More often than I want to admit, I’ve found myself in the awkward position of having someone ask me for advice, when they obviously are in no space to even consider change. The friend who knows she needs to leave her abusive boyfriend, the one who sees the writing on the wall at her job but is too paralyzed to start putting her resume together, even the person who is too afraid to go to the doctor to find out what that odd growth on her elbow might be…. One time or another, they’ve all wound up on my doorstep, terrified, begging for guidance, but stubbornly resisting any suggestion I give them to help improve their situation.
We’ve all been in this place before. I spent my entire 20s in this space—land-locked in a pit of indecision, doubt, and utter terror at even the smallest amount of change. Intellectually, people living a “Resistance Existence” know they need to make a change. Some can even get plans together, knock out a course of action, and even buy a pair of awesome sneakers to make the distance they’ve got to travel more comfortable and stylish.
But that’s as far as it goes.
When the gun fires, they’re left standing at the gate in their expensive Nikes, unable to even take the first step to improve their life.
What is it about change that is so terrifying to some of us we would rather stay in a bad situation than take that risk, even when it’s obviously a positive change?
Warning: Danger, Will Robinson!
- Fear of Failure: This is pretty obvious. Nobody wants to try and fail. But when you are caught in resistance, this fear can keep you from trying even the simplest or most positive changes.
- Fear of Pain, Discomfort, and Effort: Making changes such as starting a new career or getting into shape can be intimidating. Your fear of future physical, emotional, or psychological pain and discomfort may be such that the known discomfort of your current situation seems mild in comparison.
- Fear of Success: This is a big one for me, and a particularly insidious demon to face when manifesting change. In the dark world of resistance, success makes you a target. Expectations loom larger than life, and the fall back to failure seems much less deadly if you fall from your boring present rather than from a grand and glorious future.
- Fear of Criticism: The truth is, except in the rarest of cases, most of us are much more harshly critical of ourselves than we are of others. So naturally, we think that others will be equally critical of us if we risk putting ourselves out there. Fear of criticism and low self-esteem are a crushing combo when it comes to new ventures.
- Fear of the New: “Better the devil I know than the devil I don’t know.” It’s a stupid saying, but so many of us live our lives in this space. Yeah, we know our job sucks, but what if I try and get myself into an even worse situation? Sure, I’m bored in this curriculum, but if I change majors I might really hate what I have to do. And let’s not even talk about the new computer system—why can’t we go back to the old system?
Are You a Closeted (or Not-So-Closeted) Resister?
It’s easy to look at the list above and see these traits in others. But it’s harder to see them in yourself. Most of us who are in a situation we want to (but can’t) change tend to believe we are doing everything we can to improve our lives. But maybe we’re not doing as much as we think. If you are looking for change, but aren’t making any headway, ask yourself these questions.
Am I embracing my excuses?
When I was still living back home, I knew that my life would never get better if I stayed in Louisiana. Not that I have anything against my home state, but it was too conservative and too comfortable there for me to ever fully explore my true experience of life. But whenever anyone would suggest I’d move out of state to a new atmosphere, I always had an excuse. I don’t have enough job experience to compete in a big city. I have never lived on my own. My finances are a wreck—how would I stay afloat, even if I could find a job?
But the biggest excuse I made for staying in a place that was slowly killing my spirit came in the form of two adorable little boys. My nephews, Paxton and Cameron, were about three and one when I finally made the decision to leave Louisiana. Now, being the bon vivant auntie I was, the thought of leaving those two little monsters just broke my heart. I adored them, and I knew that my siblings were going to continue to have children. I wanted to be in their lives, and for about three years, they were the only things keeping me tied to home.
But at some point, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that even this was only an excuse I was using to avoid facing my fear. As much as I loved my nephews, and as much as I wanted to be a part of their lives, the deeper part of me knew that I’d be no role model for them unless I lived my life authentically.
What excuses are you clinging to in order to justify avoiding change? A relative, a paycheck, a childhood disappointment? If this excuse wasn’t there—if no one depended on you, if money was no object, if your childhood angst was a mere figment–would you still be making the choices you’re making now?
Am I ignoring the facts?
One of the easiest ways to resist change is to accept the past (or your perception of the past) as unchangeable truth. A great example of this from my life was taxes. Because of an odd quirk of my childhood, I had to start filing tax returns quite early (I was still in high school). My mother, bless her, was responsible for getting all of this done.
Five tax returns + one single parent = TAX TRAUMA!
I have very clear memories of tax time, spending hours helping get check stubs in order, dealing with tempers and missing documents, the haste and stress and tempers. It all seemed pretty awful to me at the time.
When I finally got out on my own, I brought that experience of tax preparation with me. For years after my eighteenth birthday, I mimicked the patterns of my childhood, turning the first two weeks of April into a merry fortnight of stress and angst.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized my situation had changed. I had changed. When I got past the story I was telling myself and let go of the outdated “facts” that no longer served me, I was able to look realistically at my situation. I was able to see the tools at my disposal, the relative simplicity of my return, even my ability to remain calm in the face of the deadline.
Today, tax time is nothing for me. I go online, use Turbo Tax, file, and move on with life. I barely even think about it. That would never have been possible had I clung to my old image of tax time and ignored the evolving factual evidence.
So what outdated information are you clinging to? A time when someone treated you well, although they are no longer doing so? An investment that once performed well, but now is costing you time and money? Can you break out of nostalgia and entropy long enough to look at things with fresh eyes?
Am I propping up the villain?
A friend of mine is convinced everyone hates her. She is too poor, too fat, too unattractive, and the world hates people like her. Another friend of mine hates every supervisor that comes her way—no matter what their management style, they are always corrupt, incompetent, and untrustworthy. For a long time, when I was younger, I believed that every popular person I knew wanted nothing more than my complete social destruction. Regardless of the actual facts, we build these people into monsters before our eyes, removing any subtlety and substance until they are human Godzillas, smashing our dreams like Tokyo under their feet.
It’s easy to look at these attitudes from the outside and see them for the absurdity they are, but there are so many subtle ways we use vilification of “The Other” to justify remaining at a standstill. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- Oh, please, why bother even applying? They never hire supervisors from the floor. Besides, they’ve already got the job filled before it’s even posted. You need to be part of the clique to get promoted around here.
- There is no way I’ll ever get that part. He’s trying out for it, and he’s the director’s favorite.
- It’s just not fair—the little guy can never get ahead. Even if I did get that extra training, Management just looks down on us guys on the line.
- My vote doesn’t count. The (fill in the blank with whatever political party you think is destroying democracy) are in control; you know they’re going to block anything that would give (fill in with opposing political party) a victory.
- College is a rich man’s game. Even if I did get that scholarship, they’d all look down on me. I’d have to work twice as hard for half as much, and they’d never respect me.
One of the best ways to keep yourself down is to give power to those villains (real or imaginary) you feel are intent on “keeping you down.” Whether it’s a church, your family, the wealthy, the poor, the government, popular people—whoever you’ve decided has more power than you—it’s easy to use them as excuses for not taking action when it’s called for. But they’re not the problem; we’re just giving them that power.
So what can we do to break through the resistance to change that keeps us from even imagining an improved circumstance? I know I’ve sung the praises of positivity here before, but it is one of the single best ways to give yourself the courage and inspiration to move forward. The next time you feel yourself resisting a positive change in your life, try one of these tricks.
- Let go of forever. Agree to make a change for a short period of time. Nothing is permanent anyway, so why stress about change being forever? If, for instance, you want to try exercising more, make a deal with yourself that for one month you will exercise regularly. Commit to that one month, with an option for renegotiation at the end of that period. By doing so, you take some of the pressure of “forever” off you so that you can concentrate on the benefits of your actions.
- Tell a better story. Scientists insist that most of what we experience is simply our brains interpreting the stimuli we receive through our senses. What is an interpretation other than a story? Everything you do, everything you see, is your brain’s story of reality. If you want a better life, tell a better story. Tell a story where you manage to ignore the snide remark and continue with your studies. Tell a story where you prepare mightily and sail through the interview like a pro. Tell yourself this story, believe it, and act in accordance. Be the story you’re telling by acting the part, doing the work, and taking the risks. You might be amazed at how differently things turn out.
- Laugh. When the world seems so serious and everything is just too hard to handle, watch a funny movie. Hang out with friends who improve your mood. Play with your dog or cat or the neighbor’s ferret, and enjoy their spontaneity. Taking life too seriously makes everything harder. It’s easy to become mired in the mud if you keep the weight of the world on your shoulders.
If we want to take control of our lives and shape our own destiny, we have to get past the victim mentality and give ourselves permission to change. Once you free your mind, you’ll be able to go within and discover who you truly are and what you truly want.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog lately. While a huge part of me is inclined to leave it as is—a chaotic, unfocused reflection of my own daily experiences, another part of me wants Ten Thousand Soapboxes to be more than a glorified personal journal. The blogosphere has afforded us an unprecedented forum, giving previously unheard voices a chance to speak their wisdom (and foolishness) into the darkness…and be heard.
The difference between a good blog and a great blog can be summarized in one word, “value.” What value is this blog offering to my readers? What value am I receiving from the production of these posts? In order to find value, one has to first discover need—what is missing, what is broken, that must be filled if our lives are going to get better?
The Missing Factor
I’ve taken a bit of time for recollection and soul-searching on this topic. There are so many topics I love, so many passions that drive me and make my world a brighter and more interesting place.
But there is one topic which affects every other aspect of my life, a topic so huge and overriding that it cuts to the core of my essence.
That topic is work.
When I say work, I am not merely referring to the 9-to-5 job most of us do Monday-Friday, although that is a huge part of it. Our Day Jobs™ affect so much of what we do, how we do it, how we see ourselves, and how we interact with others. Our Day Jobs™ influence our health, our attitudes, our relationships, our finances, even our perspective on politics, society, and religion.
But there is more to work than The Day Job™.
Every one of us—each of us with a pulse and a brain—has wondered why we are here, what is our purpose? The more existential among us have wondered if there is any purpose at all? Is there any meaning to our lives besides production and consumption?
Work, true work, can be defined as “what we are here to do.” Why were your mind and your soul and your talents and your passions joined together and placed in a carbon-based body with opposable thumbs and the ability to communicate? Were you just born to eat and sleep and waste time until you die?
Or were you born for greater things?
The History of Work
To figure out the future of work, we need to look at the past. Working for profit is a relatively new thing. For the bulk of human existence, work has been simply a by-product of the need for survival. Humans were inclined to survive, and to do that they needed food, shelter, community—the basics. Since these things didn’t just randomly offer themselves up, our ancestors learned to work. We hunted, we farmed, we built shelters, we sewed clothing for protection against the elements. Inventive as our ancestors were, they came up with “fixes” to improve their odds of survival.
- Weapons to improve hunting.
- Tools to improve farming.
- Buildings to improve shelter against danger—both from the elements and from enemies, human and animal.
And with these fixes, our human ancestors found themselves with more time to think, more opportunity to grow and explore, to make better weapons, stronger tools, more impressive buildings.
We also learned to make art. We learned to enjoy pleasures and anticipate rewards.
When basic survival needs were met, we found we enjoyed the benefits of working. We liked the perks—comfortable homes, abundant food, music, art, colorful clothes, and the opportunity for peaceful interaction with others like ourselves.
Where It Went Wrong
Most of us have held a job at one point or more in our adult life. The majority of us did it for financial reasons—as a means to an end. But there’s more to it than just financial security. Anthropologist Michael Maccoby offered this insight in his 2010 editorial for The Washington Post:
Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.
