Burn This (or, how change is possible)

Candle 3 wicks

Ever try to do something that seems like a really smart idea, an idea that will save you time and/or money and/or energy? And then it totally blows up in your face and ends up costing you MORE time and/or money and/or energy than it would have if you'd done it the regular way in the first place? 

And then, once that happens, do you try to do the exact same thing AGAIN, because you are a hopeless optimist and are sure that THIS TIME you'll get it right? And now it's no longer a matter of saving time, money or energy (since you've already blown that particular plan), but a matter of proving to yourself that your idea was a good one? Proving that you can, in fact, succeed?

I have. In fact, I did it just now. And it made me think.

As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with wanting to try something different, to experiment with new solutions. In fact, there's something essential and fabulous about it. I think that those of us who play that game, however, tend to run into the same problem--a problem that leads quickly and easily to frustration, feelings of failure and the desire to crawl under a rock for a period of time.

Let me share what happened to me today, and where it led my thoughts, and perhaps it will open your mind to some different ways of challenging the status quo and experimenting with how to make your life, and the world, a better place.

My story, as most good stories do, starts with a candle. This candle smells like lemon basil and has three wicks.

I decided, this afternoon, to light this candle in order to create a calm and peaceful yet energized environment in which to work. (So far, nothing bad is happening.)

I love that this candle has three wicks, and yet I also kind of hate it. Because I need more than one match to light it. And I hate to waste things, even when the things are matches that I got for free in a restaurant. So of course I have to challenge myself to light all three wicks with one swiftly-burning wooden match.

I fail. Miserably.

I manage to get two wicks lit, but by then the flame from the match is licking my fingertips. Do I give up? NO! I brilliantly lean the match against the third wick and let the wick catch fire, which is a success on the one hand, but on the other hand means that the matchstick is now flaming perilously high and at risk of burning me and everything else around it. So I blow it out.

Yes. I blew it out, along with all three of the wicks I'd just lit. Super smart.

And you know what's even smarter? This isn't the first time I've done it.

And even smarter than that? I decided to try it again.

I just did not want to be defeated by this candle. Forget the fact that I would almost definitely still need two matches to light it, and thereby end up using three matches by trying to save one. I just thought it SHOULD be possible.

And here's where something interesting happened: I was lighting the next match WHILE laughing at myself for trying to do the exact same thing in the exact same way while hoping it might yield different results almost by sheer force of my desire, while simultaneously not actually expecting it to go any better, when my hand tilted. Not the one holding the match, but the one holding the candle.


Something in my brain just clicked and made my body do something different. Up until now I'd always leaned the match in to each wick trying to beat the clock, while the flame gleefully chewed up the match. By tilting the candle sideways, however, I could suddenly hold the match horizontally, which meant it burned more slowly, leaving me plenty of time to light all three wicks. Holy crap. (That's a picture of the actual match, by the way. I could have lit, like, three more candles!)

So what's my point?   I'll tell you. 

1. A lot (if not all) of us yearn for better solutions, better results--more joy, more money, more time, less whining, better food made more quickly, clearer spaces, greater passion in both work and life--and we try to make them happen, in small ways and large.

2. Those ways don't always work, and some of them never work.

3. A lot of us repeat the same attempts at making things better, even though we don't get the results we want, time after time.

4. This doesn't mean the results we want are not possible.

5. The best bet may be to let go of how we've been trying to get there. This doesn't mean we should give up on trying to get there. It means that if we acknowledge what we desire, continue to nurture the belief that it's possible, and try something different, we very well may get what we've been trying for all this time.

'Different' may mean looking at it from another angle, talking it through with someone else or getting in touch with your instincts and letting them take you for a spin in a new direction. It may also mean setting it down for a while and letting solutions appear when they're ready.

I set a lot of things down this past January--my writing, my JOYmails, nearly all of my networking, my masterminds, and most of my outward-bound exertions. I just needed to. I didn't know why, and I didn't know what would happen--to my business, to my community, to the stories I wanted to tell--but I just kept telling myself to trust that it would be OK.

It's been nearly five months, and it's one of the best things I've ever done for myself. Turns out it's also been really good for my family (who get to have me present, relaxed and engaged a lot more), my clients (who get more of my focused attention, thoughts and energy way beyond the time we're on the phone--plus gifts!), my home (which has gotten clearer and clearer, more peaceful and happier), my community (which has gotten the family learning program I launched from a place of excitement and joy), and my health (which has been resting, healing, stretching and cycling at a pace that allows me to need what I need without feeling guilty or like I'm not doing enough). 

This was my way of putting things down, trusting my instincts, and letting solutions present themselves when they were ready. I'm still on this path, and don't know quite what will come next, but I do know that I needed to stop doing things the way I'd been doing them, over and over again, my fingers way too close to the flame, and trust that the solutions were out there even if I couldn't see them. I had to do something different, and I hope this gives you some insight into how you might too.