The Familiar

statue of liberty

I felt out of sorts last week when, for the first time since college, I spent the Jewish high holy day Rosh Hashanah, without my family.  I should clarify that I’m not particularly religious.  I’ve discussed my ambivalence about religion before on my blog.  However, a traditionalist I am.  There are the rituals that come with certain holidays for me, the family dinners, the prayers,  the walks around my mother’s neighborhood with my children in between services at synagogue,  the rhythm of those days, so deeply ingrained in me, that the diversion from the familiar felt awkward.

I briefly entertained finding a synagogue to go to here, however, spending the Jewish holidays in a local temple would have required more effort that I was willing to put forth, in time, money, and travel.  Furthermore, my longings would not have been solved by praying in a synagogue.  The heart of the issue wasn’t about spending the holiday in a house of worship.  The heart of the issue was about yearning for the familiar.

Right now, I’m surrounded by new, new roads, new schools, new neighbors, new schedules, new friends.   With the exception of bad pizza and having to pump my own gas, it’s been good.  Really good.  These bouts of homesickness, especially around a holiday, are to be expected.

The incident had me contemplating the familiar on a larger scale.  We humans love the familiar.    We crave the familiar.  I will go as far as to say that most of us will choose the familiar over the new, even when, historically, the familiar doesn’t bring us happiness.

We all have a story, several stories, actually, that we have talked ourselves into believing about what are lives should be like, or need to be like, and we depend on these stories to support our core beliefs about ourselves.  We form these core beliefs early, and our subconscious minds feel compelled to find situations that will reinforce these beliefs, even when the outcome of these stories will be negative.

“I’ll never be able to lose weight.”

“I have terrible luck with romance.”

“I’ll never be able to find a job that suits my passions.”

“I’m not good at making friends.”

“I have no money.”

“I never have enough time for myself.”

We don’t like new.  New is scary.  Even when the “new” is a thousand times healthier, happier, and all around better than the familiar, we will find excuses to revert back to the old, whether it be an old pattern, an old relationship, or old, limiting thoughts.

We will find the familiar things that support our stories and the core beliefs that accompany those stories, even when they bring us misery, financial problems, and brokenheartedness.

We fight to preserve our stories of the familiar.  We rationalize and make excuses.

We walk away from amazing opportunities to stay in the realm of what feels comfortable.

Do something for me today, will you?

Challenge yourself on one negative belief that you have about you or your life.  This will first take the willingness to listen to how you think about yourself or talk about yourself or your circumstances to others.

Listen carefully for it.  The complaint you have about your job or your luck with romance or your inability to manage your money.  Whatever it is, listen for it, and then question that thought.

Is there really any truth in that thought?  Or have you simply clung to it because it’s what you know?

I for one, refuse to believe your negative story, no matter how much you try to convince me.

I believe in you too much for that.




The Familiar — 77 Comments

  1. Ilene, thank you for the reminder to step out of our comfort zones! That’s where life truly begins! I often find myself going back to the familiar in my career. I’ve worked on a particular project for years and years. I really love the project and feel comfortable with the familiarity of it. But in order to keep growing and learning, I need to step away and try new things. I’m trying to push myself to do new things at work. Trying new things is also one of the reasons I started blogging. I wanted a new personal challenge, and even though it scared the daylights out of me in the beginning, I’m so glad I took a leap of faith!
    Nicole @ Work in Sweats Mama recently posted…Links for Runners, Fanatics and Other Amazing PeopleMy Profile

    • I love what you say, Nicole about life beginning outside of our comfort zone. It’s so true! And while I love something here and there that makes me feel comfortable and competent, I 100% agree that we need to be challenged to grow and learn. I also find that when we are willing to take on that challenge in one area, we become more willing to take it on in other areas as well. It’s like a domino effect! And I am so glad you started blogging! For so, so many reasons!

  2. What a great message!! Stepping out of our comfort zone and into the negative part of our life is hard no matter how confident we might think we are! But it is necessary to continue to expand our lives!!
    Thanks for the reminder.
    And, I’m sorry that you weren’t able to be with your family this past week!!
    Kim recently posted…What a Difference a Few Years Makes!!My Profile

    • Thank you Kim! I missed my family, but we will figure out new traditions for when I am back in Jersey. And yes, let’s hear it for stepping out of the comfort zone and expanding out lives!

