who checks in on you?

Posted on September 27th, 2012

This week I spoke at yoga brand LuluLemon’s national conference. It was a room full of people comfortable in their Lycra and a yoga hairstyle (bun up high on head; enables headstand and backbend poses). I was in comfortable company!

photo by Neil Stewart

I spoke about How to Build a Good Life, based on advice gleaned from interviewing the Dalai Lama, tap-dancing from a plane with Sir Richard Branson, crying with Oprah’s life coach, and more, across  758 blog posts and 130 Sunday Life columns. As well as from almost 39 years on the planet. At the end I boiled things down to this: what makes a good life is the struggle to find a good life. It’s the striving, not the arriving.

At the end, one of the Lulu people asked me a pearler of a question. She pointed out that I’d mentioned a number of experts and gurus I’ve interviewed over the years had life coaches, or spiritual mentors whom they employed to guide them. She then asked: who checks in on you?

I immediately got what she was asking. She wanted to know how I remained accountable. It hit me as all truly challenging propositions do: with a thud.

I’m a loner. I live, work and float about on my own, most of the day, most of the days. Therefore, my life can become very one-dimensional and self-referencing. I could kid myself I’m a generous soul…because who’s going to question it? I can
go about my various habits and indulge my foibles without ever being challenged to confront them or grow them or question them. I have no mirror held up to me. Or, rather, the only reflection I get is of myself.

By stark contrast, when you’re in a relationship you have a mirror constantly held up to you. When the other person’s behaviour shits you, it’s generally more a reflection of what’s shitty about yourself. And so you’re forced to grow. To be frank, I admire people in relationships for being able to endure this process on a daily basis. I truly do.

So who checks in on me? How do I ensure I’m held accountable? Who or what do I rise up to? The answer I gave was partially true: meditation holds me accountable. Also, I check in with my meditation teacher when I get wobbly – he’ll always tell me straight what might be going on.

My best friend Ragni also keeps me on track. She’s blunt and keeps me real. She sees through my crap to the raw “me” and will tell me if I’m off course.

But the full answer is that I probably don’t check in enough. You don’t need a partner or a spiritual guru to do this. You just need people with an interest in seeing you be your best. Who won’t tolerate your shit and will toss your reflection right back at you.

As I write this, I’m realising I actually do have these people around me. I know who they are…they often frustrate me, and I’ll sometimes run from them. I lean on my reputation as a loner to do so and leave dinners and parties early and cut off phone calls. But I’m now realising these people are actually challenging me (whether they intend to or not).

Perhaps it’s not about finding someone to check in on you…but not fleeing those who do? Do you relate? Do you have someone who holds you accountable?



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  • http://www.takechargenow.com.au Becc

    Oh yes, I relate! Although I do have a husband and son, I work from home and have had many years of sickness that kept me house bound. I am lucky to have a huge support network who check in on me regularly, which means I’ve also got a huge phone phobia!
    Even though I do have a husband that is there everyday, you also get very used to each other and often they don’t hold you accountable because it becomes the norm. You don’t always notice your own tendencies and the same can be said with a partner.
    My son is probably the one who keeps me accountable the most just by being.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    Nice take Becc. Yes, we can seduce our partners into moving around us, rather than confronting us! I’ve done that before.


  • Maryann

    Interesting idea that you need someone to hold you accountable. I am a loner and an intravert. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you need someone to hold you accountable, I think a little self knowledge can keep you accountable if it is necessary. I just not sure that you need to be held accountable to anyone. The bottom line for me is that as long as I do not hurt anyone or myself all is OK.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    It doesn’t have to be someone. It can be something…


  • Tara

    My daughter, Pearl, keeps me accountable, especially if I feel like a glass of wine. She says ‘ Mummy, alcohol is not good for you’…sigh


  • J

    I don’t agree that you’re a loner – you have (probably?) thousands of people who comment on these articles, and tens of thousands more who read them and follow you on social media. I’d say those comments and interactions keep you accountable. Your community here provide feedback, reassurance, and different ideas. You involve yourself deeply with your internet community and take advice and ideas from others. Its not a traditional, face to face, employed or ‘obvious’ accountability, but it definitely counts!


  • http://www.africanaussie.blogspot.com Africanaussie

    I have found that sharing my goals with my hubby is good… I know he wont judge me, but thinking about that cookie after dinner with him sitting next to me often makes me think twice.


  • michael

    When people challenge us it is often because we have invited them to do so .. consciously or unconsciously.
    Balance can be very difficult to achieve when one is moving around all the time … or in the public eye .. or both.
    Often time is what reveals our greatest shortcomings or strengths.
    The points where we question our own accountability are crucibles of awareness where we can actively take the opportunity to grow if we are ready.
    Then it’s not so much about struggling or striving, but steering ..


