We all have areas of our life where we’d like to see growth. Places we’re anxious for progress. Maybe it’s financial goals. You’re tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck, ready to get out of debt, or waiting to buy a home. It could be career related. You’re dreaming of a job that fuels your passions, done with those sixty-hour workweeks, or desperately hoping to be self-employed. There’s health goals, spiritual growth, relationships, and personal development. You’d like to get in shape, be closer to God, have deeper friendships, find more balance, have more fun, be more rested, joyful, present. We all have goals. We all want to grow. We want to get somewhere. We want to be something.
We want more.
And that’s okay.
Growth is a natural and healthy desire for living beings. Wanting more for our life is not a bad thing. It’s not selfish, ungrateful, or excessive. If you’re not convinced, read my last post on divine discontentment. Being discontent with our circumstances is unto something. That lack of satisfaction, that inability to settle for status quo, it pushes us to dream a little bigger for our lives – and that’s where the magic unfolds. When we press into those uncomfortable feelings of discontent, acknowledge that something is missing, take it to God, and ask him to help us grasp a larger vision for that area of our life. It’s vulnerable and brave, and the beginning of more beauty than we can yet comprehend.
I wonder, though, is there another piece to the puzzle of progress?
I’m starting to see an additional requirement to dreaming, without which we stay stuck in the status quo. It’s unassuming and simple, but I think it might be the key to the growth we’re so hungry to see in ourselves and our lives.
I’m coming to believe that permission precedes progress.
Permission. To be where we are. Unfinished and in between. Not quite this or that. Neither here nor there. In progress. Not yet who or what or where we want to be.
Merriam-Webster defines it as, “the right or ability to do something that is given by someone who has the power to decide if it will be allowed or permitted.” Oxford calls it, “the action of officially allowing someone to do a particular thing,” and then lists common synonyms as consent and authorization.
Here’s the thing: permission is an internal act. It’s is a one-way street you drive from the inside out.
You are the only one who can offer yourself permission, or as Merriam-Webster puts it, the only one “who has the power to decide if [fill in the blank] will be allowed or permitted.” You provide consent and authorization. Other people may try, but their consent isn’t official. They aren’t authorized to authorize you. They can have opinions, they can give input, and I certainly hope they share their wisdom with you – but the power to permit belongs to you. Permission is yours and only yours to give.
This is good news! It means you get to determine the course of your own life.
Other humans can’t demand you be someone or do something particular. That is, unless you choose to be powerless and outsource your permission to them. It sounds extreme, but this is the common choice that is made in people pleasing and the typical exchange that takes place in performance.
I did this for years – for most of my life, really. I made my decisions based on what others had to say about me. I walked in the direction others endorsed. I moved away from the things they criticized and toward the things they praised. I wanted to be who they wanted me to be. I wanted to do what they wanted me to do.
I outsourced my permission to others. I let their voices of approval and satisfaction grow so loud in my ears that my dreams and desires were nearly inaudible. It took the physical distance of the Atlantic Ocean and five months of familiarizing myself with my own voice in unfamiliar cities abroad for me to reverse a quarter-life of people pleasing. That’s how real this stuff is.
Even if you’ve temporarily outsourced your permission to others, it still belongs to you. You are the only one with legal rights to it. It’s never too late to take back your permission, because they don’t really possess it, you only think they do. Choose to believe that, and you’ll have your permission back. Believe it enough, and their voices will shrink as you start to hear the whisper of your own heart become a steady song.
When it comes to progress, permission is our launching pad. Until we give ourselves permission to be where we are, we will not leave where we are.
I think our biggest barrier to growth is our own self-criticism. I’m not saying we need to be content with our status quo. By all means, be discontent. Acknowledge that you want more. Dream bigger for your life. Please. But for the love of all that is holy…
Love yourself anyway. Be kind to yourself in the in between. Accept yourself in the not yet.
Give yourself permission to be where you are. Otherwise, you’re just another critical voice. Another pushy outsider condemning yourself and demanding more. Another accuser shouting a long list of not-enough’s. Whether real or fake, there are already plenty of those voices to ignore without adding our own to the mix.
What if our own voice applauded us for our progress and cheered us on in the process?
What if instead of being our own worst critic, we were our own greatest cheerleader?
What if we gave ourselves permission to be where we are rather than constantly pushing ourselves to be further along?
I think we grow best in an atmosphere of grace. I think when we channel our discontentment into dreaming bigger for our life all the while offering ourselves permission to be right where we are, we encounter the grace to accelerate.
Dreaming opens the door to more, but permission to have not yet experienced it empowers us to actually walk through it. Permission precedes progress.
And only when we authentically offer ourselves permission to be where we are can we offer the same to others. Loving ourselves in the in between, being kind to ourselves in the not yet, that’s what enables us to create an atmosphere of grace for everyone around us to do the same. If you can’t be wholeheartedly for yourself in your own season of in between, you can’t be for your friends in theirs.
You may think you’re a lot better at loving your tribe than you are at this whole self-love thing. You may believe your negative self-talk and sky-high expectations for yourself aren’t an issue because they only hurt you. I’d love nothing more than to convince you that you’re worth more than that, but if you need an external reason to start giving yourself permission, I’ll absolutely give you one.
Your ability to love your people as they are and where they are is completely contingent upon your ability to authentically love yourself, exactly as you are in this moment, right where you are today.
The very judgments you’re throwing at yourself for being where you are will eventually boomerang in their direction. The critical lens through which you see your own imperfections and lack of progress will soon become a magnifying glass you hold up to theirs. Over time, the harsh expectations you continue setting for yourself will turn into unforgiving standards to which you’ll hold them.
You are not behind. You’re exactly where you need to be. You’re doing enough. You are enough. So your life doesn’t look like you want it to. You’re discontent. You want more.
What’s missing? What’s the more you’re hungry to experience? What do you want?
Dare to dream wild dreams, but stop demanding more from yourself in the process. Give yourself permission to be here while you dream about there. Use kindness and positive self-talk to cultivate an atmosphere of grace around you.
If you want to accelerate, learn to authentically love yourself, imperfect and in between.