Have you ever had the experience of putting your heart and soul into something that’s truly meaningful to you, only to be disappointed by the results? This is often true in relationships, especially parenting. And it’s equally true of all soulful work such as creative pursuits and purpose-driven projects.

In my life and soulful work, I’ve seen two tendencies when this happens.

  1. One is to try harder. To push, to perfect, to fix and control.
  2. The other is to disconnect. To judge, blame, become cynical and refuse to engage.

The two are often interconnected, like two sides of the same coin. When fixing doesn’t work, we tend to feel like a victim and give up.

If you relate at all, I want to suggest a third way: Trust the process more.

Trust that every time you engage in soulful work…

… you and the universe naturally enter a partnership where you’re working for each other. There’s a deep relaxing that comes with this knowing, an undoing of the stresses of how things should be.

I remember the launch of my book Goodbye, Perfect in April 2023. For those of you who’ve written books or started businesses or any creative endeavor, you know that the launch process is much like childbirth. There’s tremendous energy and anticipation in the months leading up to it.

Somewhere along the way, I started having expectations of my book. I started aiming for a bestseller and got caught up in every action that would boost its rankings.

I guess even soulful goals become should goals when we don’t pay attention. Our overarching social tendency for comparison crowds out our creative longing for expression because we are, after all, social creatives.

And it’s not just our creative projects. We also do it in our relationships. We compare our children and partners and bosses with other people’s children and partners and bosses and become demanding in our love and appreciation.

And when people and pursuits don’t meet our socially driven expectations, we become bitter and angry or fall apart. When my dreams of a bestseller were shattered, I began to feel not just disappointment, but the agonizing shame of having let others down.

You can always count on shame to be lurking in the background, waiting for an opening.

My weapon of choice happens to be fixing—two days into the launch and I’d written close to 3K new words that I wanted my publisher to add to the book. She obviously didn’t entertain the idea!

That’s when I recognized what was going on and remembered what I really needed was love. Not a new edition of my book, nor friends feeding my emotions and reminding me that the whole bestseller list system was open to manipulation.

I needed to hold my emotions in the warm embrace of tenderness and let tears wash the anger and shame into the ground from which they’ll recycle into something more generative and beautiful.

And so I did. And what emerged was a call to recognize when it was time to surrender and when it was time to push.

The longing to make a real impact in the lives of women who were hooked on perfectionism, people-pleasing and self-imposed pressures to feel good about themselves had drawn me to write the book.

Now that I’d birthed it, it was its own thing. It will need to find its own way into the lives and hearts of people. That was beyond my scope of work and I needed to surrender to the process.

I also needed to turn to the work that felt most alive in me right now. The post launch journey. The ongoing soulful work of trusting the universe. I went back to writing and sharing what was emerging in me. The more I wrote, the more I began to embrace my book in a whole new way.

It was no longer my crowning glory that I needed to push into the world. It was a heart-felt milestone in a life in progress. And I finally knew that it will meet people where they are.

6 months into the book launch, I got an email I was least expecting.

Goodbye, Perfect had won one of the most prestigious awards in the book industry: Reader’s Awards from the Next Big Idea Club (founded by four incredible authors and thinkers Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, Daniel Pink, and Adam Grant).

The awards came from thousands of readers who had rated my book as one of the most transformative psychology books of the year.

I saw my baby sitting next to legends like Sharon Salzberg, Rick Hanson, Jay Shetty, and Amy Edmondson, and burst into tears of joy, pride, and humility—the feelings of a mother who sees her child spread their wings and fly.

Could I have ever imagined such an outcome? Not at all! I didn’t even know reader’s awards existed. I was blinded by bestseller lists.

And yet a reader’s award is so much more fulfilling because its people who have actually read the book and experienced the transformation (vs simply bought it).

I share this to remind you of a fundamental pillar of soulful work: The universe has your back.

Unlike regular work that helps the world go around, you’re doing work that moves the world forward in some way. And the universe will reward you for it in its own time because the universe is untethered from our notions of time.

Your job is to stay open and hopeful, adapting and pivoting as you go because you’re simply the vehicle through which the universe is doing its work.

This brings me to the notion of detachment.

We often hear, especially in the spiritual literature, that detaching from the outcome is the path to freedom. And this is certainly true for our head-centered notions of failure and success.

But I believe that soulful goals need—nay, necessitate—that we fall madly in love with a heart-felt outcome. It’s the only way we stay engaged with the whole of ourselves.

And this means that our hearts WILL break.

Your grown child will let you down.

The world won’t accept your creative project.

You’ll be judged for your vulnerability in a relationship you wanted so bad.

And then there’s the heartbreak of life’s natural losses. We lose people we love and watch the world change. Feeling these losses and heartbreaks makes us human. I can’t imagine a life where nothing gets to me.

I’ve seen people like that. Beneath their detachment, I’ve often sensed cynicism or apathy. I’ve also seen them fall apart with bigger losses and spread their hurt onto others.

I’ve also seen people who grow with adversity. Who can hold their pain with compassion and extend it outwards with grace. They’ve been exercising their hearts so that when they break, they break open with love, instead of breaking apart into a thousand piercing shards.

The reality is that we cannot live an engaged life with our hearts in bubble-wrap. Heart-felt goals are here to test us.

Our only choice is to embrace the tests in all our human fallibility and imperfections, and commit—yet again—to come through, bit by bit, a slightly bigger version of ourselves.

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