I mentioned a few months ago that I was working with a life coach (Todd Payne, Life Coach (toddpaynelifecoach.com) to help me deal with some of the issues in my life that limit the joy I could be experiencing. Todd bases his coaching on the enneagram, a system of navigating life by understanding the basic needs and tendencies of various personality types. I am a type six. One of the biggest hallmarks of a type 6 is the need for certainty. We expend ridiculous amounts of energy preparing and planning for any eventuality that is likely to threaten our personal safety, especially our social and emotional safety. Even with all that preparation, we tend to doubt ourselves and our ability to handle even the most routine ups and downs of life.
For anyone who knows me, even a little, it would require neither an enneagram nor a life coach to reach this conclusion. I am about as six-ish as a six can be. The fact that I had trouble identifying that I was a six is probably part of the six-ishness. I even doubted my ability to understand myself.
Recently, Max and I planned a trip to Charleston, South Carolina. We invited our friends Kathy and Charlie to go with us. Neither Max nor I had been to Charleston. I, of course, experienced a fair degree of anxiety about the whole thing. The six in me cried “eeek!!!” at the thought of going somewhere unfamiliar. The six in me cried “eeek!!!” at the responsibility of planning accommodations, activities, and meals for the enjoyment of some of my nearest and dearest peeps. I also pushed my own envelope to insist on driving. Max was all for flying, but I thought it made more sense to drive. This meant that I would be driving further than I’ve ever driven before- almost seven hours each way. Eeek!!! again.
All these potential perils did scare me. I will not deny it. However, after all my work with Todd, I genuinely wanted to practice ignoring irrational anxiety that keeps me from doing things I want to do. After all, tons of tourists visit Charleston every day. People I know snowbird in Florida by driving much further distances twice a year. Truthfully, it was a fallacy to believe that it was my responsibility to guarantee that everyone had an enjoyable time; my traveling companions could certainly adjust my plans to meet their own needs and preferences. The internet boasted excellent reviews of the hotel I booked. I also checked MapQuest to get a feel for how far away we would be from things we wanted to do. There were plenty of activities and dining options from which to choose in Charleston and the odds are that most people do not book every minute of every day before ever crossing the South Carolina border. It was almost painful for me to embrace the unknown and just wait until we got to Charleston to reserve activities. However, logic told me that it was safe to wait and see what made sense based on our exact location, the weather, and our own biorhythms.
A couple of weeks before the trip, I began to feel the anxiety building. On the other hand, the delight and excitement about the vacation also increased. I found that I could manage the anxiety quite easily by concentrating on how much fun we could have if I did not ruin it for myself by overthinking. I felt pretty good about myself. Yes, I was checking the weather in Charleston compulsively every few hours, but I was also not despondent over the ever-increasing chance that we would be washed away in a typhoon. It seemed that the only three days in the entire forecast that would have weather issues were the three full days we would be in Charleston. However, I have now lived in the south long enough to know that you cannot rely on the forecast until the day before, if then. Weather below the Mason-Dixon line is nothing if not changeable. I just rode my little “the weather will probably change by the time we get there” horse until that horse was dead tired.
Two days before we were supposed to leave, Kathy called me to ask what I wanted to do about the weather in Charleston. Since I did not now it was an option for me to do ANYTHING about the weather, I was a bit confused. She sounded dejected and implied we should consider cancelling or postponing the trip. This bummed me right out.
Before we go any further, let me give you some context. I am the original “or” girl. I often say, “we can do this OR that.” Kathy resists my “or”ientation. She is the original “and” girl. She persists in believing that there is no reason we can’t do this AND that, even when my understanding of the space-time continuum would suggest otherwise. I usually rely on her to free me from my self-imposed limitations.
So, if Kathy was capitulating because of the weather, disaster must be looming. On the other hand, when she suggested postponing the trip by a week or two, my brain immediately went to that six-y planning place. What do you mean, CHANGE THE PLAN? cried my poor little six-ish sensibility. I am embarrassed to say that I immediately dismissed the suggestion without even really considering its merit. The idea of juggling months of scheduling, reservations, and preparations just did not compute. The only outcome of that conversation was to thrust my carefully managed anxiety into overdrive. The carefully cultivated optimism disappeared. I was bummed. Still, I gathered my pluck and insisted that we would have a fun time whatever the weather.
