Post On: November 1, 2019
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Hey friends, I'm really excited about this month's topic, but before we dive in, I just want you to consider that you are only ever five steps away from a sustainable solution for any life situation when you approach it using the principles of a gap year mindset. And it's my hope that you'll come and visit us at thegapyeargirls.com to learn more!
So, now with that wonderful sponsor info out of the way….
I'm your host, Celeste, and you are listening to Episode #4, your Relationship to Family.
Before we dive in, I want to take a quick moment to define family for the context of this podcast. Obviously, this would include your parents, siblings, and other close relatives if you have them, but also including all the other deep bonds that you share with friends or adults who've had a significant impact on your life and continue to do so today.
As I've been doing this research, I'm asking myself, you know, what are those trigger points with family, and when do we experience them? Maybe it's just on the phone conversations you have while you're out living your life. That's one place we interact with family. Or maybe you'll actually go and visit your family briefly for the holidays or an important event. That's another. Or maybe you're like the other hundreds of thousands of other recent college graduates who decide to return home for a longer period of time to temporarily regroup as you transition from one chapter in your life to the next.
And, as much as you might value your family's love and support in those times, tension can also be high when you try to make sense of how much you have changed since you last saw them (or lived with them) and how obvious it becomes to you once you talk with them, or return home after months (or years) of exploring life on your own.
For so many of us women, when we are still trying to figure out what the heck we want to do with our lives, being able to keep our composure when family members are constantly asking us, "so what are you doing now?" "What are your plans?" "where are you going next?" can be a prime opportunity to give away all our new found power to them in the presence of realizing how much you still don't actually know.
So the question to ask ourselves really becomes, how do we integrate our own newfound independence (while still confronting an unknown future) in the presence of our family? I think we'd all like to know the answer to this one! And that is what I'm going to explore with you in the rest of this podcast.
Here's the thing we all have to remember. When our family says goodbye to us as we leave for any given adventure, they're still going to imagine us as the person we were before we left, even when we had lots of life-changing experiences. AND, you are still going to imagine your parents as the same people they were when you last saw them! Change is constant, but growth is a choice.
It can feel really disempowering for both you and a member of your family to return home and fall back into old patterns of relating that might convince us that nothing has changed. I think that's one of the biggest fears we have when we come home to family is that 'if so and so treats me the same way as they did before I left', then everything that I've come to learn and understand about this more independent and expanded version of myself either didn't matter it didn't happen.
Which is not true, right? But we tend to so easily invalidate ourselves and our experiences when we are seeking another person's approval and don't really know how to communicate our transformation and therefore reintroduce this new version of ourselves to our loved ones. This goes both ways for you and your family.
Because you may have gone off to Nepal and discovered an aspect of yourself that is deeply spiritual, or you may have taken a photography class in college that has completely sparked a creative passion for the arts, or met someone at a hostel with the coolest stories from a van life adventure that has you shopping for your dream rig on craigslist… and guess what, your family maybe never imagined you with these qualities before, and MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND. That's okay.
Similarly, while you were gone, your mom may have decided to take up pole dancing for exercise, or decide to completely dismantle your old childhood bedroom, and YOU MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND. And that's okay too.
In my experience, when my family allows me the space to grow and change my habits, my beliefs, and heck in my case, even my name, then they are showing me the ultimate sign of respect. Likewise, when I return home and allow space for my family to be different in their habits, beliefs, and desires, then I am showing them the same. My ultimate goal is not to have 50 more years of reliving the relationship I had with my parents when I was a child, but instead, continue returning home a changed woman and build new bonds that are founded on mutual respect and radical acceptance.
Because here's how I see it:
It's like the Hero's journey story line that famous psychologist and mythologist Joseph Campbell outlines in his work: Every Hero who answers their call to adventure follows a very similar story line from beginning to end. If you aren't familiar with his work, I highly suggest checking it out, it's super fascinating, and especially in the context of what I'm sharing here with YOU being the Hero. Because here's the thing, we are ALL the Hero, the protagonist of our own life story. (Some of us are maybe still asleep to that, but it's my hope that every one of you will realize that YOU are the Hero of your own life journey).
Here's how it goes down, and I'm paraphrasing, but essentially, each Hero starts in the "ordinary world" until they receive a call to adventure. (Katniss Everdeen received her call when she heard prim's name get called for the hunger games drawing, Harry Potter received his call when the letter finally reached him from Hogwarts) For me, my first call to adventure was in my freshman year Spanish class in high school when a group came in and presented about an opportunity to volunteer abroad for the summer, and my heart practically leaped out of my chest with the recognition that I was DESTINED to go and have that experience.
Once they decide to answer the call, in order for the Hero to fulfill his or her destiny, there are a series of challenges they have to face, inner and outer demons they have to slay, and ultimately gems of wisdom and experiences that get taken away as a reward until eventually, the storyline ends with them returning to the ordinary world in which they first began, now as a changed person.
And I don't know how you relate, but reflecting back on the courageous choices I've made in my life, I've certainly lived this Hero's journey multiple times. And the adventures always seem to begin and end each time in the "ordinary world" of time spent living with my family.
