By all accounts, Janet Neal was living the ideal life - or at least she thought she was. The reality was quite another story: She was exhausted, unhappy, and unsure of just who the real Janet truly was. Life and a liberal application of hair gel - to her face - helped to get her attention, forcing her to move from her reliance on her faulty thinking to listening to the wisdom of her soul. This collection of insightful and amusing vignettes chronicle a superwoman's journey - fueled by her belief that she had to do everything and do it perfectly - to her awareness that there was actually nothing she had to do; she already had it all.
A must read for anyone who has thought "Is this all?" or "What now?" Janet gives life a new perspective - indeed a "soul perspective"!
-Nancy Aronie, Author: Writing from the Heart
Soul in Control is an engaging and entertaining reminder to stay focused on what's important. Janet's practical advice is sound medicine for a frenetic world overtaken by distraction and a false sense of productivity. Her wisdom offers hope in our professional and personal lives.
-Kenny Moore, Author: The CEO and the Monk: One Company's Journey to Profit and Purpose
In her wonderful guide to living a deeper, richer life, Janet Neal takes us by the hand and shows us step by step how to give up the need to manage our life perfectly and find that serene, sunlit place where our soul is in control. With stories and lessons straight from the heart that we can all embrace, Janet is a wise and witty superwoman-turned-sage. If you want more joy, fulfillment, and fun in your life, then read Soul In Control -- you'll be glad you did!"
-Karin Abarbanel, Co-author: Birthing the Elephant: The Woman's Go-For-It!
Guide to Overcoming the Big Challenges of Launching a Business
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Soul in ControlReflections of a Reformed Superwoman
By Janet M. Neal
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Janet M. Neal
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBecoming Aware
The Chair Incident
I hate being early. Being on time even brings its own set of anxiety for me, but early? Downright nearly puts me over the edge. Last week I showed up early to a meeting and sure enough, was presented with not one, but two anxiety provoking scenarios: 1) having to make small talk with someone I didn't know very well, and 2) picking a place to sit. This proved to be the more difficult scenario. Not only did placement come into the equation (not too close, not too far), but there were a variety of chair types from which to choose. Did I want one with arms, or without? Cushions or no cushions? Straight back or slightly slanted? Seriously, WAY too many choices! I realized that I could: a) stand there all day and worry about it; b) wait until the room filled up and take what was left; or c) just go with what seemed right at that moment and hope for the best. I chose the latter.
As I sat and waited for the meeting to begin (and stewed at being there so very early!), I realized that this "chair incident" was such a metaphor for my life right now. A month or so ago I was given a workbook to fill with my goals for the year. Being a goal-driven person, I knew it was a good activity – until I actually had to put them on paper. It was like walking into that room and seeing all those chairs. Where to start? Which one to pick? The choices become overwhelming. And just like my choices with the chairs, my choices in life come down to either spending my time worrying about them, waiting until life or someone else forces my decisions, or just going with what feels right at the time and hoping for the best. Gulp. Pretty tough stuff for someone who traditionally has been concerned about making sure she is doing the "right" thing, and doing it perfectly as well.
I keep thinking about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I get the impression that he started Facebook to meet girls. I don't think he set out to create something that would one day create a platform that could rally millions to peacefully top plea corrupt government. Meeting girls – doable. Overthrowing governments – yeah, not so sure. But he just chose what was in front of him, what felt right at the time. He took action. There was no way he could have had any concept of his actions' unbelievable consequences.
So, for today, I'll show up. Maybe not on time. Definitely not early. But I'll take a deep breath and keep moving. Hey, you never know where this path may lead me.
I want what I want when I want it. So basically I guess you could say that I am selfish. However, there are also many times (decades, actually) where everyone else's needs/ opinions/desires came before mine. In other words, I'm a selfless selfish person.
As you can imagine this personality contradiction has caused a great deal of internal conflict. Perhaps it is why I was always a middle-of-the-road kind of person most of my life – too complicated to choose one side or the other. Compromise may be the name of the game, but as you may imagine, this is not an easy solution for either side of my persona. My selfish side doesn't want to give any ground and my selfless side feels guilty and unworthy of doing the same. It's a Freudian conundrum.