  3. I am sooo with you on banishing the negative talk and feelings and moving forward in positivity and something new. New is scary but easy success makes me weary. So I move forward to the new opportunities that await me. I’m scared but I’m more scared to stay in the same place. Ever onward!
    Andrea recently posted…Where Has All the Sugar Daddies Gone?My Profile

  4. The unfamiliar can feel very lonely and pretty intimidating. It always takes time for the “new familiar” to kick in. Whenever I have moved, transitioned to new jobs, or even bigger things like losing my Dad, or going through my divorce, there was so much unfamiliar. So many things had to be recreated from scratch. I had to remind myself that one day THIS new thing I was experiencing would become my familiar – so I better create something good now, because eventually I will crave it. I remember the first year I did not “go home” for Christmas. It was just after my divorce. It was a very different and lonely holiday. This year will be Christmas number 8 – and my boys talk about the traditions at Christmas – you know, the ones that were so “unfamiliar” to me 8 years ago? The ones that are the only ones they know now. The ones that feel like home? We just need to allow ourselves to sit in the unknown for a while; to be a little uncomfortable, to get out of our comfort zone. Can be intimidating, but so necessary. Eventually, things will feel better, and we will even crave whatever we create.
    Leah Davidson recently posted…My Pink Ball Really Does Live OnMy Profile

    • I think you and I are lucky in a sense that we got to recreate parts of our lives from scratch. How many people get to do that? I would not be sitting in this lovely house on a lovely Island on the North Carolina coast right now had I not been forced to start my life over. And I love that term: new familiar. So much of life starts when we allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

  5. This resonates with me, Ilene. Change is hard and scary, and the times I have conquered the fear and negative thoughts I have been rewarded with new and amazing experiences. And the times I haven’t…who knows what I’ve missed. Happy new year to you and yours!
    Dana recently posted…My magic wand is brokenMy Profile

    • It’s so true, Dana, that we are literally rewarded, as you say, when we become willing to overcome the fear and negativity. It’s not easy. And so many of us don’t even realize those inner dialogues because our thoughts are so automatic. I’m glad you’ve been able to move past some of those thoughts to embrace new and rewarding experiences. And thanks for the New Years wishes!

  6. Embracing change IS hard…but it’s how we grow as a person. Over the past few years, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone quite a bit (in my professional life) and I really found that I enjoyed it. Was it scary at times? Yes, absolutely. But well worth it! Thanks for the reminder though…I think I need to step out of my comfort zone in my personal life more!
    Michelle recently posted…Parenting in a Foreign LandMy Profile

    • I’m finding that whenever I ponder doing something, and my knee jerk is, “No, I can’t do that!” That means I need to do that or at least have an honest conversation with myself as to why I can’t. There is so much life out there for us! I hope we both live outside those zones as much as we possibly can!

  7. I won’t try to sell you a negative story. I lived that negative story for 36 years until it was finally enough. Ever since then it’s been uphill! Yes, sometimes I am scared of change, especially if it will affect not just me, but my kids. Then I take a deep breath and jump 🙂
    Best decision I ever made to leave the familiar behind – I have not looked back; I actually continue to look forward and now I have a little love affair going with the new and unfamiliar 🙂
    xoxo, my friend, I’ve been thinking of you!
    Kerstin @ Auer Life recently posted…High NoteMy Profile

    • You inspire me in every way my friend. Big move across an ocean and now going into business for yourself. That’s the next one for me, the business. I’m going to use you as my example and take a deep breath and jump…

  8. Ilene, thank you for your wise and beautiful words. I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. How I’ve changed, how I am changing, what changes I want to see. I think the negative self talk I have been stuck in lately is the I never have enough time. I feel like I never have enough time for all the things I love, to write, to blog, to be creative, to read and comment, to be there for the people I love. I need to take a look at this thought pattern. Something to mediate on. Thank you, friend!
    Stevie recently posted…Kiwi’s Tale: The Story of a Rescue DogMy Profile

    • I think it’s awesome that you can “see” the thought. So many of us our too enmeshed in our thoughts to be able to separate from them! I know you’ll find your answers…and your time! xo

  9. I think I have a similar relationship with Judaism, soul sister. I thought I was the most devoted of the five of us kids because I went on to have a Torah confirmation at 15, when everyone else stopped after their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. And these days as a parent, I’m so confused and so..not really there.
    I’ve been on an interesting journey in the last year or so, to banish or at least lessen the negative stories in my head – about “never having money,” “I’ll never be a good photographer,” “I’ll never go anywhere, with anything.” That was a serious one of my self-conversations at one point. There isn’t truth to those thoughts. I will have bad slip-ups, or should I say slip-downs, probably more than I care to admit, but I’m liking what’s been developing. At a snail’s pace, but still.
    Tamara recently posted…Compartment Therapy.My Profile

    • I am one thousand percent with you on those slip ups/slip downs but I also love that both of us can question the validity of those thoughts. I love knowing that there may not be any truth at all in some of the things I think. There is so much freedom in knowing that.

