How many good girls grow up believing that we owe ourselves – our time, our energy, our love, our investment – to others?
When I posted a little handwritten reminder last week on Instagram, simply stating that we don’t owe anything to anyone, many of you responded. Tens of women in the loud rejoicing crowd said that it was exactly what they needed to hear, but there were quite whispers too.
Emails that said things like…
… I owe my parents an enormous debt for their support and love over my life.
…I owe my partner for sticking with me during that rough patch.
…I owe my allegiance to my family that has never abandoned me.
These quiet whispers were accompanied with another sentiment as well, one of desire. Women wrote saying things like, Well I would really love to ________but I can’t because I owe my life to someone else.
You don’t owe anything to anyone.
Your life, your time, your energy, your body, your sex, your attention is not a chip to be bartered away or bought by someone else’s kindness.
I remember the moments in my own life.
Feeling like I owed him access to my skin because he was the first to be kind to me at a party.
Feeling like I had to continue down a track that no longer fit, because I had already told everyone that I was going to do it. I had already made the promises. I had already borrowed the money. I owed it to everyone to follow through down a path that wasn’t mine to take.
Feeling like I owed partners chance after chance, because they were doing me the great service of loving me. (And I was unlovable, so I should feel lucky.)
Feeling like I owed my family everything that I had left to give because I love them dearly and that’s what love means, right? Bending yourself into knots, saying yes when you want to say no, and trespassing against your own boundaries.
Because that’s what it meant to be a good girl. Because I should have been grateful that anyone loved me at all. Because I was little more than a vessel for service, for production.
Because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was flaky or selfish or self-important or a total bitch.
Because I had set up a complex system where love and worth were to be earned.
Because I was so desperate to belong that I forgot to belong to myself.
You don’t owe anything to anyone.
When we confuse gratitude for debt, we enslave ourselves in lives that may no longer fit us.
When we believe that we are undeserving of the kind of lives that make us weak in the knees and frothing at the mouth with desire, we keep ourselves hobbled here, small and responsible.
When we want to be good, we take the safe path, the easy entry into relationships and belonging, because we are afraid that without our profound compromises we would be left alone.
When we treat our lives like commodities to be bought and sold, we are saying that we are worth loving on our own.
That we are not worth a momentary dust-up of conflict.
That the quality of our lives aren’t worth fighting for.
That our bodies aren’t ours to do with what we please.
That if we aren’t good, we will never fit in.
You don’t owe anything to anyone.
I am grateful.
I am grateful to my partner who loves me and makes me crazy and sticks around and endures the difficult conversations and navigates my muchness on a daily basis.
But I would not owe her my life if we were to no longer fit together. I do not owe her a pretty smile and a sentiment wrapped up in a pink bow if I am angry and have needs that aren’t being met. I do not owe her my silence in exchange for the continuation of our relationship, if something demands to be spoken aloud.
I am enormously grateful to my parents who grew me, sheltered me, raised me, put me through school, and love me deeply.
But I cannot be good for them alone. I cannot become someone other than who I am to please them. I cannot say yes when I want to say no, because I know that if I do resentment pollutes our beautiful relationships. I cannot take on their burdens as my own responsibility simply because we are tethered by our bloodline.
I love my sisters, more than almost anything in the world.
But they are adults with their own free will and choice and it is not my job to try to live their lives for them.
I am deeply grateful for my community here – for my business, my clients, and all of you lovely readers.
But I cannot keep myself small for your comfort. I have to be able to grow and change and shift over time in order to keep breathing in between the spaces of our energetic work together, in order to keep showing up here with everything that I have to give.
I am very grateful, but my gratitude does not mean that my life for the taking.
When we tell ourselves the story that we owe someone something, we are saying that we have an obligation to pay or repay something in return for something received.
We are reinforcing the concept that love is transactional. That sacrifice must be returned in kind.
But what is the repayment for such a debt?
10 years? 20? A lifetime of goodness?
Is this the way that we want to express our gratitude?
Are we meant for a lifetime of quietly seething, hungering, doing our best to stuff down our feelings about living for someone else?
