How can we keep the fire burning?
Do you give up on yourself? Do you let the energy drain from your dreams? Do you let the light go out on your ideas? Do you get all fired up and excited about something, then feel your enthusiasm dwindle away? Do you struggle to finish what you start?
Maybe you don’t even realise it’s happening to you. Maybe you just talk yourself out of your dreams in a seemingly logical way.
It was a mediocre idea anyway. It’s been done before. It won’t make any money. I haven’t got the time. Who do I think I am? That person is doing the same thing so much better than me. There’s no space for another writer/painter/coach etc. It just wasn’t meant to be …
I realised last weekend, on a much deeper level than ever before, that I have a tendency – or even a compulsion – to give up on myself; to give up on my visions and dreams; to talk myself out of doing the things that my heart longs to do. I have a long list of things I’ve talked myself out of over the years, things that I’ve hidden away from, and it makes me feel very sad to remember them all.
I used to work in Brazil as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. I had so much opportunity to write fantastic, creative features in an incredibly diverse and colourful country. The Amazon was within arm’s reach. Stories were everywhere. All I needed was a good idea and the gumption to make it happen. I had many ideas but I didn’t follow them through. The light came on – I got all excited – and then the energy drained out of me. I powered down.
The answer is FEAR. I was scared. Scared to move out of my comfort zone. Scared my work wouldn’t be perfect. Scared of being judged, criticised and humiliated, and therefore of being hurt. I had been hurt before – at a much deeper level and when I was a lot younger – and I didn’t want to feel hurt again. Pain was to be avoided at all costs. It seemed a much better idea to hide – to hide behind the boring routine of writing about Brazilian interest rates or inflation stats. Yes, I chose interest rates over jungle tribes. I chose a trip to the Central Bank over an Amazonian adventure.
For some, that wouldn’t be a bad choice but for me – a woman who’s always loved adventure and who longed to explore the jungle – it was soul destroying.
And I mean SOUL DESTROYING.
I might not have realised it at the time, not at a conscious level, but deep down, I knew that the choices I was making on a day-to-day basis were gradually killing off my soul and spirit. That’s one of the reasons I ate, or avoided eating. I sat in an office in Brasilia, drinking diet Coke all morning to avoid eating and then bingeing on food as soon as everyone had left the office and it was just me and the story about interest rates.
This is why I talk of feeling SOUL DEAD at the end of my Reuters career, when I was working as a political journalist in the Houses of Parliament. By that stage, I had been steadily destroying my soul for more than a decade at work (and much longer in life). I had consistently made choices out of fear rather than faith. On the outside, I was doing an amazing job, being perfect, getting everything right, enjoying the privilege of flying around the world with the prime minister. But aside from the adrenaline highs of travelling in helicopters or passing through war zones, I wasn’t enjoying my work because I was denying and hiding my true self.
I was ignoring that part of me that wanted to break out and break free; that part of me that no longer wanted to stay stuck in the safety of daily trips to No. 10 Downing Street to find out what the prime minister was up to or of reporting on the budget every year; that part of me that wanted to head off into the Amazon looking for tribes, or the British equivalent.
I’m sad to report that despite nearly 15 years working for two of the world’s largest international news agencies in Mexico, Brazil and the UK and on location in Sri Lanka, Spain, Venezuela, Argentina and Haiti, I can count the stories I’m truly proud of on one hand – the stories I created myself, from my own ideas, rather than the ones I reacted to or that were given to me on a plate.
Eventually, at what appeared to be the height of my news journalism career, I got to the point when I couldn’t stand it anymore. Depression set in and I got signed off work. My soul could no longer bear to be asleep.
That was 10 years ago. So what’s happened since then?
It’s a mixed picture. In the early days, terror gripped me. Without a steady job or income, I felt lost and I had an irrational fear that the money would run out. Without someone telling me what to write or when, I had no direction.
In many ways, the world was my oyster. I had redundancy money. I could have gone anywhere and done anything. I didn’t. I returned to the safety of a job that I knew. I even returned to my old company, albeit to a different department and to a role that was more aligned with my true self and appealed to my adventurous spirit. But there were many moments in that job when my soul was dead too – commuting into work on packed Tubes, sitting in a row of desks for too many hours staring at screens, coming up with great ideas and then feeling the energy drain away as I convinced my enthusiastic self to sit back down and shut up.
