Feng Shui-ing Life: Making Room for Change

Last autumn, I had a clear vision of what my goals were, the path to get there and I was ready to leap. I was quitting my job, committing to writing, jumping into the unknown. Now, I must confess, it turned into more of a hop, maybe even just a slight skip.

Cut to a year later, I’m still working part-time, have only dabbled in my first novel’s rewrites, and seem to still run myself ragged until my eyeballs are on fire and I’m living on ibuprofen. Before you whip out your tiny violins, I know I am entirely responsible for where I’ve landed.

There are few times in my life where I thought Coward! I thrive on change and growth, except for this little itty-bitty monstrous part of my personality that thinks I must solve the problems of everyone around me. When I was preparing to leave my job last year, all I could think about was how difficult it would be for my employers to transition the multitude of tasks I’d taken over in the last decade.

Unlike Beyoncé, though, I’m replaceable and I finally gave notice this week. I had just found another excuse, among a minefield of excuses to not do what I needed to do. It’s an alien thought, that I should focus on doing things that make me happy and shed those that do not. So first world – who am I, Tony Robbins? Surely life should be filled with hardship and struggle and misery.

I come from a long line of self-destructive martyrs. In childhood, I learned to be empathic in the household of eggshells. What’s their mood? What can I do to make them happy? Are they okay? Anything to prevent the misery that would ensue if the scales tipped. The punishment, the yelling, the derisive commentary on my lack of…everything. It warped my ideas of what I needed to do to be happy – to feel, at my core, loved and accepted.

As an adult, I have successfully navigated many of the pitfalls associated with my upbringing. I realized that I had a compulsive personality early on, having run through booze, gambling, sex and smoking in rapid order in my 20s. I managed to break free of destructive relationships, got myself to therapy, met and married someone kind and even-tempered. And I’ve worked hard to be a good parent.canstockphoto10851004

The room that contains my life is cluttered, though. I’ve hoarded every negative comment, every false expectation, every circular thought process. They’re boxes, stacked haphazardly in a room that has a weird odor of stale cigarettes and day old burritos. I have spent years stepping around and over boxes, and lately squeezing between hoarded piles of self-doubt and self-loathing.

canstockphoto0404119When I’m in the middle of this room, I’m overwhelmed with no sense of direction. I’ve taken my sweet time to deal with it. I’ve tried not to pass along the hand-me-downs of shame and bitterness. I’ve archived the more self-destructive habits. I’ve shredded mental pictures of mistakes. But being a huge proponent of recycling, I’ve kept the circular thought processes and behavior patterns that inevitably lead me to exhaustion and depression.

It’s time for a clearing out. The Qi cannot flow. While time moves forward, I stay stuck in the middle of this emotional garage sale. I ache from the contortions I’ve taught myself, in order to move among the boxes, twisting and turning this way and that. I have a choice and I’ve been a coward not to make it. Change is hard, but the alternative, banging about in this crowded, musty room for the remainder of my life, seems untenable.

canstockphoto2167329Trying to move or change anything in a cluttered room is often a futile exercise. There’s no leeway to try different locations or angles. There’s no room to see what really fits. It’s just shifting the mess around. The ugly, unkind lamp is still cruel and dismissive. The old chair of regret still triggers painful memories. The box of unrealistic expectations still reeks of cat pee and disappointment.

I’m getting rid of a lot, while still retaining a huge trunk of fears. I tossed a patchwork throw of blind optimism over it. The room is opening up. It turns out, there’s a window. I might buy a plant to put in front of it. I think it would be very happy there.canstockphoto9242043

40 Comments on “Feng Shui-ing Life: Making Room for Change

  1. How fabulous! I am excited for you. Can’t wait to read about your experiences.

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    • I’ve never experienced unemployment. Should be a hoot. As you can imagine, this isn’t without a boatload of anxiety, but I’m hoping I’ll settle down and just be happy for once. What? Less whining at The Green Study? What will I write about?
      Thanks, though, Fransi, I appreciate your optimism (can I keep it?).

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      • No question unemployment is an adjustment in every way, including financial. But it is worth it and you will do fine. Yes, please do keep my optimism.

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  2. “In childhood, I learned to be empathic in the household of eggshells. What’s their mood?”
    You have described my early life in one thoughtful and concise sentence. I have spent years clearing out some of those dusty and hurtful boxes. It can be done.

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    • I think I’ve finally hit the point where I’m asking “why am I still operating from this same scenario?” My life has changed. I have changed. I’m recognizing now that I keep getting in my own way and I have to fix that.

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  3. The flexibility of unemployment is wonderful and you will soon not know how you managed before! Also sounds like you have so much to write about. You will be busier than ever and glad you made the move – I bet you will find the change invigorating as well as challenging. Good luck!

