Article

Glennon Doyle on why the work of transformation is never done

By Sarah Olson

Published May 15, 2020
Last updated May 15, 2020

In the New York Times bestseller and Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Untamed, Glennon Doyle recalls an impossible decision.

She could stay with her husband, a wonderful father but an unfaithful partner. Or, end her marriage to follow the “friendship-and-fire” love she felt for the famous soccer star and Olympian Abby Wambach.

But it wasn’t simply a choice between one person or another, she was deciding who she wanted to become: someone who sacrifices herself for the convenience of others or someone who prioritizes her own needs, even when it’s difficult.

She chose Abby.

She was deciding who she wanted to become: someone who sacrifices herself for the convenience of others or someone who prioritizes her own needs, even when it's difficult.

The pair, now married, joined Zendesk’s Relater virtual conference in late March, where Glennon reflected on that transformative decision.

“It was the turning point of my life, but not because I chose Abby, but because I finally decided to become a woman who honors herself,” Glennon said.

In her deeply personal memoir, Glennon explores how she got to that decision—how she became a person who honors herself freely, untamed by society’s rules and expectations about what we’re supposed to do or who we’re supposed to be.

For each one of us, there will be times in our lives when we face a gut wrenching, life-altering decision, just like Glennon did. Luckily, we have Untamed to guide us through the tough but important work of transformation.

4 keys to transformation

One of the reasons it’s tough to make transformative decisions is that we can’t hear what our true, inner voices are telling us to do. You’ve probably had the infuriating experience of someone telling you to “go with your gut” but not being able to distinguish your gut instinct from everything else in your head.

Hearing what your gut is telling you can be tricky when it’s competing with the noise of our day-to-day lives. That can be actual noise, like the sounds of children playing or cell phones pinging, or it can be emotional noise, like societal expectations and the pressure to perform.

Hearing what your gut is telling you can be tricky when it’s competing with the noise of our day-to-day lives.

But Glennon was able hear her inner voice and let it guide her decision-making at that critical moment in her life. In Untamed, she shares these tips that helped her separate her inner voice from the noise that surrounded her:

  • Feel it all: Our feelings carry important messages. Glennon explains that she was conditioned to believe “happy” was the only emotion worth feeling, a belief that many of us are likely familiar with. But we need to feel all our feelings, even the painful and uncomfortable ones, because they give us information about ourselves. She uses anger as an example, explaining that anger can show us where a boundary has been broken. If you feel angry at work, or at home, consider which boundary was crossed and why.
  • Be still and know: It’s easy to ask others’ opinions; it’s much harder to identify our own. Glennon recalls a moment of weakness in which she typed this question into Google: What should I do if my husband is a cheater but also an amazing dad? The lesson she learned is that sometimes we’ll listen to anyone except ourselves. To listen to ourselves, we have to be able to hear ourselves, so Glennon suggests finding a quiet place where you can sit, be still and see what rises in your mind.
  • Dare to imagine: Your imagination can help you tell a different story than the one you’re currently living. “Our minds are excuse makers; Our imaginations are storytellers,” Glennon writes. To tap into your imagination, she suggests asking yourself: What is the truest, most beautiful life you could imagine? If you aren’t happy in your current role, write a story about your typical work day in a job where you are thriving. Does your story match your current job description, or is it time to start looking for new opportunities?
  • Build and burn: To build the future you want, you have to let go of the current version of yourself, your team, your organization. “The goal is to surrender, constantly, who I just was in order to become who this next moment calls me to be,” Glennon writes. Practically every organization is being disrupted in some way due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To be successful, we need to let go of the way we did things before, so we can become the organizations that we need to be, and that our customers need us to be, in this moment.

[Related read: How to change the way you deal with change]

Becoming who this moment calls us to be

Sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads by choice, but sometimes it’s thrust upon us by circumstance, like the COVID-19 pandemic that has challenged us to rethink what “normal” means personally, professionally, and as a society.

At Relater, Glennon and Abby shared their experiences with the pandemic, saying that the current moment is challenging all of us to be more creative about how we engage and connect with each other.

Glennon reflected on her decision to cancel her Untamed book tour. It was heartbreaking, she said, because she felt so attached to her creation. But she realized that she created something even more important than the book itself.

Sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads by choice, but sometimes it’s thrust upon us by circumstance.

“I thought, no, Untamed is not the most beautiful thing I’ve created in my work,” she said. “The community of people that are coming to my events that trust me as an artist and a leader, that is the most beautiful thing that I have created.”

Similarly, organizations are being called to prioritize their people and their customers during this difficult time.

“This time in leadership is calling us to choose our people and our community above our product, and that is a beautiful thing that happens in crisis times.”

[Related read: Business isn’t always about commerce; it’s also about community]

Today, it’s a global pandemic that is calling us to adapt, but if there’s one lesson to take away from Untamed, it’s that the work of transformation is never done.

There will always be moments in our lives that cause us to question what we thought we knew and challenge us to become the next version of ourselves.

It could be the end of a marriage, like Glennon chronicles in Untamed, or it could be the start of a new one. Another example is changing jobs. When you start a new job, you can never go back to the exact version of yourself you were in your old job, even if you return to the same company later.

“If I’m living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths,” Glennon writes. “My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself.”

"My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself." - Glennon Doyle

Living by design instead of by default

When these moments of transformation arise, whether by choice or by circumstance, Glennon warns that we can slip back into our default state. Our defaults are the messages we’ve received throughout our lives from parents, teachers, religious institutions, media, and others. Glennon describes these messages as the “memos” the world sends us about who we’re supposed to be and what behaviors are acceptable. Memos like:

  • Mothers should martyr themselves for their children
  • Work should be the pinnacle of your existence
  • People like women when they are quiet
  • Struggling with mental health is a sign of weakness

These memos serve as cages that keep us tame, Glennon writes. When you unleash your true inner voice, you can set yourself free from society’s rules and memos and start building something better.

“I walked away from my cages,” Glennon writes. “I slowly built a new marriage, a new faith, a new worldview, a new purpose, a new family and a new identity by design instead of default.”

So, the next time you find yourself with an important question or a game-changing business decision, we invite you to be still, feel your feelings, imagine the possibilities, and write yourself a new memo, inspired by Untamed.

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