “I should …” and complete the sentence 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 sentence works the best. Doing this on a regular basis gives a lot of clarity. I do it while walking the dog.

In my case I have started to write daily. Finally, after years of yearning, I’m now actually doing my dream. But 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 want do for money. Like Doris said, both are right.

About the Author: