Permission slips

Often there is so much we should do, we must do. Not because somebody else tells us to. No, because we tell ourselves we have to. I know I often do. But… what do you allow yourself? That is what this blog is about. About the power of allowing instead of should or must. About a very simple but powerful tool you can use to allow yourself so much more: permission slips.

Permission slips
The word might sound childish. It might remind you of school where you needed permission from an adult to be allowed something special. But at it’s core this is about setting an intention. A promise to yourself: I give myself permission to… And this is really powerful I have noticed over the years!

Sometimes the first step is giving yourself permission
Somewhere in 2004. I have been working as a teacher at the Radboud University for several year now. Something I really enjoy. This is precisely why I find myself facing a dilemma.

If you want to grow and make a career within Academia than doing your PhD is a prerequisite. I also see doing PhD research as a core part of science. But my dilemma is this: I remember the months I was finishing my masters. My six month internship at KMPG Consulting was absolutely great! But I don’t have fond memories of the 2 months following the internship that I spend writing my master thesis. It was during the summer holidays, my roommates where all gone and most of my friends were on holiday. I period in which I found myself alone and lonely sitting behind my computer writing my thesis. I always called this time: the time of me and my computer. And this was not a happy, fun time at all!
If I wanted to do a PhD I knew that an important part of my work would be writing articles and a dissertation. For five years. Writing, writing and writing. So a lot of “me and my computer”. At the same time I wanted to remain working at the university because so far I really liked it and wanted to make a career in academia. I take a long time thinking about what to do. Start a PhD project and stay in academia or not do a PhD which would mean leaving academia in the not so distant future? I can’t make a decision.

Until I make a promise to myself: “I give myself permission to quit if it turns out I really don’t like doing my PhD”. This is a crucial promise to myself because I have always learned to finish what you start. This norm is deeply anchored inside of me. And now I am promising myself that I am allowed to quit, that I don’t necessarily have to finish my PhD.
Looking back this promise to myself cleared the path to say yes to a job as a researcher. It gave me space to see it as an experiment. To allow my self to regularly evaluate: do I still like what I am doing? Those 5 years as a researcher has brought me many good things. And to my surprise I discovered that for the most part I really liked the research and the writing.

Brene Brown
Fast forward to 2013. I am doing a course with Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection. One of the assignments is to write yourself a permission slip. What do you need to give yourself permission for in order to get the most out of the course? On my permission slip I wrote:
- To really make time for this course
- To find it hard and to not know
- To be behind the course schedule

And as I experience the power of writing yourself a permission slip during the course I also see the link to what I did back in 2004. Although I had not written it down: I had clearly set an intention by saying to myself AND also to my husband: I give myself permission to quit if it turns out I don’t like it.

Since then I regularly write myself permission slips. I use them for situations that I find difficult. When I do something for the first time or when I am scared or nervous about doing something, And when I set goals and make plans, part of the plan is always writing down what I give myself permission for. What it brings me?

Writing myself a permission slip creates space for myself
It opens things up, creates freedom. While thoughts about things I should do create blocks, fence me in and give me so little space to manoeuvre. Permission slips give me space for experimenting and making mistakes. It allows me to stay true to myself and say and do things that really fit who I am and what I find important. Instead of going into please-perform-perfect mode.
Permission slips help me to feel more calm and relaxed before a scary moment. And by writing it down I also tap into my intuition/subconscious wisdom- that often knows exactly what I need. This is often something extra or totally different than if I would only go with what my head tells me I need. Writing myself a permission slip also helps me to show daily courage.

What do you give yourself permission for?
Are you giving yourself permission to experiment with permission slips? Try it tomorrow before that scary conversation or presentation. Or start your day with giving your self permission. Today I give myself permission to…
Really write it down on a post-it note that you hang somewhere for yourself to see, or put it in your pocket, so you have it with you. Also go to your body when you are writing yourself a permission slip. Do you notice anything different?

I would love to know what you wrote down on your permission slip. Let me know in the comments or send me an email

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I wish you a lot of space and freedom for yourself!