October 05, 2004
The following is an excerpt from Traveling Hopefully: How to Lose Your Family Baggage and Jumpstart Your Life by Libby Gill. For more, go to www.libbygill.com.
It took me a long time to realize how much of my personal story — that is, my beliefs about myself, my value system, and decision-making process — had been shaped by my family’s story. Finally, at the age of 40, when I found the courage to admit that I was flat-out miserable and that the image of the successful professional I presented to the outside world had little relationship to who I was on the inside — I realized I had merely fulfilled a legacy designed by my family instead of by me. That insight was the first step in a profound process of self-healing that I’ve come to call “traveling hopefully.”
Traveling hopefully is a way of moving through the world: the infinite number of decisions we make on a daily basis which, when woven together, form the pattern of our being. Sometimes we make our choices, large and small, based on a set of beliefs about ourselves that we didn’t create, but rather accepted. When I recognized I was living a life built on the shaky foundation of my family legacy — my father’s emotional distance, my mother’s bitterness, my stepmother’s mental illness — I understood that I had allowed my history to define my present and determine my future.
Once I accepted the fact that I was living a life that was more a reflection of that legacy than true to who I really was, I began the difficult but rewarding process of personal excavation. I began to strip away the facade that I’d been showing to the world for so long that it had become my reality, although it bore little resemblance to the real me. Only then did I begin to see myself as a living work in progress, a hopeful traveler intent on finding the purpose and the passion that would allow me to create the life I envisioned for myself. That process would allow me to write my own story — and to help you write yours.
Getting past your past and overcoming your family story so you can find your most joyful, passionate self isn’t easy, but it is possible. There’s an old expression: “The easy road often becomes hard, but the hard road often becomes easy.” We’re not going to take the easy road, but I’m going to make the hard road a little easier by showing you the Five Steps to Jumpstart Your Life. Jumpstarting your life is a process of intentionally designing a specific plan of action so you can envision and then actively create the life you want, instead of waiting around for it to happen.
Even if you’re at the top of your game with a great job and a loving family, maybe you’ve heard that little nagging voice asking why you’re working so much and enjoying it so little? Or why you wanted desperately to have children and yet have no time to spend with them? Or maybe you’re just not sure anymore what would make you want to leap out of bed in the morning and tackle the day. I’m not saying that once you’ve conjured up a mental image of the life you want, that it will magically begin to materialize. Not at all. But once you understand what it means to jumpstart your life — in work, recreation, friendships, and family life — you can begin to remove the roadblocks that are keeping you stuck in place and start moving forward toward the life you want.
The Robert Louis Stevenson quote from which the title of this book is derived, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive,” may well be the one lesson I took with me when I quit graduate school. I didn’t take the master’s degree in psychology I’d planned on. Hopeless, I lost all sense of direction and gave up. One of my professors had insisted that we all keep a book of meaningful quotes, and I had written down the Stevenson quote in mine. I didn’t understand its significance at the time, but something about the phrase “travel hopefully” resonated very powerfully for me then as it does now. As I began to search for the kind of life that would bring me a deep sense of satisfaction, the true meaning of that phrase slowly dawned on me. I came to realize that traveling hopefully is about moving forward despite whatever obstacles stand in your way, as you continually move toward a life that reflects your beliefs and values. The process itself, one foot in front of the other, and not the end result, constitutes the journey. I realized that I am the traveler and hope is my fuel.
The path eventually became clearer for me as I learned to ask the right questions: What was I most passionate about doing with my life? And how was I stopping myself from doing it? When I stuck to my path by focusing on these questions and looking for the answers, my life seemed to work. When I backslid, losing hope or succumbing to fear, moving forward toward the life I wanted became much more difficult. And as I started to share my story and the tools I’d created for myself out of desperation and a desire to change, I watched others put those tools to use and begin to rewrite their stories as well. That’s how the Five Steps to Jumpstart Your Life came into being.
You might not have thought about your life as a story until now. Stop for a moment and consider how the major events and relationships in your past have shaped you. Can you see how those events have influenced your present and can continue to influence your future? Like it or not, you have written a story about yourself based on a set of assumptions you’ve either come to on your own or been handed by others. Your story is the sum total of the beliefs you hold about yourself.