Is that love?
You don’t owe anyone anything.
You get to choose.
You get to express your love in a way that only you can.
You get to live your life for YOU, and still radiate gratitude for those around you.
You are allowed to renegotiate relationships in order to free yourself from the tight restriction of resentment.
You are allowed to show up as you are – and tolerate other people’s reactions to you.
You get to decide what it means to be good.
You don’t owe anyone anything.
This life is yours for the living.
P.s. This article originally appeared as a weekly missive to my top secret circle of truth-tellers. Would you like to receive emails like this bright and early every Wednesday morning? Sign yourself up in the shiny pink box below. xx
You may have buried your inner wisdom in the catacombs of your skin.
You may do your very best to avoid the truths that lurk behind corners only to pop out at you when you aren’t properly distracted by keeping yourself very, very busy.
You may have disconnected with yourself at some point, because the stories lies that you had been telling yourself about who you are and what you have to offer the world were too painful to bare.
Without this connection, you might feel small and lonely and useless when it comes to making your big life decisions about who you are and what you want and what you should do next.
The spark of this knowing remains no matter how many times you have tried to put it out.
But, when you are in that space of feeling weak and vulnerable, there are many antidotes available to you. The quick fixes and gurus and shiny plans that line your path, eager to bewilder you and divert your attention away from your own inner truth again and again.
If I walk back through time in my head, I can feel my own grabby hands clammy with the anticipation of these promises. I can feel the gravitational pull in my gut toward anyone in the room who felt bigger and stronger than me to latch onto.
I can feel how much I wanted those fixes to work.
This will be the time. This will fill that hole in me. This will remedy whatever is wrong with me.
I can feel how those fixes felt like my lifeline, because I was consistently telling myself that I was a lost cause without it.
These weren’t resources that built me up, filling my cracks like a balm and warming my heart.
These were resources that told me again and again that I was broken so that I could be sold a fix.
Another layer of cement over what I knew in my heart to be true.
Another voice telling me to distance myself from my own unique way of being in the world.
I want to write about this again and again, because I want you to know your own power.
I want you to know that there is a huge difference between signing up for something because it calls to you and because the idea of it leaves you giddy and breathless… and signing up for something because you believe you won’t be whole without it.
I want you to know that knowing who you are or what you want for your life isn’t privileged information held by a few, but that you can have access to this wisdom anytime you need it.
I want to write about this again and again, because I want you to know that you already have everything that you need.
You may desire guidance from someone you trust to help you access it.
You might want to dance in your mastery of a topic by exploring it more deeply.
You may even stand in your truth and know that there are places where your own inner resources are lacking – and reach out for support in learning the tools that will help you better tend to yourself.
It is absolutely human to not have all of the answers and give yourself ample permission to take part in whatever lights you up and helps further you down your path.
I am not advocating that you give up the supports and resources that fill you to the brim with hope and joy.
But, these are acts of self-love and not self-hate.
They bring you closer to yourself.
They illuminate the pieces of your own nature that you’ve been wanting to reconnect with.
They allow you to see yourself – and all of your brilliant, whole, goodness – more clearly, so that you cultivate a balanced image of yourself in your own mind.
An act of self-hate is different, because the yearning for it is born out of your not-enough-ness.
And your feelings of not-enough-ness are instigated by packaging of the solution offered.
It is meant to create a dependency. It is intended to further suppress your connection to your divine nature.
It is designed to keep you buying.
As a human who is in the business of creating experiences and invitations that facilitate growth, this distinction is really important to me.
Don’t get me wrong. I offer courses and coaching and retreats. I curate opportunities to help you get closer to yourself. But, the my purpose in creating these opportunities is to work my way out of a job.
I see you standing on your own two feet and looking into your own heart for guidance.
I see you telling yourself the truth.
I see you safe in the feeling of belonging to yourself.
I see you trusting yourself implicitly.
I believe that you have everything that you need.
You may want to ask for help unlocking it.
You may need a nudge and a loving dose of reminders that you already have the permission that you’re looking for.
You may simply enjoy participating in the community that gathers here.
