When playing the strong card no longer serves us
This blog post is a very personal one. Today was a tough day. I am on day 13 after getting sick with Covid, and it has worn me out. I usually get sick with flu or colds at least once a year, so I know the feeling, but this virus is a beast. At least, it has been for me. And perhaps, in a strange way, it is just what I needed, spiritually, and where I am in life right now. Today’s blog post is about acceptance, patience, surrendering, and trusting the process. Sitting with the pain, and working through it. Ouch. As an Enneagram type 7 and manifesting generator (Human Design), these things are hell, but unfortunately things I can no longer ignore.
For the past two years the universe has been telling me that it is time to face my demons, or shadow side, and become more whole. I want to step into the second half of life with confidence, and without the need to constantly wanting to proof myself. Show more self-compassion and stop being so bloody hard on myself. Ask for help. Set boundaries. But gosh, it is a slow process, and I am a slow learner in this area. I have been fighting a grizzly bear for a very long time now, desperate to keep control. But the fight is over. I cannot do it anymore. This is my story, and that of many other strong women.
Tips from a creative business coach
Resilient and strong…better than vulnerable and soft?
My whole life, I have been strong. The eldest daughter, independent, never asking for help. An adventurer, very organised, able to get stuff done and achieve things. “You are so resilient”, I heard on many occasions, and I wore it as a badge of honour. I am a strong woman. I am confident, capable, flexible, creative, intelligent, brave. That became my identity. Strength.
But by the time I hit 40, things started to crumble. I was tired. My body was tired, my mind was a mess. I had gone through two emigrations, miscarriages, traumatic births, I had lost my shop in a fire, and I was trying to be supportive to a husband with chronic health issues, and who had just lost his job. Identifying as the strong one, I naturally made it my task to hold it all together, sailing the family ship through the storms.
We moved to Spain in 2018, and I briefly felt re-energised. A new environment, sunshine, lots of new friends and opportunities. I carved out a new life within a year. A network of inspiring women, an online copywriting business, plenty of days on the beach. What wasn’t to love? But I still hadn’t learnt to sit with my pain. I was escaping into distraction.
I had never given my past traumas time to heal. Meanwhile my eldest son was diagnosed with anxiety and OCD. My husband was not finding his feet in Spain as quickly as I had, and his health issues persisted. Everyone was jealous of my eternal blue sky pictures, but few knew about my internal meltdown. I kept “playing the strong card”, which was my default behaviour, and I chose to carry everyone and everything, for yet another year.
In 2020, the warning lights came on.
In January 2020, I snapped my ACL (knee ligament) during a silly skiing collision with my eldest son. (Knee injuries – if you believe in this kind of thing – are spiritually the sign that your pride and ego are in the way, and that you are carrying too much). I remember feeling so angry and frustrated in those first months of 2020, for being disabled and walking on crutches, needing help, and being dependent. My freedom was taken away from me. I could no longer be strong. I was trying to fight that f&ckin’ grizzly bear again, and the bear was winning. I was imprisoned in my house, and I didn’t even know that a month later I was going to be locked down properly, together with the rest of the world.
In March there was the pandemic. 66 days of a hard lock down in Spain with a disabled leg, two wild noisy kids inside an apartment, and the police driving around the hood to make sure nobody escaped. It was surreal, and it made me feel even more trapped.
Not backing down, and the hard lessons that followed
I finally caught Covid nearly two weeks ago, and nearly two years after the start of this shit show, and it wiped me out. My husband and kids all bounced back after just a couple of days, but not me. The strong one. The captain. The fighter. Brought down to her knees. I thought I had done so much hard inner work in 2021 already, but no, plenty more to do, baby. I even went to my first ayahuasca ceremony last summer, purging out a shed load of baggage. But it took a stupid virus to drag me right back into my process of surrendering. The universe’s way of saying: “You don’t want to listen to me, do you, you opinionated, stubborn woman, with your self-righteous ego and allergy to weakness? Here, take this.”
Every time I felt a bit better, and I immediately started doing stuff, the Covid-consciousness raged through my body telling me to stop. “REST, woman. Stop telling yourself you are weak if you take more time to recover. Just allow yourself to be vulnerable and taken care of, for once.”
Letting go of control is so, so hard for me. I have created this story in my head that if I stop being strong, it all falls apart. And because of this self-proclaimed role of fighter, I cannot stand the moaning and complaining of my children or husband, their aches and their pains, their anxiety and their – in my eyes – negligible issues. “Snap out of it, guys! Pull yourself together! Stop whinging, just deal with it!” I shout. The angry, tired wife and mother, trying to take back control, fighting that bloody bear again, and getting frustrated once again for not getting the desired results.
