3_Measuring Your Self_o9

Learning not to measure our selves against what others are doing or what the culture prescribes; coming to trust that our own process of unfolding is the right one for us. 

Measuring Your Self

Measuring your self by anyone else's process, achievements or
life circumstances is a violation of your very own tender, delicate being…
Remember, always, each of us has: different lessons we're learning,
different learning styles and different inner timetables for our own unfolding…
Your own way is always the best way for you… trust that!

From my fourteenth summer, the time of my first real job, having enough money has not been a problem in my life. Partly that's been because I've never been much of a consumer, hating shopping and feeling oppressed by having to manage more than a relatively small number of possessions. And, I've been blessed with an automatic balancing process inside of me. When there's less money coming in, my spending habits reset themselves accordingly, usually without any effort or thought.

I've also been willing, through the years, to do almost anything (legal) to earn money when I've needed it. This willingness enabled me to find or invent work for my self whenever circumstances called for it. During my college years I did file clerking, ran the school switchboard, modeled for art classes, cleaned up art studios after classes, did ironing and childcare, delivered campus mail, cleaned typewriters, bought and sold sweaters and waited on tables.

In graduate school I had what my friends agree was the most outrageous of my willing-to-do-almost-anything jobs. I worked the night shift at The Flick, an open-all-night fancy ice cream parlor and restaurant that showed old-time movies in New York City. At 24, I was a budding feminist and a graduate student in psychology running subjects for my dissertation research project by day. Four nights a week from 8 PM till 6 AM, I worked as a poor man's version of a Playboy Bunny. The job involved wearing a leotard, cinch belt, mesh tights, high heels, white celluloid cuffs and collar with a black bow tie while serving oversized ice cream sundae specialties, espresso and after-bar-hours breakfasts.

There were free dinners and breakfasts for me at the restaurant and usually $40-$50 a night in tips (there was only a token on-the-books wage). For 1964 that was an incredible deal, never mind fending off the salacious remarks/attentions of the late night drunks. (We had a genteel bouncer watching out for us, and we learned to finesse things with quick and easy humor.)  By seven in the morning I'd be back home in my fifth-floor walkup tenement apartment, soaking the imbedded chocolate syrup from body in my cast iron bathtub-in-the-kitchen. I'd sleep four hours or so and then go back to the laboratory to start my daytime life.

At 32, burned out after completing both my Ph.D. degree and seven years as a private practice psychologist in New York City, I dropped out and took to the road, heading west in a van that I'd set up as a bed-sitting room. (See Pirouettes for more about that.) At that point, I thought I'd never do psychotherapy again.

A lifelong super-achiever, I spent the next 20 months committed to learning how to be comfortable doing nothing but traveling the west coast and getting a tan. After a while, I began to experiment with different ways to make a living: I baked cakes and cookies in an organic bakery. I spent several months selling my own designed and hand-crocheted clothing in a cooperative shop in a 1970s-style marketplace. For nine months, I worked as a Health Education Coordinator in a collectively run free clinic (speaking about mental and physical health issues in schools and colleges and on a weekly radio show as well as helping kids on bad acid trips at live concerts).

I cleaned houses with a woman-run contract cleaning service (I've always loved cleaning and making order – it's something I regularly do to ground and calm my self). I did other people's errands. For a while, I even tried being the doorperson-cum-bouncer at a women's bar. It was this connection with the women's community that opened me to the possibility of trying to do psychotherapy again – in an untraditional and experimental way.

Over the years, I've actually started four different psychotherapy practices in four different geographies. Each time, since my standard of living has always been a modest one, I've managed to be making a living within three to six months.

In the earliest years of my first private practice, whenever a client might feel done or choose to come less often, or when there was a rash of cancellations, I'd worry about my practice/business falling apart: an edgy feeling familiar to people who free lance or work for themselves. Yet, each time, new clients would appear soon after others left. It felt magical, as though some benevolent presence were watching over me, keeping me secure.

My faith in this automatic renewal of my practice grew. Gradually, I was able to trust it even when replacement clients were slower in turning up or when I had an increasing number of empty hours in my workweek for longer periods of time. I learned to see the slow periods as times for resting; they always came before cycles of accelerating growth in my personal evolution. The more I recognized this, the more I was able to relax into the rest cycles and stop filling that precious time with fears about my income disappearing.

In my work as well as in other parts of my life, my faith in the ongoing support from a benevolent Spirit presence has continued. That presence (that I now call the Grandmothers) helps me to be in the right place at the right time, it brings the right people into my life, nudges me along, opens my eyes to possibilities and sometimes, slows me down. These days I believe that, no matter how it may look or feel, everything is actually going just as it needs to for my unfolding.

Still, there are times when that belief is seriously tested. For three years starting more than eighteen years ago, my practice and income were diminishing at what seemed an alarming pace. Even as I reminded and reassured my self of what I'd easily accepted under less disturbing circumstances, I began to wonder if Spirit were nudging me out of this kind of work, forcing me to let go of it. I couldn't imagine what else I might do at this stage of my life. At 54, I was feeling much less adventurous than at 24 or 32 or 42. There were many moments of anxious edge-walking. Then, I would come back to center; knowing that, if this were truly to be the end of this cycle in my life, the new direction would reveal itself to me in a timely way.

The precariousness of my balance was complicated by what was happening in the lives of three of my closest women friends, all of them also therapists. It was, for each of them, a time of expansion and abundance professionally. Their burgeoning practices were full if not sometimes over-full. Each was experiencing a constant stream of new client referrals. Their incomes were solid and increasing. This, while I was in what looked like professional decline: very few clients, no new referrals, living close to the bone. Baffled, I worked hard to use the open time to rest and not to worry, to trust that this contraction had some purpose and that there wasn't something wrong with me.

Even as I knew not to make comparisons, knew how damaging that would be to my delicate, in-transition self, it was a huge struggle to not measure, to not compare, to not judge. My task was to hold what was happening in my life as a necessary part of my journey. My test was to resist the culture's view of this process as one of failure or collapse. It was a time of stretching, of deepening my trust, of resisting the temptation/pressure to do something to force this process to abort.

In the end, I felt so proud of me for staying compassionately with the frightened parts of my self through this arduous passage, proud of me for being able to do some significant resting in the middle of it. The way out lay (as always) in embracing and going through all of it: the feelings, the questioning and the doubt.

At some point three years later, the releasing that I needed to come to inside of me finally happened. (And that's a whole other story.) New directions emerged. My website was one of them. Now my practice (which I continue to love and enjoy) is usually as full as I want it to be. New people appear just as others come to places of closure. When things slow or contract, I'm able to welcome and enjoy the open time.

My faith in process is more profound now than ever. Still, I know that there will occasionally be other times and ways I will be challenged to sustain that trust – especially when there'll be no clue about the point of the challenge.

It helps so much to remember that each of us has different lessons we're learning, different learning styles and different inner timetables for our own journeys. It's never okay to measure our selves against anyone else's achievements or pace. Our own way is always the best way for us – we need to believe that no matter what.

Consider honoring the rightness for you of your very own path and your very own pace.