My favorite thing about Brene Brown is that she learns things the hard way. When her research provides a finding, she’s the first person to be like, ‘Oh HEEEEELL no.’ She doesn’t like what she finds most of the time, but what she finds makes her a better human, so she implements it into her life. And then life gets better.
Softness is like that.
When I first figured out that softness could be helpful in my life — not a weakness, but an effective way of being — I was pissed.
Psst! This is Episode #200 of the That’s What She Said podcast!
Okay, honestly, I was pissed about pinning wedding dresses and elopement ideas to Pinterest. Five years ago, I was mad that my default feminine bits were all about those frilly dresses and vista views, fantasizing on the internet about a big fancy event.
I’ve since given up the board and again returned to wanting to be where I am, no marriage included, but the strange resentment of my blossoming softness took a while to fade. I was tied to my get shit done bits — the earner, the leader, the action-taker — and wrongly thought that those things would disappear if I treated myself with understanding. I’ve supported people through divorces and addiction and unemployment, and I thought I couldn’t do those things if I was myself: tender and wild and so, so, soft underneath my sharp spiky exterior.
It’s taken five years of consistent reckoning to see that I can take action, earn, and lead without being mean to myself, judging others, or getting caught in society’s be-even-more-productive-before-you-rest trap.
Softness is not a weakness; it’s our only hope for enjoying existence.
I know what you’re afraid of, here, because I was afraid of it, too. You think that if you embrace softness, you’ll never get anything done. You’ll sink into a cushy life without calendars or deadlines, ignoring your responsibilities while you drift away on a unicorn pool floatie with a cooler of fancy beverages. I promise that won’t happen, and I want to be very specific about why those fears are unfounded.
Let’s dive into softness with five lessons I’ve learned about its effects on your life.
During every one of my coaching calls, my peeps and I review the list of to-do’s we cooked up during our last call. It’s a shit show when the work isn’t done. Not because I’m upset, but because my clients think I will be so upset that I will punish them in some way. We spend a lot of time helping them believe that’s not the case, and they are not in any sort of trouble. I’m not going to put a note on their Permanent Record or take away gold stars or stop answering their emails. They can hardly believe it. Why am I being so goddamn KIND?
Punitive action in the face of a setback does no one any favors.
Instead, I ask questions like, Why didn’t the work get done?
Actual answers I’ve heard include:
My father died.
I had a miscarriage.
I have a mysterious medical condition and I’ve been spending all my time at the doctor’s office.
I got engaged and got a puppy in the same month.
I’ve been on crutches for the last three weeks.
My business partner is on maternity leave and I’ve been picking up the slack.
I think I have cancer.
I’m working three jobs and think I need to quit one.
Does any part of you want to punish these people for having life happen to them?
Do we honestly expect people to lose a parent one day and get back to work, no big deal, the next?
Of course not. Of course you extend the love and warmth of a pat on the back and a ‘hey, life happens’ to these lovely humans, and then you adjust the plans accordingly.
To act as if death, disease, hurt, celebration, or the addition of a puppy to your life should happen without any interruption to your email-checking, business-generating calendar is foolish at best and harmful at worst.
Softness extends the same loving, understanding energy we give to others to ourselves.
It means you aren’t beating yourself up, punishing yourself, or otherwise flogging your every move, all day long. You were at the doctor’s office for 8 hours last week, but somehow you should have made up that work day? Bullshit. You need rest.
You were all alone with the kids while your partner traveled, but you should make up for that time by working from the moment they go to bed until 1am? Hell no. You need down time even more when you’re alone with the kids.
Judging yourself doesn’t lead to anywhere interesting, beneficial, or productive. Softness means giving it up.
Beating yourself up for your mental illness, your ailments, your life choices, or your current setbacks sucks all the enjoyment out of life. Asshole brain will feed you the standard lines: you’re useless, awful, fat, lazy, stupid, hideous, delusional, repellent, degenerate, no good, and/or unworthy of being on the planet.
Your believing those lines does no one on the planet any good. Most of all, you.
