Posted by Lissa Carter, LPCA
I'm curious: where do you get your advice?
I'll tell you a little story. Years ago, when I was going through an extremely difficult time, the only place I felt safe unburdening my heart was late at night, to my sleeping baby. I would whisper all my heartaches and then look to my snoozing infant for answers.
It's not that I really thought my baby could advise me...it's just that I didn't know where else to turn.
Sometimes we feel safe in our complaints, because the specter of change is so overwhelming. We turn for advice to those we know will keep us playing small. We complain to those who complain right back, rather than challenging us to change. We take the advice of people who are similarly stuck....or even, if you are like me, seek the advice of the pre-verbal! Now that's playing it safe.
But what if we sought advice from people who had already created the life we long for?
What if we bravely brought our heartaches to the people that would challenge us to heal them?
What if we only shared our most cherished and vulnerable aspirations with people who have made amazing things happen?
Upsourcing means that you surround yourself with a web of humans who make things happen. You invite the people who inspire you for tea. You write a letter to that author you admire and include a poem you wrote ten years ago. You bravely turn your face to the sun and nourish yourself with the dreams that others have made real.
Upsourcing is NOT EASY. It is terrifying to reach out to the people we admire, and let's be honest, there can be a fair amount of rejection involved. But it is a painful truth that you cannot learn how to get unstuck from people who are stuck. And you never know what is possible until you take your heart in your hand and ask.
There are many, many ways to put upsourcing into practice. Here are three to try on for size, in order of the bravery required!
1) Put a notecard in your pocket.
Throughout the day, notice every time you feel a tug of envy. It might be a facebook post you see from a successful friend, or the joy on the face of a person you pass in the street, or a poster advertising travel to the tropics. When you feel that tug of envy, pull out your notecard and jot it down. What do you envy? What is it you want?
At the end of the day, look at this list of qualities and people and experiences that you envy. Find the one that pulls at you the most and take one step toward it. Maybe that means (gulp!) calling the person you admire and asking them how they got that incredible job. Maybe that means calling a counselor and simply stating over the phone that your depression has become unmanageable. Maybe that means calling a travel agency and asking for a brochure to put up on your wall. When we take action, however small, in the direction of our dreams, envy metabolizes into fuel. It's incredible to experience.
2) Choose a friend or acquaintance whose life you admire.
Ask him if he is willing to be your accountability partner for a month. Then, every day, text him with a brag about something you have done right and an intention that you hope to accomplish. For example: "good morning Sigmund! I brag that I got out of bed and made myself breakfast this morning before the kids were up and took the time to enjoy a quiet cup of tea. I intend to write in my journal today for five minutes any time I begin to feel hopelessness creeping in. Thank you!" Your friend does not have to do anything, although chances are, he will begin to reciprocate with brags and intentions of his own! Simply texting your accomplishments and intentions to someone you admire works the magic of accountability, and you may find that it strengthens your friendship as well. If you don't have a phone, choose someone you'll see in person daily.
3) Write a letter to a person of power in your community.
Perhaps she is an author, or an activist, or a public speaker. The only requirement is that she be someone you consider important and admirable, doing work that connects with what you dream of doing or accomplishing in your life.
Write why you admire her. Be specific. Then tell her about your dreams, what you hope to do, and ask for her advice. Whisper a blessing and mail it off. The worst thing that can happen is she doesn't respond. The best thing that can happen? The sky is the limit. The foundations of your life could shift.
All of these upsourcing activities are free and require only two things:
1) your time and 2) your courage.
So, as the poet Mary Oliver says:
Tell me---what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?
I have worked with people who were caught in situations that seemed completely inescapable, and I have seen them overcome depression and anxiety that felt immobilizing. For all of them, it started with a single step, the bravery to ask the right person for help. I know that's how it started for me.
All those years ago, something shifted when I stopped asking my sleeping baby for advice. I turned to a woman I admired and opened my heart to her, even though it terrified me. She found me a job working by her side and our friendship blossomed; we entered into numerous creative collaborations. The confidence I gained from those experiences led to my application to graduate school, and my life changed completely.
I still whisper to my sleeping children at night, but now it is poetry and lullabies.
When you start sharing your dreams and hopes with people who can actually make them happen, life shifts quickly. Give it a try, and let me know what happens!
If you are struggling in your life right now and don’t know if you can make these changes alone, the Sweet Relief series might be for you. One time-tested method of upsourcing is seeking out a counselor, coach, or skills-training community to give you momentum and support. If this resonates with you, read more about Sweet Relief here and let me know if you want to join--space is limited and it starts in May.
Feel free to share your own upsourcing practices in the comments.