To make a life change, moving from one way of being and living to another, requires letting go. What do I mean? And why does it matter?
An example is when we are let go from a corporate position and are faced with the decision of whether to seek a new employer or start our own business. If we consciously choose to become an entrepreneur, our beliefs and emotions around the transition are quite different than if we are given a “pink slip” and are forced to leave a position. In either scenario, we need to let go of; for example, a regular paycheck, status (perhaps), “perks” such as a company car, an expense account …. If we consciously choose to leave, we may have some fear of the unknown and must deal with feelings of uncertainty. However, the emotions we have around the experience are different. In the case of being fired or “right-sized” we may feel anger, sadness, grief, as well as fear of the unknown.
I recall in the early 1990s when I started my first business. I had initially been lured away from a good government job to work with a management consulting group on a handshake. My father thought I was crazy to leave a good job with benefits, but the idea of consulting and being an entrepreneur was exciting. I recall my husband at the time had been encouraging me to strike out on my own for a few years. I noticed fear coming up in me and it took an offer from a consulting group to be the “carrot” that lured me away from a more stable position. That said, I was excited and energized about the new opportunity. In contrast, people I know who’ve been let go and forced to leave their jobs sometimes feel angry, victimized and low in energy. This can over time negatively impact their health, self-confidence, and their relationships with others.
So why is important for us to learn to let go when faced with a life transition be it chosen or imposed on us?
If we don’t learn to let go of certain emotions and beliefs, we may continue to repeat the same patterns in our lives and remain unhappy and unfulfilled. An example is if we keep choosing positions for the money rather than getting in touch with our passions and purpose and choosing positions in alignment with those passions and purpose.
Here are some proven strategies for “letting go”.
Identify and surface the emotions you have around a current or previous transition; for example, anger at a boss, a previous partner, a friend. The Feeling Wheel by Dr. Gloria Wilcox is a useful tool to help you get in touch with and name your emotions.
Release those emotions from your body. When you think about a particular emotion notice any tension in your body and where it is located. It is often felt in your gut or your heart. Think of emotions associated with past hurts and transitions as “rocks in a backpack” and visualize and experience releasing them all from that backpack.
Forgive yourself and others. This is powerful and often keeps us stuck and holds us back from moving forward. A mindfulness tool that facilitates forgiveness (of self and others) is “Forgiveness Meditation”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbHKCy4f6Dk for a process developed by Jack Kornfield, a psychologist trained in Eastern and Western Psychology.
Write a letter to your previous boss, partner, friend from a balanced and empathic perspective. There are always two sides to every story. Reflect on the lessons learned from that experience.
If you still have anger and strong emotions associated with a past relationship, it is therapeutic to write a letter to that person sharing how they wounded you and what the experience was like from your perspective and then to either burn it ceremoniously or tear it up into small pieces and at the same time commit to releasing the negative emotions associated with the relationship.
We all face a number of transitions throughout our lives. Learning how to let go is the key to moving forward and living a life of health, happiness, fulfillment, and inner peace.
I welcome your thoughts below on your experiences with “letting go” and strategies you have found helpful to “let go” of beliefs, emotions, feelings that are no longer serving you.
You may be feeling heavy-hearted and overwhelmed by all the conflict in the world, challenges you have faced during the pandemic; and to add insult to injury, the recent invasion of Ukraine. You may be feeling exhausted. Feeling like you want to return to bed a few hours after awakening. You may want to shake off all this sadness and heaviness and return to a lighter and more optimistic way of being.
I feel you. Recently I returned from a road trip to visit a dying friend. It was so sad to see how weak and frail she was having lost 50 pounds in the past 4 months. She texted and asked me to give her 15 to 20 minutes before arriving as it took that long for her to recover from unlocking her front door and returning to her living room couch.
It’s been 10 days since my return, and it took over a week until I started to feel more like myself. What have I found helpful to lift the heaviness from my heart and body, and support the return of my energy?
