Two Words to Remove from Your Vocabulary

“EM! Come here you’ve gotta see this!”

I looked over at my husband beckoning from the other room, waving like an air traffic controller for me to get up.

“No,” I said.

“No?!?”

“No,” I replied without taking my eyes off the TV.

“But Liam is doing P90X!”

Now…there are only a handful of things that would prevent a grown woman from jumping off the couch to see her Kindergartener do bicep curls… and I have to say that Oprah is one of them. This time, it was a 2007 interview between Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love (otherwise known as Fifty Shades of Grey for the spiritual set), re-airing on OWN.

Gilbert was talking about the moment she found herself sobbing on the bathroom floor, pleading with God for direction on whether to stay in a stale marriage – and continue to feel “like a squirrel in a cage” – or get out and see if there was a better life waiting on the other side of fear.

Sounds familiar, huh? It’s a crossroad many of us face, albeit not always quite so dramatic, and a question I certainly hear in the career space all the time:  “Do I stay ‘safe’ in a job I don’t love or jump ship in search of my passion?”

It’s easy to see why stories like Gilbert’s speak to us so collectively and profoundly. There are millions of people – right now – wondering what life would be like if they weren’t “caged” in their job, not to mention living vicariously through others who take risks they’re too scared or comfortable to do themselves.

And yet….despite the obvious benefits of being comfortable, we all live with a tiny inner voice of discontent, one that incessantly reminds us to DO more, BE more, and l-i-v-e more – just like the folks we admire. (And by admire I mean envy.) It’s an epidemic of nagging restlessness that is particularly intense among women.

So…as someone who has reframed my own debate on success, I humbly offer you one subtle shift that’s worked for me: A few years ago, I consciously ditched “if only” from my vocabulary. You know the drill by now, right? “If only’s” give you permission to stay exactly where you are because you’re playing victim to something you don’t have, e.g. “If only I…

…could lose 10 pounds

… lived in a different city

…had rich parents

…had a better boyfriend / husband / partner

…had a better job, etc.

Whatever “it” is… is always just out of reach. Except that it isn’t. Because when you finally call out “if only’s” for what they are (an excuse to play small), you get unstuck because you realize that if anything is going to change, it has to start with you. And that’s what had me so transfixed with Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert, despite the benchpressing five-year-old in the next room.

While she didn’t call them “if only’s,” Gilbert recalled a story from her time at an ashram in India when she was trying to make sense of her life – but in reality she was just playing victim. At that moment her friend Richard Vogt – a Texan also studying at the ashram – interrupted. “Elizabeth,” he said, “don’t wear your wishbone where your backbone should be.” As I was feverishly tweeting that very quote, my five-year-old popped up beside the couch.

“Did you have a good workout?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“So, um, why were you doing that?”

“Because I want to grow some muscles,” he replied, “and I know growing muscles takes a long time.”

Ah, yes. He gets it. No ashram needed.

 

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