  10. You have got me thinking, Ilene! I tend to gravitate to the familiar because it is comfortable. I am trying to be more adventurous and open to new things, but the truth is that I am scared of change. I am going to listen to those little stories I tell myself – I think there will be some things hiding there.
    Kim recently posted…15 ReasonsMy Profile

    • You get out of the familiar, Kim. You did it with running. I feel like there is a positive domino effect, that once we get out of the familiar once, we become more and more willing to do it in other areas of our lives. I bet you have plenty more adventures to come!

  11. Oh this is just SO TRUE Ilene!! We all find comfort in what we are comfortable with… even when that is a negative and unwanted issues in our lives! We need to challenge ourselves REGULARLY to replace those thought, actions, places, people… and rebuild, renew, recreate a new comfort zone that is better- because as you so eloquently stated- we are all worthy of that.
    🙂 Love you so much. You are always an inspiration. XO
    Chris Carter recently posted…Devotional Diary: Find The Light in EmpowermentMy Profile

    • You nail it when you say we need to change “regularly.” We’re never done – and we can never believe that we are “done.” That’s like after 10 years of practicing yoga, I tell myself that I’m enlightened enough hand stop practicing. There is always more to uncover.

  12. There’s also the whole issue of being not-a-Christian in a world where you will find prayer straight out of Revelations in your public schools, sometimes under the guise of something student led, more often just blatant and illegal. Which is not some criticism of people who are living their lives and are Christian. It’s a statement about how pervasive a particular attitude about Christianity and its place of importance are in the South. One of the many benefits of private school is that they rarely pray at my kids, when they do, it’s something polite and noncommital, and it’s not like they aren’t allowed. (My public school praying at me as a kid, in the North, in Ohio, however, falls more under the category of what you’ll see.) In other words, brace yourself for the Christmas Season, and hold your breath for that moment when you see your first white cross alight in someone’s yard, as if the KKK hadn’t totally owned that symbol since the nineteen sixties.
    Jester Queen recently posted…Under the VeilMy Profile

  13. I love this post. I wrote about something similar today so we are on the same wavelength. I am awful with the negative self talk and have said a lot of the phrases you mentioned. But my pastor always says that you can’t grow until you are out of your comfort zone.

    • I just jumped over to read your post and I loved it more than words can express. I think we all have a lot to learn from four year olds about conquering fear.

  14. Thank you, Ilene. It’s funny because we’re trying to teach our youngest about not thinking these negative thoughts. Being the youngest, he gets frustrated and says “I can’t” a lot. We always say these words aren’t allowed in the house. It’s not that we can’t, we just have to find a different way to do something or maybe find some help. Every now and then, my husband and I have to remind each other that the same rule applies to us. We can. We just have to push ourselves into the unfamiliar sometimes.
    another jennifer recently posted…Philanthropy Friday: Better to Give Through UncommonGoodsMy Profile

  15. Could not be nodding my head harder or faster. Am pretty sure I have a neckache from all the nodding. As someone who GREATLY struggles with change, even change I know will good for me, I totally get this in every way. Totally. You said it all perfectly.-Ashley

    • It’s a tough one. I have a million excuses to not to the things I want to do and it always goes back to fear. Although I must say, when I’m willing to step out, the unknown ha never failed me. Not once.

  16. I need to be reading this today…I have an opportunity but I feel like it’s out of my comfort zone and that I couldn’t do it. The old me would laugh at this girl, but when you get in a groove and comfortable it’s hard to branch out. I have faith that I am still the girl that can take a few chances.
    Natalie recently posted…The Beach DaysMy Profile

    • How ironic is that? That this post is your HW assignment? You have such great awareness, Maribel – I bet you will learn a thing or two from your assignment that will bring you great things. And thanks for believing in me. That means a lot!

  17. Many years ago I had to get out of a terrifying, disappointing, heartbreaking marriage. I had four little kids. No job. No degree. When it ended I was sort of dumped into a one bedroom cottage. When bad thunderstorms came rain poured in through the sole small heater. Not a great omen.

    I was without direction. I had no idea what I would do. I had very few ideas of what I should do. I didn’t know what to do, except take care of my kids like I always had.

    Without an out of control alcoholic around, expenses could be much better managed. I was actually able to eke it out on the child support. Now, things were not ‘good’ financially. And there were days I did not know what I was going to do the next day to make sure the day after that would be okay for us. I went to a place in town one time where they gave us a box of groceries.