What did I do to help process the grief and sadness?
I listened to my body. When I felt tired, I laid down for a short while.
I created more space in my days. Rather than have my agenda “packed full” I removed and didn’t attend events that did not light me up.
I went for a walk in nature every day. When we walk in nature it clears our energy, reduces our heart rate and blood pressure, and strengthens our immune system.
I faithfully did yoga three times a week.
Rather that push the sadness away I tried to feel it and let it flood through my body. I’ve learned that resisting sadness and grief takes a lot of energy and in the long run it still lingers in my body.
I went for a massage with a woman who is also an energy worker. I felt much lighter the next morning after the massage.
I openly shared my sadness with people close to me instead of acting strong and soldiering on (a typical behavior I have used in the past).
I find writing, journaling, and doing something creative therapeutic; it takes my mind off the injustices in the world.
I put on my favorite music and dance around the kitchen.
What strategies have you found helpful to process your grief and sadness? I welcome your comments below.
When you’re spinning out of control, feeling stuck on the hamster wheel and unable to get off, you often intuitively know that you need to create some more balance in your life. You may also be unsure about how to do that.
The cultures of China and India have recognized the importance of a balanced life for more than 2,000 years. Their theories of health and illness are based on the presence (or not) of balance. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also believes that disease is caused by energy blockage in the body. In order to stay healthy, it is important to keep energy moving throughout our bodies; for example, by regularly practicing qigong or tai chi, or having therapeutic massages by an experienced practitioner or energy healer.
I particularly like the metaphor Austin Vickers shares in his book Stepping Up To a Life of Vision, Passion and Authentic Power (2005). He likens balance to a three-legged stool. Vickers refers to the three stool legs as “body, mind, and spirit” and notes “all three of these legs of life are necessary to make us stable and balanced.” He cautions that if you are missing one leg of your stool “all of your energy is spent trying to maintain balance and not fall over. You cannot relax. But upon a balanced stool, one can relax, read, work or use it as a tool to do other things.”
When you are living life like a spinning top or caught on the hamster wheel, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It is important to be aware of the characteristics of the two energies, as being out of balance has negative impacts on our bodies, minds, relationships, and success at home and work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, driving and striving, over time it leads to illness (e.g. burnout), unhappiness, lack of fulfillment, and restlessness. Conversely, if we are dominated by our feminine energy, constantly giving to others, we may become resentful, ill, needy, and insecure.
How can you find and create your own unique balance between your masculine and feminine energies? Here are a few suggestions.
Sit down. Close your eyes. Take several deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Get centered and grounded.
Reflect on your day. Become an outside observer. Which characteristics of the two energies did you display today, and in which situations?
Ask yourself if you are living your life more in the masculine than the feminine side or vice versa, and if this is out of balance.
Ask yourself if you are willing to experiment, to make some changes in your behaviors and notice the impact they have on your body, mind, relationships, and creativity at home and at work.
If the answer is yes, make a conscious decision to change one thing and try it out for a week. It could be the way you relate to your team. Think about this each morning before you get out of bed and make the commitment to yourself. For example, you might say, “I choose today to demonstrate empathy and be receptive to others’ ideas; to really listen instead of being in control, assertive, and competitive.”
During the day, start to notice when you become “adrenalized”; when you become extremely “geared up” and have trouble sitting still. Take several deep breaths, go inside, and ask yourself what is it that is making you feel so anxious. Listen to what comes up for you.
You may find it useful at the end of the day to reflect and journal about what came up for you and the impact(s) on your body, mind, relationships, creativity, and productivity when you initiated even a small change.
The first step in making any change is self-awareness. By becoming aware of what situations or people “adrenalize” you, you may then make a conscious choice to “dig deeper” and try on some new beliefs and behaviors.
I welcome your comments and thoughts below on strategies you have found helpful to balance your masculine and feminine energies.