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    very true points. thank you.


  • Dani

    Hey Sarah,

    I definitely relate to your post!

    Sometimes I find myself actually seeking out someone to ‘hold me accountable’, to give it to me straight, to tell it like it is. I find often my partner (who I live with) and some friends and sometimes even my mum try to sugar coat the reality of a situation or my behaviour or perspective. Perhaps that’s just their style, perhaps they’d rather be delicate with me?

    I belive that when we live inside our own heads, it’s too easy to interperet ourselves and situations too single-mindedly and sometimes end with not-so-realistic conclusions. I agree that it’s completely necessary to have those people to bouce off and gain perspective from. But it can certainly be difficult to find the most fitting person sometimes!

    I think I’m speaking purely from personal experience here and perhaps there are those (perhaps more elightened) ones out there who can live the solitary life and maintain a balanced, realistic perspective?

    However the good old saying has been playing on repeat in my mind over the past months, “no man is an island”!


  • http://www.or-so-i-feel.blogspot.com meg

    i kept expecting you to say that your auto-immune disease holds you accountable, as i imagine it does. certainly we keep ourselves accountable, and the body and its infinite wisdom, if we’re willing to listen, is a remarkable tool in making manifest both the good and the bad.

    i think you’re remarkable and am really giving this no sugar thing a go. cheers to you for spreading the word and always leading with honesty.


    Sarah Wilson

    Sarah Wilson Reply:

    I often deceive myself with the AI…either denying it, or sinking in to it. Either way, I try not to relate back and forth with it too much.


    Genevieve Tucker Reply:

    Sarah, this is a great post and discussion and has had me thinking for a few days on a slow burn. If you are putting out material that helps people navigate their way through health and wellbeing, of course you’re being ‘checked in on’. Everything said about audience above, I second.
    Thank you 😀


  • Steph

    I don’t know, I think it’s more about an awareness of self and a choice to clarify things with yourself frequently. And it’s not as though you don’t work with and interact with many people on a daily basis! I know plenty of people in traditional couple relationships who do not respond to the check-ins from their partners and remain stubbornly stuck in old patterns. In friendship too, my best friend being a good example, if a person isn’t ready to face the reality of where they are, they won’t. It’s interesting though in that my partner has surprised me a few times in our relationship by saying, “Thank you for XXX…You make me better.” The last time, I really had no idea what I had done or what experience had been pivotal for him. But it was obvious that he was processing something himself and choosing to make a subtle adjustment in his thinking and behaviour. Anyhow…I suppose I’m saying that context helps, but it’s ultimately about how you steer the boat.


  • http://www.adventuresofmona.com Megan

    Amazing stuff Sarah. I totally connect with you on this and am constantly tossing this tsunami wave question around in my brain. It’s so nice to hear it from someone else’s perspective.


  • Romany

    ahhh, I’d love to be your friend Sarah. I reckon we’d be a good match :)


  • Ian

    Sarah – great you’re being vulnerable (once again) in sharing this post. I’d like to be better at the accountability thing. Having a partner, 2 young men as children & a prayerful life definitely helps challenge me most days.

    However, the idea of really investing in another & also having someone do likewise in me, would be super. I find it’s very easy to be get perceptions that can easily be misguided and making sure I’m pouring truth into my life is critical.

    It’s interesting, Sarah, one of the key elements of the Blue Zones is the idea of community. I’d hazard a guess that this includes accountability or that sense of ‘investing in another’ which is how I prefer to describe it.


  • Sharon in Philly

    Love the post, thanks


  • Lisa Ingram

    I can’t think of much more accountability than everything you share with your online community for free comment (and sometimes we Like, sometimes Not So Much). Very courageous and I am sure you take it on to shape direction (away from our misguided wisdom or towards it… depends!). Wish we “knew” you really! Lisa


  • Mia Bluegirl

    Really interesting replies here.

    My best friend checks in on me. I’m definitely a loner, half by circumstance (very little living family, all of whom are deeply troubled and emotionally distant) and half by design (I genuinely prefer watching Dr Who repeats on a Saturday night to social interaction. Terrible, but true.)

    I have one very close friend who always keeps me in check. In some ways we are identical – we both value honesty over popularity, both introverted, both care nothing for authority or the commonly accepted world view, and would rather question everything than accept what we are being told. We have some amazing debates. Only difference is, he has completely robust self-esteem and is immune to the opinions of others. Whereas I’m a neurotic and anxious Christina Hendricks-shaped female in a Kate Moss world, and for some reason I actually give a shit.