So many of us focus on the “coinage” part, though, that we downplay our need to make sense, to discipline our talents, and to relate to the human community. In a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable, this doesn’t cause too much trouble.
But we do not live in a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable. We live in a world where, to our horror, we are struggling to make ends meet—despite “doing everything right,” at least according to the current rules of the game.
We go to school. We learn a trade. We create a resume, get a job, do our work, and don’t make trouble. We create value for our employers. We trade services for wages.
And yet, our lives don’t get better.
Our hearts don’t get stronger, our relationships don’t get more meaningful, our bodies don’t get more energized.
We simply get worn out.
The Future of Work
With the future of traditional work getting dimmer and dimmer, a lot of us in the workforce are realizing a change needs to come. And that change is not going to come from our bosses or HR or the government. The change is going to have to come from us. We, as individuals and as a society, are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and figure out why we’re working, how we’re working, and how we’re going to move towards the future (rather than dying out like the dinosaurs).
Net guru Seth Godin, in his Time article, “The Last Days of the Cubicle“, put it fairly succinctly.
The job of the future will have very little to do with processing words or numbers (the Internet can do that now). Nor will we need many people to act as placeholders, errand runners or receptionists. Instead, there’s going to be a huge focus on finding the essential people and outsourcing the rest.
My Moment of Essential
A while back, I wrote a series of blog posts called Joy in the Workplace, in which I explored ways to make the experience of doing your job more meaningful and joyful. Over the course of the next few months, I would like to dig deeper into that theme.
It’s not enough to get a job anymore. We must look inside, find our strengths, find our joys and passions, and find our value as human beings. Then we need to look without, and find areas where those strengths, joys, passions, and values are needed.
There are many areas to choose from.
- According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, “16.4 million children in the United States, 22.0 percent of all children, lived in poverty in 2010. More than six million of these children were under six years old. Of the 16.4 million poor children, nearly half, 7.4 million, lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line (i.e., $11,157 for a family of four).”
- A 2005 United Nations Report estimated there are approximately 100 million homeless people on the planet.
- Like to read? 14% (about 1 in 7) of U.S. adults don’t know how.
- In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infection diseases around the world.
- Approximately 57.7 million Americans—1 in 4—experience serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
- The Daily Green reports that “according to the National Academy of Sciences, on average there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds, and the (Exxon) Valdez spill doesn’t even make the list of the top 30 all-time largest.”
And this list doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Where to Now?
So it’s obvious there is no lack of work to be done in the world. There’s so much work, in fact, that no one should be jobless.
And yet, we are jobless. 12.7 million of us are jobless in America alone.
We’re all looking to Washington, whether from the red side or the blue, asking “Where are the jobs?”
I ask you—where are the jobs? We’ve established there’s work to be done, so why are we waiting on the government to tell us what to do? When did we, as human beings, need permission from authority figures to do the work that needed to be done? When did we need permission to fix things, solve problems, make improvements?
No, we are born to fix things. It’s in our blood, our DNA, our brain structure. We’ve just forgotten how. More importantly, we’ve forgotten we’re supposed to know how.
What I would like to do over the course of the next few months is explore this idea more fully.
- How to assess our talents
- How to find areas of need
- How to fill those areas of need while earning a fair compensation
- How to bring the best of us to our work, creating value as well as personal satisfaction
I will not lie to you—I am struggling like the rest of you. I am looking in the mirror of my worklife and asking, “Am I a dinosaur?” That being said, I won’t go down without a fight. It may take a while, but I fully intend to figure this out.
I hope you will join me on this journey. If you have any suggestions for topics to be covered in this series, I would be happy to hear from you.
In my last post, I mentioned I was reading Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers. This is not the kind of book you can read in one sitting. Chasing the things you’ve hidden for the majority of your life is no small task, and it’s usually a good idea not to rush the process.
