In Chinese Medicine our vital force is called “Jing.” It’s imagined as a candle who’s wick will eventually burn out. We only have one candle, so how we burn our flame is important. How we manage our energy has huge consequences for our lives.
When we’re young, we can drive – or be driven – too hard (sometimes it’s not a choice but a question of survival, sometimes it’s ambition, sometimes it’s proving ourselves). When we burn our Jing too quickly – one of those ways being stress or self-suppression— we encounter health problems later on. We call this “aging,” or, literally, burn out. When really it’s the mis-use, up until that point, of our Jing.
A few years ago, I started having health problems related to my thyroid, which I mentioned in the video blog Smart Women and Success, and in the written blog When is it ok to take a break/brake? I couldn’t get off the couch I was so exhausted. Dr. Christianne Northrup who integrates Eastern/Western modalities of healing relates the thyroid to self-expression – being able to speak your truth (the thyroid is located in the throat area). It’s also related to cortisol levels spiking- stress can attack your thyroid.
What I didn’t know then, that I know now, was that I was going through the last of many attempts I had made to self-realize the dream I held in my heart with who I was in the world. I was being shown by my Jing, my own life force, that now was the time to either live my own self-expression or continue to decline. Stress was the wave that had been smashing against the shore of my life, shaping and sculpting my immunity – my ability to be resilient, and was creating erosion at the foundational level of my basic health. It was a question of sink or swim.
I spent my 20’s trying to free myself from (avoid) limiting societal options of who I could be. Seeking freedom first through spiritual connection, I travelled to where the founders of the religions and cultural traditions I had studied lived. Returning to Canada broke and inspired, I began an astrology business (this might not make sense but it was related to the intuitive and otherworldly places I had been spending time). Barely scrapping by and working 2 other jobs, I found my way to an ashram in BC where I was led to examine all my internalized beliefs about… everything. Specifically, my own disempowerment and low sense of agency to shape my world. Underneath my spiritual idealism was a pessimism about living in the world and my ability to influence it. A doubt that I had influence and an avoidance to get in the ring and try as a result. Despite the world often breaking my heart and despite my wanting to.
So I took on working with youth at risk, running a small not-for-profit: working with those who also felt marginalized, not heard, unseen, and with a pessimism that, they too, could influence their own lives or the world. And with this work, my low sense of agency crept in again. Seeing the “drop in the bucket” that I was making to the “cycle of harm” the kids I worked with were up against, I pursued an MA in Human Systems Intervention to have the tools to influence social change.
After graduating, I started my own business and luckily became involved with impressive culture change initiatives fairly quickly, however my underlying low sense of agency remained- revealing itself through my finances.
Chalking it up to “not knowing what I was doing” as a new business owner, not charging the rates that were standard to my industry, not learning the systems and processes that would make my business thrive, and not assuming that my own well-being was a necessary component of my ability to serve well (and hiding that I was not doing well from others as a source of shame because I was attempting to convey “success”) my low sense of agency showed up in a business run on shoestrings. I didn’t ask for what was fair and I didn’t get it. My default position was to take the path of least resistance when it came to asking for what was the industry standard rate for my services, underlyingly assuming the worst about the world’s response when it came to supporting me. I mistrusted that the world was here for me to offer my services, shine my light, and share my gifts. As we are all here for.
I was deeply disempowered, unsupported, and blamed myself that, despite trying, I wasn’t where I wanted to be in life. Because who else was there to blame in the land of opportunity. Right?
Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist and corporate consultant, names two kinds of self-esteem. One “is the disposition to experience oneself as being competent to cope with the basic challenges of life.” I’d always thought I did ok in this area. It’s the “confidence in the efficacy of our mind, in our ability to think.” I’d been brought up to speak my mind, and thought I did.
The second is “being worthy of happiness.” It is also the experience that success, achievement, fulfillment – happiness – are right and natural for us.” And when this second form of self-esteem is low, it effects the first. And that was tough to admit to myself. Because, actually, confidence in “the efficacy of our mind,” is to have faith that our mind will produce a desired or intended result.” And, when we don’t assume we can be successful, achieve, or be fulfilled as right and natural, it effects our ability to make appropriate choices and decisions for ourselves, and respond effectively to change in our lives – it rocks our “confidence in our mind, in our ability to think.” And the realization that investing in myself as the captain of my own life was not entirely wise because I did not, ultimately, steer my ship toward what I most wanted, rocked me.
Tara Mohr talks about two kinds of mindsets. The “inner critic” versus the “realistic thinking” mindset. The realistic thinking is intellectually curious and relaxed, the inner critic hyper vigilant and anxious. Women are often hyper vigilient – on the lookout for what is not ever good enough about their looks, thoughts, and actions. And so, horribly, we steer our ships toward not good enough. And then we don’t put up our hand, we don’t seize opportunities as they arise, we don’t think outside the box, we don’t advocate for our ideals, we don’t lead the change we seek because it feels dangerous…
And it is dangerous when we start our own businesses, start listening to our inner artist, or take a leadership position, and then shut down possibilities before we explore them, remaining conservative and risk-adverse, or don’t invest in what we want to see happen… which is what the inner critic does. And when she’s running the ship, that’s what we end up doing. Shutting ourselves down because our default is to do that. Because we’ve been socialized to do that. Until we are that.
The shame I felt then (and which still feels familiar at times – like a distant cousin) around the apparent success and privilege I had (well educated, an entrepreneur, a leadership development consultant) and the very real disempowerment I felt, led me down a long and gradual road of undoing my unhelpful internalized beliefs and lack of “realistic thinking” – which caused the psychological and financial disempowerment of my twenties and early thirties.
So the call to action of my coaching practice isn’t simply a branding decision, nor the experience of my clients alone: it’s also the culmination of the most powerful learning and wisdom of my adult life. To step into my own sovereignty, and to live in the world from a lack of apology, grandiosity, or pretence, but faith in my own sincere offering and value, is what closed the gap from disempowerment to a sense of Royal Ease. Because I’ve lived the internal grief, suffering and stress that women experience from not getting behind themselves. I’ve been fighting my way of out disempowerment for most of my life. And every time a female client I work with comes to me about anything, it’s always, fundamentally, her relationship with herself.
Her willingness to show up for herself, take responsibility for herself, to love herself, have faith in herself, and support herself as if she were her only child. Honouring the care of her Jing. Her vital force. This becomes the thing. That bridges us to what we are most called to step into and become.
Learn more about my individual coaching programs here.
Watch out for the Fall group coaching program link (Step Into Your Sovereignty 2.0) in my next blog post.
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