When I began my “Hands Free” journey, my focus was on letting go of the external distraction in my life. However, the more I address my external distraction, the more aware I become of my internal distraction. And what I have discovered is that my harsh inner critic prohibits me from grasping the moments that matter just as much as my electronic devices do.
But I recently made a momentous breakthrough in my battle to silence my internal distraction and hear my victory song of self-acceptance.
If you are interested in putting the emphasis on the word ‘free’ in your “Hands Free” journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters, please read on.
This is my story …
I recently stopped at a beauty salon to grab a product. My eyes were drawn to a lovely bride-to-be sitting in a chair. The stylist was adjusting the bridal hairpiece and asking questions about its placement.
I couldn’t help but notice the anxiety in the young woman’s eyes. Uncertainty gripped her youthful, unlined face. I immediately recognized that pained expression – the one that screamed, “It’s got to be perfect.”
The stylist swiveled the chair around and now all I could see was the back of the bride’s head. Her gorgeous waves of strawberry-blonde hair were being gripped tightly, stifling their lively spirit. The pressure had begun – and it would not stop until perfection was achieved.
I could see decades of pressure ahead.
Suddenly it was no longer a nameless young bride sitting in that chair; it was me, my twenty-six-year-old self in nervous preparation for her wedding day.
I wanted nothing more than to take 1997 Rachel by the hand and guide her away from the disapproving mirror and hair-do vigilante.
I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around my young, naive self and whisper words of assurance and love.
After expressing some much needed comfort to 1997 Rachel, things would get serious. I would look my impressionable self in the face and say, “I have something critical to tell you. And it will affect the rest of your life.”
And then I would not stop talking until I said what I needed to say.
These would be my words:
What I am about to tell you is freedom.
You see, you’re going to feel a lot of pressure in your lifetime – pressure to do things at 110 percent performance level, pressure to look and act a certain way, pressure to be all things to all people.
And you are going to THINK that the pressure is coming at you from all directions, but in most cases, it’s not.
That unrelenting pressure is going to come from one place.
It is going to come from you.
So in order to spare yourself a lot of stress and pain, I am telling you to take the pressure off.
Take the pressure off.
1. Unite with authenticity. When you choose friends with whom to associate, choose those who are real and allow you to be real. Can you be yourself around this person? Can you reveal your imperfections and remain loved and accepted? If so, friends like those are keepers. Surround yourself with those who lift you up, not those who bring you down.
2. Choose For Yourself. Refrain from making choices in your life in an effort to please others – your boss, co-workers, family members, and friends. Do what makes YOU happy. Do what makes you feel alive and fulfilled.
3. Be good to your body. Move your body each day because you can … and that is a gift. Strive to put healthy foods in it, yet don’t deprive yourself of life’s delicious indulgences. Spend time strengthening your mind, soul, and spirit rather than wasting precious time trying to look like a photoshopped image in a magazine.
4. Measure wisely. Strive for a measurement of success that is not tied to money, status, or appearance. Are you happy? Do you laugh often? Are your children kind and loving? Have you made a difference in someone’s life? Did you accomplish something you didn’t think you could do? If the answer is “yes” consider this success.
5. Seek every day miracles. Spot a flower in the crack in the pavement. See messages in the sky. Marvel at the symmetry of a child’s eyelashes. Trace the lines of your lover’s hand. When you focus on life’s simple joys, you connect to something far greater than yourself. This keeps life’s petty inconveniences into perspective. Being late for an appointment, having a garment ruined at the dry cleaner, and waiting in line at the post office line suddenly aren’t such a “big deal” in contrast to life’s miracle moments.
6. Let go. You are going to make mistakes – lots of them. Don’t keep reliving mistakes – that is cruel and unnecessary punishment. Learn from them, forgive yourself, and move on.
By now 26-year-old Rachel might be questioning my advice to take the pressure off (she was known to be quite stubborn at times). She might argue that she likes to please others, that she that she likes to make extreme sacrifices for quality results, and that she likes everyone to think everything is fine even when it’s not.
That is when I will show her pictures of my recent 40th birthday celebration.
You see, when I was twenty-six I expected myself to do something momentous on the day I turned forty. Like prove how youthful-looking I still was, or how professionally successful I had become, or reveal the profound impact I had made on the world by engaging in endless volunteer efforts.
But eighteen-months before I turned forty-years-old, I “got it.” And when I finally “got it,” I fell to my knees at the top of an Alabama hill with thirty-eight years of self-inflicted pain soaking the front of my shirt.
That is day my life changed – and with that, the plans for my momentous fortieth birthday did, too.
On my 40th birthday, I did something I had yearned to do all my life.
I took the pressure off.
I surrounded myself with those who lift me up …
I danced and sang with the one I love and didn’t give a damn what I looked or sounded like …
I indulged and savored every sweet bite and didn’t count a single calorie …
I allowed my true emotions to flow freely at the unexpected arrival of my sister …
I relished the miraculous fact that my parents and my children were alive on this momentous day and we were all together in one place …
And on a whim, I put on my wedding dress. The last time I wore this dress I was walking down an isle into an exciting and undiscovered part of my life.
And now here I was, fourteen years later, stepping into a room where my five-year-old and eight-year-old daughters sat quietly unsuspecting of what they were about to see.
When I entered, two small jaws dropped. Words of admiration spilled out and embraced me with the kind of unconditional love I had deprived myself of for far too long.
And when I turned to do a twirl, I didn’t even bother to explain why the zipper stopped right below my shoulder blades, refusing to budge the last two inches.
The reason, or should I say ‘reasons,’ my wedding dress no longer zipped closed stood staring up at me. My heart had grown two sizes since I wore this dress fourteen years ago.
And with that wondrous realization, I twirled around the room with two of the greatest blessings in life.
As my children and I delighted in this exquisite moment when my past providentially merged with my present, words of a treasured friend came back to me.
She wrote, “I thought I would really hate turning forty, but I can honestly say that forty is freedom.”
Forty is freedom.
Why yes, forty IS freedom.
The pressure’s off.
And by the grace of God, it’s not too late for me to really start living.
Sweet freedom, in deed.
Do you put unnecessary pressure on yourself? Does your inner critic tell you to look a certain way, achieve a certain level of success, or lead you to believe you are not a good enough spouse, parent, or human being?
Isn’t time to let go of this unachievable standard and start loving yourself right where you are today?
My friends, self-forgiveness is a powerful thing.
And it is not an exclusive gift for those turning forty, nor is it something you must get from someone else.
Taking the pressure off is a gift you give yourself.
Why not give it to your 2012 self today?
* If you feel this is a worthy message, please share it with some you love. And if you would like to find a place where other people are striving to let go of external and internal distraction, simply “like” our supportive community, The Hands Free Revolution, on Facebook to receive daily inspiration and ideas for grasping the moments that matter!