One of the most common questions peeps ask me the first time we chat, whether in person or on the phone, is how I got to be me — this person who can drop the f-bomb and have pink hair and say the things no one else wants to say, and then expose deep parts of myself on the internets for all to see — without being crippled by fear or doubt or all the terrible things that could befall me for such vulnerability.
Each and every day, I have to guard the fucks I give, and worrying about what people think will steal my fucks like nothing else.
I have to help people be true to themselves, and write books and make podcasts and take care of my cats and dog and love my friends and keep my house clean and return my library books on time, which doesn’t leave much room for worrying about whether what I make offends people or makes them run away in horror.
If you’re ready to give zero fucks about what the world thinks of you while pursuing your work in the world, listen to today’s podcast.
It’s my favorite. This topic lights me up like no other.
I started a podcast with only one episode. (Apparently I was supposed to have 3 to 8 to start.)
I’ve got no editorial calendar, because I talk about what my peeps are talking about, and I can’t know what they’ll be talking about in six to nine months. (PARTY FOUL. Big time.)
I’ve got short episodes with no editing, no intro or outro, no witty theme song, and no sponsors. (Only a voice and a mic? Holy fuck, SO WRONG.)
I don’t have the big fancy epic podcast hosting package that assures me I’ll be successful. I don’t pay $200-$300 an episode for a transcript because I write most of what I’m going to say out beforehand. (UGH NO TRANSCRIPT! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY, HOW COULD YOU!?)
I don’t care about whether I’m featured in the New & Noteworthy section of iTunes. (Shit, I probably put myself in the wrong category, because there is no ‘Swears a lot, gives a shit, and helps you get in touch with the truest parts of yourself’ category anyway.)
I’M DOING IT ALL WRONG.
Every part of it, and there’s this Facebook group teeming with other people’s anxiety because they want to do it right.
1782 people committed to doing it right, with endless questions and concerns and ‘I want to start but I don’t know how and how did YOU start and I think I’ll start in a few weeks or months’ type questions.
One thousand, seven-hundred and eight-two people.
I quit that group today.
I dare you to quit the Facebook groups that make your stomach hurt, your palms sweat, or your heart race because they stress you out.
I dare you to do it all wrong.
To start. Even if you don’t know where it’s going.
Even if your gear is wrong.
Even if haven’t got a soundproof booth and a solid gold microphone that cost more than your car.
Even if you’re sure you’re not ready, or you’re sure you’re never going to be a hit on any sort of Apple platform.
It’s okay to do it wrong. I’ll be cheering you on, too loudly and wearing mismatched jewelry, shouting, “I’m so proud of you,” but you won’t be able to hear me because my mic has got it all wrong, too. (I once laundered a mic by accident. ::shakes head at self::)
I dare you to ignore the well-meaning advice of strangers and just fucking dive all the way in, without infoproducts or the help of Facebook groups or the endless streams of articles you can read before you begin.
I’m six, high on sugar and singing Jingle Bells with my church group, when we walk into the nursing home. She reaches out to touch my face and all of a sudden, tears stream down my cheeks. I look into her eyes and feel the weight of the sorrow that surrounds her like a shroud. It’s heavy and hopeless, a familiar cloak to the woman before me. For a handful of moments, I know the many facets of her sadness, even as she sits listening to the these well-meaning Christmas carolers singing in her cramped living room.
This is my earliest memory of feeling someone else’s feelings. We had visited private homes and nursing homes like this one on our caroling rounds. I wasn’t expecting this one to be any different. But then I met that old lady, reaching forward with such joy and transferring such sorrow to me.
The memory of it still brings tears to my eyes and feels a bit like I’m choking. It’s my first clear experience of being an empath.
Being an empath means you’re capable of feeling what another person is feeling in your body.
It is both a great gift and a massive liability. Get close to a person who’s having a great time, drunk or high or otherwise enjoying life, and you’ll also feel great. Let an old lady reach out to touch your face during an otherwise ordinary bout of Christmas caroling as a child and you’ll be crying in front of all your friends in no time.
I was flooded with great shame on the van ride back to church when our caroling finished. I had cried for no reason! I was supposed to be cheering people up! I didn’t even SING for her, and that was my job! (Even at six I took jobs seriously.)
Worse, everyone had seen me cry and now thought I was weird. I was already painfully shy. This made it worse.
Emotions are contagious. They’ve always been contagious in my world, like the common cold or the Great Thanksgiving Stomach Flu of 2002.
I’ve always been able to feel when someone is upset, anxious, nervous, tired, sad, angry, peaceful, happy, joyful, or embarrassed. Emotions are communicated to me as clearly as others might use sign language to tell stories or make funny faces to get another person giggling incessantly. They’re simple to dissect and quite easy to navigate. They’re familiar waters.