After a while, I moved on, into a well-paid political analysis job, but that really killed my soul, or what was left of it. By then, I had more self-awareness. And an idea that I was destined to do something very different. So it was more painful than ever to watch myself do work that made me want to curl up and cry.
Every now and then, I ventured into the world of freelance journalism, but believing in my ideas and then following through by pitching them to magazine or newspaper editors who I deemed to be scary and better than me was a terrifying prospect. On rare occasions, I had success. But I wasn’t consistent. I kept losing my nerve. I fell back on writing jobs that bored me but that felt safe.
And guess what? Depression soon took hold again.
Or was it grief? Was I in mourning for the soul and spirit I was killing off? Was I grieving the loss of my authentic self? Was I profoundly distressed because I wasn’t living the life I knew I was designed for, because I wasn’t using my God-given gifts, because the smart, creative, joyful, child-like soul within me had been quashed?
In both those cases – at the end of my Reuters career and in that political analysis role – the darkness I felt was a gift. Sometimes we have to feel really bad before we can make a shift. Sometimes we have to watch our life flash before our eyes and truly grieve all the things we know we’re missing out on in order to change. Sometimes it’s only when the pain is unbearable that we’re willing to do anything about it. When we’re sick and tired of feeling absolutely wretched, we might be ready to move on.
And what of today? How’s my soul? How’s my spirit?
Well, my authentic self is more alive and well than she has ever been. I am writing – writing this blog. I have written a book. They are huge positives.
But then I am not writing – I am not writing the book that’s half-written or the other book I want to write. Both those projects are at risk of ending up in the hall of fame of visions that never became a reality. But I won’t allow it. This time, I won’t allow it. I have to find a way to follow through. I have to find a way to keep my dreams alive. I have to find a way to keep the fire burning. The alternative is too dark to contemplate.
One big plus is that I am coaching and running seaside retreats and next year I’ll run my first retreat abroad. These are dreams that have come true. When I stop and think about it, this new career I have carved is beyond my wildest dreams and something I’ve had my eye on for a while.
I remember, back in the dark days of my final year at Reuters, going on a holistic holiday to Skyros in Greece. There, I signed up to a personal development course. I remember sitting in a circle under some trees with other attendees, looking at our group leader and thinking, I want to be doing what you’re doing. I want to be sat in your place. And I have made that happen, in beautiful, miraculous ways. And when I write that, I smile. I have run three successful retreats. I have almost sold out my fourth. I am exactly in the right place, using my true gifts. These words from Mandy, who flew all the way from Colorado to Bournemouth to attend my retreat in May, warm my soul and remind me to continue along this path, no matter how strong the temptation at times to give up:
“Thank you for facilitating this amazing, transformative experience. You are gifted at giving space for voices, encouraging women and fostering dreams. I’m grateful!”
But what about the other ideas? What about my vision to put my How to Fall in Love course on Udemy? What about my plan to create a course on how to stop emotional eating and to write a book on this topic, which is so close to my heart and affects so many people? (Watch my ‘How to Stop Emotional Eating’ video here). What about the online and face-to-face workshops I want to put in the diary this year? What about the other books, this blog and the blog I write for Psychologies, all neglected? What about my dream to speak my truth and share my journey in companies like Reuters – to talk about the risks of addiction, eating disorders, self-harm and over-work, and the benefits of helping employees work with balance, find their joy and follow their path? What about my vision to have a regular column in a magazine or online, or to write powerful articles for the press?
Yes, I’ve written for some of my favourite magazines. I’ve been on Woman’s Hour. But these moments feel like spurts of energy. Sudden highs. Where’s the follow-through? Why don’t I keep on pitching? Why don’t I keep sharing my ideas?
And what about all the time I still spend doing stuff that doesn’t float my boat. Yes, we all need to earn a living and my ‘Love Business’, as I lovingly call it, is a start-up. Growth is bound to be slow (or is that an excuse?). But the problem is that much of the stuff I do to earn a living doesn’t earn me a living.
I underearn. I give away my time for free or for pennies. I put in too many hours because I’m a perfectionist who deep down is a wounded child who wants everyone to love and affirm her so I try too hard, meaning I don’t earn enough, meaning I end up feeling exhausted and resentful, meaning I have these sudden urges to spend the little money I’ve managed to save on an expensive holiday.