But, here in this space, I approach creating these opportunities by grounding into the deep knowing that there is nothing wrong with you.
When you sit down to make a purchase, you are the only one who is going to be able to know which experience you are having. You are the only one who is going to know whether your choices are based in self-love or self-hate.
Because, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
I want to invite you into this conversation with yourself as you settle into owning your truth and standing in your power.
Do I believe that I need fixing? Do I believe this will fix me?
Who am I without this thing?
Am I making this choice out of self-love or self-hate?
Will it bring me closer to myself or fill me to the brim with joy?
Do I wantit or am I telling myself that I will never be wholewithout it?
Start with knowing that there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.
I’m great at keeping promises to the ones that I love, but when it comes to myself, I can’t seem to make it happen.
I really want to do _________, but I’m just too busy.
If I’m really honest, I don’t trust myself to follow through.
When we imagine self-trust, it seems like this enormous, all-encompassing thing that we either have or don’t have. We may look longingly at the few people who seem to be able to follow through with their dreams. We may judge ourselves harshly against their brilliant example – using this as further evidence to support our lack of self-worth.
Self-trust is built upon small moments of showing up and following through.
Through moments of integrity, where your actions on your own behalf are aligned with what you want for yourself.
You are walking through your life making choices everywhere that you go.
What to drink. What to wear. What to say yes to. What to say no to. When to engage. When to pick up your phone to start scrolling mindlessly. When to look your partner in the eye. When to commit yourself to a project, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.
If you examine them closely, these choices are either bringing you closer to yourself or further away.
Self-trust is broken in small moments of refusing to show up or actively participate in your life.
The moments when you ignore your intuition, plowing forward out of habit or fear.
The moments when you say yes, but everything in your body wants you to say no.
The moments when you compromise your needs in the name of productivity or external validation.
The moments when you make yourself small to make someone else comfortable.
Breaking your self-trust is a choice.
It is the choice of deciding that something [expectations, beliefs about “success,” praise] is more important than how it feels for you to live within your life, within your experiences of the world around you.
If we were to think about building our relationships with ourselves as if we were building them with someone else, we wouldn’t keep showing up, excited and ready, for someone who constantly disappointed us. We wouldn’t keep calling a friend who never called back. We wouldn’t continually put ourselves through the turmoil of the rejection inherent in being blown off.
And yet, that it is exactly what we expect from ourselves.
We expect ourselves to keep showing up, no matter how many times we’ve been let down or disappointed.
We refuse to do the work and then we chastise ourselves for always being stuck in the same place.
We criticize our bodies, even when we haven’t put in the time to take care of ourselves or nourish ourselves deeply.
We want what we want when we want it, but we aren’t doing the work of showing up.
I will claim this one for myself, as much as anyone else.
I want a finished book. I want it so badly I can taste it. I want to hold it in my hands. I want you to hold it in your hands.
But I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been showing up.
That book is not going to get written in between reruns of Gilmore Girls. And, each moment that I think about myself judgmentally without sitting down to do the work, I am damaging my self-trust. I am beating myself up for something that I have not, in all honesty, been applying myself for.
This isn’t the end of the world.
It is simply an honest conversation with myself about what I want and what I am willing to do in order to make it happen.
We can tolerate the discomfort of our own disappointment.
We can rebuild our trust, one honest action at a time.
A five minute stretch of writing. A walk around the block. A nourishing meal. A compassionate word when judgment is expected. A deep kiss before you head out the door.
Because I want that book, but more than anything I want to be able to have deep, resounding, and unshakable self-trust. I want to believe in my own ability to follow through.
That kind of self-trust is my responsibility. It is my work to craft trust like that. To show up and follow through when I say that I will, and to take action on my own behalf.
That is my work.
Join me to day in rebuilding your own trust.
Join me in keeping one promise, taking one small action on your own behalf.
A year ago, I had started to try to ask for what I needed.