Other people freak out when someone cries or someone is busy having a tantrum or someone is off dancing in the corner for what appears to be no good reason. The older I get, the more easily I can feel the mirroring emotions in my body and use the information to decode a situation.
If you’ve ever been in the middle of shopping at a big box store and felt like you couldn’t breathe, like you were being squished from the inside, like you were being overwhelmed by a wave of uncomfortable and terrible emotions, or you were trapped with an incredible pain you couldn’t explain…you might be an empath.
To those who aren’t empaths, you’re a real weirdo. Like, “What do you mean you can’t shop at Target on the weekend?” Or “Why do you hate grocery shopping so much, it’s just…groceries?” You might have heard, “But you like concerts…so you’re okay with crowds. What’s the big deal?”
It’s a big deal because you can feel others’ emotions as your own.
This isn’t any more weird than being able to identify the leaves of an oak tree appropriately or knowing the recipe for three different pies without having to glance at an index card scribbled with instructions. You know things, so far down that you no longer remember how or where these abilities started.
Because you can feel others’ emotions as your own, you’re incredibly sensitive to changes in others’ moods, feelings, and energies. No one who’s about to cry around you can get away with the ol’ “I’m fine! I’m fine!” because you know better.
Very few people who are in a great deal of pain can hide it, because you’ll be feeling it as your own in some cases. I regularly ask Doey to take Ibuprofen because her chronic neck and back pain are so bad that they affect me when we’re together.
So…what do you do with this information? How do you view it as something more than a curse — because holy crap, the emotions most people are feeling aren’t usually sunshine and roses, especially while trolling around the local Wal-Mart?
First, acknowledge that it’s real. You feel others’ emotions.
You know things about what other people are feeling, both in their bodies and in their minds. You are keenly aware of changes in emotions and in mood. Even if a person were to be visually separated from you, you’d feel the same things. You’re not merely good at reading body language or facial expressions. Being an empath goes far beyond those skills.
You’re not crazy, though you might feel crazy.
You might feel like you’re at the mercy of the world, unable to control your own feelings. You’re especially prone to strong emotions overtaking you when you’re minding your own business, oblivious to your fellow humans until their emotions come creeping over to say “hello.” The homeless guy holding his dog tightly while napping can cause you to weep with overwhelming despair. The kid flitting around pretending to be a butterfly in the park can lift your heart higher than the top of the sliding board.
Those who aren’t empaths won’t understand why you’re so affected by the presence of other people who enter the room, how you’re so careful to manage the emotions of everyone you encounter as best you can, and why you’re sometimes given no choice but to hole up in a room by yourself until you can feel your own emotions again. (When your body seems to be going haywire with emotional information, sometimes this is the only option.)
Second, know that it gets better. The minute you realize that what you’re experiencing has a name and that you’re not a crazy-ass freakshow — that there are other humans like you, for whom emotions are contagious — you’re ready to start managing your gifts.
+ 10 tell-tale signs that you’re an empath
+ My simple tricks for coping with day-to-day life
+ The freaking incredible tool that gets me through the emotional onslaught at airport security without losing my shit
+ 3 ways to use your empathic skills to your advantage as an entrepreneur
+ 3 easy fixes for the ways being an empath could be hurting your business (keyword: easy)
You’re going to start reading those books you’ve purchased or working through those programs you’ve been hoarding on your hard drive or listening to those language recordings tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. Or this summer.
You’ve got no time right now, and you haven’t had time for the past few years. But someday…soon…SOON…
Let’s cut the bullshit, okay?
Either you care about that thing, or you don’t.
You’re going to survive either way.
You have permission to delete the recording or programs you’re not going to use. They’re eating up mental bandwidth and draining your energy by causing you to feel guilty each and every time you stumble across them.
Maybe you’ve moved on. That information is no longer fascinating, or no longer applicable. Toss it. Delete it. Donate it. Recycle it. Get it out of your life.
Maybe you’ve changed your mind. You were going to take up that one activity, but you’re no longer feeling it. No guilt! Move the materials you’ve gotten back into circulation, or at least eliminate them from a place where seeing ‘em makes you feel awful about their lack of use.
Maybe your ‘shoulds’ aren’t strong enough. Yes, you SHOULD care about that thing, and you once cared enough to spend dollars on it! But the ‘should’ing isn’t strong enough to get you to take action. Stop giving the ‘should’s more energy.
Maybe it sucks. The program is too long, too boring, too fast-paced, too intense, or too cheesy. It’s not aligned with where you’re going. It feels heavy. You’d rather stab yourself in the eyes with spoons than listen. Honor those feelings.