Maybe your story is satisfying and positive and there are only a few aspects of it you’d like to rewrite. Or maybe, like I did, you want to throw out the story you feel is perpetuating outmoded beliefs and values, and start from scratch: what kids on the playground would call a “do-over.” For many years, my story was one filled with pain and loneliness. Finally, I made a conscious decision that there was a lot more to me than that and I was willing make the necessary changes to rewrite my story to include greater portions of freedom, creativity, and passion. I still have my moments of pain and loneliness, but they no longer define my life.
As we work through these tools together, I’ll provide you with concepts, broken down into written exercises and mental meditations, that embody the spirit of traveling hopefully and the process of jumpstarting your life. As you’ll clearly see, all Five Steps are inextricably interwoven, yet require separate explanation so that you firmly grasp the concepts involved before you combine them.
The Five Steps to Jumpstart Your Life
Step One: Dissect Your Past so You Can Direct Your Future
If you are living in denial about who you are and where you came from, it’s going to be difficult to assess your current status and make the necessary changes to rewrite your future. Maybe you’re the adult child of an alcoholic and have minimized your parent’s addiction. Your reluctance to see the situation as it is, or as it once was, doesn’t change those circumstances, it just makes it harder for you to figure out how they’ve shaped you and how you can begin to change. Or maybe you don’t consider your childhood especially traumatic, but you remember all too well the sting of the little slights and offenses and have begun to comprehend how even those minor wounds taken to heart over a lifetime have left their scars.
Step Two: Learn to Link Internal Clarity with External Action
The potent combination of internal clarity and external action will be the cornerstone of your transformation. The problem is most of us do one without the other. We develop a heightened sense of internal awareness, what you might call trusting your gut or following your intuition, but don’t act on it. Or just the opposite: Many of us are constantly on the go, but we haven’t taken the time for the internal homework, so we don’t really know where all that movement is supposed to take us. We’re in motion for the sake of motion, like my son’s pet mouse inside its little Plexiglas ball, just rolling around and bumping into the furniture. Once you learn to link internal clarity with external action, you’ll have the insight to know where you want to go and the action steps to get you there.
Step Three: Recruit a Support Squad
Is this all starting to sound a little trickier than you bargained for? Relax, you don’t have to do it alone. If, like me, loneliness has long been a part of your personal story, you may be used to telling yourself that you have to do everything alone because:
Now let’s rewrite that lonely story and imagine a life populated with generous folks who have your best interests at heart: your own personal Support Squad. Whether it’s two people or twenty, it’s much easier than you might think to create a support team to offer insight and inspiration, to help hold you accountable, and to celebrate your success.
Step Four: Create a Traveling Hopefully Personal Road Map
Here’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road on your hopeful travels. The first step has helped you understand how your family legacy has contributed to shaping the life you’re living. The second step has shown you how to develop your internal clarity, then translate it to external action. The third step shows you the value of a support system and how you can establish a custom team to keep you motivated. This step guides you in creating a detailed road map with very specific, measurable goals to which you, or others, can hold you accountable.
Step Five: Keep Moving Toward What You Want and Away From What No Longer Serves You
This positive momentum is the essence of hope — something you must never be without — because even in your most desperate, frustrating, or challenging times, you need to, as the old expression goes, “keep on keeping on.” The fifth step will teach you what all winners know — that perseverance is everything — and show you how to make perseverance a habit.
It took me a lifetime to learn the lessons I’m about to share with you, but it doesn’t have to take that long. In fact, you’re beginning right this very minute. Traveling Hopefully is a process of shedding the outdated family legacy to which you’ve been clinging, consciously or not, and then replacing it with a level of awareness and self-compassion you might never have experienced before.
In addition to the Five Steps to Jumpstart Your Life, I have developed 21 Hopeful Tools to provide a framework for looking at life in ways that will guide you toward your goals. These philosophical concepts are reduced to exercises that will help you turn those ideas into action steps. Ideally, you should complete the exercise outlined within each Hopeful Tool before you go on to the next one, at least the first time through. After that, return to any exercise you want, whenever you want, to recharge your motivation. These tools are meant to keep you moving forward even when you’re feeling frustrated.
As you read this book, I’ll be asking you to do some deep thinking and intense soul searching. Much like life itself, what you put in to this process will be directly proportional to what you get out of it. You may also want to start a Traveling Hopefully Daybook, a journal you can keep on your bedside table or carry with you, so that you can capture your thoughts and chart your progress while you work your way through the exercises described in each of the 21 Hopeful Tools. If you are concerned about tackling these exercises, not to worry. Just give them a try, there’s no right or wrong. You might even surprise yourself at how quickly you get into the spirit of positive change.