I answered my first call to adventure to become the Hero of my own life that first summer volunteering abroad in Ecuador at 17 years old. And then I came home from those eight weeks of living on my own in the Andes Mountains and struggled to communicate who I had become since my family and friends last saw me. I did my best to adjust back to the ordinary world of Netflix and traffic lights after milking cows and candlelight, now having a broader perspective of the possibilities that existed beyond in the unknown that I had been brave enough to go out and explore. Thankfully, my Hero's journey did NOT end at 17 years old, because I received the call to adventure again when I got a phone call my senior year in high school from a friend asking me if I had considered taking a gap year after graduating in the spring. Until that moment I had not, and again, the inner voice inside cheered in recognition that this too was a choice I was destined to make, which led me on the journey of leaving the ordinary 'known' world once again at 18 to spend 6 months living and volunteering in Cape Town, South Africa and the Amazon jungles of Peru. Again, after many months of adventures and even a couple near-death experiences, I lived my full Hero's journey and returned once again to the ordinary world of living with my parents, as I prepared for my upcoming freshman year of college. It was strange, to say the least, after months of doing daily activities that involved mastering the art of using a machete, to return home and struggle with my own inner voice of triggered annoyance when my dad would scold me for not unloading the dishwasher (that, to be fair, he did already ask me to do 3 times and I just never got around to).
When I had fewer tools for how to integrate all the growth that had just taken place within myself, those times of regrouping I spent back with my family would be filled with conflict and passive-aggressive remarks. Because on the surface, I'd stir things up by getting irritated with my dad, but underneath, I was really just irritated with myself for not acting like the responsible and independent jungle badass that I just spend weeks getting to know within myself in Peru.
Each time I came home, I would face off with the parts of myself that wanted to revert back to childhood patterns of getting complacent and being taken care of and provided for. Earlier on, in many ways, I felt entitled to this unconditional support care because it was coming from my' family'. But thankfully, each time I would settle in, the call to adventure would come knocking again with more growth to be had. And I knew it, so I'd say yes and embark into the unknown yet again. I left my family to spend a year at University, then came home. Then I spent a year studying to become a life coach in Bali, and then I came home. Then I spent a year building this business in Guatemala, and then I came home.
Every single time one of those chapters ended, I found myself "returning to the ordinary world" by spending some varied amount of time living back under the roof of my family members. And there is NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. According to Joseph Campbell, it's only when we return full circle to the ordinary world can we truly see the transformation that our journey facilitated within ourselves. Having this inner understanding and integration of our diverse experiences is exactly what inspired The Intentional Gap Year workshop, and now gives Gap Year Girls the platform to do.
Because the periods of rest, reflection, and regrouping are not "gaps" in our journey, they ARE the journey. It's all part of the journey, and I think that the most challenging part of these transitions where we do return to the ordinary world is learning how to reintroduce ourselves to the people we love because deep down we are afraid that if we acknowledge how much we've changed, they might not approve of us, which is why we must learn to fully and wholeheartedly approve of ourselves in order to live an authentic and meaningful life.
Respectfully receive support:
Without an inner foundation of self-awareness and acceptance, we can feel especially vulnerable when it comes to relating with our family when it involves making a choice to rely on them for financial support or move back in with them for any period of time.
Whatever the conditions are, if any, that your family has placed on the support they offer you, it's up to you to weigh the pros and cons. Maybe you do have to pay rent. Maybe you can't have any romantic interests over. Maybe you have to be employed--so be it. If those are their rules, it's up to you to empower yourself and decide if the sacrifices you'd be making if you didn't receive their support outweigh the sacrifices you'd be making if you did. And move forward in your decision with that level of self-responsibility and emotional maturity.
Because sometimes, it really is the best choice to save money, slow down, or nurture your mental, emotional, and physical health after life doesn't happen the way you planned. You might be battling all the limiting stories you have in your head about what you've made it mean to move back home and spend time living with a family member. But without self-awareness, all of that inner frustration will likely end up being taken out on the very people trying most to help you out right now.
Practice radical acceptance to set yourself free:
At the end of the day, empowering our relationship with our family can only come from first empowering the relationship we have with ourselves. There isn't one without the other. Each time I made my loop around the Hero's journey, I became more and more self-empowered; therefore, my relationship with my family became more and more unconditionally loving over time. I focused on changing the one thing I could control: me. I was the one letting go of more and more judgment, fear, embarrassment, and resistance. I was the one learning how to communicate my needs and desires more clearly. I was the one learning how to forgive and be more compassionate in otherwise unforgivable circumstances. And therefore, I was the one that got to genuinely enjoy the time I spent with my family more and more each time I'd return to visit them because I had been committed to my own growth in the time in between.
We are all on our own Hero's journeys, and it is my wish that you have many calls to adventure that take you out of your ordinary worlds and into the magical depths of the unknown, only to return you safely home again to integrate the woman you've now become.
We know that this new version of ourselves will have the chance to face our growth, especially when we are making any type of contact with our family. Whether it's a phone call check-in, seeing someone at a shared family event or moving back in with someone temporarily while you regroup in a bigger life transition. Remember, as I do, that we all have the power within ourselves to have a relationship with family we most want to have. And it starts with ourselves.
I hope these ideas have been valuable for you, thank you so much for listening, and I look forward to reading the comments that you leave below. To learn more about taking a deep dive within yourself to gain that inner foundation of self-awareness and acceptance that I've been referring to throughout this podcast, join us in The Intentional Gap Year Workshop, and you can begin your journey today. See you there!