I had started it into conversation naturally, dropping hints or mentioning it whenever it came up. And yet,we were moving and things were stressful and there was so much to do. I had tried to ask, but just the asking was so difficult that it required an enormous amount of energy to discern what it was that I needed to begin with, even before I muttered the words aloud. I asked what felt like again and again, and it still wasn’t getting me anywhere. I felt ignored and looked over. I felt as though I was trying so hard – to be good, to be clear – and that it was useless, because no matter what I attempted, my needs weren’t being met.
I wanted to be open to receive. I wanted to be deserving of the support and acknowledgement that I ached for.
But, each time I put myself out there and my words weren’t met with the immediate validation of gifts and care and love offered, I internalized it, telling myself that I just wasn’t worth caring for.
That night, I was on the floor in the living room as heaving sobs wracked my body. My sweetheart sat still on the couch, not quite sure what to do say or do next. It just started tumbling out of the abyss of my body, old story stacked upon old story.
I am not deserving of help. I know that am not deserving of help, because no one ever helped me.
I am not deserving of help. I know that I am not deserving of help because no one ever cared about me to notice that I needed it desperately.
I am not deserving of help. But, if I never let them know that I was broken open and needing – how were they ever supposed to help me?
Am I not deserving of help?
Through sobs, I began peeling back the layers, putting the pieces into place. I had believed that I was undeserving of help for so long that walking the years back, I could barely believe that it was possible to change my mind. However, as I began playing the moments back for myself, I realized that because I didn’t believe I deserved it, I never asked for help. Since I never asked for help, I never received it. Then the cycle would begin again.
I could remember a moment in my second year of graduate school when I was sitting in my supervisor’s office and I couldn’t hold it together anymore. I was exhausted from trying to anticipate the next move and I was forced to admit to myself that I could not longer keep showing up the way that I had been, riddled with doubt and fear.
“I am falling apart. I need help, but I don’t even know what to ask for.” I said.
She was visibly surprised, gaping at me as if I had said something completely unexpected. In turn, I was surprised at her surprise. Doesn’t she see that I am a total mess?
“Mara, I just find it interesting, because it is impossible to know that you are ever in distress. Your demeanor is so smooth, so perfected. This is the first time that I am seeing a crack in it. If you need help, you need to learn how to ask for it.” She said.
I had held myself together since early childhood, tenderly mending all of my broken and worn parts within the quiet privacy of my own mind. I had held myself together so that I wouldn’t bother anyone. I had held myself together out of the fear that if I were to fall apart, if I were to stop being useful to those around me, that I would have to face the truth that no one would be left to hold me while I stumbled. I believed that I was undeserving of being supported, and so I never opened myself up to opportunities of support. I believed that my utilitarian nature was what attracted others.
I had held myself together, because without what I offered the world around me I believed I was nothing. That without the sacrifice and sweat of showing up, again and again proving my worth, I would be brushed aside. But, I am not undeserving. I am love. I am loved. Even though I had been unable and unwilling to acknowledge it before, I could see how there was evidence there that pointed the the truth that I was loved for who I am and not what I can offer.
For most of my life I had shouldered the belief that I was a burden. And there was no room for my messiness or inconvenient imperfection.
When the layers were peeled back, I was able to see how asking for help had felt like it threatened to my sense of belonging.
Beneath the layers of help and support and witness, was a quiet fear of being cast out of of my relationships for being a burden, for being too much or wanting too much or requiring too much. You are too needy, I would tell myself for simply having needs. You need to much help. It’s embarrassing. You should cover that up, make yourself small, palatable. You should make it easy to be your friend. Making myself small was another way that I had apologized for myself again and again. Making myself small was a small way that I atoned for my inherent badness.
In that moment, lying on the floor of my living room in a mess of tears and snot, I realized that the belief was based on a lie that I had told myself. I had cloistered my true self, my wild self, my vulnerable self, away for most of y life because I bought into the self-fulfilling prophecy that I was creating.
The only truth here is that when we don’t put ourselves out there or ask for support, we don’t receive it. But not receiving it doesn’t meant that we don’t deserve it – not even close.
On her way out the door she said, “Mara, honestly this is the weekend that I have been yearning for my entire life. This is the circle of women that I have been searching for forever.”
