By Kalina Cardoso
There are more and more people who call themselves coaches — and a never-ending amount of self-help offers. Lately it seems like there’s messages all around us about a new course, program, coach, therapeutic modality and transformative work that can get us that ultimate feeling of self-mastery.
Everywhere you turn, you’ll find someone saying that because they figured out this one life hack, their life now is totally different and they’ve never looked back. And now, they want to teach us to do the same.
But does it really work that way? Do we really transform? Does the transformation stick? Are we officially done with and over that problem for good?
Or we are being scammed by testimonials of people in near-orgasmic states of tranquility and success who want to fool us into spending more money hoping that the next program will finally help us feel better, happier, and more confident?
If you’ve found yourself skeptical of all this inner work, you’re not alone. I was in the beginning and I still am now of some of the magical “fixes” I see being offered. But before I get into what I’ve learned through my journey, I’d like to start off by laying down some definitions to make sure we are all in the same conversation. Then I’ll share a personal story to make my case.
Inner work refers to the exploration of personal beliefs about the self, how the world works and our behavior. Also, it could be referred to as the unpacking of the baggage we’ve accumulated from the earlier days of our existence. I like to think of it in terms of technology. We came to this life with a set of hardware like a computer. And we also came with a software which is our operating system like Windows. Our upbringing was shaping our software and laying the foundation for how our computer works.
So how does personal development work that promises transformation measure up? Does it really work with updating our software?
Well, a few months ago, I got to test all that I’ve learned.
It was a Wednesday, and I remember that it looked beautiful and sunny outside. Yet, I woke up feeling not happy. I started the day with a heaviness on my chess and as the day progressed my levels of anxiety increased.
It all had to do with a text message that I wasn’t getting back.
My thoughts started to spiral down. My inner monologue was getting worse by the minute. I went outside to my balcony for a midday workout hoping to shake off these feelings and the uneasiness that was weighing on me, but I caught myself spiraling even further. I was thinking things like:
Of course this will happen to me.
I never have it easy with dating.
Why does it have to be so hard?
I had recently met someone who I was really excited to get to know. We both shared that we are feeling a crazy level of connection on multiple levels. Out of nowhere, he was getting distant and that stirred up some of my old baggage that I had worked on for a long time. I used to feel a sense of rejection if friends or dates canceled plans, didn’t prioritize me or if I wasn’t invited somewhere. I had worked hard on releasing this ultra sensitivity that used to bring me so much pain. And yet today, out of nowhere, I was starting to feel those old feelings of victimhood and pain resurface just because someone hasn’t asked me out again.
I checked my period app — I wasn’t PMS-ing or ovulating. I was well-fed and well-rested. I had no excuse for my state of being. I tried to rationally talk myself out of this frustration with all the techniques I’ve learned for the 5+ years of intense inner work BUT nothing was working.
Landmark leadership courses, energy healing, life coaching, business coaching, dozens of personal development and spiritual books, sound healing classes, breath work — you name it, I’ve probably done it. All my coaches were praising me for my hard work and for how far I’ve come. But there I was, a life coach myself, on my balcony, trying to lift weights, having a pity party.
I wanted to call both of my coaches and tell them to fuck off. None of this shit works. Why am I so upset over this feeling of disappointment? Why are old wounds resurfacing? Wasn’t I done with that lesson?
I kept thinking, “I’m such a loser. I’ve been on more than 50 first dates. If anyone can be great at dating, it should be me damn it!”
At some point I remembered a spiritual audio book from Abraham Hicks that had said something about how on certain days nothing will work to get you out of your stinking thinking and you’ll have to write off the day. Only sleep can reboot your buggy computer.
So somehow I made it through the day and went to bed as early as I could. I was so over feeling disappointed and frustrated with my life. At the very least, I remembered not to take any action from such a negative state.
When I woke up the next day, I landed my feet on the ground and remembered to check in with how I was feeling. And I’m happy to say that I felt great! My normal “me” was back. Happy and optimistic, loving my life! Yes! Thank God I was feeling so good.
For me, the goal of doing inner work Life is to feel as good as much as I possibly can. It’s about closing tabs on my browser as soon as I am done with them and not let negative things drain energy in the background. Inner work is not about full self-mastery and never experiencing pain again, but the progress we make. If it was 5 years ago, I’ll be stewing over the same issue for months. Where now, most things wouldn’t rob me of my joy for more than a few hours or a day. And a lot fewer things have the power to knock me off my bliss.
So I’ll leave you with this: Inner work won’t always save your ass from bad days.
Sometimes it will straight up fail you and you’ll be angry at it. But the rest of the time, it will free you from the chains of broken software and viruses and too many open tabs. Doing the inner work is not about perfection, it’s about progress. It’s not about self-mastery, but self-awareness. You may not completely get rid of your baggage but you can decrease it to carry-on size.
I’ll finish with this quote: “Heal so you can hear what’s being said without the filter of your wound.” Even after a few bad days, I still think that’s something worth striving for.