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Our heart always knows the way – a wholehearted story

July 30, 2017

heart

Frustrated in the quest to find work and a life you love? Don’t despair, the greatest truth is that our heart always knows the way. 

This is the first guest post in our Wholehearted Stories series on Quiet Writing. I invited readers to consider submitting a guest post on their wholehearted story. You can read more here.  

In essence, Quiet Writing celebrates wholehearted living and writing, career and creativity and I am keen for a community of voices to be telling their story of what wholehearted living means here in this space. In this way, we can all feel connected on our various journeys and not feel so alone. Whilst there will always be unique differences, there are commonalities that we can all learn from and share to support each other.

I am thrilled to have my dear friend, Katherine Bell, as the first ‘Wholehearted Stories’ contributor. Katherine and I met through an online course, The Introvert Effect, created by Katherine Mackenzie-Smith. When I talked on a group phone call about my planned transition to a more wholehearted way of life, Katherine reached out to me afterwards, sensing a connection in our stories. We have been firm and amazingly synchronistically connected friends ever since, supporting each other and sharing a love of books and especially of David Whyte, who features in this story.

I hope you enjoy Katherine’s story, poem and exquisite photography. My sincere thanks to Katherine for her beautiful contribution to Quiet Writing.

Starting out on my journey towards wholehearted life and work  

This is not a romantic story. Certainly others found it inspiring to start with—a quest towards a better life is something we can all relate to … for a time. But when the initial 12 months I had planned (what was I thinking?) grew into 18, then 24 … then five years and there were no tangibles like an impressive job title, a book, or the usual manifestations we take as evidence that someone has a successful life … well, cue crickets chirping and tumbleweed rolling down the deserted street.  

Not long after my 39th birthday, with my life in a dire mess, I checked myself into a psychologist. I naively approached this as I would manage a work project, and estimated that I would be fixed before I turned 40. I was about to learn that inner work—deep inner work—is nowhere near linear. My biggest challenge was that I didn’t know what I wanted, despite recognising that I was desperately unhappy. I also felt that something was wrong with me, as the kind of prescribed life my partner of nearly 20 years had envisaged for us—and that everybody else seemed to want as well—was just not me. I felt like the Ugly Duckling, I simply didn’t belong.  

A beacon of hope 

It wasn’t until a friend passed a copy of David Whyte’s ‘Crossing the Unknown Sea—Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity to me around the same time that I recognised a voice like my own for the first time, and dared to hope that there was another way for work, relationship, life— a way that fit with me, instead of my feeble attempts to contort in ever-increasingly painful ways to fit with it. I can vividly recall the night I started to read it. I was in the bathtub (my Fortress of Solitude in those days) again feeling like the Ugly Duckling. But this time, the experience was akin to the duckling’s heart both leaping and aching when he looked up to see beautiful swans—his own kind—flying overhead. I recognised in David Whyte a kindred other who lived at depth, even though I did not quite know what living at depth was at that time.  

heart

This simple, profound recognition was enough to start me on the journey of my own unknown sea. Here, finally, was someone else who had crossed that sea, I recognised his voice, and I knew I belonged in some way to that pilgrimage. Fast forward to the present day, and with a small, knowing smile I say that the recognition was of my own voice. The best gift of David Whyte’s words have not been their beauty, nor their inspiration (as profound as both are) but the validity, the permission, they gave to my own words, my own voice. There was nothing wrong with me after all, I was not a duckling, I was a swan. I had simply been surrounded with voices that did not recognise mine.  

With that first heart-leap of recognition, and the simple permission given by the Wonderful Mr Whyte, I took the plunge into the unknown sea towards work, life and relationship that was wholehearted. I tackled the problem in the only way I knew how to at the time, which was to leave my job, home, partner and city in the same week (not recommended) and take flight to the other side of the world for six weeks. My entire known life was in storage, ready to be dealt with when I got back.  

In this way I jumped into my own metaphorical boat with not a clue (thankfully) of the squally territory that lay ahead, or that I would feel at sea for several years. I say “feel at sea” as in reality we are never truly lost, or alone, it just feels that way, and part of our quest is to be able to endure the inevitable crises of discomfort, discouragement, or despair. It’s a riding out of the storm, knowing that it will eventually pass.  

