The other day, one of my coaching clients - let’s call her Rae - told me a painful and familiar story, one that I’ve heard versions of from many people I work with.
Rae is mama to a young child and she also wants to be a visual artist. With support and encouragement, she recently got some childcare in place, began researching art classes and places to exhibit her work, and having inspiring conversations with established creatives who weave together their artistic and family lives.
When she told her sister about her brave exploratory actions, she was shocked and hurt to be met with this response:
“I must say, I’ve never thought you were a very good artist,” her sister exclaimed.
“And artists always struggle financially,” she added.
“Rae, I just want to help prevent you wasting your time and energy.”
What the heck?
Why is that sometimes our closest people are unable to support us as we take brave new steps – or even directly undermine our efforts?
Here’s where what I call the “seedling phenomena” comes in.
If you’re courageously planting seeds of change or even just daring to dream of tender new possibilities for your life – especially the kind that thrill and terrify you in equal measure! – then you, my darling, are a precious little seedling.
And this next piece of wisdom is for you.
So, here’s the deal:
Let’s take Rae as our example.
One day, she may well be an established artist: thriving, confident, with a studio, a disciplined daily practice, and handfuls of successful exhibits and grant applications under her belt. Drawing on my metaphor, Rae’s creative life, when developed to this extent, might then be akin to a hearty oak tree.
At that point, whenever ‘storms’ of criticism, fear, or judgment from others might blow her way – whether from her sister, a friend, or random ‘haters’ on the internet - you can bet her well-established root system and solid trunk would sustain Rae’s faith in herself and her chosen path and be unlikely to do any lasting damage.
At such a mature stage, Rae would likely know with confidence and clarity that those judgments belong to other people and that she doesn’t need to take them on.
But she’s not that powerful tree right now - and if you’re reading this, you likely aren’t either!
Here’s the crucial message I want you to hear: when you are at the seedling stage of creating change, you and your process are vulnerable.
Further, nothing’s ‘wrong’ with you for feeling or being this way: fragility is a natural developmental stage of early growth (think plants, babies, any new life form)!
So, when you’re a seedling, you damn well deserve protection, boundaries, and very tender cultivation:
Because, at this time, someone’s harsh words or cruel actions might be enough to squash your courageous emergent growth.
You almost certainly already grapple with your own inner landscape and toggle between fear and faith, exhilaration and doubt: you absolutely do not need to add anyone else’s fears or judgments to your plate.
When you’re a seedling, it may not take much to all to knock you off course.
With only a few sharp jabs of interference or even just one withering comment delivered at an excruciating moment, you may find yourself putting your dream on the shelf and shuffling back to the familiar status quo, obediently aligning yourself with your family or your culture’s ‘should’s’ or the voices of fear in your own head.
Forget it. Before I even take a chance on the creative career my heart dreams of, I better stop wasting my time and money, and just take that secure office job like my dad advises.
What the hell was I thinking, contemplating a divorce that feels so scary but also so right in my bones and my gut? My best friend is right: ‘good people’ stay married.
So, how do you optimally protect yourself and your dreams when you’re a seedling?
To start, here are the three groups of dream-killers I witness most often and encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for:
1. The people closest to us often hold the most fear for us. It’s not because they’re ‘bad’ or ‘unsupportive’ – to the contrary, it’s because they love and care for us that they wish to prevent our suffering. Sometimes when they see us pursuing directions they believe won’t serve us well or work out for us (according to their worldviews and values, I might add!), they almost can’t help themselves from cautioning us away from the risks of uncertain new paths.
2. The people who will be directly impacted by the choices we make. Please repeat after me: these folks cannot be neutral - cannot necessarily or easily and simply reflect or cheer on our desired changes – and we should not expect them to be neutral. Your spouse or your boss may not be thrilled when you announce that you want to quit your six-figure job at the bank to open a bakery. They’re allowed to not be thrilled. If you turn down the opportunity to run your parents’ family business, your choice directly affects them: their fantasies, their retirement/estate planning, and more. They may well feel stressed or disappointed. Your dreams, those dear little new seedlings, may well impact someone else’s life and evoke uncomfortable or even painful feelings for them - and that’s OK. [This doesn’t mean your dreams are ‘wrong’ or ‘bad!’]
3. The dream-killers who are living tight, constrained, too-small lives, who unconsciously spray toxic fear and regret over those around them. Whether friends, family, or colleagues, these are the ones who often sling passive-aggressive comments that ding you out of nowhere. The friend who’s stuck in her own soul-sucking corporate job recoils when you muse on your freshly articulated longings: “What?!!! You’re planning to leave the bank?! Have you not been paying attention to the economy lately? Why would you ever risk letting go of your pension?” Your dad, who never gave himself permission to pursue the love of his life, who followed the call of duty and toed the family line by staying in a desperately unhappy marriage, doesn’t have it in him to comprehend and support your conscious choice to seek a separation or polyamory or not get married. (In Rae’s case, I learned that her sister has some big creative dreams of her own that she has not yet dared to pursue, making her opinions of Rae highly suspect).