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    • Thanks for the good wishes. I think once I get used to not having a job title, I can really sink into writing. Besides, there’s a little more impetus to “get’er done” when no money is coming in. Although I’m not holding my breath on that count!

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  4. “The room that contains my life is cluttered” — this is an astute perspective (not that I think you are cluttered, but it’s a relatable metaphor). I often think the easiest way to de-clutter is to move. Then you really have to examine what you are hoarding and saving “just in case.” I find it hard to find the motivation to actually CLEAN but when I do and there is so much to get rid of, it feels like many burdens are lifted. Good luck with it.

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    • I was trying to imagine how moving could be translated in this particular metaphor and ended up in weird brain swap land, since I’m referring to internal clutter. And then I tried to see where I went wrong in the metaphor that made it too literal and then I decided that my brain is cluttered because of very moments like this one. I’m tired now. How about you?

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      • I often wonder how much effort it would be to dump all of my house onto the street on a Friday. Let is simmer over a Saturday, and then put back everything I want to keep on Sunday. The idea sounds good, but the effort is far too much. Sometimes we over-think things and relate them to too many other things and forget what we were really trying to say. What was my point here?

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        • Ha!! I don’t know, I got stuck in a visual of dumping my house on the street. We’d be cleaned out in under an hour in this neighborhood. I’m pretty sure we’re surrounded by hoarders.

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        • Oh gee. And then no one would ever be seen again because they’d never find their front doors to get out. I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something as well — internal clutter, etc.

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  5. Wow, good for you Michelle! I recently did this myself (left a steady job and reliable paycheck and health insurance) for the same dream. I finally asked myself, How many more years am I going to waste? I don’t think I’ve experienced fear quite like this before. But just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it’s the wrong decision. I’ve learned to keep moving and that fear carries a little less weight. Best of luck to you!

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    • Thanks for your kind wishes!
      It really makes me think about the nature of fear. There is fear/intuition when danger is near, but there is also fear based on false premise and past experience. I’ve asked myself a thousand “what ifs?”, but I am ready to dive in. The other thing that I think about is how happy I am when I’m writing. Everything is simply better – who knows what might spring from that? I have to believe that the quality of my life will improve overall if a good portion of time is spent doing something I love doing. I may have to be gainfully employed again at some point, but for now, I have an opportunity to see what else might be. Good luck to you as well!

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    • Thanks, Bill. I’m experiencing an anxiety attack that has lasted several days and several sleepless nights. I still don’t know if I’m making the right choice, but I won’t know until I give it a try. Joy has been in short supply and depression always serves as a barometer to indicate it’s time for a change.

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  6. You’re making the right choice! Self-doubt is trying to convince you that you’re not. Reframe your feelings about retiring and put all the positives into that new frame. I’m planning on retiring in a little more than a year. I’ll have no regrets and I won’t be helping them fix the holes I leave behind. We compromisers/savers/fixers/rescuers must take care of ourselves first.

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    • The real irony of being a compromiser/saver/fixer/rescuer is that a lot of that value is simply in my mind. People, when forced to do for themselves, usually do just fine. So using work and “they need me” became an excuse to not make a change. I don’t think of this as retirement. I suspect I will have to work harder than I ever have, going forward, but it will be doing something that holds intrinsic value to me and to my future. Thanks for the encouragement – it’s appreciated!

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  7. I loved this post and it brought so many thoughts. Feng Shui-ing life is good, opening up the inner space so that the good energies can evolve – and you’ve come a long way already! Be encouraged!

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  8. I have nowhere close to your life experience or skill with feng-shui; but I’m trying to undergo a similar life change. I quit my job and relocated to another state on a whim,as well. I haven’t completely landed on my feet, but I hope I do. good luck, and thanks for inspiring.

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    • Some of my best decisions have been made on a whim. It’s hard to know what will work for a person unless you try something different. Most things, with the exception of criminal or unsafe activities, do not have permanence in the trajectory of one’s life. I could be on the verge of a whole new career or simply on respite until I figure out the next one. I haven’t landed on my feet either, but everything takes some time. Good luck and thanks so much for commenting!

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      • No, thank you. Your words are very inspiring right now. No one in my family believes in my choice. Except a few people.

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  9. I have a pet peeve about how the interweb spreads false information (because it makes researching stuff much harder when you’re also finding people’s (wrong) guesses and mis-quotes … just try to find out who actually said, “People get the government they deserve.”).

    So For The Record: Einstein never said that, and it’s a really dumb definition for insanity if you think about it. Any athlete knows better. So do musicians. Practice — which is doing the same over and over to obtain new results — makes perfect (or at least better).

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    • I’m sure there was a more polite way for you to correct me, since condescension is rarely well-received, but I’ve removed the quote and apologized to Einstein. I’ll research future quotes more vociferously, or not use them at all.

