There are many different types of counseling - in this excerpt from her book Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones), Nataly talks about her spiritual teacher, Janet:
My Unlikely Guide through the Storm
Here I was, sitting in a big plush armchair in front of this woman with short gray hair, her hands resting in her lap. Our first meeting had a lot of silence in it. Janet didn’t prod me with many questions and I didn’t really know what to say. She asked me how I knew Mike [who introduced Nataly to Janet] and I launched into telling her about Happier [Nataly’s company], our vision, why it mattered so much, how difficult it was, and how we needed to raise money. It was as if I was talking to a potential investor or someone I needed to impress. Janet nodded patiently as I talked. I’m sure it didn’t take her long to figure out that it was easier for me to talk about the company than about how I felt.
“I guess I’m really exhausted.” I thought it was safe enough for a CEO of a start-up to admit to that without seeming weak.
“Well, of course you are,” she said. “You’ve got so much on your shoulders, so many people you’re taking care of, so much pressure. Of course you’re exhausted.”
Janet didn’t try to change what I said or how I felt, or try to fix or question it. She was generous that I immediately wanted to cry. And run to hug her. And never leave her little office ever for the rest of my life. But, of course, I did none of that. Instead I used a crazy amount of willpower to look nonchalant and strong, unmoved. But I was overcome with a strange and unfamiliar feeling. What was it? I loved it.
It felt safe.
It felt like relief.
It felt like coming home.
It was the feeling of being unconditionally accepted.
I left Janet’s office that day knowing I had experienced something profound. Talking with her gave me a tiny break from feeling as if I was fighting with every part of myself and my life.
Yet I didn’t know what to do with it. If I kept going to Janet, would I become some lazy cop-out who never did anything meaningful again? Did I have to exchange my ambitions and goals for a life of sitting in a comfy plush chair doing nothing?
No Way Back
I didn’t tell anyone that I went to see Janet - except Mike, so that he knew I’d taken his advice. After a few weeks, I told Avi [Nataly’s husband].
“She’s this woman Mike knows,” I said without giving any details about who she was or what we talked about. The funny thing is that I didn’t really know who she was or what exactly we talked about. I just knew that when I was with her I didn’t have to pretend or to run so fast. I could just be. And that felt amazing.
I kept going back. Janet let me go on with my defeatist self-talk for as long as I wanted - how I was weak, an imposter, and a failure.
“You’re not a failure. It’s that you’ve tried to numb any pain you feel with all your accomplishments,” Janet would say after some time. “But that has stopped working for you. It’s the way of the ego, not of your higher self.”
No part of me was ready for words such as higher self.
“I certainly feel like failure! I can’t function in this life that I worked so hard to build,” I argued, fighting back tears. “It’s like I can’t handle my real life so I’m looking to escape from reality.”
“You are looking for another way,” she said, finally. “It’s not an escape from reality. It’s a way to live your life being guided less by your ego that keeps convincing you that you need to do more, more, and more to earn your own love and love of other people in your life.
“You need to learn to love yourself and be kind to yourself,” she said. Janet was calmly shattering everything I had every understood. “Just for who you are, exactly how you are. Your higher self knows you don’t need to do a single thing. You don’t need to earn love.”
How was it possible to just like myself for who I was when I had grown up with the fundamental understanding that life is all about improving myself, pushing myself to learn and do more and do it better? How could I even consider something in me like a higher self that was somehow more true to me than my so-called ego, which had driven me feverishly to chase everything I had achieved so spectacularly?
...There is a saying that suffering is the sandpaper necessary to bring about happiness. There is a point where the pain of that rough surface on our vulnerable selves makes it urgent that we find relief. Perhaps I’d been sandpapering myself long enough that I finally had no choice. I had to open up. I’d been constantly chasing achievements, pushing aside old pain, fear, and sadness that I had no idea how to process, and then working harder and harder every day to pretend that everything was okay. For me, pain and suffering were what I knew how to listen to. Did I really want to continue to live this way?
Nataly Kogan is an entrepreneur, speaker, and the founder and CEO of Happier, a global learning platform that has helped more than one million people live happier lives. Her work has been feature in hundreds of media outlets, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, TEDx Boston, SXSW, The Harvard Women’s Leadership Conference, and the Dr. Oz Show. For more, visit happier.com, and check out her book here.