Allowing our heart direction to emerge 

I think the trip was the only part of the plan that made sense, in hindsight. It gave me the relief and spaciousness I needed—both literally, staying in remote parts of the English countryside and roaming open fields, mountains, and wild clifftops in the rain, and metaphorically, in starting to thaw out from what had been a fraught existence, both at work and home, for long years at a stretch. I felt like I was emerging from a coma and needing to learn what was real again. This was in the smallest of ways to begin with, an almost imperceptible turning of my head and simple noticing of what elicited a positive reaction in me, like surprise at hearing the unfamiliar sound of my own laugh.    

heart

It was a significant shock when I returned to Australia without a home, job, partner or any structure to my life and needed to take the first breath of my new life. I moved to a regional town near my family, embarking on a series of experiments to find work that worked for me. Work, for me, is of central importance, and my experiences with it not working have been as painful as any of my life’s challenges. David Whyte elevates work to the status of a marriage in his book “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship” and I agree with it being given this priority. This is especially so for those who are creative types—there is no divorcing ourselves from our work, they are one and the same entity.  

In Crossing the Unknown Sea, David Whyte talks of “having a firm persuasion in our work” (p.5) and that has certainly been the crux of my quest, taking precedence over relationship for a time. I have grappled with finding work that is heartfelt and resonant, and what has looked like foolishness to others from a financial perspective has been a dogged determination to settle for nothing less. I certainly miss elements of my former lifestyle, but in resolutely setting my sail to my own course I can say I am at peace and happy.  

My golden rule is that as mine is the only head to hit my pillow each night, I’m best qualified to set that sail, as long as I am staying aligned to what is true for me. It has, however, been stressful in needing to hold out far longer than I envisaged, yet the alternative—the life I used to live and the work I used to do—is no more an option for me as running a race if I no longer had legs. As Whyte’s friend Brother David said to him “You are only half here, and half here will kill you after a while. You need something to which you can give your full powers” (p.132).  

Discovering my work  

The only idea I had about what my right kind of work looked like was that I wanted to write. Knowing that I wasn’t interested in writing fiction was at least a start. I stumbled through exploring writerly activities such as creating a blog, writing poetry, entering writing competitions, and applying for a writing scholarship. However, apart from the cathartic blog and poetry, it felt as though I was contorting myself again into a shape that wasn’t quite right. Thankfully, as Rumi says, “what you seek is seeking you”, and I soon had an opportunity presented to write for a research organisation, work which I found I truly loved. All my clumsy attempts and experiments had in fact been my apprenticeship to the kind of writing I love. In revisiting an earlier journal I discovered the prophetic words:  

“My work will be a melange of my heart – not just one thing, it will be a blend of all the things that make my heart glad: writing, thinking, researching; the alchemy of ideas”. 

Here was evidence that my heart had known all along, I had just not been in a place to hear it, let alone respond to it. 

heart

The benefit of hindsight 

Hindsight shows us that all experiences—even the most painful—prepare us for our own particular work. Some experiences are definitive (like David Whyte’s influence on me, foundational stones to the structure of the work which only we can do) and some are transitional, forming the scaffolding we need to emerge ever so slowly until ready to stand and reveal our work to the world.    

If I could rewind the clock and give myself some advice to make the journey easier, it would centre on the following. 

  • There is no timeframe in matters of the heart, especially when needing to find a way back to life after being metaphorically dead as I was. It will take as long as it will take, even if you are just a little lost. Don’t try to plan and control it; it will only cause additional pain. I think one of the most important things is that any emotional or psychic recovery needs to be given the same credence as a physical injury. I have had to constantly adjust my expectations of the timeframe of recovery, likening it to having every bone, muscle, ligament broken and undergoing extensive rehabilitation, and learning to live again being more than a little changed.    
  • Be kind and patient … with yourself. I wish I had cut myself some slack along the way; I was really doing the best I knew how to at any given point, as feeble as that was. 
  • The truth is not that everything will be OK, it’s that it already is. Time and time again I have had to remind myself “all is well”. Even in the darkest moments, the truth is that everything is working for us when we are aligned to our hearts, not against us.   
  • It’s not a journey with a destination. I’m still not there, and I don’t think I ever will be. As David Whyte says, it’s a ‘continuing conversation’. The important thing is that we keep showing up, open-hearted, looking for the Hansel and Gretel trail that leads us ever homewards, crumbs as clues left behind by an engaged and benevolent Hand (whether we understand that to be our God, our Higher Self, or whatever language we use to give meaning and shape to our spirituality). 

From the time I first recognised David Whyte’s voice (and ultimately my own) in the bath all those years ago to now, I trust my little boat, metaphor for my heart, to carry me ever onwards. I have nothing to fear while I’m aligned to it. My only request is that after several years at stormy sea, I’m soon taken to safe harbour for a little respite, perhaps where I can feel the warmth of the sun of friendship and community on my face. Then, as it is now, all will be well.  

Postscript 

This reflective journey has led me back to a poem that I first started to write as I walked the clifftops in England all those years ago, with my own unknown sea stretched before me. Whilst not originally written with the intention of sharing it, it seems to fit so beautifully into my story that I offer it here.  

