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  • Sara Johnson

Repeat after me: wherever you go...

“There will be a party

where you’ll feel like

nobody’s paying you attention.

And there will be a party

where attention’s all you’ll get.

What you need to do

is to remember

to talk to yourself

between these parties.”

- from the poem “How To Be Alone” by Pádraig Ó Tuama which can be read in full here

In the summer of 2018 I was getting ready to leave Minneapolis. I’d spent weeks packing up my home, giving away possessions, selling furniture, and guiding friends with shovels to the brightest clusters of perennial plants throughout my yard to dig up and transplant into their gardens.

I was a few days away from handing over the keys to the new owner. Mixing together all the scraps of flour and baking ingredients from my dwindling pantry, I baked up a Frankenstein-of-a-strawberry-cake. And then I walked with cake cradled in my arms to the goodbye party I’d organized for myself at the park one block away. (Note: the cake was edible and even kind of good, and I didn't write down a recipe so it was also a once in a lifetime experience.)

With every human gathered there, I was able to have a chat about what was ahead for me: an adventure around the country to find a new place to put down roots and the time to really think about how to pivot my career into something more fulfilling. I was able to hear what was on the horizon and in process for all the people I loved and was leaving - what big questions they were tuning into. The party was full of tears and laughter and final goodbyes with the people who I’d been beside for these messy, wild, heartfelt years of early adulting.

The mother of one of my closest friends - who had treated me like family since I'd met her 15 years prior - hugged me close. She whispered in my ear, “Maybe, at the end of everything, you’ll discover this is the place you were meant to be all along.”

A friend whom I’d once considered kindred, handed me a card that contained three words: “Best of luck.”

And Andrea, sweet Andrea, with a twinkle in her eye leaned over and said rather casually to me, “Sara, remember, wherever you go, there you are.”

I groaned. Not knowing how many times I'd think of these words as both a coach and as a human in her own process of discernment and unraveling, I groaned in response to Andrea's words. Perhaps it's partially my defensive response that has kept the words close, made them persist and resurface over the years.

Andrea dropped those words into my life as if she was placing a pebble in my pocket, winking as she retreated. First, I was surprised at this foreign object I was suddenly carrying with me. Slowly, I felt and acknowledged the weight of the pebble there, yet I still tried to push it aside. Over time, I approached the pebble with curiosity. Eventually, I started to turn the pebble over in my hands. Now, it’s smooth from my frequent caresses. I’ve spent time with the pebble, it’s familiar now. What a journey I've been on with the pebble/words.

"Wherever you go, there you are" has become an important refrain and reminder of the paramount relationship I will always be learning how to nurture: the relationship I have with myself. And it's made me enthusiastic about supporting others who are getting to know themselves and growing their self-love, self-trust, and self-confidence.

There’s no singular thing coaching is about yet much of the work we do in the coaching space comes back to our radical, unwavering love for ourselves.

Our love and belief in the life we’d find most or more fulfilling, before we’ve even taken one step towards it.

Our love for what hurts in us and wants to be healed.

Our love for the parts of us that want to let go.

Our love for our willingness to try towards something new.

“Wherever you go, there you are” can feel like a sharp slap in the face of all that is unresolved and painful. It can also feel like a cool breeze at our backs urging us to see clearly where we consistently stumble and where we consistently give ourselves a hand up.

So many moments in a coaching session are me metaphorically holding up a mirror to the human across from me and exclaiming - or gently whispering (depending on the moment) - there YOU are.

What a brave and brilliant thing to face yourself. What a courageous act to hold the gaze.

For many people, holding the gaze and finding the love it contains is extremely uncomfortable and difficult. Loving the self brings resistance and fear. We are inexperienced. The work to love ourselves feels out of reach.

An important note: this is not about withholding love until we are a perfect, idealized version of ourselves or until we deem ourselves easier to love. How do we love our whole, messy, imperfect selves right now? The work is to practice loving ourselves in all our seasons, in all our complexity.

In the coaching space - knowing how difficult this is - we often frame an exploration of self-love as: What would it take to befriend yourself right now? How would you approach this if you were a friend to yourself?

Sometimes seeing ourselves as a friend feels more accessible. And from friendship sprouts the possibility of love.

I want to know if it's feasible that loving ourselves could be some of our most joyful, easeful, and liberating work. I am on a mission to understand what could make it more of these things - imperfections and all! I am an advocate for growing our capacity to prioritize and put our most generous efforts into our relationship with ourself.

And I also want to normalize that it's not always pleasurable to lean into self-love. Because - wherever you go, there you are - we aren’t always a person we are eager to befriend, and life isn’t always easy, and we experience fear and doubt, and sometimes society and our family of origin tells us to put ourselves last, and some people around us say that self-love is self-centered and we believe them…and other/none of this/fill in what resonates with you here.

It’s no wonder that many of us are skilled at exclusively giving to and caretaking others. It’s no wonder that many of us prioritize external validation over our own affirmations. Tapping into our own resources for ourselves feels unusual. We are out of practice!

Yet - wherever you go, there you are - it's also true that life is consistently offering us the chance to practice loving ourselves (and coaching is a container that delights in centering this work).

Coaching - and life - asks us:

How do you love yourself better even when conditions would make it easier to love yourself less?

How do you love yourself through the worst? Through the liminal? Through the discomfort?

How do you love yourself when your life feels so quiet and small?

How do you love yourself when you don’t know anything?

How do you love yourself when you are desperate to be certain about even one thing?

How do you love yourself when your shadows and shame are showing?

How do you love yourself when everyone sees you are struggling?

How do you love yourself when nobody sees?

How do you show up again and again with love for yourself?

I think the only answer is: you do.

You start a self-love practice by taking the first, easiest step that is available to you. You begin with one thing that delights you, just for you.

You take yourself out on a picnic. You look in the mirror and say, “Hey cutie” and you mean it! You start to give less importance to external praise and more weight to the nice things you believe about yourself and say to yourself. You have a hard day and meet yourself with soft, tender care instead of criticism. You do a kind thing for yourself without telling another soul.

You whisper to yourself, "wherever you go, there you are" and you smile.

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