Beautiful Between

living fully in the now & not yet

If you’re tired of the try-hard life, this is for you

I know you know what it’s like to think, “If I could just try harder, it would get better.” I know you know what it’s like to push as hard as you can, barely holding yourself together, feeling like it will never be enough. I know those feelings, too.

That’s why I’m so thrilled to introduce you to Aundi Kolber, therapist and author of the beautiful, soulful book, Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy. Aundi’s words are rich and life-giving because she’s gone before us in learning how to give up on that try-harder life. It’s a joy to share Aundi’s words with you today.

It had been a tough week.

In reality, it had been a tough year. Most of my clients were adolescent girls or adult women, all of whom seemed to be experiencing an onslaught of heartbreak. Each day I listened to their accounts of abuse and pain, trying to help these women untangle their personal stories. At times I also calmed angry parents and soothed suicidal clients. The basic rule of being a therapist is that you should never work harder than your client, but I was breaking that rule ten times over and headed straight for burnout.

The truth was, I loved my job. I loved being able to come alongside my clients and guide them through the path of deep healing. But I was in a constant state of overwhelm. Having grown up in an intensely dysfunctional and chaotic family, I never fully learned how to hold the pain of others without internalizing it. My experience had taught me I wasn’t allowed to. I didn’t know how to listen to my own needs or the rhythms of my body. Consequently, when stressful and difficult weeks like this arose, I dealt with them the only way I knew how—by just trying to push through them, shaming myself in the process.

“John,” I confessed to my supervisor, “I’m so worn out and tired. It just feels like no matter what I do, it’s never enough. I feel like I’m failing my clients, like I’m not good enough to do this job.”

John, whom I deeply respected, was already a seasoned therapist. He exuded wisdom and calm and regularly reminded me it was okay to be imperfect. As tears ran down my cheeks, John leaned forward in his chair for a moment and took a breath. Then, slowly, he rested his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers, the way I often did with my own clients.

“Listen, Aundi,” he said gently, “I’m curious about why you’re so hard on yourself. You are providing the resources your clients need, and you are incredibly empathic. You’re doing an excellent job.” He cocked his head. “What would happen if you allowed yourself to release your grip on this situation?”

The empathy in John’s voice felt soothing, and a part of me wanted to wholeheartedly embrace what he was saying. The other part of me was defensive; in fact, just considering his suggestion made my pulse race. But how will anyone be okay if I don’t care all the time? my inner critic all but screamed. If I’m not saving them, how will they survive?

John leaned in again, sensing my ambivalence. “I’m not asking you to stop caring, Aundi . . . just to change the way you are caring. What I mean is . . . what if—just for a change—instead of trying harder, you tried . . . softer?”

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I’ve got to be honest: At first blush, John’s suggestion didn’t sound like an awesome option—because what did it even mean? All I had ever learned was how to try harder. If I didn’t push, everything would be terrible; everything would fall apart. The suggestion that there could be another way made my body feel tense with anger, a reflection of my twelve-year-old self—a girl riddled with the toxic stress of trying to keep everything together while her home life was constantly imploding. Sure, John, “trying softer” sounds nice, but trying harder is how you survive.

At the same time, I had to face the facts: Trying harder wasn’t really working for me anymore. The strategies I had been using my entire life—hustling, overworking, overthinking, and constantly shifting to accommodate the dysfunction that surrounded me—they had kept me alive, yes, but now they were taking their toll. I felt less in control, not more; worse, not better; weary, not wise. The danger from my past was gone, but the patterns remained—and they were keeping me from being able to be truly present and pay attention to what matters most.

The day that I sat with John in his office totally changed the trajectory of my life because John was right: Pushing isn’t always the answer.

Dear reader, there are truly times when the best, healthiest, most productive thing we can do is not to try harder, but rather to try softer: to compassionately listen to our needs so we can move through pain—and ultimately life—with more gentleness and resilience.

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Perhaps you, too, know what it is like to feel overextended, overburdened, and overwrought, desperately clinging to the idea that if you just push hard enough, if you just try a little harder, you’ll be able to regain control, soothe your anxious mind, and achieve some measure of success. And if you’re anything like me, you may be feeling a little apprehensive: Cool, Aundi, but I’m really busy. Who’s going to do the hard stuff if I simply “try softer”? I don’t wake up every morning wondering how I can sabotage my life by pushing so hard that there isn’t any room for joy. It’s just how it has to be.

Friend, I hear you. But consider this: While hard work is valuable and necessary, there is a difference between pushing ourselves well and hurting ourselves by perpetuating harmful patterns.

We come by these tendencies honestly. We’ve learned to white-knuckle our way through life to armor up against pain and difficulty; we believe minimizing our wounds is the only way we’ll be loved. We try to appear successful, productive, or simply okay on the outside, even when we’re not okay on the inside. Our world overvalues productivity and others’ opinions, so we learn to ignore the messages our bodies are giving us—through our emotions and physical sensations— and instead push through our pain and pretend we have it all together. Trying harder helps us feel safe in areas of our lives that may have felt overwhelming or out of control in the past.

What’s more, we’ve been so socialized, parented, and wired to overfunction that we don’t recognize when our bodies are stressed, traumatized, and exhausted until the consequences are dire. It’s then, when anxiety and adrenaline have worn us down to a nub, that we may find ourselves depressed, exhausted, and disconnected.

You don’t have to dismiss your pain here. You don’t need to shrink it down or pretend living through it wasn’t hard. You don’t have to act like the shaming voices aren’t still play- ing in your head, or like you’re not still beating yourself up, or like the ways your needs were overlooked don’t cut you daily. I’m not asking you to find the silver lining in your “hard.” We know God is with us through it all, but that doesn’t mean life hasn’t cracked you open. It doesn’t mean you haven’t cried thousands of tears or spoken to yourself in ways you would never speak to another.

The wounds you have experienced are valid. Maybe no one has ever said that to you, so I hope you’ll receive this now: What’s happened in your life matters.

I believe God’s heart for us is outrageously gentle; and yet I believe He is calling us to more. While none of us are exempt from pain, we can learn to come out of survival mode and actually live. And isn’t that what we all want—not to miss out on life? To have the tools, resources, and support we need to embrace the goodness? To see the people right in front of us? To live out Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (see Mark 12:31)? Imagine actually experiencing tenderness toward who you are—not just tolerating or enduring your life, your family, your relationships, your body, and your career, but truly finding ways to love and honor them.

This is what God created us for. This new way of being in the world is possible. Trying softer is the path that leads to true connection and joy. It begins when we mindfully listen to what’s on the inside of us and let that influence how we look and act on the outside. It’s an intentional shift toward paying compassionate attention to our own experiences and needs. Learning to try softer is not a onetime event but a way we learn to be with ourselves.

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Adapted from Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode—and into a Life of Connection and Joy by Aundi Kolber, from Tyndale House Publishers (January 2020). 

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About Sarah

Hi, I'm Sarah. I love coffee, pancakes and street tacos. I'm a learner, a traveler and a creative mess. I've got a thing for redemption and seeing broken people living beautiful lives. That's the story I've lived, and the one I want for you. Let's be friends!

2 Replies

  1. Amy Faughn

    Thanks Sarah,I may have to purchase this book.Your newsletters have been so encouraging to me.Its so healing to know Iam not alone in this journey. Iam so blessed to see where our Lord is leading you.Thanks for risking being vulnerable.

    1. I love that, Amy! It’s such a joy to know we’re not alone in our struggles. And I cannot say enough good things about the book. I hope it’s a blessing if you pick it up. Take care!

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