“We all have masculine and feminine within us, and when it’s all balanced it’s like accessing a super power.” (Alicia Keys)
What do we mean by “masculine” and “feminine” and why is balancing them important?
Much has been written about the sacred feminine (yin) and the sacred masculine (yang). Although each person possesses both masculine and feminine energies, usually one type is more developed or dominant. This dominant energy affects how you perceive yourself, others, your environments and how you interact with the world.
The qualities of each type of energy are outlined in the table below. *
Feminine Energy (Yin) BEING & GIVING
Masculine Energy (Yang) DOING & RECEIVING
Linear & Logical
Allow for “flow”
Excerpted from “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women” (2015) by Pamela Thompson, p. 84
When you live life feeling like you are on a hamster wheel and can’t get off, you are exhibiting many of the characteristics of masculine energy. It’s important to be aware of the qualities of each type of energy because being out of balance negatively impacts our bodies, our minds, our relationships and our work. For example, if we are constantly in our masculine energy, over time it leads to illness, lack of fulfillment, unhappiness, and restlessness. Whereas if we are dominated by our feminine energy, we become ill, resentful, needy and insecure.
How can you find and create your own unique balance between your feminine and masculine energies? A good place to start is with an assessment.
Here’s an illuminating exercise:
At the end of the day, take some time to pause and reflect on your day. Create 2 lists. Put at the top of one list “Doing” and the other list “Being”. Without thinking too much, do a brain dump of all the things you’ve done in that day. This could include: planning with your team, chairing a meeting, doing a performance review … . Then write down all the things you would categorize as “being” such as: walking mindfully in nature, meditating, spending time focusing attentively on someone or something.
If it’s been an unusual day, take the time to also reflect on the previous day.
Then create 2 other lists. Think about all your “Giving” behaviors that day. Examples include: making a meal for a sick friend, volunteering your time to assist others, listening to a friend’s tale of woe. .
Now think about all your “Receiving” behaviors for that day. Receiving behaviors include: treating yourself to a yoga class and being present during it, meditating for at least 10 minutes, reaching out for support when you needed it; such as “Sweetie, do you mind driving the kids to school today? I’ve got a lot on my plate.”, treating yourself to a bubble bath or massage.
Now look at your lists. What do you notice?Are you giving more than receiving and doing more than being?
Then take a few moments to go into your body and notice how you are feeling. Are you low in energy? Are you feeling resentful? Are you finding you have a “short fuse” and that you are reacting rather than taking some thoughtful time to respond to people at home and/or at work?
I invite you to do this exercise for a few days and notice what you notice. I welcome your reflections and insights below.
Stay tuned for the next installment to discover some tips and tools for balancing your masculine and feminine energy.
Are there women in your life who are constantly giving to others and putting themselves at the bottom of the list? Women who are so busy serving others in their families, communities, workplaces … seemingly with boundless energy?
Women who seem to be strong and have it all together, and rarely if ever reach out for support from others; until they can’t.
Perhaps you are one of these women.
COVID has placed increased stress on women worldwide. They are burning out faster than before the pandemic. With the increased demands of working at home, home-schooling children, supporting others in their families, communities and workplaces, they are losing their passion, feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, and experiencing feelings of cynicism and detachment.
International cross-cultural studiesshow that those in the helping professions (e.g. social workers, nurses, physicians, development professionals), and high achievers, are at higher risk for burnout than the general population. The curious thing about high or over-achievers is that we tend to work harder when we get closer and closer to burnout. It’s almost like we believe we are invincible!
I recall when I burnt out in late 2012; how I kept pushing through fatigue and NOT listening to my body. I had pushed through fatigue to finish that one last thing for many years, and was healthy (or so I thought), with no noticeable side effects. Until all that changed.
I’d been working on contract for an NGO that promotes women’s and children’s rights around the world for almost a year. Initially I was passionate about the opportunity and felt so aligned with their mission, vision and values. It was exciting to head off to a number of African countries for project start up and to meet the teams in the 7 countries I was working with! In the coming months, the project scope increased, and I was being asked to do more and more. Then, about 6 months in, I started to lose my passion. I felt like there was so much to do and so little time. Yet I kept pushing through.