    I had a lot of friends offering to help. I asked them to back off a little bit, give me some space. I assured them that if I had a day when I knew tomorrow was a bust, I would pick up the phone and accept an offer. I needed to feel like I could do this thing. Today, a little older and wiser, I might let friends carry me to an extent. But in those days I had something to prove – to myself most of all.

    There were days when it was hard. Days when it was scary. And every time I had a day where I felt small and weak I just asked myself “Would today be better with things back the way they were?” The answer was always the same.

    I focused on today and tomorrow. That was it. I just have to have a plan for today and tomorrow. You know what? That’s enough. That’s plenty.
    tammigirl recently posted…Wadsworth Blue-Sky Drive In MoviesMy Profile

    • Your story amazes me. And you amaze me. It’s not easy what you did. In many ways, at that time, it maybe have seemed easier for some to have stayed with that out of control alcoholic. Taking a leap of faith can seem scary – but you did it one day at a time, a little at a time, and I think if more people took their leaps of faith step by step, we’d all be so much more out of the box right now, in the ways we need to be to live fuller, richer, more joyful lives. You have so much good stuff and wisdom to share. I love when you leave bits and pieces of it here.

    • That discomfort is so uncomfortable! I hear that! I never regret taking the steps, but I understand, and have often lived – that resistance to giving change a try.

  18. Oh, I don’t like change very much at all but you bring up a good point. I think I choose to stay situations whether I am happy or not. A big one for me is working and money. I love the idea of making money but when I think about the logistics and the kids, I get all freaked out and hide under the covers so the need for more money is still there. Love this post, my friend and still think you are the bravest, strongest woman I know.
    AnnMarie recently posted…Love in the Tween YearsMy Profile

    • I am so touched by what you said. So, so touched. And I 100% understand loving the idea of making money but being freaked out by the idea of logistics and the kids. I am in the middle of trying to figure out that one myself right now and about to enter some very new territory for me. More change coming my way – and hopefully good stuff. xo

    • Good luck with this. I hope you can listen for the negative talk and stop it – or at least question the truth in it. Because most of the time, there is no validity in the things we say to ourselves! And best of luck with your career decisions!

    • Every now and then I love a good muddle – but I don’t stay there long – and I bet you would not have either – even without reading this post! Although I’m glad you shook out of it when you did!

  19. This is beautiful. I have actually been working on this myself lately, and it is HARD. It is so nice to have those in the blogosphere to keep me honest, challenged, and on my A-game. Thank you!
    allison recently posted…Summer RecapMy Profile

    • It is hard. But it’s hard when we’re the most honest with ourselves. And that’s a good thing and a good kind of hard! It’s that kind of tough that’s truly our A game. What a great place to be!

  20. I’m aching for change in our lives actually. We have been planning a move to Australia for a few years now, but there’s a lot involved in uprooting, and we have to think about financials, family left behind etc, though we know that the move is good for us.

    Now that we’re in Australia and checking out houses etc, it feels good that we’re one step closer to making that change. We are changing our “we can’t” talk to “we can”.

    Glad to hear everything’s good over there.
    Alison recently posted…LivingMy Profile

    • Alison, that is so exciting! I came down here in April to check this place out before I moved here to see how it felt. It was not my first time here, but it was the first time that I was here and trying it on to see if I could live here. I am glad that your time in Australia has changed the conversation around to a “can.” I can’t wait to hear more!

  21. I am trying to stop believing that I am lazy and unorganized. Mostly because it has become a crutch or an excuse to not do any housekeeping. I am trying really hard to get into a routine of cleaning a little bit each day. I got derailed last week because I was sick, but I am refusing to let that derailment be permanent. I was actually proud of myself when I woke up and walked into a mostly clean living room this morning. Baby steps!!
    Rabia @TheLiebers recently posted…Ten on Tuesday: Reasons I Love My JobMy Profile

    • I am so proud of you Rabia! It’s funny you should say that, because I use the excuse of being unorganized a lot – and after reading your comment, I am going to have to pay closer attention to that!

  22. Oh I’ve had this post open on my computer for two days but every time I turned to read it, someone would interrupt me. Phew. OK, sorry about that. But it’s actually just the right time for me to read this. I’ve been reading a lot about yoga lately and how our attachment to things/people/sentiments/emotions is often the cause of our pain.

    Change is hard. Ridiculously hard and we cling to what’s familiar and known because it’s just that – familiar and known and we don’t have to go try to figure it out and possibly let ourselves be hurt in the process. I’m getting better at trying to step outside my comfort zone. But changing the negative story? That’s a hard one for me.

