“What led me to this place?” and “How do I choose to be here?” are a pair of questions that I make a practice of asking myself regularly.
I identified them many years ago in a conversation with two friends who were holding space for me as I talked through my tendency to self-blame when I found myself facing mis-alignment between my real and ideal lives.
At the time, I was stuck in a bad pattern of overfilling my schedule with things that weren’t actually top priorities. This left me short on time and resulted in me either ignoring my own needs or feeling less present than I wanted to be in some parts of my life.
“What led me to this place?” and “How do I choose to be here?” replaced my ‘go to’ self-judgment-laced question at the time of, “What is wrong with you, Val?”
What led me to this place?
The problem with my “What is wrong with you?” approach wasn’t just that it made me feel worse about my decisions and myself as a human being. It also failed to push me to see the larger constellation of factors that led to a mis-alignment between my real and my ideal lives.
“What led me to this place?” gives me grace to see things like the fact that I’m often operating with imperfect information when I plan my days and weeks. I’m asked for “a couple hours of my time” by someone who may be way off on their estimation of how long a given task takes.
This question also invites me into considering the systems and structures at play. It lets me see how my social location as a woman, as a person of colour, and as a family member of people with serious mental illness and addiction may have infiltrated my scheduling decisions with ‘people pleasing.’
“What led me to this place?” even creates space for gentle accountability. It allows me to laugh at ‘yesterday Val’ who optimistically (but hilariously) thought she would be able to have a decent catch up call with a friend in the 45 minutes between a workout and a board meeting. It reminds me that I should overestimate how much time I need for social connection given its importance to me.
How do I choose to be here?
“How do I choose to be here?” reconnects me to my agency around not just how to handle the current moment of mis-alignment but possible future, similar moments as well.
It balances the grace of seeing the many factors (some I had control over, some I did not) that led me to the moment I find myself in with the ownership I get to take for how I show up in it.
“How do I choose to be here” opens me up to the reality of options.
In an overfull day or week, I can cancel or reschedule commitments for which I no longer have capacity. Thinking bigger picture, I can develop a practice of saying “I’ll get back to you” before making commitments. Then, I can check my schedule before saying “Yes.” I can honour that a “No” or an “Another time” feel better to me than later changing plans.
What moment are you in right now?
What moment are you in right now that might benefit from the practice of working through this pair of questions?
I myself am in a moment of having the opposite problem to the one I used to have.
My schedule has more openings than usual these days.
A major reason is the choice I made to get small in some parts of life so I could play big in how I showed up for family members facing illness over the last year.
Thanks to some good news recently, I’m now in a place to change this.
I’m ready to re-align grounded in my practice of reflecting on “What led me to this place?” and “How do I choose to be here?”
If you have any neat opportunities for me to consider as I do this, please get in touch!
And, yes, for those who have asked, season two of the Life Without Us podcast is definitely something I’m aiming to make space for soon!