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    • I don’t think it’s a dumb definition, Wyrd, and could cite numerous apt examples. (I do actually prefer the quote found in 12-step literature, “The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting different results.”) If I’m doing something that’s yielding particular results and not changing my variables or behaviors–say I’m a swimmer and I habitually skip work-outs or only eat one small meal a day, then I wonder why my work-outs suck and why I’m not getting stronger; or as a runner if I keep getting a blister from my worn out pair of shoes, yet continue to wear those shoes on subsequent runs–logic dictates I’m going to get the same results. If I know my neighbor’s dog bites anyone who pets it, and has bitten me every damn time I’ve tried to pet it, and yet, I *still* try to pet it every time I visit my neighbor, thinking that maybe this time the dog won’t bite this time… well, to me, that’s the definition of insanity, not practice, unless you want to call it practicing insanity.

      I won’t go in to the Einstein attribution, as you and Michelle have nicely discussed it already, but I did want to offer my alternate opinion on the validity of the quote itself.

      Thanks for the forum and the post, Michelle. I’m really enjoying your blog.
      ~ Christy

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      • I think you’re conflating insanity with stubbornness, willfulness or just plain stupidity. They aren’t the same. Your examples aren’t cases of repeating a behavior and expecting different results, but of expecting unreasonable results from a dumb behavior. (And that is really what the 12-step line is getting at: you don’t get positive results from negative behavior.

        There is also that descriptive behaviors are not defining behaviors. One may choose to stretch the idea of insanity metaphorically to make a case that repeating negative behaviors hoping for positive results is insane, but it’s still a descriptive behavior, not a defining one.

        As for poor Einstein, he’s one of the most mis-quoted individuals in history. People try to shore up dumb ideas by making up an Einstein quote to give the idea gravitas and authority. Writers interested in accurate writing need to always take Einstein quotes with a bit of salt! (Alternately, one can use the mis-quote by explicitly naming it as such and proceeding from there.)

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        • Agree on Einstein often being misquoted.

          Disagree on your 12-Step take.

          Respect your thoughts and opinions though.

          Enjoy the rest of your weekend, thanks for the response,

          Christy

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  10. Wow, you deleted my comment (and I assume will this one). Okay, between us then, for the record, I have neither the gift of politeness nor the knack of being endearingly blunt, but absolutely no condescension was meant. I spoke no more than the truth as I saw it. If I said it the wrong way, I’m sorry.

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    • I put it on hold, because my response was snarky. I’ve had a long day and while your correction stung, I recognize that I needed to think on it before responding. Criticism, no matter how it is couched is sometimes hard to take. That’s a more honest and thoughtful response and I should have responded that way initially. Apologies.

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      • No problem; I totally understand the warrior heart — my instinct was to escalate right back, but I’ve been undergoing an epiphany the last few years about my social interface. Suffice to say, I’ve gotten a lot wrong if my goal was being liked. I always thought skill and talent was more important than personality and therefore seriously misjudged the value people place on it. (Sometimes I wonder if, like a beautiful woman, my uber-geekhood took me further in life than my personality warrants.)

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  11. What a powerful and heartfelt post. Those boxes are so pernicious! I hope this change helps. My own boxes are piling up, and I’m also reaching the point where it’s either them or me. I’ve come to realize that even if we’ve had a happy childhood, we spend the rest of our lives getting over it. Emotional Martyrs…that’s about it exactly. That’s what my early life trained me to be, and I don’t want to be that any more.

    I wish you so so well on your endeavor! No matter what you may think of yourself, the simple act of putting in your notice to pursue your dreams is evidence of your courage and determination. Our dreams coincide, so I’ll be pulling for you as I steadily work my way towards fulfilling it. Here’s to clearing away mental and emotional junk!

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    • I often feel embarrassed when I reference my childhood. I’m 46 years old, but still find the lessons I learned there impacting my current life. Because it has taken me this long to realize where some of my rationale originated, some patterns of thought are harder to undo and I have to be deliberate in challenging them. But I am doing that and grateful that it’s sooner than later!

      I have so much blog reading to catch up on, but I just added yours to my reader. We’ll be fellow travelers!

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  12. I’m so happy for you, Michelle. Some wise once told me the only way for change to work is if staying stuck is more painful than the change. Agony, the great motivator!

    And if you really want to look at Feng Shui, the best book is the world is by Minneapolis writer, Carole Hyder. ‘Wind and Water: Your Personal Feng Shui Journey.’

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    • Thanks, Sandy. That is so true – staying stuck has become rather misery-inducing. It usually takes a few rounds with depression before I am tipped off that something is wrong. I’m not looking at it as a miracle cure-all, but I won’t know what the possibilities are until I make room for them.

      I will check out that book. I’ve read some books on Feng Shui just because they interested me. The only change I could manage was changing up some materials and moving mirrors. I like some of the concepts that accompany the actual “to dos”. Thanks for the tip – I like reading local authors as well!

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