Reflection: How I learned to trust myself

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Discussed on episode 33:

These last few episodes have got me thinking about listening to your intuition, trusting your gut, and following your own path.

I used to believe that I didn’t really have much of a sense of intuition-that all my decisions could be made with logic and deliberation and pro and con lists. But that was a long time ago.

And I was dead wrong.

My intuition speaks to me loud and clear.It always has. But actually listening to it, and acting on it, used to be really hard for me.

My mistake was believing that I didn’t get gut feelings about things, when the real issue was that I didn’t trust myself to act on those gut feelings. I think that’s probably normal-I think more people have trouble acting on their intuition than accessing it.

Anyone who knows me would probably agree that I’m not the impulsive type. If I get an intuitive hit, I need to gather a lot more information before I take action.

But I’ve noticed that the amount of time it takes me to act on my intuition on big, life-changing decisions has gotten shorter.

I’ve realized that the time it takes for me to act on my intuition is a function of how much I like myself. In my early twenties, when I carried around a lot of self-loathing, I had an enormous capacity to suffer in situations that weren’t good for me. I didn’t trust what my gut was telling me.

I felt more loyalty to other people’s expectations than to my own heart.

I didn’t think I deserved anything better than the situation I found myself in. And I for sure didn’t trust myself enough to believe that if I followed my gut, things would work out for me.

My first real experience of listening to my intuition came in my early twenties, when I was at law school-basically at the height (or depth, I guess) of my self-loathing. I knew I needed to quit. I knew I shouldn’t have even gone to law school in the first place, but it was a very prestigious program and I didn’t know what else I was going to do with my life and I was too scared to take a year off to figure it out. Also: it was before the 2008 financial crisis, when law firms were handing out jobs like candy. It was a big deal for me to quit. It took me 18 months to finally pull the plug.

And let me tell you, my friend, the experience of listening to my heart and quitting law school is still one of the most important transformations I’ve ever made in my life. Because along with the voice telling me that law school wasn’t for me was the voice telling me that if I quit I’d never be able to get a job, I’d never be able to go back to school to study something I enjoyed, I’d embarrass my family, I’d be a quitter. A failure.

Dealing with those competing voices felt impossible. I knew I was in the wrong place. I knew I’d be miserable if I continued. But the fear of actually following my intuition was so strong that it paralyzed me. The breaking point finally came when I realized that the pain I was currently in was so much worse than the pain of what might come next: failure, uncertainty, embarrassment.

I learned through that first experience of trusting my gut that I’m resilient. I can handle whatever comes my way. And I also discovered that once I did follow my gut, I could start to trust it more easily. Acting on your intuition is like building muscle-you can do lots of reps with lighter weights or a few reps with heavy weights. I chose to build my intuitive muscle by lifting really, really heavy weights because I didn’t know any better.

Now, fifteen years later, it’s hard to remember what it felt like not to trust my intuition. I still take my time acting on big decisions, but I have a lot more faith in myself that I’ll be fine, no matter what. It took a lot of therapy and a lot of self-reflection to get here, and I’m so grateful that I had the time and the space to do that work. And yes, surviving a life-threatening illness has definitely made me more resilient and more willing to take risks, but truly I think the biggest transformation has been loving myself enough to go after what’s important to me. Loving myself enough to leave shitty relationships and shitty jobs, to set firm boundaries, to work for myself, and to forge my own slightly unconventional path.

My greatest hope for you, dear listener, is to love yourself enough to follow your intuition. To create the life that makes you happy. To brush off the critics and the skeptics like lint on your shoulder, and then go create your own masterpiece.

If you’re stuck in ambivalence right now, if you’re struggling with those competing voices: ask yourself what your intuition is telling you. Maybe you already know the answer, but you’re just not ready to declare it. That’s fine. It’s normal.

But don’t torture yourself with the decision if it’s already made.

Don’t pretend you don’t know when you actually do.

That’s how you build trust in yourself-by admitting that you DO know, but you’re not ready to take action yet. It’s okay. You’re allowed to take your time.

But hear me out:

We only get one shot at this.

Don’t live someone else’s life.