 

After

It turns out (in the end) that I am far
stronger than we all thought.

Surprisingly,
I chose to be brave at morning’s first light,
however grey and dim it appeared then.

Turning towards the east
to walk ever closer to the Ocean of Who Knows What,
throwing my face and caution
to the biting wind of my vulnerability,
stripped of all pretence and belief
for better, or for worse:
Strengthened
or at last, Ruined.

In angry defiance
—or quiet acceptance?—
I signed up, took the gamble,
declaring “See here?
This, this is my Mark,
my Consent,
my Line In The Sand
of how I will live and be in this world.
And if I die at this brutal hand
well …
at least I felt the sharp slap and bite of the wind,
the driving rain that hurt my eyes and became my tears,
and the aching weight of loss
after loss
—how will I bear it?—
but knowing at last,
This was Me
I had reached Land’s End,
And I refused to go into hiding again.

Standing on the cliff buffeted, yet
Resolute, watching
the cruel sea
Relentless against captive rocks,
I thought “Poor things, they’re just like me…
—pounded and near-drowned”.

Then pounded and near-drowned some more.

In years to come I will know that in
choosing to live
at risk of the Open Sea
I breathed
walked
and dreamed
Awake
Alive
in this beautiful and vicious world
that sometimes despised,
sometimes loved me
(I never knew which it was).

crossing the unknown sea

 

About Katherine Bell 
Katherine Bell
Before turning to the quieter world of writing, editing and research, Katherine worked for 25 years in the corporate sector across multiple industries in senior administrative and strategic project roles. Making a tree-change from Sydney to regional NSW several years ago, Katherine is passionate about promoting research that translates into real-life outcomes. She is currently working on forming an alliance with other corporate escapees who share her passion for making the workplace more humane and sustainable, particularly for those who are introverted or highly sensitive. Co-founder of  The Edit Bureau she also assists academics in Australia and overseas with getting their work published.

Keep in touch

Subscribe via email (see the link at the top and below) to make sure you receive updates from Quiet Writing and its passions in 2017. This includes MBTI developments, coaching, creativity and other connections to help express your unique voice in the world. My free ebook on the books that have shaped my story is coming soon for subscribers only – so sign up to be the first to receive it!

Quiet Writing is on Facebook – Please visit here and ‘Like’ to keep in touch and interact with the growing Quiet Writing community. There are regular posts on intuition, influence, creativity, productivity, writing, voice, introversion and personality including Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

If you enjoyed this post, please share via your preferred social media channel. The links are below.

You might also enjoy:

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How to make the best of introvert strengths in an extraverted world

How knowing your authentic heart can make you shine

Creative and Connected #4 – the wholehearted edition

inspiration & influence introversion personality and story wholehearted stories work life

How to make the best of introvert strengths in an extraverted world

July 22, 2017

 

introvert

I am an introvert, an INTJ in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator world and basically off the dial on introversion. Yet I have balanced this with a job that involves a huge amount of people interaction, talking in front of groups, leading and participating in many meetings with complex interactions. As a result, it’s not easy to make time to charge my batteries through time alone, even though it’s something I desperately need.

Learning to successfully negotiate this balance is an ongoing journey and finding the time for recharge is a challenge. I’m interested in working my introvert side, understanding its strengths and weaknesses, capitalising on it, identifying what I can bring to a situation. I want to make the best of my introvert abilities and work them rather than have them working, and sometimes exhausting, me.

Here are some key inspirations and influences on understanding your introvert strengths in the work sphere for greater impact and positive outcomes.

Leveraging the advantages of being an introvert at work – Penelope Trunk

This article from Penelope Trunk discusses how the world of work rewards and is basically set up around the needs of extraverts. Her article provides a balance to this by offering some tips for leveraging the advantages of introverts. These tips include:

  • working from the world of ideas
  • giving full attentiveness for a short, concentrated time
  • improving your self-knowledge of your type
  • teaching other people how best to interact with you as an introvert, and
  • learning about the job roles that would best suit you.

There are also some excellent references for further reading embedded in this insightful article.

Caring for your introvert – Jonathan Rauch

This classic 2003 article from The Atlantic is about understanding the orientations and needs of introverts. It looks at some common myths or assumptions about introverts and provides a balanced point of view. The article takes the perspective that introverts are misunderstood and dogged by stereotypes such as being shy. Rauch corrects this one by saying that “introverts are people who find other people tiring.”

Rauch has some good pointers for balancing time with people and finding time to charge again. His answers to a scan of issues about introverts (are they misunderstood? are they oppressed? what are the implications of extraverts dominating public life?) provide useful perspectives for introverts seeking to find points of strength and balance. I especially love the distinction between introverts who typically ‘think before talking’ vs extraverts who typically ‘think by talking’.