Because there isn’t enough balance. There isn’t enough time for me. I’m too busy prioritising others and chasing love and affirmation – yes, even from complete strangers, from people I may not see again. Love me, please. Approve of me. Validate me. Tell me I’m enough. And whatever you do, don’t get angry with me. It’s sad. But it’s compulsive.
So how do we break these patterns? How do we throw off these chains?
Well, that might be for another post but I’m going to share a few ideas here.
Firstly, it helps me to write things down. So that paragraph of dreams above is my ‘To Do’ list or rather it’s my ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’ list. Those are my goals. Written in black and white. Published on the internet. Committed to you all.
Yes, accountability helps. So please hold me to account. Please help me keep the fire burning on these dreams. Please give me a nudge when you haven’t heard from me in a while or when months and months go by and my love course hasn’t appeared on Udemy and my emotional eating workshop hasn’t happened yet. Please encourage me. Please know that I really want to do these things and I know they’ll benefit many people and bring in good money, but I’m scared I’ll get hurt. Please remind me that it’s safe to follow my heart and put my work out there into the world.
Because we all know what happens if I let the light go out on my dreams, don’t we? The darkness comes. My soul goes to sleep. It’s a very sad state.
What else? Well, I can find other people to be accountable to, people who are on this path, fellow creatives and dreamers who have goals that can feel outlandish but that are actually within their reach if they are able to keep the fire burning. We can email. We can talk on the phone. We can cheer each other on. We can ask where’s the book, or the screenplay, or the concert date, or the blog post, or the online workshop. We can be honest with each other about our struggles and hold each other’s hand.
And I can draw on some spiritual help. I can get on my knees and say: God, I can’t do this alone. Please help. I can go down to the beach and feel the presence of something so much greater than me when I stand on the sand or swim in the sea. I can look up and look within, to my higher self, to the bold child inside me who wants to truly express herself and be all that she can be. I can rest against a solid tree and feel the permanence of nature, allow it to hold me in its branches, allow it to nurture me as it nurtures the plants.
I can also remember that my work is service. That I am here for a purpose and that there’s a reason why I have these gifts and talents. There’s a reason why I can write 3000 words of a blog post in a few hours, or 70,000 words of a book in five weeks. There’s a reason why I can tune in to other people’s feelings and sense what’s going on beneath the surface, beneath their words, a gift that makes me a really good and intuitive coach. There’s a reason why I can communicate well in a number of languages, why I have the links and connections I have all over the world.
And most of all, there’s a reason why I’ve had the experiences that I’ve had – the good and the bad: the struggle, the addictions, the relationship woes, the periods of self-harm, the depression, the darkness, and the recovery, the personal growth, the ever-increasing self-worth, the love and the light.
Wouldn’t it be a shame to let these gifts and these experiences go to waste? Wouldn’t it be a shame to let the light go out on my dreams and to watch the fire turn to ash?
And wouldn’t it be a shame for you to do the same? To ignore the calling that you hear, to silence the voice inside that tells you to write or sing or dance or coach or teach or draw or paint or speak or share your wonderful gifts?
Wouldn’t it be sad if you let your light go out?
Wouldn’t it be a shame if that tiny spark of an idea never became a raging fire, capable of spreading warmth all around and of touching people’s souls with its beauty?
Think about it. Are you prepared to let that happen? Or would you like to join me on this courageous journey? I can’t promise it’s going to be easy. But it doesn’t have to be a struggle either. Maybe once we get going, it’ll all fall into place. Things will flow.
Imagine that. Imagine having the momentum of a river, gushing towards the sea, rushing over rocks and taking sticks, leaves and any other obstacles with it. Imagine this river is you, moving towards your dreams.
So ladies and gentlemen, let’s do it. Let’s keep the river flowing and keep those flames alive. Who’s with me?
Autumn How to Fall in Love retreat. October 12-15. Why do I doubt myself? Why do I question if I’m on the right path. I only have 2 rooms left and we’re only in June. Get in touch soon if of interest.
As for other events, as you read above, I have yet to turn my visions into a reality, but I have plenty of ideas so as soon as I get over myself and get out of my own way, I’ll have some news of my new Udemy courses on love and overeating, plus face-to-face and online workshops. In the meantime, I do have an online How to Fall in Love course available. And I do have my book!
Thanks for reading all 2996 words! x