“Some people are blessed by knowing exactly what it is their hearts desire, but are cursed by not knowing how to achieve it. Like King Lear, some stumble into a course of action precisely opposite to the one that would satisfy their hearts and minds. Because of their own pride, stubbornness, or lack of self-insight, their goals remain unfulfilled.
But at least such people know what they want, be it their daughter’s devotion, a lover’s embrace, or peace of mind. A worse fate is not knowing what it is our hearts desire.”
-Timothy Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious
A few years ago, Heidi Johnson thought she knew what she wanted. A PhD. A high-paying job. A cool condo in Boston with her hard-working husband. But it turned out she was living someone else’s desires, not hers.
No matter how intelligent, creative, or loving people we are (or think we are), we can be, in psychologist Timothy Wilson’s words, strangers to ourselves.
Why do we often not know ourselves very well? And how can we increase our self-knowledge? Those two questions Wilson has been tracking for over twenty years.
To that latter question, I’ll offer two possibilities: story-changing and body-shifting. But more on that soon.
To the first question: For most of us creatives, what we desire arises from a cadre of things we remember, experience, see in other people, absorb in our bodies. And a lot of that stuff is hard for our relatively small conscious mind to detect, let alone detect with accuracy or objectivity. Plus, that conscious mind might never be aware of a slew of physiological processes that affect what we desire (e.g., respiration’s influence on cognition; neurochemistry’s or muscular tension’s influence on mood).
“Why did I do that?” we say. Indeed.
Imagine the mirror we each hold up to ourselves to try to say, “This is who I am. This is what I desire. This is what motivates me to do what I do.” Imagine someone trying to take a picture of himself with a camera that has no reverse-screen. He takes a self-portrait of a quarter of his face. The rest of the portrait is his environment.
So, what do we do? One thing is to read other people’s stories. Stories are captivating mirrors. One reason we read fiction, memoir, and biographies, and watch films is to see how other people work through self-knowledge and pursue desire. Watching and even writing stories engages several feelings and near-unconscious impulses and memories.
The other thing is to engage the physical mass of the body, that noisy and fleshy mobile home, as part of knowing thyself. Why? Certain movement and harnessed respiration quiet the prefrontal cortex, the little rational “sense-maker” who tries to explain away, in safe and clear terms, what we want and why we do what we do.
Enter Heidi Johnson again. Five years ago, she was a hard-working, high achiever living on the Shore of Shoulds – doing everything she thought she should to be fulfilled. Then, she got a phone call that rocked her world.
Read the interview below to find out how she left that shore, journeyed across the Sea of Fertile Confusion, and has arrived on land of her own making that involves Inkwell Insight, a dynamic coaching firm that helps people change their stories from the inside-out. She’s offering a webinar on October 30 – “3 Ways to Love Uncertainty” – which I couldn’t resist. She’s offering this webinar only to readers of these articles and of her own Ink on Paper updates.
Yes, I’m a little biased since I had the honor to train her in the Yoga As Muse Facilitator Course and follow-up Creative Enterprisers course, but the desire for this feature & interview comes straight from my heart of getting how confused we all can be about our passion & purpose.
Below the interview, share what you think about what we can do when we don’t know what we desire – and yet we know we don’t want to be paralyzed.
Jeffrey: What woke you up to the idea that perhaps you weren’t living the life you desired?
Heidi: Funny how life can change in an instant with the ring of the phone.
Five years ago I was living a completely different life in Boston. Finally, after 8 years spent working towards my doctorate in physical therapy, my husband and I were both working. I was a bright-eyed, over-achieving physical therapist specializing in chronic pelvic pain. I had just finished a year-long internship at a local hospital and had a paper published in a leading journal. My husband and I lived in the city, took the subway, ate at great restaurants, traveled – Nirvana, Eden, and Xanadu all rolled up in one life, everything we had worked for.
It all changed when my dad had a quadruple by-pass. Seeing my dad the color of ash and unable to come off the ventilator, with an incision and staples down the length of his chest, shook my world and knocked it askew. It fell over completely when two days after Dad’s surgery my husband was laid off from his job of thirteen years.
What happened next was simply my survival mechanism. My husband and I briefly discussed moving to Colorado, but ultimately decided we weren’t ready for a move, so I just buckled down and proceed to make quite a few bad decisions.
Which is what happens when you operate from a place of fear and uncertainty, not present in the moment and grasping for a life you think you should be living. There are elements of that girl still with me today. The difference is I’m much better at spotting when I’m making decisions based on other people’s needs.
