What’s your lodestar, your beacon, lighthouse, pharos? Can you tell I’ve been using the thesaurus? All of these words mean, like my favorite soap opera in 1985, guiding light.
Do you have a guiding light? If not it’s time to get one. When you do, everything you do, every choice you make will either lead you closer to your light or further away. Closer is heaven. Away is terrifying as hell. It’s that simple.
So what exactly is a guiding light? It’s a principle or an ideal, or an aspect of your life that is THE numero uno thing that drives you to be a better person. For my husband, it’s family. Everything he does in life is aligned with having his family be optimal. Being a musician gives him a little agida. When he leaves to rehearse or perform, he wonders whether it’s going to deteriorate us a little bit. But he also knows that he would implode without music, so ultimately leaving us to make music means that he is a better husband and father, even if he sleeps til eleven the morning after a late-night gig.
My lodestar is pretty simple. It’s to have a calm, clear, creative mind, rather than the stormy, anxiety- and depression-riddled mind that once drove me to seriously consider suicide. I am always running away from the dysfunctional and painful way I grew up, which means that I am running toward its opposite. It’s a simple quest to abolish suffering, but in doing so, the world opens up in countless ways—relationships, career, health.
I cannot function productively as a parent, wife or trainer when I’m consumed with self-hatred, anger, deep shame and fear of the world, which is where I go when I get depressed or anxious. Conversely, with a calm mind, I can respond reasonably and responsibly to nearly everything that comes my way with confidence. I can impose boundaries where needed, be a better listener and a fairer judge of situations. This is not to say I don’t fuck up. But with a calm, sane mind I can fuck up without destroying myself and everyone around me.
Here’s my top thirteen list of tools that keeps me on course toward my personal lodestar:
Lexapro. I tried life without it and wound up interviewing trees for the job of hanging me. SSRI medication makes me tired and shrivels my sex drive, but it’s a small price to pay for enjoying life on a daily basis.
Working out with heavy and ballistic loads. Endorphins. The sense of accomplishment. The muscle. The amazing feeling of freedom when I go for a run because it no longer wastes me. The small goals that add up to more strength than I’ve ever had in my life. The tall, confident posture I’ve cultivated from deadlifting every week. And the physical struggle and victory of successfully moving heavy loads, which transmutes into a hero's journey every time I train.
Spending time with people I love. Sitting around the dinner table discussing LGBT issues with my husband and kids, laughing my ass off over sushi with friends. Oh and speaking of dinner, my family and I have a tradition, it’s the closest thing we have to religion in our heathen family. We go around the table and each share what we’re thankful for that day. It is totally grounding and reminds me that my kids are thoughtful articulate people who make the world a better place.
Open honest communication with my kids. And with my husband. And my friends, and my colleagues and myself. Everyone really. And not only open, but precise communication. Clarity is the opposite of dysfunction. Misunderstandings are grounds for war. This is why I write—to figure out what the hell I’m thinking, to clear up confusion and distill my beliefs. "The truth shall set you free" is a cheap and easy platitude but it's ubiquitous for a reason.
Diet. Specifially eating ample protein (about 125 grams per my 125 pounds), not skimping on fat, limiting sugar, wheat flour and caffeine, eliminating alcohol and drinking plenty of water. Regarding alcohol, I love the first drink, but invariably the next day I wake up foggy-headed and lack energy. The second drink slides me into a place where I am likely to overeat, and the next morning I feel anxious. Beyond that there’s depression, inertia, saying stupid things I later regret, and doing risky stuff, like driving. My mind is consistently calmer without it. There are very limited pros compared to the cons.
Eliminating the unaccountables—underminers, victims, pathologically toxic and abusive people—you know, those people for whom problems are always someone else's fault. I used to not only tolerate abusers but I sought them out because I was raised by and with abusers and thought so little of myself. I’ve come to realize that for me, strict boundaries are an absolute must when it comes to preserving my dignity and sanity. Anyone who doesn’t know how to take responsibility for their own misery will never, ever be able to support you or treat you with respect. That means they will keep you on the phone at inopportune times with their problems, rail at, repudiate and scapegoat you, text you in the middle of the night in a panic, offer irrelevant and condescending character assessments, and not be there when you need a supportive shoulder. Get that mess out of your life. If it so happens that they reject you, it is a blessing, 100%.
Sleep. Ideally going to bed around ten and waking up around seven. Naps too when necessary. I veer off course with this one every couple weeks, depending on what I’ve eaten—a bowl of ice cream at night is not my friend when I want to go to bed around ten.
Good stories. Whether in book, TV, interview or movie form, good stories inspire and make me feel connected. I have a few favorites that have transported me, though you might think they’re supremely dumb. Some examples include Contact, The OA, The World According to Garp, Thelma and Louise, Joe Rogan's podcast interview with David Goggins.
Being creative. Writing, decorating, dancing, acting out made up characters to annoy and mesmerize my children. Applying makeup, dying my hair, putting an outfit together. Designing training programs, my website, my garage gym. Simply practicing good penmanship in my training journal. Anything and everything creative is ultimately problem solving. Bring ‘em on. It’s my happy place.
Keeping a clean, tidy home. Editing our stuff. Selling it. Donating it. Streamlining our physical space.
Spending within my budget. Not going crazy at Lululemon or Sephora. Or at Christmas. Or on my birthday. Having a uniform helps. For me that’s leggings, flat soled shoes like Uggs, Vans or Chuck Taylors, a sports bra, tank top, hoodie. Keeping the color scheme restricted helps too. It takes the guesswork and panic out of daily outfitting.
Circling back to myself to check in. I literally talk to myself these days as if I am two separate minds—the wise one and the seeker. Do I sound nuts? Or do you do this too? Talking my issues out loud helps tremendously to get centered and figure out how to better handle stresses I encounter. I've even recorded myself having conversations with myself. Don't get me started on the accents I employ from time to time. I also journal and have done so since 1997 when I first read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Without that book I never would have become a writer, let alone a published author.
Not phoning it in. I try to give my all to every important task. There is so much room for improvement here. I find that the more honest I am with myself about my lodestar, the harder I work to bring forth excellence in all areas of my life.
FYI, This post was inspired by discovering the brilliant thinker/professor/clinical psychologist/activist/truth warrior Jordan Peterson, through my deadlifting coach, Chris Robert at Warhorse Barbell Club in Philadelphia.
Now it’s your turn. Figure out your lodestar, write it down and then make your top thirteen (or whatever number) list—what are your specific tools that keep you pointed toward your guiding light?