Recently, I heard the amazing Tarana Burke speaking on a podcast, and she said something that I keep picking up and toying with because it was so powerful.

She was speaking about the relationship with her mom and the “mother wound,” and said that learning how to forgive was understanding that “desire” is not the same as “capacity.”

Think about that for a moment.

You can have the desire to be the best mom who is always there, always calm, and knows the right thing to do. Then there’s your capacity which includes your triggers, trauma, fear, stress, and even knowledge which impact your ability to do and be that for them.

Like when you come home from a garbage day, hungry, and stressed scrambling to get dinner on the table to rush your kid to swimming lessons. Your kid has also had a garbage day and is feeling disconnected from you so when you serve dinner (which they have exactly 10 minutes to eat before you have to leave), they angrily say “NO!” cross their arms, and roughly push the plate away, and then your top blows off like a cartoon volcano.

You can use desire and capacity in every context of your life. Your work, marriage, friendships, everything. It all fits.

Tarana explained that compassion for her mother came from understanding the difference between desire and capacity. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have strong boundaries, ever have to repair the relationship, or even forgive, but it does creates space to heal yourself.

Coming from a childhood of trauma, instantly I got it. This message is powerful on so many levels.

When I look at my own life through this lens of “desire and capacity” I notice 2 important things for me:

1) Moments I wished I behaved differently is always because I lacked capacity.

I was too stressed, too anxious, in too much pain, too sad, too overwhelmed, too “something” that was sapping me of my capacity to do and be the person I desired to be. Seeing my behavior as a product of lacking capacity makes it easier to forgive myself for these moments, hold myself kindly in compassion, and see my humanity instead of my shortcomings.

Research also shows that self-compassion is critical to changing behavior, so if you beat yourself up for yelling or whatever you wish you could change, stop. It only perpetuates the shame-cycle which leads to more yelling. Start offering yourself self-compassion instead and see what happens.

2) I need to constantly be working to increase my capacity.

This is exactly why I am so vocal about why self-care should be called self-maintenance. Eating healthy, moving our bodies, and getting enough sleep are NOT a luxury, they are the basic needs for SURVIVAL. Without out them it’s not possible to function properly, our brains actually don’t work, and our bodies start to break down and can develop chronic illness. These are the absolute minimum.

To increase capacity and resilience we also need that “something else” beyond basic needs for survival. They are what make life beautiful and meaningful, they connect us to our Self, each other, and to the mystery of life. These include things like meditation, yoga, walking in nature, journaling, meaningful connection with those you love, creating art of any kind, dancing, prayer, and things that fill you up reminding you of magic of life that you are a part of.

This is HARD.

Women are praised for being “good” when we do not have needs (only taking care of the needs of others), do not take up space, are quiet and always nice and agreeable. This is problematic when we actually DO have needs, we DO take up space in the world, and sometimes we need to be disagreeable to have our needs met and have enough space to simply be.

When I hear the countless stories of how burnt out women are everywhere, to live in the world meeting our basic needs, and also that “something else” is almost an act of rebellion. It’s an act of protest.

I believe we are not only the architects of our lives, but also the architects of ourselves. Research confirms that every new experience and interaction changes us, and we can captain that change by choosing what we do and what we expose ourselves to. It’s critical to choose wisely.

Our capacity is what allows us to show up in the world as the mothers, leaders, and partners we want to be and change the world with our love and vision. We are the changemakers, and we need to lead that change with maintaining and caring for ourselves.

I want to know your thoughts, tell me in the comments below.