My mom and dad love to tell this story from their honeymoon.
It starts with a romantic motorcycle ride around the island of St. Martin (honestly, I think I’m confusing the Vietnam part with St. Martin part, but let’s go with it). They come across an abandoned beach, white sand, palm trees, blue water for eternity. There’s no one around, so they decide to swim Finnish style (my mother is from Finland): buck naked in their birthday suits. As the crystal waters lap at their face and they float on their backs looking up at the cerulean sky, relaxed, serene, in love, my dad poops.
Now, here’s where the story gets fuzzy: Was it an intentional poop? Or did he eat some day-old fish that swam right through him? Did he let out an innocent underwater fart and oops!? I would reach out and ask but I’m not sure how great my parents will feel about this story being told to the wide open world.
Suffice it to say, he pooped, and then post-pooping, when he tried to swim away, towards shore, the poop followed him. The harder he swam, the closer it got.
I’m telling this story a) because it’s hilarious, b) because if you knew my hyper-professional, not-a-hair-out-of-place parents I think you’d be quite shocked they are in any way tied to this story, and c) because of the very clear lesson it imparts: your shit follows you wherever you go.
It is true: your shit — both the physical waste excreted from your body (ideally) multiple times a day and the psychological baggage you carry from your childhood, a relentlessly demeaning boss, or serious life traumas — follows you.
My own shit followed me all the way around the world to the top of Mount Doom in New Zealand, a 5 Rhythms dance experience in Bali, a startup marketing talk I gave in Tirana, Albania.
What do I mean?
In late 2018, my husband and I decided to pack up our condo, rent it out, shove every belonging we would need for the next year into two oversized backpacks, and took off to travel for an undetermined amount of time.
We were free! Free from the constraints of our jobs. Free from the resentments we carried toward our bosses and colleagues. Free of never having enough time to do all the things we actually wanted to do. Free! Free! Free!
Except here’s the thing: that scarcity of time mindset, that resentment toward all the middle-aged white men I had worked for and written for and given my voice to (I know, how dramatic and victimy!), the feeling of needing to be productive all the time… didn’t go away.
Had we seen enough in that tiny town with the glacier? Should we have also gone to the museum? Are we as far along as we had hoped with all those side projects and blogs and websites and Instagram posts we had dreamed of creating and writing? These questions circled constantly.
I remember the first night of one of several Great Walks we hiked in New Zealand. It was week three of our trip. We arrived at the hut, laid out the $15 sleeping bags we had bought at the nearest NZ-Walmart-equivalent, hung up our backpacks, opened up a bag of tuna and some soon-to-be-stale bread, and sat in the sun. It was 3PM. We had hiked 12.4 kilometers (7.7 miles). We were tired, exhilarated, full of the incredible beauty we had hiked through.
And then it was 4PM.
We had left our single Kindle back at our Airbnb thinking we wouldn’t need it. I thought my journal and coloring pencils were too heavy, so they were hanging behind, canoodling with the Kindle. Joe and I stared at each other. What do we do now?
We took a walk.
We talked to some people.
We were so uncomfortable with the open time. We squirmed thinking about the three hours we had to kill til it was dark and we could go to bed.
Now, you might say, oh, I would know how to spend that time. And you might. And that’s cool. But let me tell you, we had been in such a scarcity of time mindset for so long, the time abundance was startling. It felt wasteful to simply sit outside and enjoy each others’ company and the company of others.
It took four months of traveling together, spending almost every waking hour together for Joey and I to finally be. To spend an evening walking aimlessly in Ubud, breathing in the wafts of nasi goreng, listening to the cacophony of languages being whispered and shouted across the narrow streets buzzing with mopeds, to come home and paint with children’s art supplies and read only for pleasure.
Just like it’s taken me months of entrepreneurship, of digging through my victimhood and reactivity shit to actually find, practice, and express my voice like I’m doing now.
Just like it took a friend three jobs to realize he was repeating the same pattern in job-after-job, expecting a different result, when really it was a cloud of unacknowledged shit gently hovering atop his head, following him to each new opportunity. The jobs were changing, but he wasn’t.
Just like another friend’s ‘I can’t stop working’ shit will follow her — regardless of whether she quits her job or not — on that extraordinary road trip she’s planning across America.
Or your ___________ shit will follow you to that next job, that travel dream, juicier relationship, startup BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), unless you become aware of it.
My shit is that I’m never enough. That I have to be doing to prove my value. That I don’t deserve rest. That I matter through my accomplishments alone.
These are the stories I’m re-wiring. The shit I’m choosing to work through so that it doesn’t follow me next time I’m at the Parthenon or get stirred up when I’m in a conversation with a friend who is adamant she can’t take time off of work, or splattered in my face when I’m struggling to figure something out in my business.
The truth is that I am enough. That there is nothing like 30 minutes of found time in a day to take a walk or lay on the ground in my office and breathe. That I will make time for the things I value, that bring me joy, that fuel and fire me. That rest is glorious AND that I want to make a big impact on this world and so knowing how and when and the kinds of rest that feed me is so important (still figuring this out, by the way). But I only started to believe these things once I became aware of the shit.
So, what’s the moral of this story?
- Don’t shit in the water. It follows you.
- Whether you felt those sphincters contract or not, you already shat in the water, and it’s been following you. So stop swimming and start getting curious about it. Eventually, you may even want to embrace the shit out of your shit. At least then it will stop trailing you.
This article originally appeared on Medium.