You cannot bully your way out of mental illness.
Guilting yourself about whatever you’re feeling won’t make it go away.
Asshole brain is trying to create a pile-on effect: if I can take her down in this state, she’ll stay down even longer than usual! But you don’t have to believe asshole brain.
Softness looks like refusing to speak unkindly to yourself in even the most frustrating of circumstances.
You can step into your own interiors and treat yourself as you would treat a beloved three-year-old.
You haven’t gotten off the couch in 6 days? Okay, let’s take a shower.
You’ve been surviving on delivery food and Amazon Prime shipments? Why don’t we take a walk.
You haven’t spoken to another human in 3 days? Let’s phone a friend.
Not ‘you asshole, let’s call Stacey,’ or ‘You stink, fuckface, get in the shower.’ No judgement. No angry name-calling. No unkind adjectives that sound like they’re being made by a rabid football coach. Only a deepening understanding of your own humanity.
You’re not perfect, and asshole brain is upset about that. It may never shut up, but you don’t have to listen to it.
Non-judgement is the real life ‘yes and’ answer to life. (Those improv classes paid off, see?)
Further — and particularly in harrowing circumstances — it might be time to lower the bar.
If you’ve got cancer, now is not be the time to renovate the kitchen, landscape the backyard, start a fitness routine, and triple your business.
Likewise, the addition or subtraction of an individual to or from your family means a lowering of the bar. (Can you travel for 24 out of 30 days when you’re beset with grief, all while writing a novel, keeping up with clients, and returning emails within 3 minutes of their arrival in your inbox? I HOPE NOT.)
Lowering the bar is a realistic, loving way to allow softness into your life.
Maybe those plans go on hold. Maybe you take that dream trip instead of saying ‘someday.’ Maybe you stop paying attention to that white dude on Instagram who’s going to teach you how to be a millionaire in just 14 minutes a day.
Lowering the bar means you plan for what you’re actually capable of doing on any given day and in any given year, which is highly variable based on life circumstances.
Dominant societal systems don’t allow for any variation whatsoever. A friend who works in corporate America is expected to be just as productive on a Friday afternoon in the middle of summer as on a Tuesday afternoon in February. THAT’S NOT REALISTIC. We all know everyone is eyeing the clock, ticking down the minutes until they can speed to their cars and head for the pool!
And you, when you act as if all days should get the same amount of work done? Not realistic.
Your business has cycles, your clients have cycles, your life has cycles. Plan accordingly.
Lest you think this is flippant advice, or me preaching all blah blah blah style: NOPE.
My bar used to be working for eight hours a day, even if there was nothing pressing to be done, working out at Crossfit twice a week while planning my next volunteering trip abroad, all while keeping a book in production and taking on new coaching clients, as well as writing two killer blog posts a week, keeping the house meticulously clean, and traveling the world for speaking gigs.
Over the past five years, I started to be all-the-way-down honest with myself:
Actually, I don’t enjoy Crossfit. It brings out the worst in my spirit over the long term.
My volunteering abroad is not nearly as effective as my sending money to support those already working there, and it lowers my carbon footprint by about a bajillion percent.
I don’t always have a book in me.
Sometimes the house gets dusty.
Speaking takes far more out of me than it gives back, most of the time.
The bar drops when we’re honest with ourselves about our priorities. And, as Maya Angelou said, ‘When you know better, you do better.’ So let’s do better.
Dropping the bar means you’ll actually be able to achieve what you decide to do. But you can only achieve a few things at once.
You can’t run a marathon while being pregnant while attending daily recovery meetings while starting a new business while working a full-time job while raising orphaned squirrels while keeping the toilet meticulously clean. You can’t.
For the past year, my focus was on switching to a year-long model for working with clients, as well as restoring my mental health and writing my next book. One personal goal, two business goals. The bar is low enough for me to reach it, then to create a new one.