I've had to make decisions in the past which strongly invoke this schizoid personality. Whether it is for a career decision or a relationship issue, the result is the same: I am frustrated regardless of the outcome. I do black and white – I don't do gray easily. Perhaps this is just another reason I abhor most of the winter months: they are SO gray. With the exception of my hair, gray is definitely not my favorite color.
I am working hard to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. In some ways, it is one of the hardest things I've ever attempted to do. Going through life without knowing all the answers – or risking that someone may actually notice that I don't – is a bit unnerving. And yet, the mere act of being vulnerable serves not only to bring me out of my selfishness, but releases me from the people-pleasing selflessness.
I'm taking a deep breath on that one. Here goes nothing ...
Making it Fit
As I waded through the widely strewn contents of my basement in preparation for moving, I muttered more than a few choice comments about my ex-husband's purchasing habits regarding home improvement project materials. We owned more "make your own screen" kits than we had windows in our house. And just how many new door latches does one REALLY need? I was feeling very smug – until I got to the home office/study area and found my Achilles heel: office and school supplies. At last count I have unearthed 11 unopened sets of divider tabs, probably 40 folders, and possibly 20 notebooks. Let's not even talk about the pens, pencils and paper of various stock, color and usage. And there still are three unexplored boxes just waiting to expose my weakness.
OK, so I've uncovered another hidden treasure of moving – the exposure to all your "stuff." Not only am I finding physical stuff that I had long forgotten, but I am finding all sorts of goodies of the emotional nature. One of these more interesting "finds" is my need to categorize.
Any good organizer worth his or her salt gleefully will charge you with the painful, yet necessary task, of deciding what stays and what goes. That is phase one. Next, lump together those things which share some common component or usage. This task I actually find very rewarding. I now actually can find kitchen items easily, the kids can, at a glance, find the Xbox game vs. the Playstation ones, and, of course, there are those office supplies. The problem is what to do with the stuff that doesn't fit neatly into a category or group. For example: what do I do with the baby books? Are they to be shelved with the photos, or archived with the "we won't need these for a long time" items? They could go either way. Which begs the much deeper question: what do I do with the other things in my life which I can't categorize?
My career had been put pretty much on hold as I was consumed with this move. As I see the light at the end of the tunnel of boxes, I realize it is time for me to start making some decisions. But how to categorize them? How do you reinvent your reinvented self? Which parts do you keep, which do you throw away, and what do you do with the stuff that doesn't fit neatly in one compartment?
I realized that the process is the same as the one I have been using for wading through my physical stuff:
Step one: Make a list of what I need.
Step Two: Be willing to let go of that which is not necessary or no longer relevant.
Step Three: Take an inventory of that which remains and give it the "gut test:" Imagine my life with it and feel the feeling I get from keeping it. Then imagine my life without it and notice that feeling. The gut never lies ...
Step Four: Put aside that which doesn't make sense right now. Revisit it in a week, or a month. It may have found its home by then, or at least a clearer answer.
Step Five: Step back and look at what I've got. Make any minor adjustments.
Step Six: Celebrate the new me!
I'm coming to realize that life is not about what compartment you fit in or even if you spill over into a couple along the way. Life is a series of readjustments, a response to continual internal and external changes. And really, as long as you know where the important stuff is, what else do you need? But if you need office supplies, give me a call ...
I don't know what is more stuffed with turkey, dressing and pie – me or my refrigerator. As I gaze at its contents, now overflowing with bits and pieces of a wonderful holiday celebration, I can't help but wonder what truly makes the Thanksgiving leftovers so great: their flavor, or their memories. A bite of the turkey reminds me of the oft-repeated "just 20 more minutes" before the bird was ready. The aroma of the sweet potato casserole elicits a smirk as I remember the forced smile I wore when its contents were described to me – and my subsequent sheepish request for seconds after my hesitant initial taste test proved a delightful surprise. And the melt-in-your-mouth sweetness of the apple pie warms my heart with the memory of love and appreciation at my handiwork.
