“How do you identify the barnacles and how do you strip them off?” A kind reader posed this question at the bottom of a recent article of mine.

I was writing about my friend Terri Ducay, who has rewritten her life to spend lengthy time overseas working with threatened animals. At 62, Terri took some big chances, and as a result, has spent time living a life that many envy.

The question was so good that I thought it deserved its own article in response. So, Nancy McKinney Kurtz, this article is for you.

I should mention, there’s an update to this article, which really speaks not only to Nancy’s question but also the universal quest we all have at this age. First, Terri and I have had two more interviews since I wrote that story. She is coming to Denver and plans to surf my couch.

I warned her that my house is upside-down with moving boxes and packing gear for my upcoming big trips. She knows the feeling. Terri gets the bedroom, because as someone who wakes up at 3 a.m., I hardly wish to impose that on her.

However, having this smart, interesting woman right here in my house will be a gift.

Why? Because Terri is still identifying and scraping off the Barnacles.

What Are Barnacles?

If you’re not a seafaring woman, let me explain. Barnacles are free-floating sea organisms that only grow once they’re attached to a surface – be it a ship, a rock, etc. There they grow and multiply.

They can cause considerable damage, and, as the Navy has found out, the drag they cause on the hull costs millions in increased petroleum.

In the same way, negative, limiting thoughts and beliefs do precisely the same thing to us. This is particularly unfortunate at the very time of life we are the freest to do what we dream.

That’s why it’s important to tease out the lies that live in our inner worlds and act as barnacles to slow us down or keep us “safely” at port, when some of us would much rather journey to far-flung shores.

To answer Nancy’s question above, it would be fair to say that we probably never get rid of all of them. It’s like maintaining your ship: barnacles keep forming, and you have to keep scraping them off.

An Example Out of Terri’s Story

I was driving to a meeting with my own coach yesterday as I was interviewing Terri. She just got back from some time in Kenya, working with her beloved animals. Yet she was struggling with trying to find another job in software. She can’t.

You might wonder why on earth, after being able to disengage from a career that she no longer enjoyed, at 62, she was interviewing for work she honestly didn’t want to do.

Barnacle #1:

This is the pressure to do do do do! To produce, to earn money. For Terri, at this point in her life, this is causing a drag on her lovely ship. She observed that she’s been feeling tired lately, and she’s been experimenting with telling people she’s retired.

Barnacle #2:

Society values certain kind of work, so Terri continues to labor under the assumption that only if she does X, is she useful to society. I challenged her to consider that the extraordinary work she’s doing is still good work.

Whether it earns a certain level of income or people around her consider that work “useful” isn’t the question. Those are also barnacles, and they aren’t the measures by which Terri wishes to live her life.

Rather, I asked her – if she measured what she’s hoping to do (she’s considering returning to school to be a vet tech, for example) against whether or not it gives her peace and joy does the compulsion to return to software work live up to the standards?

Her answer? No.

And therein lies the truth. That’s how you scrape off the barnacles.

Allowing Something to Land

As I turned up into the mountains with only seconds left of signal before we agreed to speak later, Terri said that perhaps it’s time for her to just see what lands in her life.

The barnaclehere, which I share with Terri, is the feeling that she has to “join this group, join that group, get that accomplished.” Sometimes we fill our lives with so much activity that grace has a very hard time landing gently in our lives. This was a supremely wise observation.

For many of us who have been successful professionally, we define ourselves by our doing. As we evolve (note that I did not say age; kindly, there’s a reason for this), the notion of trading time for money has to change.

Why? Because, as I pointed out to Terri yesterday, we no longer have that much left. Do you and I really want, if we can possibly organize otherwise, to continue to give our precious hours, days, weeks, years away in exchange for coin?

Let’s be clear, if conditions demand it, perhaps we must. But if they don’t, then is it a barnacle, an assumption that our value is tied to our earning capacity?

A Torrent of Shoulds

You can hear the shoulds. Barnacles are the shoulds, the assumptions, the feelings that we owe others something. That we have to live up to a set of familial standards, that we should look a certain way, be a certain size…

Barnacles are the beliefs and lies that attach themselves to our potential and slow us down, even drag us under.

Terri was able to decouple herself from her work three years ago, returned to America, and immediately began to form social barnacles again. We all do it. As long as we are in those waters, we collect assumptions and beliefs that threaten to prevent us from living the life we truly wish.

Terri’s work is to challenge those barnacles (including one that made us both laugh, which was to marry a rich man) and strike out into the waves with a clean hull.

Tease Out the Lies

What you and I can do is write all the reasons why we can’t live the life we want down on paper. Don’t type. Cursive or print. The mind processes what we physically write differently. Now we have our list.

Hidden here, like a hull below the water line, are our barnacles. The challenge is to tease out the lies, the assumptions, the beliefs, the shoulds that keep us from living the life we dream.

How does fear hold us back? How does a belief that “women/people of a certain age just don’t (fill in the blank)” prevent you from living a lifelong dream? This is the work that frees us. It may be hard – but so is sawing the bars of a prison. This is the same thing.

Terri is scraping away her barnacles still. We all do. It’s part of living an extraordinary life. You and I are subject to societal beliefs and limitations. The only way we sail away under our own power is to identify what beliefs and assumptions (our own uniquebarnacles) are slowing us down.

What are the barnacles you’ve scraped away which now allow you to live the life you want? How did you find the courage to challenge old assumptions that slowed you down? What tips might you have for others who want to “sail away” on their own terms? Please join the conversation and share your stories!

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