As the day wore on, I did think about the possibility of postponing. Even for a normal person who is not obsessed with sticking to a plan no matter what, it would have been a lot of trouble to change hotel accommodations, to say nothing of rearranging my schedule that I had specifically cleared for the week of our trip. Also, I know that changing plans because of weather often backfires. I have changed many a plan because of a rain forecast only to find the original day shines clearly with no precipitation while there is a deluge on the rescheduled day. I spent the day distinctly out of sorts.
Later, Kathy texted that she and Charlie had found that we should be able to do many of the things on our Charleston list even if the weather was challenging, so she was happy. I wish I could have changed gears so quickly. I still had an anxiety hangover. The good news is, though, that I was able to keep the negative thoughts at bay. I was proud of myself for regaining my optimism and excitement about the trip, despite being aware that I had to make a conscious effort to do so. I never could have done that before my work with Todd. I can remember one night on our first trip to Disney World when I did not sleep all night because I was too busy obsessing about what to do because it was supposed to rain the next day.
When we got to Charleston, we did run into a problem with our room. I began to feel despondent, ashamed, and awful… but prepared to live with it. Then, it hit me that I had some options. I thought about several possible courses of action and was just about ready to choose the one that would be the most expensive and inconvenient to me, when I stopped myself. Instead of just feeling whiny and bad about the room or martyred because I was the one who would be sacrificing, I could ask for help. I talked to the concierge at the front desk. As we talked things through, he was able to supply an option that was far better than anything I thought possible.
During our visit, we juggled our plans to try to outwit the weather. I could feel my body reacting a little unpleasantly to the changes, but I was able to rely on the wisdom of the decisions to overcome my discomfort with changing the plan. We ended up being able to do virtually everything on our list of “must-dos.” We only had two incidents of truly limiting weather- a hailstorm while we were at the City Market and a tornado-like weather event as we left a restaurant one evening. Together, these events probably lasted less than 45 minutes. The City Market had a cover over it, so we just waited for the hailstones to stop falling. The wackadoodle weather at the restaurant did turn Kathy and I into mermaids without benefit of ocean. We made it to the car in a considerable state of disarray- cold, wet, and untidy. My hair was wetter than it typically is when I shampoo it… and I was wearing a rain jacket with a hood. Still, it was the end of our day, and the damage was not anything that the car heater and a hairdryer back at the hotel could not cure. Overall, not much of a sacrifice for a wonderful trip.
I also committed to eating at whatever restaurants my companions chose. We each got to pick a place for dinner over our four-night stay. On my night, I picked a pizza place. It was wonderful. Okay, yes, I know I was in a city famous for its cuisine. Okay, yes, I know that pizza is not the cuisine for which it is known. Okay, yes, I know I eat like a four-year-old. The other nights, I did not state preferences or worry about whether I would find anything on the menu that a four-year-old would eat. I never whined or even mentioned my absurd eating practices. I just went along for the ride. I did not eat anything super exotic, but I did try things that would not normally be my first choice. Each meal was delicious!
On the last night, we hoped to do a ghost tour of the city. I talked to the concierge guy at the hotel, and he recommended the “Dark Side of Charleston” tour. I looked at the brochure, saw it listed under “ghost tours,” and made us a reservation. The first thing out of the guide’s mouth was “as ‘they’ probably told you, this is not a ghost tour.” I had a moment of panic because I was the one who selected this tour, and I knew Kathy and Charlie really liked ghost tours. I overcame it and decided to enjoy whatever this “non ghost tour” was. It ended up being a tour that told Charleston’s scandalous, criminal, and juicy history. We all ended up loving this ghostless ghost tour.
The Charleston trip was wonderful. It was everything I could have hoped for and more. I loved the city. I loved the churches. I loved our trip to the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. I loved visiting Fort Sumter and the USS Yorktown. I loved shopping and eating and walking. I loved the horse and carriage tour, the bus tour, and the non-ghost tour. What I loved more than anything, though, was the way I lived in the moment and enjoyed what was in front of me instead of forcing a round plan into a square hole. I loved being the Wild Woman of Charleston for a few days!
It occurs to me, as I read this, that some of you may feel a bit cheated. After all, for most people, my Charleston experience probably would not qualify as “wild.” Let me try to compensate by telling you something we learned on the non-ghost tour. The first rector of the oldest congregation in Charleston was fired because he got drunk and baptized a baby bear cub. How’s that for wild?
Have a wild day!!!