[Note: Eventually, Heidi and her husband took the leap: Heidi left her stable job, packed their bags, and headed for Colorado with no knowledge of where they’d live or what they’d do. They just knew they’d be near Heidi’s dad and that they’d start living with more integrity and sanity.]
Jeffrey: How did you maintain a possibility mindset during your period of fertile confusion – that period when you really had no idea where you were going, what would work, or who you were becoming?
The first is a quality: the willingness to say yes and follow through with action. I knew I was unhappy and I’d still be unhappy if I hadn’t reached out and called you to find out what this Yoga As Muse stuff was. I’d still be unhappy if I’d ignored my curiosity when I came across the words “journal facilitator” in an article.
If there’s something that interests you even slightly, a word or idea that makes your heart beat a little faster and your breath catch, then say yes to your curiosity!
The second is also a quality: perseverance. Do something every day to work towards your goal or dream, even if you don’t know what the ultimate goal is. Keeping hope alive during fertile confusion and significant transition is vital for a positive attitude, which will keep hope alive – you see where I’m going here? It’s all circular.
The third way I got from there to here, and maintain a possibility mindset, is the greatest resource I have: my power posse, or as you refer to them, the wild pack. Without a doubt this was, and continues to be, the backbone to my transformation and growth. The group of ladies I refer to as my power posse has grown and morphed during the last few years – we’re all working towards different, but similar, goals and each of our strengths complements another’s weakness.
Jeffrey: In what areas have you pursued mastery that motivated you to persist?
The most significant area is regarding the whole solo-preneur and business aspects of my endeavor, the self-promotion and marketing conundrum being one aspect. I’ve always been the visionary type coming up with great ideas but struggling to fulfill the self-promotion part. I don’t have a business degree, nor do I want one, so that means I’ve got to reach out to those who do know how to get that stuff done.
One of the things about working toward mastery is there should be a level of enjoyment – if you aren’t engaged with your mastery topic with some level of joy, excitement or passion, then it’s going to be real hard to actually follow through with leaning tasks.
I want my business to succeed, so I figured if I find someone who has already mastered this area of learning, it will up my joy quota and I’ll actually be excited to work on marketing and self-promotion.
The thing about mastery is it’s better to approach it with beginners mind and be open to the journey rather than getting wrapped up in perfection and completion.
Jeffrey: What is Inkwell Insight? Whom does it serve? Why do we need it? What distinguishes you and Inkwell Insight from others in the field of life coaching?
At Inkwell Insight, changing your story means transition and reinvention are met head on in a collaborative environment. Changing your story means you replace the beliefs and actions no longer serving you with new, different ways of living.
My specialty is working with people to empower change by engaging mind and body through 1:1 coaching, creative journaling and Yoga as Muse® workshops.The research is solid – the benefits of yoga as well as the benefits of journaling and therapeutic writing build resiliency and help you consistently make positive changes for longterm shifts in awareness.
As for why you need Inkwell Insight, there isn’t a single person who won’t go through some type of transition in his or her life . As a goal-oriented, results-driven society we often rush through our endings right into new beginnings…forgetting to honor the space we’ve been in.
I can help you process through your survival mechanisms so there’s no repeat of actions and behaviors that aren’t always in your best interest. Sometimes we can go it alone, but more often than not we need someone who’s been there, walked the path, so to speak.
There’s where you’ll find what distinguishes me and Inkwell Insight from others in the coaching field. With a doctorate in physical therapy, I understand the body. Coupled with my training in therapeutic writing and Yoga As Muse facilitation, I understand how to connect the mind with the body empowering you to find, and create, the space for transition and reinvention.
Jeffrey: What questions are you still living in for the next leg?
“What can I do to keep myself from falling down the same hole?”
I’ve also started living the question “Will this feed my soul, fill my bucket, and bring me joy?” with regards to taking on projects and work assignments.
Jeffrey: How do you track wonder? In what moments or activities or places do you find wonder? How has tracking wonder aided you on your journey?
For me tracking wonder is doing something creative every day. Sewing, embroidery, collage, photography, fiber arts. I don’t care if you call me a crafter or an artist – I just want to use my hands to create something of beauty and wonder that tickles my fancy.
That said, some of my stuff does not work, and this is where it’s been so valuable to my journey.
But in these experiments gone wrong is our greatest lesson. Tracking wonder reminds me that adopting an open, loving, generous attitude to my work supports innovation, creativity, and gets me a heck of a lot further down the path than beating myself up for a trivial mistake!
See Heidi’s video about changing stories.
What do you do when you’re uncertain about your purpose or deep desire?
See you in the woods,