The hardest thing about connecting with your shadow forces, I’m realizing, is finding where they are. Oddly enough, these thoughts and feelings have a tendency to, well, hide in the shadows, away from casual perusal. And for people like me, who have spent the better part of four decades shoving their darkness as far down into the bottom of the bag as humanly possible, cajoling them out into the shallow light can be quite the challenge.
So Monday, while waiting to see my doctor about a nasty sinus infection that just won’t go away (thank you, Kentucky springs and the glorious allergens you provide free of charge!), I popped on my earphones and started listening to a downloaded recording of one of Debbie’s radio shows from the Hay House Radio archive. And as I waited (more or less patiently), a solution appeared to me from nowhere (as they are wont to do when you are wandering in the general vicinity of the question).
How do you find your shadow?
In the course of one of the programs, Debbie Ford instructed a caller to ask herself how she wanted people to see her. What is the best impression she could give the world? And when the caller responded, Debbie told her to flip it around and find the opposite of that image was her shadow side. That, Debbie Ford insisted, was the shame-based shadow persona the caller was trying to deny.
And then she went a step further. As the caller digested the horror of identifying with the antithesis of her view of perfection, Debbie asked her to find the gift in that quality she despised about herself.
I’d like to say that I had an instant personal revelation about myself and my personal insights. But, of course, that’s when the knock came on the door and my doctor came in to talk to me.
Fortunately, this interruption gave my subconscious mind time to ponder upon the question, and by the time I was driving home, the question reared itself again—this time, ready for me to pony up an answer.
How did I want the world to see me? And what possible gift could I find in the humiliating mirror-image I had locked in the basement of my personality?
Beautiful Me, C’Est Moi!
The woman in the picture about is the lovely actress Janis Paige, a legend of the big budget Hollywood musicals of the 1950s. But my first introduction to Janis Paige was a little after her heyday in such classics as Silk Stockings and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. No, by the time I heard of Janis Paige, she’d become firmly entrenched in the TV guest star gigs, from Alice to Mary Tyler Moore to Columbo.
And she played Aunti Viv on Eight is Enough. Now, next to Mame Dennis, Auntie Viv was my idea of the perfect woman. She was worldly, smart, fun-loving, and free-spirited. She swept into town like a hurricane, fresh from all points strange and exotic, spoiling the kids with gifts and stories and leaving a havoc of creative chaos in her wake. (She was cool like The Brady Bunch‘s Aunt Jenny, but the actress playing her was much hotter than Imogene Coca, so she won.)
So, what is it about Auntie Viv, Auntie Mame, and all those other awesome spinsters/bon vivants that exemplified the person I wanted to be?
- They were worldly. All of them had eschewed the ordinary marriage and kids route for something more daring and glamorous. No dull, country life for this girl—she was meant for broader horizons.
- They were sophisticated. All of them surrounded themselves with the cream of the crop—intellectuals, artists, free thinkers, philosophers—and found depth and wisdom through the complex relationships they shared. It wasn’t enough for them to grow, live, and die with the same six opinions enveloping their lives. They craved variety.
- They were fun. All of these ladies were wacky and, yes, a bit crazy. Never a dull moment with these Aunties, who were just as likely to ride in on a camel as in a cab!
- They were wise and generous. Under the wild exteriors, each of these characters revealed herself to be much deeper and wiser than her persona might suggest. It is the outsider aunt who has the very word of advice the seeker needs at the precise moment they need it most.
- They were mysterious. The Aunties arrived in a whirl of smoke and lights, and departed just as quickly at the end of the episode or film. There was no chance to see the mundane side—the PMS, the monthly bill paying, waiting for a cab in the rain at yet another airport—alone. No, these ladies were always “on” and fabulous!
As much fun as it was to compare myself to the Vivs and Mames and Jennys of the world, eventually I had to move to the shadow side of the question—what is the opposite of these traits I don’t want to acknowledge in myself?
A picture arose in my mind that just made me cringe—the Anti-Auntie.
