Imagine you are in a large, dark, cold room. It is expansive. Perhaps the size of a high school gym. Maybe it even feels like an airplane hangar. You are in the corner, curled up in a blanket. The blanket is doing its job: it is keeping you warm (enough). But it itches and is musty. It is ugly and outdated and patched up with clashing fabric. It is familiar and functional, but not comfortable.
This blanket is The Way Things Have Been. It is the space where we find ourselves when we allow our lives to be merely familiar and functional, instead of believing we could be comfortable and happy.
Across the large room, in the other corner, there is another blanket. It is soft, warm, and smells wonderful. It is brand new and untouched by anyone else. This blanket has the potential to be functional and comfortable. This blanket is The Way Things Could Be.
In order to get to The Way Things Could Be, you would need to leave The Way Things Have Been and start to cross this big, cold space. To some, it may seem simple to leave behind the lesser blanket and go wrap the new one around you. You, however, know there are reasons why this isn't as easy as it sounds.
To start, we have to actually trust that the blanket is there. The room is large and dark; it is hard to put faith in the fact that what we see is really able to be believed. Could there actually be this wonderful thing sitting across from us? If we’ve never felt it, how can we trust that it will really feel that great?
If we left behind our current blankets, that would mean we will have to cross the room feeling cold, unprotected, and vulnerable. We would have to increase our discomfort in order to ever get to the new blanket. More questions arise. Are we ready to be that cold? What might happen if we let go of our shields? Are we strong enough to walk that far?
Throughout life, many of us feel episodes of being down and distressed, maybe anxious, maybe overwhelmed with the world. Our relationships can hurt us, or perhaps they are non-existent. Sometimes we don’t even see how bad our blanket really is.
So, the first step in getting to The Way Things Could Be is acknowledging that our current blanket is, frankly, garbage. Once we take a good hard look at The Way Things Have Been, we might want to upgrade the blanket.
In order to upgrade, we have to go through the work of believing the blanket is real. If we have never experienced positive relationships, it is hard to believe we could really have one. If we have been anxious for decades, how can we imagine that monkey ever coming off our backs? Self-improvement is an enormous exercise in trust — a trust being asked of people who often have good reason to struggle with the idea. Making the step to trust that things could be better is a truly significant feat.
While trusting is a large step, there is still much more to the story of change. Next we have to be vulnerable and drop the protection of our old, moth-eaten blanket. The efforts we go through in life to reach The Way Things Could Be require taking risks: being vulnerable with loved ones, ending a relationship, coming face-to-face with a fear, or engaging in some intimidating self-discovery. The walk across the large, cold room is true work. It is something worth taking time to pause and reflect on the magnitude of what you are doing.
A common fear is that we will go through all this effort to find it fruitless. We worry that we don’t deserve the better blanket, and that someone will realize it and strip us of the warmth. But I challenge that fear. The blanket is there only for you. By pursuing your own self-care and improvement, you don’t take someone else’s blanket. Theirs is in their own room, and whether they have reached it yet is their own story. Your blanket is in your room. Even if you haven’t reached it yet, you own it. It will be there for you when you are ready.
No blanket will ever be quite perfect. And no blanket is indestructible. But if this one gets dirty, it can be washed. There may still be a stain, but it will remain soft and protective. If it tears, a pretty patch will keep it together. Unlike the musty blanket in the other corner, this blanket can travel with us. We can use it to explore the rest of the room with the security that only a quality blankie can provide.