I’m sitting here writing this on a late Saturday afternoon eating a bowl of chips (also known as chunky fries) at a pub, after a 5 hour jaunt across the Brecon Beacons. A day out on my own. Just me, an Ordinance Survey map, and my heightened sense of directional awareness.
It felt good to roam, not knowing exactly where I was; the curves of the path, wind rushing through the trees, water babbling down the stream, and emerald green moss making lots of silent noise; the only assurance that I was in the right place.
Common sense suggested I should probably stay on the more well marked, straighter, wider, and more heavily trafficked path. Because after all, here I am a woman on her own, on the border of Welsh wilderness, and staying within sight of people passing by is the safest bet should anything happens.
But my independent streak said f-that. Go off road. Follow the vaguely flattened grass even though it isn’t signposted. Just see where it takes you.
Today’s solo adventure turned out fine. Despite losing the track a few times, wading through a river trying to find it, and landing my foot knee deep in mud, it was a relatively straightforward trek.
I love this wild, slightly rebellious, fiercely independent adventuress in me. She has complete faith that between a map, the contours of the land, and noting the position of the sun in the sky, she will find her way to where she needs to go that day, and then find her way back home again. Without anyone else’s help.
I love her primal strength that fuels my physical body to keep going even when I’m tired, scramble over the obstacles, and find a way through, even when I’m faced with a seeming dead end.
This is the same part of me I call on when life throws curve balls; the money doesn’t come in as planned, the relationship wobbles unexpectedly. Nurturing the resilient adventuress out in the wild means that my muscle of faith is that much more conditioned, and my inner compass that much more attuned to meet the everyday hurdles.
This adventuress has mastered the hurdles alone. It’s part of her strength. It’s necessary for her to survive when it’s just her and the elements, and no one else around to come to her rescue.
She finds safety and solace in the solitude. She doesn’t have to worry what other might think if they saw her slight panic once she realizes she’s slightly lost.
The glory of her badass achievements means the topic of conversation never makes it to that time when she tripped and fell and ended up with mud on her face. No one thinks to ask because they weren’t there to witness it.
Her independence means she never has to speak out loud the internal battle that goes on for a good part of the day, trying to quiet the monkey mind so she can finally settle into a state of bliss.
Doing this alone, the walk in the wild and the rest of life, means I can hide my fears, wounds, and weaknesses. The bold and brave exterior ensures that I only have to deal with myself at any given moment, which feels a lot simpler.
Simpler, but not so sustainable.
Flying solo completely ignores and neglects the part of me that actually thrives from being around other people. Not only thrives, but needs the chance to be myself with others to bear witness. Needs to share my wounds, my joys, my crazy, my sanity; and no matter how different or weird or crazy I feel, realize that, actually, I’m a part of the whole. That who I am and what I bring to the table matters.
The part that wants and needs to connect with others is not a part of me I’ve nurtured much. I’ve resented her because she always ends up putting myself in situations where the other person, or people, I’m with pushes all my buttons, gets under my skin, and ultimately pisses me off.
Which means more monkey mind and a lot of work to resolve my own triggers.
Again, simpler to stay on my own.
Until I realize, that actually, I could stay on my own forever, be a hermit-ess living in a cave in the woods, and I’d never rise above the annoyance and discomfort of being in relationship, until I actually face the music and BE in the relationship.
Lately I keep getting nudges to lean into the relationship.
There was the Sisterhood message that taught me it’s ok to let my practical and emotional needs be met by other people, even when I’m not offering anything in return other than my solitary presence.
Then there was the Co-create invitation. To hand over the reins of my work to God and dance a dance that involves a Big Picture that I can’t see, don’t have all the answers for, and only asks of me to do my tiny part one day at a time.
And now Collaborate.
This last message came through in the online embodiment workshop I held recently. I knew going into it that, my definition, you can’t Co-create if you’re carrying everything on your shoulders, and then during the workshop the message came that, ‘Collaboration brings more sweetness and life into the world.’
I don’t know about you, but I’ve historically identified more with the risk associated with Collaboration as opposed to the sweetness.
Relying on others puts you in a vulnerable spot in so many ways. They might not pull their weight which means you end up doing more than you bargained for. They might slow you down, which means it feels like nothing is actually getting done. Their work might not be up to scratch, which means it takes more from you to fix and tweak it. They might not like how you do things which means you have to adjust your approach, modify your thinking, expose your flaws, which is sooo draining.
