Delivering Chaos
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Delivering Chaos

I’m not okay, you’re not okay. Let’s start there.

A few months ago I was in my Uber coming home from work when I finally admitted to myself that I was not ‘OK.’ I was quite frankly in too much pain to lie to myself any longer, the truth was there at my front door and it refused to leave until I fully acknowledged it.

My next few thoughts went something like, “Why am I pretending to be okay? And who else is not okay?” I thought, “Most likely 80% of people are not okay in this very moment, but are pretending to be… Why?” This thought made me laugh out loud at the absurdity and clarity. There is so much pretending going on, how ridiculous..what the hell are we doing as a population?

This line of thinking quickly took me back to a moment in my psychologist’s office over 8 years ago, when she leaned forward, with her hands clasped looking me dead in the eye and called me on my bull shit. (This is why I pay her). She said, “Kate, 99% of what people come to me for, you are great at. But what you truly suck at… is not being okay.” I stayed quiet as this honesty filled the room and reverberated through every fiber of my being. My body screamed “YEP. NAILED IT.”

Why am I so bad at it?

Good question. Many reasons of course: I am highly attuned to other people’s comfort and discomfort levels, I know what is socially acceptable, I understand other people’s capacity for certain types of emotional truth within moments of talking to them. It’s a superpower of mine. Secondly, my profession and passion in life is in helping other people develop and reach their full potential, I am an executive coach. I am grounded in personal development theory, I think about self-improvement on the daily- it’s my drug of choice. I work on myself and I help others work on growing, changing, and excelling. I love it. I have been a student of Positive Psychology since I was 16. My interest in learning how to thrive vs just surviving has never ceased. This profession and passion of mine is appreciated, accepted, and aligned nicely with the values of our culture. Finally, to top it off, I have a positive and upbeat disposition, I laugh a lot, I smile a lot, I’m confident, I have trained myself to be an optimist in my thinking, I’m strong and independent. Therefore, most people have no clue when I’m not okay. Only a handful of close friends can tell. This has allowed me to fly under the radar with my not okay-ness for years, it has allowed me to lie to others and to myself for extended periods of time. So yeah, no wonder I’m fucking terrible at not being okay, I’m a goddamn PRO at being okay. Look, I don’t even do yoga because I don’t want to sit with the physical pain of my own body. This truth is everywhere.

Yet, as a coach, I have had to face this part of myself. As life would have it, the most important lessons will show up at every turn until you finally learn them. When I am sitting with an executive, I have to sit with their pain, their anger, their deep-seated fear, their anxiety, all without trying to fix it for them. And man do I want to fix that shit. Some days are easier than others and some days I just want to patch them up with positive affirmations, words of support, and the coziest cashmere blanket I can find. I desperately want to remove their pain and discomfort. But this craving of mine is about my capacity, my fear, not theirs. It’s about my ability to stay in the room with them, to not put my guard up, to let them know it’s safe to stay there and unpack that feeling. Because the annoying truth still stands, the discomfort is the map to where the gold is. It’s the critical information begging to be looked at. Underneath all that pain and discomfort is the goddamn treasure chest.

Therein lies the lesson. The lesson in bravery. The lesson of how to not be okay. It’s the hardest fucking thing to do. Who willingly walks into the center of their pain and discomfort? Nothing in the human brain is designed to support this action. Your amygdala (your fear center), still reigns as champion and leader in your mind. We are fundamentally wired to stay alive and to avoid threats. Pain is perceived as a threat to the brain. So, it’s no wonder that as a collective we are so bad at this, and why we function in a society of pretending. It makes perfect sense.

This brings me to our current situation. The pandemic. While I have felt the full range of negative emotions around this situation, I also noticed this very subtle glow, the glow of connection, and humanity.

For the first time, in a very long time, we are all being forced out of our pretending roles. We are all not okay. There is no way of running from it and there is no lying about. It’s not just knocking at our doors, it blew the damn roof off the house and took what it pleased, leaving some in total ruin. While a portion of the population is doing better than others due to their circumstances, there is, without a doubt a new raw level of not-okay-ness in the world. There is no more room or energy for pretending.

So what do you do when there is nowhere left to hide? You do the craziest shit, you open the damn door, you open all of the windows and you let it in.

As a coach, I can’t possibly leave you without something that might help you with this. Learning to sit with discomfort and pain is a life long practice, and well, what better time to start?

I have come to liken this practice to showing my house. (How perfectly my metaphors work right now…) I envision going to the front door of my house, greeting, allowing, and welcoming the pain and discomfort into my house. We look at each other with a bit of fear and a bit of anxiety. We are both quite frankly surprised that I opened the door in the first place. Then patiently, together, we slowly tour around each room. I never know which room the fear or anxiety will start in or how much space it will take up but I have learned I am not there to control it. I am there to follow it, not direct it. It’s a delicate creature with a quick temper and lots of feels, but if I treat it with respect it leaves me be. If I push it to go more quickly through the house it gets pissed, if I place judgment on it, it grows stronger. So I patiently walk with it gently, and curiously as it examines the details of each room. I track it slowly through my body as it moves. Sometimes it’s cold, sometimes it’s hot and sometimes it has questions for me. Often it will stop and sit down for a bit in a particular room, sometimes that room is my heart and sometimes it is my upper chest. When it sits down, all I can do is breathe deeply through it and keep letting it be. Eyes open, present. The calmer I stay, the more quickly it moves from room to room. It’s fucking brutal. Eventually, when it’s good and ready, (and not a minute sooner) it will be satisfied with the showing and graciously leave.

Some days it needs a full tour. Other days it is a fierce wind that demands I open all the windows and allow it to blow right through the house. It’s gone as quickly as it showed up. The key is in the allowing and the welcoming. It’s opening the door, willingly. It’s always the last thing I want to do. It’s always the best thing I can do.

That’s my practice. It’s a bitch. I’m still working on it. But like every good real estate agent, my showings get better over time.

My friend asked me the other night, “If you could change one thing about society what would you change?” I answered quickly with, “I fundamentally believe if we could all learn how to not be okay, that might just change our world.” When we learn how to be with our own pain and discomfort, then we can sit with other people’s suffering without shying away or putting up our armor to protect ourselves or fix it. We then give the world permission to stop pretending. And when we stop pretending, and move through the pain, the color comes back into our lives. This is where we find the vibrancy, the soul-feeding humanity, the full-bodied laughter, the in depth-connection, the god damn treasure chest.

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Kate MacAleavey

Envelope pusher. Executive coach. Culture transformer. Magic maker. Your biggest supporter. Irish swearer. Built for the mischievous and the bold.