I threw out all of my notebooks – all seventeen of them – from my graduate school. In the garbage.
Now, for anybody that knows me – you know what a big deal this is for me. I am never without a notebook to capture my random thoughts as they flit across the radar of my consciousness. So you can imagine what I was like in grad school…my left hand forever stained in blue ink, madly scribbling notes, ideas, concepts, models, theory. I’m an auditory learner, so I long ago made friends with the fact that writing down what I hear is part of my learning process – it literally creates a picture of what I hear. Or think. Or want.
But I rarely – if ever – go back to those notebooks.
And this was the case for my grad school journals. When I graduated my program in 2002, I put all of my notebooks on a shelf in my home office, and had visions of me pulling them out on snow-filled dark winter days by the fire, as I reflected on theory and mindfully honed my skills.
Did I mention I was five months pregnant with my first child when I graduated? I also had visions of baking loaves of whole-grain bread, knitting and reading all those classic books on my list, like Wuthering Heights and Crime and Punishment, during my maternity leave. Right, right…
You know the drill, those lofty expectations you set for yourself that have no business being in reality…even as we make them to ourselves, we know there is not a chance in hell it will ever happen, right? But we make them anyway. And soon we find ourselves – as I did with those damn journals over the years – moving them from shelf, to closet, to box, to other closet, all the while telling ourselves, “I need these!”
You know what I was really telling myself all those years? “You’re not enough without these.” Ouch.What I came to realize this past fall is that those journals weren’t serving me – they were mocking me. Every time I looked at them, I got this pang in my gut that represented all the “shoulds” I ever carried – from myself and others, like my professors and mentors. One look at those journals and I thought of how I still have ten more years of student loan to pay off grad school, and then I was critiquing if it had been worth it? Was I using what I had learned? Did I even remember what I had learned? Even writing this now, my stomach is in knots.
Because here’s the deal: I AM enough. I get that now.
The gift of living well into my 40s is that my give-a-shit meter has gone way down, and with it, the assurance that I have what I need within me has gone up. I may not know something, but I sure as hell can figure it out…or ask someone else who might know. I know myself. And I know others. That’s good enough. I am good enough. This not to say “I’m done” – far from that, I’ll always be hungry for more. But it is to firmly and solidly acknowledge “enough” works for me.
So on that day, when I opened the closet and once again saw those green and purple notebooks mocking me from on high, I finally made the decision to let them go. I pulled them down, loaded them up in a box and had my husband drop them in a dumpster. “ALL of them…” he said, ” are you sure?” (He, too, knows me well and was also probably thinking about those student loan payments and getting my money’s worth…). I smiled and said, “Yes, I’ve got what I need.” And out they went. Their 10-year term of intimidation and mockery had ended. There was a new sheriff in town and she was all about traveling light.
It felt delicious. Heretical, like the time I threw out my massive statistics textbook in the garbage can in Washington National Airport after passing the class.
I texted a photo of the stack of journals to my friend from grad school – the one person besides me who could appreciate this bold act of rebellion – and asked her to bear witness and celebrate with me. She did. She gets it.
Because the reality is we all have green and purple journals that mock us, don’t we? They are those things we think we need, ought to hold onto, or don’t quite know how to move beyond. Maybe it’s your wedding dress in the basement, or those clothes you wore before you lost all that weight and got in shape. Maybe it’s love letters from the person that broke your heart, or tokens of the friend that broke your trust. Reminders of something you never want to experience again. No matter what their shape or form, they are our physical reminders of “shoulds” we carry.
Too often, we write it off as simply being sentimental. But truth be told, it more closely resembles “playing safe.”That’s what I was doing by hanging on to those journals all those years. I was hedging my bets against success, keeping a back up plan, holding onto an external reminder of my worth. I told myself I need them, but when I truly examined the situation – I found they were simply holding me back, shackling the weight of doubt, insecurity, and fear to my ankles. They were taking up valuable space in my psychic closet.
So I let them go. Which, I soon discovered, was a surprisingly loving gesture on my part.
By tossing those journals out in the garbage, I was not only lightening my load, I was investing in myself. I was buying stock in my own success and self-worth. In that one simple act, I blessed and anointed myself for the next leg of my journey, saying “I believe in you, you are enough, and you do have what you need.”
“You’ve GOT this.”
That’s what my clients tell me I say to them on those days they’re scared, worried they might be making a mistake, or feeling like they’re not enough. We can all use that reminder. Myself included. Clearly.
It funny, you hear the word “enough” and you think it’s about settling or stopping somehow. But it’s not that at all.
It’s about setting yourself free. Don’t believe me? Try it. I dare you.