As I drove home from yoga tonite I compiled an informal list in my head. A “Top 5,” a la Letterman, list of What I’ve Learned This Year.
1.You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
Forget the adage “everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten.” Or the theory that new neural pathways don’t develop past the age of 40. Research shows this is not the case; my life (and countless other people’s) debunks these theories. Our brains are complex, limitless computers. By trying new things, taking risks, practicing something unfamiliar until it becomes familiar, we forge new pathways in our brains.
I never thought I’d go out on a limb like I did this year and start my own business. Didn’t think my brain would fire up enough to do yoga teacher training and a health coaching program at the same time, also while shadowing our nutritionist to learn how to see patients. But I did. Things felt confusing, overwhelming and overstimulated at times, but now, as the dust settles, I my brain works better.
I still doubt myself as the new neurons settle into my consciousness. I feel sharper and more focused. Even if only one person shows up to a yoga class or I don’t have a patient at all one day (both of which happened this week), I don’t question this path I'm on or how my brain accepts its new direction. I don't feel as much panic that "I’m “failing.” And that’s a pretty amazing realization.
Speaking of failing ....
2. Nothing Worth Doing Comes Without Failure
I started this year with a major audition bomb. I spent a few days replaying it over and over, allowing myself to self-indulge with a few “what does it all mean?” utterances. Probably out loud, in my car. But without that failure I wouldn’t have pushed past my comfort zone and found myself in a new position as both teacher and owner.
A few weeks after that January debacle, I had one of those quiet "everything goes still" ideas that comes from the best part of you, before you question it. It initially came from a consolatory post from a friend, after said audition bomb. Her idea stuck with me though until one night I posted the idea on FB. Within minutes, I was surprised to see an overwhelming response from people in the community.
Audition fail: Jan 22. First Yoga in the Park Ahwatukee class: February 23. Twenty-one people showed up. In the middle of another yoga training, I put to good use the momentum and inspiration I was immersed in into my class. People responded well. They gave me their email addresses. I started a email list and FB page and it gradually started to grow.
Without failing, if I had passed the audition, I may have taught in the studio, never knowing the extreme satisfaction of branching out on my own. Of fulfilling a need in the community and doing something you love at your own pace, which grows as both you and your students do.
I like failure now, in ways I ran from for 40 years. Thanks, 2016, for that.
3. It Pays to Check Your Ego at the Door
Ego takes many forms: not just feeding the part of you that feels superior, but also the part that you sabotage. Ego exists when you see yourself separate, either above others or way below them. Ego gets in the way of happiness, fulfillment, following your intuition. Ego holds us back from connection and community more than anything else.
I didn’t feel ready to see patients while I was in school. I felt inferior, like “what do I know?”, or “I’m not ready until I graduate.” But like one of my college mentors used to say, you just need to be one step ahead of your students (or patients). Ego dictates that we have to perform a certain way to succeed. I’ve found that true success happens when you check your ego before grabbing a chart, knocking on the door, and walking into see a patient.
I don’t have to have all the answers. People respond better to “Let me research and get back to you” than fumbling around some data to sound “prepared.” People, just like our bodies, are smart. They can decipher BS and want someone empathetic to talk to, to brainstorm, to share ideas with. Once I realized this, I listened less with my brain and my heart followed. I started giving heart-centered attention to patients rather than brain-centered. Brains can be controlled by egos, but I don’t believe that our hearts are.
The knowledge I gained with a year of school started to absorb. I started to find my own way of sharing information that resonated with patients, and in turn with me. Leaving ego at the door allows me to be both a teacher and a student in my yoga classes, and both a patient and a nutritionist at work. I’m astonished that people listen to and want to come see me. I’m grateful every day for it.
4. Community Feeds the Soul
I temporarily forgot, during the busy years of starting a practice and raising little kids, how much I crave community. I’m embracing my introverted side later in life, but I am at heart an extrovert. I love people, parties, the pulse of ideas being shared and the closeness that comes from being slightly vulnerable or silly (or both) with people in your Tribe.
I experienced community during YTT, in a major way. We shared vulnerable moments and stories of personal growth and transformation in a very intimate setting for six months. I loved it, the connection and values we bounced off each other, the laughs and inside jokes. I learned that community outside immediate family matters, to remain soft and open to the energy of other people. To the reality of people as well, remembering to accept even if they push you to grow or entertain ideas different from yours.
I experienced this virtually at IIN as well. During the graduation ceremony, watched on my computer with my kids doing homework in the kitchen, my heart swelled seeing people’s pictures and reading what they wrote about themselves. Their goals for being a health coach, sharing all they accomplished this year. I felt proud to include myself among them. I only met one single person I graduated with, away from coaching calls and Facebook posts, but it still felt like a vibrant community.
Man, have I missed that feeling of belonging. 2016 reminded me to hold my tribe close.
5. Remodeling Your House is Just as Stressful as it Sounds
When we first bought our house, three and a half years ago, we had a vision for a “secret garden” side yard. We live on a corner lot with an extra garden area the previous owners didn’t do anything with. “We should knock the living room wall down and put in French doors.” I saw it, clear as day, back in April 2013. And this year, Brendan made it a reality.
But things never happen as easy as they sound. In the world of construction, this proved especially true. A few estimates fall through - we had to wait on a permit - the door didn’t land on its hinge correctly. Copper wrecked the screen. One of the center pieces in the upstairs (yep, we knocked down two walls at once) was a different color and had to be special ordered. The dogs had to be contained so they wouldn’t go nuts on the construction crew; I canceled patients to host an errant electrician.
Then we pulled up the carpet and laid down wood flooring. Brendan has vision way beyond mine, and he makes things happen. He sees the end result where I get bogged down in the details, allow myself to get overwhelmed by the disarray. At one point, four rooms were necessarily "undone" at a time while the projects neared completion.
Between the two of us though, we pushed through. It takes work to make a house a home, which I am now going to use as a metaphor to transition into my next Big Lesson (really, an ongoing lesson since day one of marriage). Bear with me, for I know this has been said many times by people way wiser than me.
Damn, I said Top 5. Top 5 and a half.
5 1/2. Marriage, Like a Construction Project, Requires Time and Work
Passion, resilience, patience and vision are needed to make a house a home. Likewise for a marriage: along with the excitement and blessings comes the day-to-day work of becoming better, both separately and together. But sometimes you lose sight of the big picture. You (me) get anxious and unsettled while things feel in a state of flux. But it doesn’t pay to forget the original dream that drew you to each other.
And then you make it work. Realize what you need to do, lay out the foundation, and create something new and beautiful. One brick, one piece of wood, in our case, at a time. (I had glue on my arms for weeks). When we stood up, sore and tired after 8 hours of laying floor, to hold hands and gaze at what we made: now that was a moment. I will never forget that feeling of unity, pride and satisfaction.
We went through the ringer this year, B and I, knocking down old patterns and walls (both metaphoric and real) and building up more solid ones. Nothing worth doing comes easy. When you come through the other side of extreme effort, the rewards go well beyond what you originally imagined.
I thank 2016 for these lessons. For the buckets of tears, the hours of hot tubbing for sore muscles, the heart-racing moments of fear facing a park full of students (or, in many cases, just one or two), the pause of perceived failure before walking into a treatment room to talk to someone about diet, the moments of clarity during a late night conversation. Being a listening ear, an encouraging voice, a supportive presence. Gaining as much if not more from the exchange because I know it’s all I am meant to do and more.
It’s been an awful and epic year, the kind of awful and epic that will set up the rest of my life. Bring on 2017 and more of this wildly wonderful life, full of many more Top 5 lessons.