Since when did leftovers get such a good rap?
Wasn't there a time, not so long ago, when I myself felt like a "leftover?" A remnant of a past life – incomplete, worked over, and left on a shelf for another day? A walk around my house was a tour of a life that use to be: half the crystal, a few snatched wrenches from a toolbox, books with no book shelf, chairs with no table, empty spots where family portraits use to hang.
When you are viewing life through the lens of "less than", then life takes on that negative hue. You notice what you don't have and find evidence of it everywhere. Just like when you're looking for a car and that is the only car you see on the road, or when you're trying to get pregnant and all you see are babies, or you're divorced and all you see are happy looking families everywhere. Leftover is what happens when you don't have the complete picture.
Thanksgiving, however, has made me realize that there is yet a different way to look at leftovers. Rather than focusing on what is missing, focus on what is present. Yes, there may not be enough fine china left for a party of eight, but hey, there's plenty for an intimate dinner party. And the food not consumed at this meal will provide the basis for future meals which bring their own memories. That which is left is often more flavorful, as the individual ingredients have had time to age and integrate thoroughly into a new, more robust version of themselves. And life, as a leftover, is equally as rich: embroidered with the trappings and trimmings of days gone by and poised to take advantage of the moment present.
If life were such that I had a choice to start afresh, or to move forward with the collection of experiences that I've accumulated, there would be no hesitation in my choosing. I would gather up my bags of leftovers, grateful for each morsel, and head on down that winding road. What was once thought of as a burden, now has become a life-sustainer and enhancer. Life as a leftover brings new hope, new experiences for growth and new ways to transform that which was, into that which will be – and it's pretty darn tasty too!
Ode to Ralph Nader
Back when the "Green Movement" was known as "Ecology" and when "rapping" was not something accompanied by a beat, I was a Midwestern girl with intentions to change the world. So it was not surprising that, when Ralph Nader came to my college campus, I was one of the first in line to see him. His visit came shortly after he had caused the stir that created seat belts and his youthful, anti-establishment, "power to the people" message stirred my own social activism. A picture from the front page of the college newspaper shows him speaking to a rapt audience – with me in the front row, pigtailed and bell-bottomed, sitting cross-legged on the gym floor, gazing intently at him. Truly a moment of inspiration.
However, the truth of the situation was that if you looked again at the picture, there is a gorgeous guy sitting next to me named Jeff Carr, whom I had been wanting to get to know, and I spent the entire lecture thinking about how cool it was that he was next to me, that we could talk about it on the way out, that this would be the beginning a beautiful relationship, how cute our kids would be.... I have no idea what Ralph Nader said.
So, when the opportunity came to go hear Ralph Nader, a couple of decades later, I jumped on it. Assured that there would be no Jeff Carr to distract me, I was eager to hear Nader's message on social entrepreneurship. And he did not disappoint. Outside of a few curmudgeonly statements, like, "What is this obsession with music?!" he remains an inspiration to "just do it." It is more than a little humbling to look at what I have accomplished over the past 40 years, versus his list.
His message conveyed a sense of urgency, that time is a wasting, people. He expressed his frustration with society and how the "trivialization of time is staggering." We cannot afford to act as if we have all the time in the world to solve our problems, for if we refuse to act, our days could indeed be numbered.
I left there pumped up and ready for the fight. The only problem is, fighting for what? Days before I had been in a state of perpetual frustration over trying to figure out what was next for me and had just come to the acceptance that time takes time. This was going to be a process and I needed to allow it to unfold. Now I was feeling that urgency again. I had the fuel, but where was the vehicle?
I wish I could say that I have since found the answer and am charging down my path. What is interesting, though, is that maybe I am and I don't even know it. One of my favorite authors, Kent Nerburn, in his book Simple Truths, talks about it being the small touches that become our legacy to the universe. He says, "If we have played our part well, offering love where it was needed, strength and caring where it was lacking; if we tended the earth and its creatures with a sense of humble stewardship, we will have done enough."
