The permission slip

I didn’t expect to find my Christmas gift granted before the Solstice. In fact, I didn’t even have anything on my wish list this year AND I’ve been rather naughty not keeping up with my commitment to Quest 2016, being slow to answer emails, turning off social media, and allowing dust bunnies to settle into my house for the holidays as I lay on the couch reading a 700-page novel.

But voila! I suspect that the mysterious Celtic spirit of the Yule, often called The Wandering Stranger, tapped Suzi Banks Baum and Maria Sirois on the shoulder a week ago and said, “You tell her.”

Here’s what happened.

The afternoon before I started a six-day immersion into a positive psychology program I met writer, artist and teacher Suzi Banks Baum, whom I know through her writing and the aforementioned Quest. During last year’s Quest Suzi introduced me to the concept of Permission Slips, which I’ve used in executive planning workshops and with friends to uncover deep-seated desires and goals. (You can read more about permission slips here on Suzi’s blog.)

Suzi greeted me with a big, warm smile and what looked like a wedding dress over her arm.

“I brought it for you to try on,” she said. “It’s the Permission Slip – my mother’s slip with women’s permission slips carefully stitched onto it. No one has worn it but I thought it might be right for you to try it on.”

There’s something so powerful about granting ourselves permission that I almost wept at Suzi’s offer. How did she know what permission slips mean to me? We went outside on the sunny, balmy December afternoon, stood on a hill overlooking Lake Mahkeenac in Western Massachusetts, and like Maria in the Sound of Music I twirled in my Permission Slip, reveling in the joy of this moment, this friend, and the honor of donning all these creative wishes from strangers.

Suzi then wisely gave me a few paper permission slips and a Sharpie marker and said, “You might need to give yourself one of these this week during your course.”

The next day Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the world’s leading positive psychology teachers and writers introduced the concept of “Permission to be human.”  (The self help movement, he notes, is making us miserable.)

The day after that psychologist and author Maria Sirois dared us to give ourselves permission to focus more on how we want to be in the world and less on what we want to do.

“What might happen if we showed up more in the world as the best version of ourselves? What people and possibilities might we attract?”

The day after that I had lunch with Maria and we talked about the notion of letting go of striving, that great, strenuous, tenacious effort to achieve something. What might happen if we didn’t strive so much?

Oh, baby, I’ve strived my whole life. And when I strive, I often don’t show up as my best self, which is joyful, creative, playful. My striving self is serious, uber disciplined, all work and little play, the good girl you can always depend on.

That striving self can be also be a kind of bully to my real self.

“Put that creative stuff aside for later and get to work,” she would admonish. “We’re here to improve your life, make money for your family’s financial security, achieve more professional recognition.”

I know, I know, I shouldn’t have let her bully me for so long.

When I got home from the course my husband said something he’s never said before, unaware of my conversations with Maria and Suzi: “Why are you striving so hard? What are you striving for? You bring so much more to us when you’re your vibrant, positive self instead.”

Alrighty, then, Celtic spirits. I got it. I’m giving myself permission to give up striving and be more of my real self.

In the morning I now ask myself, “What can you do today to feed your joy, your creativity and your physical vibrancy?”

(Positive psychology research shows that we can change our lives by changing our small, daily habits, like consciously thinking about how you can show up in the world in this day.)

So I ask you, “How can you show up as more of yourself this year?”

What might happen if you walked away from all the 10-step advice mongering and generic self–help noise and focused on every day being the best part of who you really are?

When my son was young several people told me that I should consider sending him to a “life-changing, life-shaping” summer camp in New Hampshire (Camp Merrowvista). I did, and it was all that people said and more.

The camp’s motto for children: “My own self. At my very best. All the time.”

Here’s to permission to be our best selves, and give up all that exhausting striving.

It may be the best gift we can give ourselves.


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