My friend Ann and I were chatting a week or so ago about a project she was thinking of doing. Ann is one of the smartest chicks I know – she’s a technical writer and an extremely engaged parent, whose sweet, gleeful children could converse with heads of state and leave the diplomats craving more.
Ann has been pretty shell-shocked by the election fallout. She spent the first week assuring her ½ Filipino, ½ white, 100% American kids that they would not be deported. Then, during Week 2, Ann was personally on the receiving end of a racial slur by a neighbor who expressed his pleasure at the prospect that “people like you” (Filipino Moms, apparently) will be “going back” (where? to Manhattan? SMH/shrug/ignorant/whatever, dude). In that same moment, she was on the receiving end of alliance and defense by a bystander.
Suffice it to say, it’s been a mixed bag.
Ann’s been spending a lot of time thinking about how to convert frustration and sadness and anger into thoughtful action. She’s done this in a bunch of ways, being a very proactive participant in school district communications around the election and teaching the Girl Scout troop she leads about tolerance and alliance.
But when we were messaging the other day, she sent me the photo of this sign, told me she was thinking of having her Girl Scouts sell them, and asked for my honest take on whether I would put one front of my house:
My house is elevated off the street level by about 40 stairs, so it’s not the best place to showcase messages if you want anyone else to see them. But I liked the sign and the intention behind it. Even more, I liked where her impulse to do this project came from. I honor and appreciate her internal character and love, the things about her that would even make it occur to her to be involved with such a project. And I wanted to tell her so.
Ann is analytical, so she had run some numbers. Our chat thread went like this:
Ann: If I sell this many signs and donate this much from each to the ACLU, we should be able to donate $200. Does that make sense?
Me: No. It doesn’t make sense that you would spend that much time selling and delivering signs to give $200. You could just write them a check for that.
Ann: I know. I did already. To them, and Planned Parenthood and the Southern Poverty Law Clinic, and, and, and.
Me: I know you did, girl. What I’m saying is I don’t think it pencils. But I think you should do it anyway. The math doesn’t matter. Whether it makes sense or not is the right decision rule.
You should do it because you feel an urge to, and I think that’s a sign you’re onto something. Do it because it’s just a pure and beautiful thing to do. And because it’s out of love that you’re doing it. And because it’s so powerful and will be such a memorable thing for these little girls, to be a part of this. But also just do it because it’ll make you feel so good, Ann.
But, no it doesn’t make sense. And I think you should do it anyway. And please set two aside for me, thanks.
Ann: *thumbs up
So she did it. She just started doing it a few days ago. And she is really, really onto something.
Within a couple of days, I started to see dozens of Facebook posts from people I know putting these in their yards. Not only had Ann made herself feel good, she’d created this gorgeous upswell of connection and love and conversation and emotion. It’s given families who didn’t feel they had any other way to be heard a way to voice their love, and to connect with each other. People were posting photos, other people in their circles were asking to order signs, and within a few days she had cut the first $400 check to the ACLU. And she’s just getting started.
Image: Some of Ann’s Signs, in Action NOTE: If you want your own, email inthishouseproject at gmail dot com.
Here’s the principle: the older I get, the more I realize how important it is to feel good about a decision or a project, before I move forward on it. I say this not because I’m selfish, or a hedonist. I say this because once I worked a lot of old outdated triggers out of my system, and my emotions were grounded more often than not, I started to notice that my emotions are an incredible, instant, God-given source of wisdom, clarity and direction.
If I feel bad about something, it’s not the right thing. Even if everyone else thinks it’s a great opportunity or idea. And if I feel great or expansive about something, even something that doesn’t seem like the best use of time or resources, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.
We have this idea that good things must be hard, or that the struggle is real, or that there’s great honor in doing things that we don’t want to do because someone else thinks they are responsible or worthwhile.
But I’ve found that the things I just plain old want to do, love to do and desire to do, are often worthwhile and wildly more fruitful than things I’m doing out of obligation.It is in-built in the human spirit to want to do things that serve something bigger than you. Often even very hard work on these sorts of projects feels easy and energizing to do. I’ve learned basically all of my love-driven activities and decisions elevate my emotional state, and they elevate those around me, though, whether they’re for the Benefit of Humanity or they’re purely for fun.
Allow me to correct the messages you might have received from culture. Joy, love, fun, I just want to, I feel called to: these are all worthy reasons to do something. Let this guide you. On behalf of the world, I beg you, let this guide you.
By the same token, internal turbulence, tightness and discord are a beautiful guidance system. This, I’ve seen and learned over and over again. I’ve seen it so often, in fact, that now I just listen and make the needed adjustments, quick-like and without attachment. Without upset. Most of the time, without complaining. I’ve learned to see it as a treasure when I get these sorts of feelings, because I’m grateful for the guidance and I know it will pass.
And so many beautiful things have come into my attention and focus and life, as a result of making these adjustments.
Let’s take this Inaugural Writing Challenge, for instance. Issuing it was an impulse, which felt so strong and so good that I just followed it. I followed it even though people were like wait: are you charging people for this? Nope. I followed it even though it took probably close to 75 hours of extra time out of this last month or so.
And I would do it all over again, right now, in a heartbeat. It has been one of the most delightful, juicy, free-flowing work experiences I’ve ever had. And it’s been FRUITFUL: I’ve gotten to share in the shifts people have experienced while participating in this, I’ve been able to connect with people around a lot of previously untold bits of my own story, and I’ve had incredible new insights into what I’m being called to do.
Long/short is, your emotions can be a wise divining rod for the projects, decisions and relationships you choose, if you allow them to be, and if you tend to them so that you start from a baseline of grounded-ness, not triggered-ness. Then, when you get a leap in your spirit about something, please follow it. And when you get a gut warning, follow that, too.
P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 29 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.