I have this situation in my life right now that I don’t like AT ALL. It’s all a big mess and I feel stuck. I know we can do hard things, but how do I know if the hard thing I should do is change the mess, or if the hard thing I should do is suck it up and stick with it and get stronger in the process?
I guess my question is really How do I know when to change my life, and when to change myself?
The Thing About Growing
Are you a gardener, B.? Because I want you to know right now that I cannot keep even a succulent alive, no matter how hard I try. But I do know that seeds turn into sprouts that turn into all kinds of things—flowers and dragonfruit and spaghetti squash. The flower is nothing like the seed, but the essence of the thing doesn’t change. The pumpkin seed does not become an oak tree.
What I’m saying, B., is there’s a difference between changing yourself and growing. When you’re growing, you’re becoming more fully yourself—stronger, truer, more awake, more alive, more of who you were made to be. You’re uncovering the YOU that has been buried for one reason or another. You’re developing into the self you always had inside you.
You’ll feel different on the other side, but not because you’ve changed your essential self. You’ll feel different because you’re practicing new ways of being that self in the world.
But when we talk about changing ourselves, sometimes what we really mean is, How do I fit into this mold I was not made for? And the answer, of course, is that you don’t. You don’t need to change to meet someone else’s expectations. You don’t have to take the story that the world has given you and try to fit yourself into it, if that’s not YOUR story.
My (Wrong) Story
For a long time, I was living in a story that could have been called All The Things I Cannot Say. See, I wanted community. I wanted people who would be my people, and I wanted it so much that I was careful not to give those people any reason to stop including me. I figured the whole, true version of myself would give them PLENTY of reasons, so that self was not invited to make an appearance. I made the real me be real quiet.
I thought that if I said the things I was thinking, I would lose that community. And B.? I was not actually wrong about that. But I was wrong about something else. I was wrong about the idea that being part of a group was more important than being who I was made to be. I was wrong about changing myself instead of changing the story.
I didn’t need to become someone else. I needed to change the story from “everyone will reject me and I’ll be alone forever” to “when I’m willing to be who I am, I’ll be able to find or create the kind of community where I can belong.” I needed to change the story.
Changing The Story
We buy into stories like “This is Just What a Good Parent Does,” and “Everyone Else Has It All Together.” We get stuck in the story that goes, “This Is How It Is, I Can’t Change Anything” or the one that says “Life Has to Be Complicated,” or “I Can’t Be Happy Until…” None of these are good stories, and none of them are YOUR story.
And B., it’s absolutely true that the heroines of good stories TRANSFORM. When I find myself asking, What gives? Is it ME or is it EVERYTHING ELSE?—the answer is usually YES. Yes it is. Yes, it’s both/and. It’s me and it’s everything else, and both sides are going to have to give a little. I’m going to have to make changes AND I’m going to have to stretch and grow and become more of myself in the process.
But the bottom line for me is this: If you can’t be yourself, you’re in the wrong story.
And here’s what I’ve noticed: I can tell when I’m in the wrong story—whichever wrong story it is—by how it feels. The wrong story doesn’t just feel hard, the wrong story feels wrong. It feels like there’s a mismatch between the me on the inside and the me on the outside. Not good.
I can’t tell you whether you need to change the story, B., but I can tell you how I know when I need to. These are the biggest Turn Back Now signs for me, the ones with flashing lights that say PAY ATTENTION! WRONG WAY! TRY AGAIN, HON. (Signs can be friendly like that.)
When I’m in the wrong story, I find myself thinking: “What I really should have said was…” a lot.
That’s because you can’t speak up much when you’re living in the wrong story.
See, as soon as you start talking, you get catapulted out of the wrong story. Talking makes one of two things happen. Either you discover that it actually IS okay to be who you are in the story you’re already living—in which case, the story has changed. It’s not the wrong story after all. Or you find yourself uninvited from the story you’re living in, and you get to find a new one.
Either way, speaking up changes the story. Once your true self starts talking—whether you’re saying, “I can do this,” or “I’m not doing that,” or “I’m ready,” or “This is how I feel,” or “I don’t believe that”—the wrong story is on its way out.
The “Being a Person” Test
If you can’t be a person in the story you’re in, that’s the wrong story.
If the story you’re living in doesn’t leave room for you to have needs, that’s not your story. If you can’t ever change your mind in the story you’re living in, that’s not your story. If you can’t rest, can’t stretch yourself, can’t be sometimes-not-okay, can’t try something new, can’t cry, can’t say no, can’t have a full range of human emotions, that’s not your story.
You were made to be YOU, and if you can’t be that person where you are, it’s time for a new story.
When you’re living in the wrong story, something in your spirit says: not this. You might not hear it right away, especially if you aren’t in the habit of listening to yourself, because it starts out as a whisper.
But don’t worry, those whispers get louder the longer you ignore them. (If you need help listening for that inner voice, check out the free Find Yourself mini-course. We’ll practice.)
At first, maybe all you know is: This isn’t right for me. This isn’t the right path. This isn’t the way forward. Something needs to change.
You might not know what the right story IS, you just know it’s not this one. That’s okay. You don’t have to know where you’re going to know where you aren’t headed anymore. Start by getting curious about the voice that says not this. See what you hear next.
When you need to step into YOUR story
So, B., do you need to grow? YES. I can say that pretty confidently because we all need to grow all the freaking time. Do you need to CHANGE? Well… if by change you mean squash yourself into a box, erm… not so much. I just don’t think so.
I think that’s the question for you, B. Is this thing in your life asking you to grow, or expecting you to change?
Because YES, the things in our lives are here to teach us and to grow us and to challenge us. And YES, we have commitments that we’re not going to walk away from, and we have to decide how to be present for those.
And at the same time—you were made to be you. I’ve said this before, but it is no mistake that you are YOU, here, now. If you’re living in a story that doesn’t let you be who you are, that’s the wrong story. Change that if you need to, and do your growing in your own true story.
P.S. – I don’t want to leave you hanging, wondering how to actually DO THAT. If you don’t know where to go next, try these:
- Seven old stories you may be telling yourself—and new stories to replace them with—at Simple Homeschool
- How to change the stories you believe about yourself
- Help for figuring out the next right thing
- A trick for living without regrets
- Seriously, the Find Yourself mini-course