Not too long ago, a mentor who I adore (Susan Hyatt – you should check her out if you need a fiery dose of inspiration with just the right touch of sass) did a podcast about a time in her life 15 years ago when she desperately wanted a change of scenery.
She was sick of her work, her body, her marriage, and living in the town of Evansville, Indiana. She was to the point of contacting divorce attorneys and planning her exit strategy. In her words, she was ready to Eat Pray Love the heck out of there.
But her husband begged her to go to marital counseling, which she begrudgingly did. There, she had an epiphany: she thought her outer scenery was the problem, when, in fact, it was her inner scenery she needed to change first. And change that inner scenery she did!
She revamped her thoughts, her beliefs, and her attitude, and learned that how she lives is way more important than where she lives. She left real estate to become a thriving life coach and author. She stuck with her relationship and now enjoys a healthy marriage to her husband of 20+ years. She has a kickass bod she nourished into health and her ideal weight.
I love this story and I couldn’t agree more with the concept of changing your inner scenery first. But…what if you have done the work of changing your inner scenery and you still have the niggling feeling you are not in your right life?
This is precisely where I found myself smack-dab in my mid-thirties. I’d begun doing the work of changing my inner scenery, and that brought with it the growing suspicion that if I was going to live in integrity, if I was going to live in alignment with my heart and spirit, I was going to need to address my outer scenery, as well.
So how do you know when it’s time to change the outer scenery? And just how do you go about doing it? Below are a few suggestions from my experience that may help you in answering these questions.
Instagram-Perfect or Innermost-Perfect?
About 10 years ago, I was in my dentist’s waiting area when I opened up O Magazine, something I’d never done before, and happened upon an article about two crazy characters: loud, critical Fang and kind, fun-loving Buddy. The author of the piece, Dr. Martha Beck, used these individuals to represent two elements of our psyche she called the “social self” and the “essential self.”
She explained that the social self (Fang) is the part of us that develops in response to other people (e.g., family, teachers, religious leaders, authority figures, and culture). It cares deeply about what others think and will do just about anything to fit in, be liked, and be accepted. Our essential self (Buddy), on the other hand, is our most primordial self. It is who we really are at our core and holds the deepest inner wisdom we have to offer.
There in the dentist’s office, a light bulb went off for me. I had created an entire life around my social self: the seemingly-happy marriage that hid high conflict and dysfunction inside; the law degree and career pursued not to serve clients and our legal system but to serve as a crutch to my crappy self-worth; the Instagram-perfect lifestyle that provided me with great privilege and social armor but provided little in the way of meaning and fulfillment.
Following my mentor Susan’s lead, a change of beliefs and attitude would have definitely improved the situation…but I also realized that I could do all the inner scenery work in the world, and my life would not be reflective of who I really was at my innermost core.
I was reminded of an analogy I’d once heard: If you discover a nail in your foot, do you simply slap a Band-Aid on it and throw back some morphine? Or do you remove the nail? Changing my inner scenery felt like the Band-Aid/morphine fix – yes, it would make things better, but it would not really be addressing the root cause of the problem.
I felt as if I had created a life on a really shaky, social self foundation. I couldn’t just remodel the interior. I needed to raze the whole structure and start rebuilding from scratch. Bottom line: keeping the outer scenery felt out of integrity and misaligned with who I really was.
So ask yourself whether the foundation upon which your relationship, your work, or your life is built is solid. Does it align with your most essential self? Will an inner scenery remodel be enough to pull you into alignment with your greatest sense of well-being and who you really are?
If so, just change those beliefs and attitude and look forward to huge, awesome changes in your life, á la Susan Hyatt! However, if (like me) you need to start from scratch, courageously begin the business of changing that outer scenery, as well.
Once you know you need to change your outer scenery, the next step is permission. But not permission from just anyone, however. This is permission you grant to yourself.
For so many years of my life, I looked to others for permission and confirmation that what I wanted was okay. I wished for a professor, a parent, a preacher, a therapist, or an intuitive to validate my choices. And this pattern is not unique to me.
In her SuperSoul Conversation with Oprah, writer Liz Gilbert shared that, “For some reason, and this just boggles my imagination, there are still just huge swaths of women who never got the memo that their lives belonged to them. And there’s this instinct that they have that they need a permission slip from the principal’s office for anything.”
As I came to trust the wisdom of my essential self, I realized that my life did belong to me. No one could grant me permission but me.
We are the ultimate authorities of our own lives. Only we can give ourselves permission to change our outer scenery, whether that means quitting that soul-sucking job, leaving that unhealthy relationship, or moving from that town that is bringing us down.
These days, I keep a picture of a giant “Permission Granted” stamp that sticks to my fridge and office bulletin board. When there is something that I want to be or do or have, I glance at that stamp, smile, and remember that I have permission. You may want to get your hands on one of these stamps, as well, as a fun reminder that you, too, have permission to create what you crave.
Lean Into the Fear
If you decide to change your outer scenery, you betcha there is going to be some fear. Our brains are wired for survival and efficiency, so they will resist change mightily and start sounding the alarm bells when they detect we are going into uncharted territory. But that is okay.
Know that simply because you are experiencing fear as you make changes in your life or expand and grow in some way, it does not necessarily mean you are making a wrong choice; it simply means you are human.
Just like a muscle that grows stronger with each repetition at the gym, your tolerance for fear will grow stronger each time you feel the fear and keep moving. And similar to a beginner at the gym, practice with smaller, safer actions first, then move to bigger, more advanced moves.
So decide how you want to change your outer scenery. Commit to those changes. And when fear comes up, thank it for doing its job of attempting to keep you safe. Then continue moving forward courageously as you step into the new scenery of your life.
You may find that, like my mentor Susan, changing your inner scenery is the ticket to an awesome new life. If you are more like me, however, you may find that changing that inner scenery is just not enough.
If you need a change of outer scenery, too, try the above tips to make the transition as easy and painless as possible. And if you need a little support along the way, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to chat.