Near the end of the year, I was invited to renew my contract in a reduced role. I was this close to signing and asked to sleep on the decision. When I awoke, I felt like a lemon that had been squeezed dry; and realized in that moment, that I had to finally listen to my body, I had to take a break. I got in touch with the Director and VP I’d been working with, thanked them, and turned down the opportunity. They said “Why?” and I said I wanted to create more balance in my life. At that time, I had no idea what that meant or how much time I would take off, but I started the new year with no work on my plate. A scary place for someone who has their own business! I took the time to reconnect with family and friends as I’d been travelling so much the past couple of years. I studied mindfulness with Jack Kornfield; and spent a lot of time in nature.
After sleeping 10, 12, 13 hours a night for about 4 months and still awakening feeling fatigued, I went to see a naturopath who put me on some homeopathic meds; and within about a month I started to feel more like myself; my energy started to come back.
What I learned from that experience, and from doing in-depth interviews with high-achieving women from three continents is captured in the book “Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women”. In this book, I introduce the concept of “Creative Living, “the conscious cultivation of increased health, happiness, fulfillment and inner peace in your life.” There are 7 keys to what I call Creative Living, and powerful strategies and practices to prevent and heal from burnout. I’ve distilled some of these in the strategies below.
Strategies You can Use to Prevent and Heal from Burnout
Integrate mindfulness practices into your life daily (e.g. body scanning & mindfulness walking meditation); these help you focus on the present moment, and get you out of the chatter in your head
Start listening to your body. When you feel tired take a short nap (e.g. 15 to 30 minutes if you can) or go for a short walk (15 to 30 minutes)
When you’re feeling stressed take 3 deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth exhaling on each out breath. Notice how that makes you feel. This releases the hormone oxytocin which makes you feel more relaxed, grounded and at peace
Focus on one thing at a time
Sleep at least 8 hours a night and go to sleep before 11 pm
Set firm boundaries; learn to say “no”; being clear on your top 5 core values helps with this
Spend regular time in nature – The Japanese have done longitudinal studies to show that when we walk in nature, particularly among trees, it reduces our heartrate, reduces our blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells our body produces (i.e. strengthens our immune system)
Nurture yourself daily (e.g. have a bubble bath, listen to relaxing music, do something you love)
Try yoga. Experiment with different styles. Find one that works for you and do it 3 times a week or more for 30 to 60 minutes each time
Celebrate your achievements – both big and small
Unplug from technology 60 to 90 minutes before going to bed; and Unplug one day a week (if possible) e.g. on the weekend.
Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga, lunch with a friend, date night with your partner) and commit to doing them
If symptoms persist and if you are continually fatigued even though you sleep 8 or more hours a night, and have lost your zest for life, go to a recommended naturopath or a physician who is open to complementary therapies.
What strategies have you found helpful to reduce stress in your life and to prevent and/or heal from burnout? I welcome your thoughts and comments below.
 Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes noticing where there is any tension or discomfort. Breathe into those places and set the intention to release the pain and discomfort. This is helpful to do first thing in the morning before getting out of bed. It helps you become more aware of your body and the messages it sends you.
 When doing mindfulness walking meditation, it is most beneficial to do it outside. When you begin to walk, instead of thinking about the argument you had with your partner that morning or worrying about the performance review you’re going to give to a team member who is underperforming; instead focus on all of your senses. Feel the breeze on your cheeks, smell the salt sea air, hear the birds chirping, see the beautiful vistas that surround you … . When thoughts come to mind as they will, imagine putting them in a cloud and watching them float away and then return to focusing on your senses. Do this 3 times a week to start for 20 to 30 minutes a time and notice how you feel during, immediately after and after a week or so of doing this.