Ok, so you’ve got your seedling and you’re prepared to consciously protect it.
You’ve got three groups of dream-killers to be mindful of.
Grab a piece of paper and a pen.
Not just in your mind.
Grab ‘em. Really.
This will take 5 minutes, max.
Divide the page into two columns.
At the top of the left-hand column, write the header: “My Cheerleaders.”
In the right-hand column, please pen: “Currently Not Allowed to Tend this Seedling.”
(Or whatever wording floats your boat, along these lines.)
And then do the obvious:
Write down your cheerleaders: the people who are capable of and deserve to be entrusted to help you care for this particular ‘seedling.’
The ones who will water your wee new root system by holding a stubborn faith in you, no matter what.
The ones who will fertilize your unfurling first leaves, managing their own reactions (when needed) and deeply respecting your unfolding path and inner wisdom.
The ones who will plant a scaffolding stake beside your spindly little stem, because they’ve dared to walk courageous paths and taken wise, bold risks themselves. They recognize Truth in another person and you can bet your ass they’ve got your back.
The ones who will weed out an encroaching plant or cut back an overhanging branch to let the sun shine on you full force, who will encourage you to keep going when you hit inevitable moments of fear or can’t see around a limit that just sideswiped your progress.
Peeps who fit those criteria belong on your cheerleading team – and no one else.
If you don’t have enough people in your life to be on this invaluable team, you might want to consider hiring a coach: someone who will absolutely cheer on your authentic dreams, help you when you stumble or hit barriers and keep you fuelled, energized, and well-resourced for a journey of change.
You can also enlist role models and guides from afar, by writing down the names of daring, vital, inspiring risk-takers on your cheerleading list (including those you have never met or will likely ever meet), people who you just know would be whooping for your seedling, by virtue of the lives they live/d.
It is written in the Talmud (the encyclopedic compilation of Jewish moral and ethical debate) that, “every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘grow, grow.’
Claim your angels on your cheerleading list.
The aspiring singer might put Nina Simone on her list and take heart in listening to interviews or watching documentaries to remind herself of the trials and tribulations that Nina endured on her winding roads, knowing that this icon would want her to pursue her dreams, contribute her unique gifts to the world, and to not play small.
The 54 year-old pursuing a new career path might write down examples of others who also dared to make a bold change later in life, like some of these mind-blowing ‘late-bloomers.’
Finally, just as important as knowing who your cheerleaders ARE, head to the other column and write down the people who are NOT permitted the privilege of accompanying you firsthand and hearing about your seedling venture – for now.
These are the ones whose permission and opinion you will not seek, whose ear you won’t invite when you need some listening and brainstorming, and with whom you won’t attempt to celebrate your latest milestone or hurdle overcome.
I encourage you to not waste your precious energy trying to convert those folks into your cheerleading team or raging against them (outwardly or in your mind and heart) for the support they are unable and/or unwilling to give you.
I know it’s not always easy, but please, save your energy for the path you’re walking, the life you want, the commitments, projects, relationships and explorations that feel most true to you.
It’s seedling time.
You are absolutely entitled to set boundaries in order to care for your dreams.
In fact, from my perspective, YOU MUST.
Of course, to be clear, you’ll talk to a partner, friend, boss, sibling or parent, in due time about things that need to be addressed or discussed, the issues or choices that affect them or require their participation – but they aren’t invited to be part of your cheerleading team at the nascent stages, when they’re not well-suited to the task.
Perhaps when you’re a sapling, maybe when you’re an established tree, almost certainly when you’re wizened old stock, you may choose to expose yourself to any audience you please.
In that future, you’ll no doubt be delighted and amazed at your resilience.
But for now, sweet little seedling, for now - and I’m talking to Rae and so many of my clients and perhaps YOU – this is the season to fiercely protect yourself.
Your vision, your longings, your energy, your mindset, your daring, your tiny steps and your big leaps, they deserve - and require - your utmost care and the best possible community of support.
It’s going to take everything you’ve got to manage yourself and stay the course – so, reach out to your cheerleaders, keep those who not your cheerleaders at bay (at least with regards to this specific seedling until the time is right), and here’s to YOU cultivating important new growth in your life and in our world.
Please let me know your thoughts and or any next steps in the comments below.
I’d love to hear them.
P.S. If you want even more of a pep talk on bolstering your courage to live a life that’s true to you, and not letting the critics get you down or hold you back, please check out Brene Brown in her talk, “Why Your Critics Aren’t the Ones Who Count.”
Nicola Holmes is a Life Coach who works with individuals and facilitates “The Expansion Circle,” a transformative group program for women. Nicola helps people who are feeling stuck or struggling to realize their goals; overwhelmed by life change; or determined to ‘level up’ & turn their dreams into reality. She’s also mama to two young and spirited kids, community-minded, a CBC-lover, voracious reader, and is currently obsessed with podcasts! Join Nicola’s Facebook community or join the email party to access inspiration and resources to fuel the changes you yearn for.