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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

The Power of Permission

Since we were young, we were taught to ask permission. Permission at school to leave class to go to the bathroom. Permission to speak in class or leave the dinner table. Even now, we give permission when we ‘opt in’ to things. Legal protections like HIPPA are based on permission. It’s no wonder we struggle to give ourselves permission when we’re used to asking for it instead.


I have been recovering from foot surgery – 2nd one in 11 months. My recovery experience this time has been dramatically different than the first for one simple reason: I am giving myself permission to rest and heal.

“You just had surgery! Of course you have to rest and heal” you might think. Yes, this is true. On the other side of the coin, let me ask this: when you are sick, do you stay home to rest and heal or do you ‘gut it out’ because ‘it’s not that bad’?


If you take the time to let your body heal, I applaud you loudly! Unfortunately, that is not the predominant action in society anymore. With the onset of ‘work from home’ and ‘remoting in’, we rationalize being able to work while being sick without possibly infecting others. But that’s not rest, and that’s not letting the body heal. We don’t give ourselves permission to do what we need to do. We are not comfortable not being ‘busy’ in one way or another.

I have theories about this, and I will only speak to my situation. Perhaps it will resonate. Why is this recovery different than last time? I took off my superhero cape. I’m giving myself permission to be human, not superhuman.


If you’ve heard me speak on a podcast, in person, or read my book “This Much I Know…The Space Between”, you’ve heard me share how I wore the mask of being the ‘go to gal’ since college. I thrive on being a dependable right-hand person, the one you can rely on to get the job done and done well. Sadly, that meant I didn’t make myself, or my physical, mental, and emotional health, a priority.


Because of my lack of boundaries, after my first surgery I sacrificed the energy I should have used for healing on doing things for other people. And I later learned I resented those choices as they led to severe burnout and way too many tears. I became committed to having better boundaries in the future.


There it is – that word we hear, hate, and seldom heed, and a word that can also be a lifeline keeping us afloat: boundaries.


The upside to my healing journey last year are the lessons I learned and am applying now. I have worked hard on boundaries since the burn-out and have things in place to protect my time and energy. That has paid off very well. I feel less pressure and less resentment. I am in a better place mentally and emotionally. This has led to a great calm in the middle of my current healing.


I had dinner with a dear friend a couple weeks ago. It was my first time seeing her since before my surgery and my first time out socially since surgery. As we talked, she commented that she could tell there was a difference in me this time around – a peace and a calm that was absent last time. I told her the reason why: I had taken off my cape and given myself permission to heal.

Last weekend I was doing a sit-down project around the house and found myself having fun, just relaxing. I only had stamina to work about 45 minutes, but they were joy-filled and lighthearted. It was then that I more fully realized the power of permission. I had let myself off my hook. I had no expectations other than to try to do something. And it was totally fine if my body wasn’t ready for it yet. I would appreciate what it would allow and not force or push what it wasn’t yet ready to give. I gave myself permission to have limitations and operate within them, being thankful no matter what.


Which leads me to this point. What have you been denying yourself permission to do? We all have responsibilities – at work, home, maybe church or some other organization. Those responsibilities bring with them pressure. Pressure in and of itself is not the problem. Our management of the pressure is the issue.


If we don’t have boundaries in place, we are setting ourselves up for failure. It may not come right away, but it will come. The human body can only take it so long. In one way or another your body (we are whole body beings, so that includes mind, spirit, and body) will scream for attention.


If we have some boundaries but don’t respect ourselves by honoring them, and helping others honor them as well, we are going down the same path as not having boundaries, maybe just at a slower pace. The core of it all is our self-talk – the things we tell ourselves, the things we believe about ourselves which show not so much in our words as much as our actions. I’ll use an example from my own life.


I had a position in the past where I felt I needed to work from home after working a full work week. I felt I ‘had to’ for the work to be done by the deadline for the event. The problem is that I made the decision myself. I didn’t let my manager manage me. He didn’t really know it was happening. I violated my own boundaries and didn’t allow anyone else to help me with them. There was pressure to push them ‘to get the job done’ in my mind, and I wasn’t humble enough to ask for help and to allow someone else’s perspective to influence the situation.


To my boss it looked like I could handle the workload within a regular 40-hour workweek when in actuality I needed more time. The extra time I put into the task took away from time to rest and have good work-life balance.

What I didn’t realize then was that a pattern was developing and over the course of the next few decades working extra ‘for the sake of the job at hand’ became part of my attitude toward whatever job I may have. I was setting myself up for failure. That pattern came to a crashing halt while recovering from my surgery last year. It had been building long before the precipitating event of surgery. I had to do a lot of hard work with my counselor to figure out why I was feeling burned out when I hadn’t worked a while due to the surgery.


Getting back to the point about self-talk, I was telling myself that I would let others down if I didn’t get the job done by the deadline. I didn’t want to come off as incompetent or unable to do my job. I was afraid of so much that I was, as Brene Brown says, ‘hustling for my worthiness.’ My security was in the approval of others to the detriment of myself. I put myself last, and that translated to believing, to a degree, that I didn’t matter.

So, coming back to the point about permission…what is an area of your life where you can give yourself more permission, to let yourself off your hook? Everything else discussed here branches from that first issue. We often don’t realize that the basics have far-reaching effects on things we’re struggling with now. I have experienced the inner peace and calm of finally being off my own hook, so much so that others are seeing it. You can, too. Feel free to download the permission slip to the right to help you get started.


Have you become aware of something you need to get back in line, maybe self-talk, boundaries, work-life balance, or something else? Reach out to me here for a 15-minute contact call to talk about Life Coaching with me can help you get where you want to be. You are worth it.


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