Allowing yourself to let go and stop fighting
I listened to a podcast this week by a Dutch woman I follow on social media, and she said something that resonated so much. She said:“I don’t like other people being weak, because I am never allowed to be weak myself.” She was describing how I felt to a tee. It wasn’t the weakness in others that was the real issue; this was about my own longing to be carried for a change.
Why is it so hard for women like myself to let go and show vulnerability? Because we are wired this way. Somehow, during childhood and growing up, we were shaped that way. Eldest children often become like this, and, growing up in the Netherlands, with its ‘no nonsense, roll up your sleeves and get on with it’ attitude, it was not surprising that I too developed this trait. Dutch women pride themselves in being strong, tough and able to handle anything. Cycling with two kids on a bike, in the pissing rain with grocery bags hanging from the handle bars? Piece of cake. We are made of steel. I am no exception. A healthy attitude? No. It wears us out in the end. But we don’t like to admit it. We’d rather die than being seen as weak and needy.
Acceptance, trust and surrendering to whatever hardship we are going through, is an art and a hard lesson to learn for people like me. Be honest; how is this for you? The same? The thing is, you can keep fighting the bear, because you want to stay in control, or you can loosen the grip and make life easier for yourself – and those around you. No more fighting will not make the situation disappear, but it may help us to finally move through it.
My coach said to me:”You’ve got to surrender to the flow and current of the river. It is easier to navigate when you don’t constantly try and paddle upstream. The problem is, as women we want to proof that we can do everything, but nobody else actually cares. It’s the story we tell ourselves, that we are not good enough if we stop paddling hard. We are asking way too much of ourselves.”
The other thing is also, that by carrying everything for everyone else, we don’t give others the opportunity to develop coping skills. What would happen if we for once throw our hands up into the air and say:”You know what, I don’t know how to help you today”. Would it end up in chaos? And what if it did?
How this all relates to your business
What does this all have to do with creative business coaching, you may ask. Everything. What I have learnt more than anything during the process of launching and growing my business, is that you have to understand who you are deep inside, completely, weaknesses and all, because your business is yours and flows from you and who you are. For your business to grow faster, you need to feel good. And that means facing and accepting your shadow, the parts of you that you are less proud of. The triggers, your nasty side, the traits you don’t like looking at. If you want to be mature, and run a sustainable business in the long run, you will need to acknowledge your weaknesses as well as your strengths. If you don’t, they will keep popping up as issues and conflicts until you learn, and they can throw up big stumbling blocks on your way to success.
Accepting all of you, and loving yourself for it
Compassion and softness towards ourselves, that is what many of us strong women need. Just because we own a business, does not mean we cannot show vulnerability, or ask for help. Acceptance that we are human, and admitting that we do not know all the answers, is in fact also a sign of strength and maturity. And it is definitely a sign of self-love and energy preservation. Trusting the process, trusting life, and trusting the ability of others to solve their own problems. It is very scary to let go and pause (what about that bear?!), but by doing so, shifts will happen. We may find that the bear is not a grizzly, but can, in fact, become a teddy. Our loved ones may actually thrive when we give them a chance to figure stuff out for themselves.
Our business, too, may blossom when we take a rest, and build up our depleted energy. TLC, slowing down, doing the bare minimum for a week or two. The world will not stop. Your business will not implode if you take a well needed break. Fuel that car.
So my biggest lesson this week? I need to listen to my body. I don’t have to proof to anyone that my Covid is less severe than anyone else’s. Or that my immune system is so super strong. I will get fully better next week, or even next month. It doesn’t matter. It is nothing in a lifetime. I will accept and welcome this virus as an important message, yet another one, to go deeper inward, face my demons, and surrender. I will sail this river, downstream and with ease, and rest on the banks when I need to, before floating down further, choosing only the tasks that come easy to me. No new courses right now, or fancy projects, and hours of sweating at my desk, but simply some reading, some writing, and the weekly calls with my beloved clients.
Whether I will finally learn my lesson, time will tell. God, I hope so. Still, the ‘I am a strong woman’ badge of honour is sewn tightly onto my chest, and it is hard to take off. But perhaps I can embroider it with flowers, or stick a big velvet heart on top of it, to add some much needed softness. Will you join me in becoming softer, and stop playing the strong card all the time? Here is to my fellow strong women; I hand you a big soft velvet red heart for your chest and a bucket full of compassion to pour over yourself. I love you, and I see you. No more fighting the bear, for there is no bear.