“Why do I always do this to myself??”

 

If my thoughts were audible, you’d hear this message with steady frequency.

 

This thought is always accompanied by a set of physical sensations: butterflies in the stomach, a dry throat, and my heart beating fast and hard.

 

It’s the thought that crashes through my mind just before I do something that scares me: like standing in front of a microphone, either to teach or to sing.

 

This thought then gives way to an internal dialogue that goes like this:

 

“Why do I always do this to myself??”

 

“I don’t know. It’s ridiculous. If you hadn’t said yes to this, you could be sitting on the couch with a book instead of having to run to the bathroom every 5 seconds to relieve your bowels in terror.”

 

Then, I think:

 

“It’s too late now. I’m going to front like I own this place, and let ‘er rip.”

 

Then I go out there and I crush it—usually.

 

Sometimes I fail spectacularly, but most of the time I do well. Afterwards, I get that “I was born to do this” feeling. This insane cycle of anxiety is so well known that when my husband can sense it playing out, he usually just skips to the end, and says to me, “Remember: you were born to do this.”

 

But lately, I’m getting tired of this agony-ridden thought pattern. I’m sick of the voice that accuses me of saying yes to scary things as if that were a bad thing. I’m tired of demonizing the butterflies and nervous stomach.

 

I’m over it. Enough is enough.

 

What I discovered in 2016 was this: when I aim the arrow of my life at comfort, it usually hits the target. But it’s not my favorite target. The comfort target often leads to thoughts like this one: “This is nice, but is this all there is?” The comfort target is definitely comfy, but it’s joyless. Flatline. Basic. Safe in that stunted, blurry way of feeling “safe.”

 

In contrast, when I aim the arrow of my life at joy, it requires a level of focus and tolerance for risk (read: terror) that the target of comfort would never demand. But when I hit the joy target, it leads to feelings so big, I can hardly find the words to express them. Words like transcendence, adrenaline, meaning, purpose, flow, aliveness, love and joy come close but still don’t capture the feelings associated with the joy target.

 

It turns out that butterflies, a pounding heart, and a dry throat are the hallmark sensations of aiming at the joy target. 

 

So I’ve made a decision. When I experience these physical signs, instead of berating myself with “WHY do you always do this to yourself?” I’m going to repeat my Butterfly Manifesto and breathe deeply.

 

 

The Butterfly Manifesto

 

I feel you fluttering, oh stomach butterflies.

 

I feel you beating, big fierce heart.

 

I feel you going dry, oh throat of mine.

 

I used to think you were to be avoided.

 

But now I know better.

 

I know that the best moments of my life are just beyond you.

 

If I have the courage to move past you.

 

I was born for joy, not complacency.

 

I was born to feel alive, not to sleepwalk.

 

So bring it, butterflies. Bring it.

 

And if I’m lucky, I’ll see you again soon.

 

 

As we move into 2017, and 2016 becomes a memory, I say we bring on the butterflies.

 

Bring on the opportunities for joy that scare us to the marrow. Bring on the opportunities that take us out of joyless comfort and into experiences we could never have imagined for ourselves.

 

As the brilliant poet Mary Oliver asks,

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

 

I plan to aim for joy. Let’s all aim for joy in 2017. Let’s aim at joy like a band of fierce warriors with braids and rad looking cloaks.  It’s time. Let’s do it.

 

Merry Christmas, Happy Everything, and a Blessed New Year, friends.