Conclusion: It’s faster, easier, and safer to just do it all on your own to start with.
The majority of my adult life, I adopted that stance. When I inherited a team to manage in my corporate life, a lot of those statements were actually true. There was a lot of onboarding, and growth happening for each team member which meant we were not a smoothly operating machine from day one.
Yet when I slow down enough to actually examine the times when I have allowed for Collaboration, it’s true, there is a sweetness.
For the past 8 months, Monday’s at 6am I meet with a friend, and friend of friend, for an hour of contemplation. For the first couple of months, I took on the role of leading the group through embodied meditations. This was a logical first step since there was so much overlap with my work.
As time passed, there were mornings where Monday at 6am I didn’t have much to give. My friend would step in and lead us. The mornings have become more of a collaborative co-created space, with the sessions happen more organically. We show up and bring what’s on our heart and take things from there. Sometimes she reads from her prayer book. Sometimes we play music. Sometimes silence and just being is on the menu. The hour has taken a shape of its own because we all are showing up honestly and vulnerably with trust that what needs to happen will happen.
No pressures. No faff. No planning. No frenzy. It flows.
More recently, I did something I never thought I’d do. I invited in a peer of mine into my dark internal world. We are in the same trauma training and inevitably, it throws up your shit. My fierce independent adventuress was ready to take on that pain and hurt all on her own. Analyze and master it and put it to bed.
But the other part of me that had recently tasted the art of receiving and who was craving more community, sisterhood, and co-creation, wanted to be in the messy middle together instead of all alone to figure it out on my own. I reached out and together we faced our demons. We held each other’s hand. We sat in silence giving each other the time to feel all the feels and allow for the shift to happen. It was slow. It was unplanned. We didn’t quite know where we would end up.
But we each trusted that each other was a whole person that had something of value to bring to the table. And the result was a simple sweetness.
Working with the assumption, that each person is whole, that each person has value, is the foundation of collaboration.
Here’s the catch though; until you see yourself as whole, recognize and claim your own value, we show up to these situations looking through the lens of broken, scarce, and unworthy.
We notice only the flaws. Things that could have gone better and faster. We nit pick. Nothing is ever good enough.
Because we can only give the gift of grace to others if we have given it to ourselves. We can only love the other as much as we are loving ourselves.
So this message of Collaboration is all well in good, however, let’s not dive in just yet. Because who wants to be sitting around a table, brainstorming, building, creating and birthing, without a bedrock of trust, love, and acceptance for yourself and each person there?
If you are doubting yourself, you will doubt them too.
If you’re angry at yourself, you’ll be angry at them too.
If you haven’t forgiven yourself, they will be to blame for everything that goes wrong until you do.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
I’ve also spent a lot of time sorting through the junk that needed clearing to actually be able to thrive, not just survive, in community with others. This junk drawer clearing sets up a critical foundation to sustain any inkling of harmony in relationship with others.
The junk is usually just the voice of your inner critic, doing its job of reminding you, you haven’t got your shit together, you’re not creative enough, your work isn’t impactful enough, and all the rest. Even though the agenda of your inner critic is to put you down, it ends up driving a wedge between you and everyone else, which means that anything you try to co-create with someone else is going to drive you further apart.
So the first step to any meaningful collaboration is to notice your own blocks. Chip away at that wedge so that you are valuing yourself and your unique contributions, which means you can then value others’ as well.
Clear out the voice that says your works isn’t creative, accurate, or valid enough, and you’ll be able to ask and receive help, because your previously named weaknesses are no longer something to be ashamed about, just your human limitations.
Quiet the stern and dominating voice that says you need to always get it right and have all the answers in order to prove your worth, and you’ll be able to wade into the not knowing with others by your side, and figure things out together.
You get my drift?
So if you’re reading this and feeling hopeful that perhaps you no longer have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders all by yourself, and also find relationships tricky, challenging, and don’t know how to start letting down your guard, I’ve got you.
I want to share a practice that has helped me get past my own defenses and willingly invite others in to parts of my life that I hadn’t perfected and mastered. Having others join me in the process of figuring things out has made the road that much lighter and sweeter, and ironically I’ve felt stronger and confident, even without the answers.
It’s a clearing practice that gives voice to your Inner Critic, invites in forgiveness, and opens up your heart for more loving connection in relationships. Whether collaboration in your business is what you crave, or just more fulfilling friendships and intimate partnerships, it will do what it needs to do.