Top ten myths about introverts – Carl King

This article lists Carl’s top ten myths about introverts, in a similar vein and drawing on the book ‘The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World’ by Marti Olsen-Laney.  It captures these myths in a pithy way I could instantly recognise. The article concludes:

‘It can be terribly destructive for an Introvert to deny themselves in order to get along in an Extrovert-Dominant World.’

Suggestions for managing this include: understanding the myths, linking in with other introverts for support and the need for extroverts to respect the ways of introverts.

Extroverts, introverts, aspies and codies – Venkatesh (Venkat) Rao

This article is a fascinating summary of introvert and extravert issues but takes a step further into the realm of microeconomicss, transactions and social psychology. The article explores energy in the exchange from the introvert and extravert point of view. It also reviews:

  • how introverts and extraverts manage isolation vs physical contact
  • 1:1 encounters and their depth
  • weak-link social fields such as coffee shops
  • strong-link social fields such as family gatherings
  • relationships over time and relationships with strangers.

Venkat also looks at how the tension between extraverts and introverts plays out in the slang terms they use or might use for each other. For example, ‘aspies’ (a term used by extraverts for introverts and linked to Asberger’s Syndrome) and ‘codie’s ( a possible term as none exists and linked to co-dependency). Venkat concludes by saying that introversion is becoming far more visible, resulting in shifts in the landscape of social psychology.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

The publication of  Quiet in 2012 was a significant milestone in the landscape of literature about introvert strengths and how to work them. This book changed my life as I read page after page of narrative that explained so clearly the way I operated in the world. Backed by extensive evidence, cutting edge research, neuroscience and stories of real people, ‘Quiet’ helped me make sense of so much. As a result, I better understood myself and especially my unique powers of negotiation and leadership. The practical strategies exemplified assisted me to work my specific strengths and also manage my energy far more effectively.

These strengths include:

  • thorough and detailed preparation
  • asking the right questions at the right time
  • active listening
  • ability to focus intensely and be in flow
  • working more slowly, carefully and deliberately
  • the ability to take strong positions and come across calmly and with reason

introverts

Quiet Influence: The Introvert’s Guide to Making a Difference by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler

Jennifer Kahnweiler’s Quiet Influence was another game changer for me in understanding how you can have influence in quiet ways. It provides a response to the problem often experienced by introverts: “In every performance review, I’m told I need to speak up more.” I’ve experienced this and I knew it wasn’t the problem or the solution! This book helped me realise that I had strengths – quieter strengths – that I needed to recognise as such and deploy more effectively.

These influence strategies for making a quiet difference include:

  • taking quiet time
  • preparation
  • engaged listening
  • focused conversations
  • writing
  • thoughtful use of social media

Learning how to use these strategies more effectively made an enormous difference to my impact and influence. I felt better about myself as I was more in flow with my natural energies rather than trying to be more extraverted. Quiet influence is a far more empowering and instinctive place from which to work.

Unpack your introvert strengths

I was fascinated to read in Penelope Trunk’s article above that my type, INTJ, has the longest Wikipedia page:

‘Because the combination of being an introvert and being ideas-driven makes one very interested in learning about oneself. INTJ’s are an extreme case, but all introverts have this combination to some extent, and the self-knowledge will help you put yourself in situations where you’ll have the most positive impact.’

It’s true, I am an extreme case and this summary is a piece of evidence testifying to that, an addition to the INTJ genre. True to type,  I can’t tell you how energising I found the experience of researching and writing it.

But for everyone, self-knowledge helps you make the most of your natural strengths. I hope this article is useful in identifying and unpacking your strengths and working your introvert. Or that it helps in the all important perspective of better understanding the ways of those around you.

How do you work your introvert? I’d love to hear!

Note: This post was originally published on my blog Transcending in 2011 as ‘Working your Introvert’. It’s updated in July 2017 to reflect key additional influences since that time.

Feature image via pexels.com and used with permission and thanks.

introverts

Keep in touch

Subscribe via email (see the link at the top and below) to make sure you receive updates from Quiet Writing and its passions in 2017. This includes MBTI developments, coaching, creativity and other connections to help express your unique voice in the world. My free e-book on the books that have shaped my story is coming soon for subscribers only – so sign up to be the first to receive it!

Quiet Writing is on Facebook – Please visit here and ‘Like’ to keep in touch and interact with the growing Quiet Writing community. There are regular posts on intuition, influence, creativity, productivity, writing, voice, introversion and personality including Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

If you enjoyed this post, please share via your preferred social media channel – links are below.

You might also enjoy:

Shining a quiet light – working the gifts of introversion

Being a vessel – or working with Introverted Intuition

How knowing your authentic heart can make you shine