Maybe I am not destined to be a Ralph Nader and have a resume of accomplishments that far exceed the recommended one to two pages. Maybe my work will not cure the ills of many or cause social change in the world. Maybe my path is a simpler one, but still important in the grand schemes of the universe none the less.
I may not ever know how my life touches another, but I do know how others touch me. And so thank you to all of you who have, in your own ways, shaped my life to be what it is today. And thank you, Ralph Nader, for your inspiration, vision, and continued message of social activism. That and for letting me meet Jeff Carr.
Hidden in Plain Sight
A riddle for you: What can be both seen and unseen at the same time?
Answer: The Truth
It is easy to see the answer when it is about someone else and yet can be invisible, at the same time, to one's own self. Boggles the mind. This principle became very clear to me last week when my son was berating me for not paying more attention to our older dog. He said, "Just because the puppy demands your attention and makes it difficult to spend any time with the other dog, it is just not right or fair to the older dog." I just stared at him in amazement because he was describing the scenario between himself and his younger siblings. It was amazing to me that he could see the phenomenon very clearly in another context but was totally clueless when I asked him if he saw any parallels to his life. It reminded me of a friend who will talk about how someone is so nasty and biased – and then, in almost the same sentence, will exhibit nearly the same traits. I have been left speechless on more than one occasion by the irony of it.
Lest I seem all high and mighty about this, it occurred to me this morning that if others behave this way, then most certainly I must do so as well. For example, I know that I have a blind spot about my fear of making a wrong decision. Somewhere, a long time ago, I came up with the irrational belief that I need to make the RIGHT decision ... or else.... This mindset can be crippling and tremendously ineffectual and generally is applied to decisions that have some sort of ego stake attached to it. I will sit on the sidelines for a long time, just observing, before I'll jump in. On the other hand, I have countless examples of times I've made a decision and found out it wasn't a good one ... and I've actually lived to talk about it! In fact, most times, I've come out better on the other end because of those decisions. And yet I can almost see that in-denial part of me closing its eyes, with hands over the ears and humming madly so as not to hear the truth.
I think I may see next year's New Year's resolution in the making....
Let the Sun Shine
The other day I awoke early and got ready in a dimly lit room, trying not to wake anyone. I kept applying makeup, as it didn't seem to be "taking." By the time I got out into the car and the daylight and looked at myself in the mirror there, the only words that came to mind were, "I'm ready for my close-up now, Mr. DeMille."
I've become someone who is very sensitive to light – not in the sense that I can't bear to be out in it – but more so that I am extremely attuned to it. I will notice if there is a change to anything in the environment, like a tree being removed, which affects the light patterns. I even think of my life in terms of light vs. dark. Being a very visual person, if I "see" a picture of a scene from any particular time in my life, I see it in shades of brightness, depending on the emotional context. I once was trying to explain to a client that his company was a "light" environment for me versus others with whom I had worked. Not so sure he got it, or me, but I know I was at least entertaining to him!
Letting the light into my life, from the literal to the spiritual, has been a transitional process. I was reflecting on how even my choice of housing has been indicative of how much or how little light I was willing to allow into my life. My first apartment was a basement apartment: enough said. I was definitely in a shut down/cocoon stage of my life at that point. I progressed to an attic apartment, but with not much window space there either, and then moved to a place in the woods. Next was an apartment with dark woodwork and did I even open my curtains? Finally, my life started to turn and I lived in houses with big windows that let in lots of light, just as I was allowing light to flow in and out of me.
This summer my goal has been to have a deep tan. I know – very shallow of me! But getting it means I am spending a lot of time outside, soaking up that Vitamin D (with sunscreen, of course), and letting that light just soak on in. It's a nice reminder of the need to be open to that which is around me. And a better one than a Gloria Swanson makeup lesson!
Excerpted from Soul in Control by Janet M. Neal Copyright © 2012 by Janet M. Neal. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Becoming Aware....................4
Chapter 2: Holding Back And Letting Go....................36
Chapter 3: Good Enough....................65
Chapter 4: Loving What You Do and Doing What You Love....................87
Chapter 5: Life Through a New Lens....................106
Chapter 6: Balancing it Out....................147
About the Author....................195