The last thing I want is for you to spend years of your life trying to clear a hurdle that a.) doesn’t matter to you or b.) will never be reached. That’s what the world wants, sure — for you to buy a solution that will help you hack the system so that you’ve got 6-pack abs, a magnificent lover, a few million dollars, and enlightenment. Only it never works that way.
Keeping yourself on a treadmill six stories below the bar you’re trying to reach will only lead to frustration and despair.
Likewise, softness doesn’t care where you rank with regards to everyone else.
I once worked with a woman who is now a member of the financial 1% — she’s got an 8-figure business and knows Oprah personally. I should be jealous, right? I should feel like a failure and compare myself to her and freak out about how much I’ve failed?
Nope. I’m slowly, slowly, slowly learning to compare me with myself.
Do I have clear priorities?
Am I making progress?
Am I enjoying the life I’ve got right now while working to shape the contours of my future?
Awesome. That’s all I need.
In practical terms, getting out of the comparison game looks like really good boundaries. I don’t follow or listen to or hear from that person, or any of the people associated with that person, so that I’m not tempted to go down the rabbit hole of comparison.
I’ve unfollowed, ignored, and unsubscribed from everyone who trips my ‘I WANT WHAT THEY HAVE’ triggers. I take notes on my progress and thank Past Me all the time for what Present Me is now enjoying.
Am I a millionaire? No. But have I been working on my credit score? Yes.
Do I have the savings I’ll need to retire at age 38? No. But have I been making regular contributions to my retirement account? Yes.
Softness celebrates progress.
Where have you made progress in your business lately? In your financial habits? In your eating, sleeping, phone-using, or boundary patterns? Where have you changed a habit that you thought would be there forever, even if it took 14 years? Have you learned to distinguish asshole brain from your other thoughts some of the time? Have you unraveled a pattern that you thought would be with you forever?
Take note of your progress, particularly of the internal variety.
This is where we become soft. We accept our humanity and we take on the next challenge without beating ourselves up, making ourselves wrong, or otherwise hammering our best efforts into the ground.
And becoming soft is the goal, internally. You can have rock-hard external muscles and be so brutal to yourself that your best ideas, most incredible theories, and most astounding work will never see the light of day.
To become a safe space for others, which I assume we all want, we have to become a safe space for ourselves first.
We do that through softness, through observing what is, and through relentlessly refusing to dehumanize ourselves or other people.
No one is coming to take away your gold stars.
You don’t have to believe asshole brain.
Lowering the bar is a realistic and loving way to allow softness into your life.
Softness celebrates all progress.
Becoming soft internally, so you can pass it along to others, is a worthy goal.
To be clear: softness is not a lack of spine or a refusal to confront wrongdoing. It’s a willingness to do those things without putting up enormous shields, using harmful rhetoric, or flinging around dehumanizing concepts to get people on your side. It’s not a lack of leading but a willingness to lead without harsh punishments and hierarchical power structures.
Softness whispers, ‘I don’t have to be better than you or more powerful than you for us to make rad things happen in the world.’ Its willingness to bend, dance, ebb, and flow makes it a potent solution for many of the world’s ills.
Softness commands your best and wisest self to be present at all times.
If you’re like, ‘But how the fuck do you become soft, Kristen,’ well…I’ve been working on a new thing. Part extremely-personal-podcast, part breathwork, and a book besides, The Softness Sessions will help you step into the wisest spaces within you.
Through extremely dense teachings followed by breathwork, The Softness Sessions will reconnect you with your intuition. They’ll help you defeat asshole brain, lower your own bar, make sense of your internal chaos, and feel the feelings you’ve been boxing up and hiding away for months/years/decades now.
I think you need a life in which you’re expanding instead of shrinking;
observing instead of judging;
dancing instead of trying to be invisible and hoping everything gets better.
We start September 19th, and you’ll get a session each week for 6 weeks, as well as an actual book/journal combo in the actual mail. We’ll conclude with a live breathwork session on October 29th.
Frankly, soft humans are gifts to the rest of the world. I’m hellbent on becoming a soft one, and I hope you will be, too.
Again: thesoft.space — check it out and join us!