How I Am Learning to Listen to Myself

I was a half click away from learning “The 4 Exercises Everyone Over 40 Should Avoid” when I caught myself. Wait, who is this guy, anyways?

A young, fit stranger stared at me, eager for my thumb to set him into video motion. His open hands reached toward me, as if they held the very thing I needed to know. I had never heard his name before. Why do I think he has the answers? What am I doing?

I have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Still, I was about to devote five minutes of my life to a Facebook sponsored video of an “expert” outlining workout taboos for the middle years.

But it’s not what I was doing that is most important here. It’s why.

In those Facebook nanoseconds, I thought he had the answers.

My moment of truth is marked by the image of my right thumb held in midair. I could continue dropping my thumb, finding the answers to questions I never asked but suddenly needed to know, suspending who I am and what I already know for the rush that comes with the tiniest morsel of new information.

Or I could leave it hovering—connected to the rest of my body and practice believing that what is already inside of me is valuable.

I never learned the 4 Exercises I Should Avoid. Skipping that video was relatively easy, given my educational background.

What was harder was facing the reality that, in recent years, my desire for new content, to know things, had mutated into a need.

Ten weeks into 2018, fourteen books lined my “Completed” shelf, nearly all of them nonfiction. I rarely found myself behind the wheel without the company of a podcast.

From the latest meditation book to the newest Enneagram podcast, my self-improvement content consumption was at an all-time high. Yet I didn’t feel like a better person. In fact, something about taking in this much information just didn’t feel right.

My reading and listening habits looked and felt good, but the truth is they reflected a deep-seated, unhealthy belief: I am not enough. And they are. The answers are outside of me.

I needed everyone else’s ideas and insights and approaches and systems to be enough. I had nothing to contribute. I trusted “experts” more than myself.

Perhaps even more unsettling, I tuned into a small, steady voice from within that whispered this: “Stop with the experts.”

At that time, my definition of “expert” was loose—anyone with something to say and a platform on which to say it. I knew what the voice rising up inside of me was asking me to do: take a break from nonfiction books, podcasts, and clicking to learn.

My mind needed clearing, and so did my bookshelves.

As I roamed the house to collect nonfiction titles to return to the library, I explained what I was doing to a friend. I told her about the new meditation book by Dan Harris that I was dying to read, and how hard it was to add to the return pile.

I felt grief for all the unopened books whose pages held the potential to change my life. With compassion, she gently reminded me, “They’ll still be there later.”

Keeping up with the latest titles, blog posts and podcast episodes can feel like keeping up with fashion or Apple gadgets: later will be too late.

But in this content-free season of challenging myself to live as if I believe in there is a Spirit within me that has some important things to say, learning to trust the voice that arises from within me more than the words of strangers, and practicing the belief that I already am enough, later matters.

Content can wait. Valuing myself can’t.

As I write this, I am in an adjustment period.

Over the past two weeks, I have added only one novel to my “Completed” shelf. I am podcast-free. New discoveries include the meditative feeling of driving in silence and the joy of listening to jazz.

I keep my Bullet Journal near these days, to keep track of ideas that pop into my head now that I am listening to me.

At the same time, I miss my books and podcasts. Learning from everyone else was easier. Trying out the ideas of others felt safer.

Nearly every day, I hear of a new book I want to read and am tempted to put it on hold at the library. But I don’t. Instead, I put it on my “For Later” shelf.

Because now is for listening to me.


Holly Pennington is a middle-aged mom learning to listen to – and trust – the whisper of her soul in this noisy world. She lives in Seattle and writes at hollypennington.com.

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