The Single Most Helpful Thing I've Learned as an Entrepreneur, Nutrition Therapist and Mother
One of the things I love most about my work is that I learn things through my professional endeavors that end up profoundly benefiting me as a human.
One of the first examples of this was becoming a mom. From the moment my first daughter latched and breastfed, I was so grateful to have had classes and training on feeding babies in my schooling to become a dietitian. As my daughter progressed toward solids and started showing signs of picky eating, I was so glad I'd learned about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility. So much of my life has been enhanced by the professional track I chose.
And, it hasn't stopped there. When I take the time to reflect on my progress and growth as a human, I can usually connect what I'm learning personally to something I've explored or am working on professionally. That's what I love about the work I get to do—you can't help but build skills in one area of your life that then transfer to other areas and vice versa. We are connected, interdependent beings and we don't learn things in a vacuum. Thank goodness for that!
I want to share one of the most transformational things I've learned over the last few years. Sharing an epiphany is always tricky business—you run the risk of it sounding nowhere near as profound to others as it feels to you. But I'll take the risk because it's been that significant for me.
Here's what I have been practicing: I have been making room for and opening up to uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and emotions while continuing to pursue what's important to me.
That may sound simple. Too simple, perhaps. But for me, it's been a huge shift. In the past (and still to this day...this is a practice after all) I would feel or think something that brought up an uncomfortable feeling and my first instinct would be to run away, avoid, distract, numb, or make it go away in whatever way I could figure out. That ended up bringing more pain and discomfort in the end.
These days, I'm working really hard to notice the discomfort as it arises in me. And, I notice that I still have the tendency to initially want to make it go away in whatever way I can. But, I try really hard to open up to that feeling and make room for it. I even welcome it sometimes. I've practiced reminding myself that this is all a part of the human experience. I don't run away or avoid. I feel it. I face it and make room for it.
And the most magical thing happens: the feelings come, and they go. No need to fight them. The nature of reality is that things are constantly changing; everything is impermanent. I don't have to force my emotions to change, they just will because that's the way emotions are: they change.
What this looks like with motherhood
My husband and I love to hike. In fact, we met on a hike 10 years ago! We attempt to go on family hikes on a regular basis. My kids always complain about hikes and it's a pretty miserable experience most of the time if I'm being honest. But, I've started thinking about hikes as a way to practice opening up to the discomfort.
When my kids complain on hikes, I get really annoyed. Feelings of anger, annoyance, resentment, and frustration come up for me. But, I've started making room for those feelings on hikes. I've started expecting them and even welcoming them as part of the experience. And, the coolest part about making room for those feelings is that it becomes so much easier to do what matters to me when I make room for those feelings. Frustration is no longer getting in the way of me doing what matters to me in that moment—going on a hike and spending time with the people I love the most.
This may seem like a small example and to be honest, there are hundreds of other examples in motherhood where this simple idea of opening up to discomfort has positively benefitted me. But hopefully it helps you understand how this connects to everyday life.
What this looks like as an entrepreneur
Running a business and being "out there" publicly is a very strange experience for me. I am not someone who naturally loves the spotlight and I definitely struggle with all the uncomfortable feelings that come with being a public person. But, as I've opened up and made room for this discomfort, I've found it far easier to stay focused on what's important to me and found it more intuitive to adapt to the things entrepreneurship has brought me.
I notice an increased capacity to deal with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship when I make room for discomfort. When I can remind myself that these feelings are universal—not a sign I'm doing something wrong necessarily—I can stay aligned with what matters most, and breathe through the discomfort that arises in this work.
What this looks like as a nutrition therapist
The work of a dietitian can be complex and quite challenging. Our work intersects with so much of the important aspects of life: health, science literacy, body image, mental health, socioeconomic factors, social justice, feminism, cultural factors, counseling skills, etc. I can fall victim to wanting to just run away from it all because it can feel overwhelming sometimes.
As feelings of burnout arise in me and I make room for those feelings, thoughts and emotions that sometimes trouble me, I can actually learn a lot about what's next and learn to shift and adapt as necessary to continue to work and live in alignment with my values. And, when I zoom out on the big picture and see that the work I do is in alignment with what matters to me, I can easily see that discomfort comes with the territory. In other words, when I'm living in alignment with my values, I have a higher tolerance for discomfort in my work because I'm doing what matters.
I hope some of what I've said here has resonated with you. I encourage you to explore how you might practice opening up and making room for discomfort in your life. I'd love to hear about how it goes!
In this post, I talk a lot about a theme in my upcoming webinar for registered dietitian nutritionists about burnout. Check out more information here!