She said it and I could feel the depth of her words – the depth of what it means to be surrounded by open-hearted, like-minded individuals. I could feel the deep power embedded in these experiences of belonging and restoration. The way that it opens your entire heart up in a way that you hadn’t thought possible before.
I remember the moment when I hit publish on my first blog post back in 2008, sending it out into the Universe accompanied by the prayer that somehow, somewhere, my people could be found.
The women who who feel like they are too much and not enough simultaneously.
The women who have made themselves small and have spent years apologizing for their inherent lack, but are now trying, humbly and imperfectly, to reclaim their power.
The women who laugh inappropriately when they are telling their most shameful secrets, redefining safety minute by minute while tears run down their face.
The women who want to stay up past midnight talking about the change they are seeking, the beauty that they are creating.
I remember the slumber parties during my childhood that filled me to the brim with glee.
The ice cream sundaes. The late-night viewing of Poltergeist. The oracle boards and rounds of light as a feather, stiff as a board. And, I remember when those girls turned on me, casting me out and reminding me in no uncertain terms and for the first time that I would never be good enough no matter how hard I tried.
I remember carrying the sheer delight of those parties in my heart, tarnished by the pain of what I called Truth for many years: no matter how much they seem to love you, they will break your heart. You don’t (really) belong to anyone but yourself. Have fun, but don’t trust anyone, not really.
And, I remember the moment when I found myself, green-eyed with jealousy and with that sick, hot feeling of shame in my stomach, upon looking at a circle of women at a retreat through their social media posts.
I wanted to be them. I wanted to be with them. I wanted them to reach through the internet and invite me to their party. I wanted them to love me.
Sitting with the power of that hurt and the depth of my longing, I made the decision that I would begin by actively calling the circles of women that I was hungry for.
The ones where you can wear your pajamas all day long and no one things you’re sloppy.
The ones where you are taken are of so sweetly (and completely) that all you get to do is dream about what you want to create in your life next.
Cozy beds. Wild art and the reintroduction to trusting your intuition. Crystals. Altars.Delicious, nurturing food. The sacred mundane of daily divination. And as many hugs as you need.
The opportunity to ask yourself: What do I need? What would feel really good? How do I want to live? How much joy can I allow?
The impossible, yet powerfully real, circle of women at your side.
I remember lying in bed the morning after that first retreat in 2009.
I was forever altered by the experience of sitting around the table with women who were ready to show up fully, ready to allow themselves to build lives of truth and joy.
I could feel myself unfurl within the validation that women like this did in fact exist in the world. That I actually wasn’t an outsider. That I could provide myself this experience and I could curate experiences of deep belonging and wild truth for others. That we could find ourselves here – around a fire, around a table, between hands held and hugs received.
That I didn’t have to keep myself on the outside, looking at the women gathering with me as clients. That around that table we became sisters, friends, and wild women who see our beauty reflected back at us each and every place we look. That my flavor of leadership cultivates and nurtures this deep kind of connection, the horizontal attachment of seeing and being seen.
This is my best work and my favorite work, because I love who I am when I am with you. I love who we become together.
I remember the feeling that this type of experience was outside of what was possible from me. I remember not being able to swing the financial investment, sure, but mostly I remember the heaviness of my own resistance to giving myself the permission to take the time. To carve out the space. To stand in my power and declare: I deserve this. I am allowed to have this. I will give this to myself.
I remember the jealousy and the anger and the righteous indignation. And, I remember how those things didn’t do a single thing for me, but make me feel as though I was on the outside, peering in. I remember making the decision to take a risk to experiment with what might be possible when I said yes to my desire instead of no.
Maybe this is the right time for you, maybe it’s not.
Maybe you would rather figure out how to cultivate a circle of women in your local area.
Maybe this gives you permission to take the jump and say yes to an experience led by someone else.
Wherever this permission slip takes you, know this: Circling live with a community of women will challenge and support and change you in ways that you never thought possible. Belonging will transform you. It will deepen your sense of safety, it will bolster your ability to trust in your own inner guidance, and it will break your heart open, again and again.
And, if this is something that you’re called to, I am here waiting for you with arms stretched open.