    He provides the counter balance, and gets me out of my own head. I dont care much for the idea of romantic soul mates, but I like the idea of intellectual ones, and I think he fits.


    Heather Reply:

    Intellectual soul mates…I like! I think I definitely have a few, how lovely.


  • http://thezeka.tumblr.com/ Ana

    I completely relate.

    I am also a loner and, sometimes, lean on that reputation a bit too much.
    Lately I’ve been turning to people more because I understand I do not exist in a vacuum.

    I can go analyzing everything on my own, and thinking that I’m doing a good job of it, but that’s me thinking about me – I might be right in my assessment, but I might not be, and I seek others more and more so I can grow further.


  • Ava

    Interesting question. It’s had me rolling many thoughts around in my mind.

    The closest people to me are my mum and my boyfriend. My mum constantly, albeit inadvertently (god bless her) always has me questioning the materialistic aspects of my being. One day I do believe she will actually squat on land in Cape York and start to build independent, self-sufficient communities… Growing up, I rebelled against her ideals by reading Dolly and then Cosmo and I have now become another female consumer. I wish I had the courage to break away. Everytime I talk with her I am reminded of that inner desire. She’s a good checkerer inerer, actually.

    I’m sick of being checked in on by my boyfriend. Yes, I can be jealous. Yes, I can be awkward and shy. Yes, I do have past relationship broken hearted fears. Maybe I shouldn’t be in a relationship.

    Sarah, have you made a conscious decision not to be in a relationship? Have you evolved beyond the stupid idea of “love”? Are you happier being the strong and independent woman you are today? I feel like love is all about dizzying highs and sickening lows. Just like sugar. Maybe I should quit love too.


  • http://www.aurajade.wordpress.com Laura

    I can relate to your self perception of being a loner. I feel the same about myself. I would rather be alone. I grew up by myself and I always felt more comfortable by myself than with others. I can certainly lean on this reputation to much. I do not have many close friends because I cut things off or run away before people can get to know me, and usually, thats the way I like it. However, my parents hold me accountable. They are the only ones who truly understand me, and they are always there to support me, love me, and give me a reality check when I need it!


  • Chantelle

    Out of all the posts you’ve written for this blog, I’ve identified with this one the most. I recently went on holiday with a friend for one month. As someone who lives alone, it was a huge shock to my system to be around someone 24/7 (I don’t have a boyfriend, mainly because I can’t handle that mirror you were talking about). I learnt a lot about how others perceive me while on holiday, and the one thing I came away with besides the memories of travelling was that perhaps it’s about time I grew up. I don’t know if this is making sense. You write so much better than I do. I just wanted to say that this post made me realise I need to get my act together.


  • lopsy

    Hi Sarah and everyone who has posted,

    Once again….your post hit a nerve…
    and you made me feel kinda normal.
    Can I ask Sarah, how do you cope with loneliness when youre a loner…?
    and would it be possible for you to start a thread about Depression and Fear.
    Im full of it at the moment and struggling so so much. Dont know what Thyroid and what just Life sure not working out how I thought it would be….and I never asked for much.

    Thanks girl….you inspire me to keep going.

    Lauren in London x


  • Beth

    Hi Sarah

    Slightly off topic here, but this post prompted the question. I’ve been taking a course in practical meditation. It’s run through Brahma Kumaris, but was advertised as non-religious. Organised religion is a no go area for me for reasons from my past which I won’t go into, so I was really excited to find this course. After a few sessions the instructor changed our mediation homework from contemplation of qualities to talking about our day to God or an omni-benevolent being. I struggled with this but decided to persevere by imagining I was talking to a friend. Are you religious? If not, how do you compromise your non-religious beliefs with the practice of meditation?

    Computer hugs from London.


  • Erin

    I can definitely relate to the ‘fight or flight’ reaction when my authenticity or accountability is challenged. When considering this with more depth, my reaction depends on how much the person has caught me out and has seen something I didn’t intend them to see. By this, I mean the accountability for the things that we don’t share with the world, even with our best friends (or meditation teacher, in your case Sarah).

    I think that a lot of the time, we choose who we are accountable to and when this occurs. When I feel that choice taken away, I am challenged and experience that sense of being stripped of my usual ability to talk my way out of sticky situations. I am just beginning to get into the practice of being in that place and responding, rather than reacting- being in wonder and being okay with our vulnerability. Brene Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ is definitely helping me to get this at the moment!

    I think the secret here is choosing to be open, courageous and vulnerable- this enables others to hold us accountable for who we are being, rather than just our for our opinions, actions and goals.

    Thanks for a great post Sarah!