    • I think the hardest part about those negative stories is that many of them are so ingrained in our psyches that we can’t even see them or separate ourselves from them! They are a part of our ultimate truth. I love questioning my thoughts – and going – is this true? is that true? But there are so many thoughts that slip by me each day that I just accept as ‘truth.’ The ones that go unnoticed. Those are the ones that need changing!

    • I am so glad you have a new story. I think that being aware that we have stories in the first place is huge. Enjoy your story for now – hopefully, one day you can share it with all of us!

  23. Ilene, I absolutely adore this post, I am recently “25 again” and I despise change but it is a necessary evil, so, I am trying to embrace change, I mean, I do let my hair go all long & wavy & dream of being a hippie and all that good stuff…LOL! I love how you describe feelings when you write!!! xoxo. ~A~
    Amber Day Hicks recently posted…Give some credit where it’s due!My Profile

    • My hair is all long and wavy too right now! Literally and figuratively! Haha! I hope you can embrace the changes, my friend. And I hope those changes all lead to great, great things. xo

  24. I will tonight lay my head on the pillow knowing that I failed today and left something on the table, but that I maneuvered with thought and wisdom and consideration. And I will know it was my best.

    And I’ll know that tomorrow, I’ll give it my all again – and be OK with what comes of it.

    p.s. I knew some stories wouldn’t stay in your fingers long.
    Eli@coachdaddy recently posted…Guest Post: Finding Our Styles, from Kim of Co-Pilot MomMy Profile

    • Did you really “fail?” Or did you just “leave something on the table?” There’s a difference, you know.

      P.S. You know me well.

  25. Oh I crave the familiar like no other. And when I a younger, I’d ignore that and send myself off on crazy adventures. I’d struggle with my strong desires for the familiar once I got there but at least I’d be there. These days have a lot of new in them for me too (though not nearly to the degree that they do for you!) and I’m working to make the new familiar.
    I’m going to think about your challenge. That nothing springs to mind immediately tells me that this is a very worthy pursuit for me today.
    Tricia recently posted…Awakening WonderMy Profile

    • One of the reasons why I love reading your blog is that you find so much in every moment – things that many of us overlook. You seem to be someone who looks for the new – even in what feels familiar. I love questioning my thoughts. I hope this indeed does turn out to be a worthy pursuit for you as well!

  26. First, a belated L’Shana tova to my fellow Jewish Jersey gal 😉 Second, I hear ya on the traditions and the familiar.

    But more to the point, such a timely post for me, as I keep going through these little bouts of self-doubt and negative thoughts: about my business, about finding balance between that and being a soon-to-be WAHM. I need to have more faith in myself.
    Bev @ Linkouture recently posted…I Wish I Got More Things Like this in the Mail: August Snail Mail CollectiveMy Profile

    • Bev, I have to have more faith in myself too. Especially being on the brink of starting a business of my own and dealing with my own set of negative voices. But I really think that knowing those voices are there and not the “truth” is half the battle if not more. And I’m sending you a huge electronic hug for New Year’s, my friend!

  27. I love this! I am constantly struggling with the negative thoughts that I put on myself. I have lots and lots of them – I know shocking right? I’m focusing on them a little at a time and its not easy. I revert to the old so quickly. Even on the good days I still find a way to “screw it up” so to speak with that one tiny little thought that sends everything down hill. But I won’t give up! I can’t – I’m counting on me 😉 Much love!
    Krystal recently posted…Trying to Get InMy Profile

  28. “We form these core beliefs early, and our subconscious minds feel compelled to find situations that will reinforce these beliefs, even when the outcome of these stories will be negative.”

    Could not be more true. Beautiful post…
    Deb @ Urban Moo Cow recently posted…UntitledMy Profile

    • Thanks, Deb. This is so much a part of my life’s work, recognizing and changing these stories. I hope we can all change the stories that need some fine tuning. Every single on of us.

  29. Ok, so not only do we have the Northern relocation to Southern lands in common, but OMG, yes, I have not spent Rosh Hashana with my family in years. It is so very hard, Passover, too, sigh. I hear you, I feel you, for sure. (Hugs) Wishing you a blessed new year, my friend.
    Andrea recently posted…Where I’m at.My Profile

  30. This is so beautiful, Ilene! I’m sorry I missed it last week, but grateful now to catch up. I love this message about challenging one negative belief and facing the fear hidden behind it head on. My negative messages have been amplified lately so I need this inspiration right now. I’ll trust I read this right at the exact right time! 😉
    Mary @ A Teachable Mom recently posted…A Decade of Parenting LessonsMy Profile

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