You have permission to move along without doing the homework, completing the task, or listening to the audio.
You have permission to skip chapters, to delete videos, or to skim for the best parts.
You have permission to use only what you need and scrap the rest.
This is your business and your life we’re talking about, remember? You’re in charge.
And that’s okay. You can’t care about all the things. You can’t march in 48 protest rallies a week while running your business. You can’t give your all to 28 causes, 18 organizations, and 41.3 projects. You have to choose. And the choosing is good.
As for what to choose?
Listen in to the this week’s episode of That’s What She Said: Information Overload (and Overlords).
There’s an art to keeping yourself motivated over the long haul. It isn’t as simple as following five steps in a row, or making a Motivation Map or vision board or whatever the shizbuckets is popular these days. Motivation is complicated, and it’s most difficult to manage when you’re already sleep-deprived, broke, stressed, or all three. But tiny rituals help.
Tiny rituals are just that…tiny. Daily. Rituals.
They’re habits that keep you not only motivated, but fully alive and present. They’re not a big deal, they don’t require your participation in any 30-day challenges, and they take no offense if you skip a day or 17.
Tiny rituals aren’t little judgey assholes scrunching up their noses while discussing how much you suck. They’re immensely helpful little beings of light.
Tiny ritual #1: guard your beginnings and endings.
Whether you’re choosing to work for nine minutes or nine hours a day, guarding your time with a formal ending and formal beginning keeps you more focused. Instead of keeping your laptop open in the background while trying to do 22 other activities for six hours in a row, try lighting a candle and setting a timer for thirty minutes. Go hard, go fast, and see if you need another thirty minutes when the timer is up. You’ll get shit-tons of your work done in one-third the time it takes when you’re floating like a lost balloon in Distractedville.
Personally, I light a candle, then say a prayer that goes something like, “Help me to do my best and most sacred work today.” I pull a tarot card for my client(s) and get to it. When my work is done, I blow the candle out.
Easy beginning, easy ending. Energetic division…done. With one breath, my kitchen table is once again ready for hosting meals instead of laptops.
Tiny ritual #2: take breaks.
(Not dance breaks, unless you fucking love dance breaks.)
Truth is, dancing isn’t my favorite. Even by myself, I get sort of awkward and shy and weird about all that movement. But I can stretch like a mofo. I can breathe deeply, I can stretch my legs with a walk. You don’t have to dance in order to prove to your imaginary friends how imaginary cool you are. Do something else that switches your brain off when it’s tired of being on, or on when it’s tired of being off.
Oh, and…it’s okay to rest when you’re tired. Napping is as legit a break as busting out the Michael Jackson Remix.
Tiny ritual #3: bring on staff.
Pretend that you’re really fancy and you can spend $100,000 a year to hire a team of advisors.
Best-selling authors. Brilliant marketers. Poets. Artists. Entrepreneurs. Nobel Prize winners. The best minds of our time.
Imagine they’re all available to do your bidding and give advice whenever you see fit. Now, open your Podcasts app and choose up to five of these brilliant people to listen to each week.
Let your fellow humans teach you stuff, show you stuff, entertain you, and otherwise give you brain food. For free. (Bam! Just saved you a hundred grand.)
Whether you’re obsessed with Pinterest or Instagram; whether you’re reading another non-fiction series or you’re dying for the new book by your favorite author to come out, it’s your job to sip from other cups. To take in all the world has to offer and to remix it in your life the way only you can.
That’s right, stuff you don’t sell. Stuff you’re not trying to strategize or market or turn into your next paying gig. Stuff without hashtags or ‘follow me’ reminders. Just..stuff. Maybe that means you shoot film with your family, or you take a painting class, or you mess around with 30×40 inch canvases and waste inordinate amounts of supplies making new creations. (Yes, those are my feet in the photo up there.)
Maybe you build Play-Doh towers, the likes of which the world has never seen, or write poems like you used to, before you decided your voice wasn’t worth listening to or wasn’t that interesting. There’s power in making for the sake of making, and it fills your well like little else in the world.
Tiny ritual #6: do the crazy-ass thing every now and again.
“I made this ridiculous decision to go to Iceland with my friends for 13 days in August,” she said, “and then I figured out a way to pay for it.” Now THAT’S a client I adore.
Whether it’s Iceland calling, or you want a new chandelier for your bedroom, or a few days off for staycation in your hammock, let the reason you started this business take over every now and again.
Freedom. Security. Getting out into the world. Stability. Adventure. Mayhem.
Whatever your reason for being in business, let it out to breathe every now and again.