- She’s provincial. So wrapped up in the local mundane world that she can’t see past the edge of her driveway. Not that she’d want to. Anti-Auntie loves her tiny little world, and how important she feels being a Big Fish in a Little Pond.
- She’s mundane. Bring on the bologna sandwiches and Wednesday night television line-up. Anti-Auntie doesn’t like all that weird stuff. She sticks to the tried and true, preferably if she wasn’t the one who first had to try it. Safe and bland is the way to go.
- She’s boring. Why keep up with news of the world and research and philosophy? That stuff is for other people, snobs who think they’re better than us. Anti-Auntie sticks to whatever everybody else talks about. She doesn’t make waves, even in her own thoughts.
- She’s petty. The highlight of her life is the faults she can find with her neighbors, and she’s always on the lookout for the latest gossip. Anti-Auntie holds grudges for decades, destroys friendships over the most inane offenses, and never once questions the rightness of her beliefs.
- She’s overbearing. Every gathering, every party, every event, there must be a spot of Anti-Auntie. The longer she’s around, the more of a burden she becomes on family and friends who don’t dare insult her by not inviting her (even though they really don’t want her around). Oblivious to the fact that she’s not particularly welcome, Anti-Auntie never refuses an invitation and is always the first to arrive and last to leave.
What a horrifying picture.
And she’s my shadow personality.
That’s Why They Call It a Shadow
So the truth of it is, there are days when I don’t feel all that worldly, sophisticated, funny, or mysterious. There are days when I prefer my dull little routine to more challenging experiences, and times when I’m not above accepting a charity invitation to somewhere I want to go.
No matter how far I go, how much I learn, underneath there will always remain the fact that I grew up in a small town (see our courthouse in the picture above) in an isolated part of the country. To some extent, I will always be an ignorant, awkward, boring small-town hick who doesn’t get the joke and never gets invited to the cool parties.
Not a pretty picture, when looked at in the cold hard light of day, huh?
So Where’s the Gift?
The last part of Debbie Ford’s process is to face that part of you that you hate, and try to find the gift in it.
What could possibly be the gift of being a dull, unimportant hick from a small town in Louisiana?
It took me a little while, but eventually I found the nugget of gold, deep down in the shadowy caverns.
This horrible, narrow, dull little person I feared becoming drove me, pushed me to explore and expand my horizons. Every new idea I delve into, every new experience I have, every person of a different culture I try to understand, and every adventure I am brave enough to embrace—all of these are spurred on by that shadow fear of being dull, stupid, petty, or narrow.
From this shadow fear come the most wonderful experiences of my life, those Do I/Don’t I decisions where I decide to go for it when I otherwise might have shied away from the risk. Every time I was brave, every time I did something crazy that turned out to be a fantastic adventure, every time I tried something new that I learned to love, the Anti-Auntie was in the background, scolding and tsking and telling me not to make a fool of myself.
And Auntie Viv and Auntie Mame and Aunt Jenny were on the other side, laughing and telling me I had nothing to lose.
Easy choice, in retrospect.
Where To Now?
So now, thanks to this little process from Debbie Ford, I have new archetypes I can consciously use when making decisions. Do I follow the path of the Aunties, or the Anti-Auntie? Do I choose expansiveness and courage, or narrowness and fear?
And of course, that leads to the following questions for you, dear readers. Who are your Aunties? What are they like, and what characteristics do they have that you want to exemplify? Who is your Anti-Auntie, narrowing your scope and keeping you shackled to the safe and dull? And what gift has this Anti-Auntie given you, albeit sometimes in a roundabout way?
I’d love to hear what you discover. Please feel free to comment.
Okay, so I’m reading Debbie Ford’s book. Honestly, I’ve known about it for years, but I’ve avoided it like the plague. Why? There is a wonderful Dana Ivey quote that sort of applies here. On the 80s television show Easy Street, her somewhat self-involved character Eleanor is struggling to show compassion and empathy for husband Quinton (played by the awesome James Cromwell). At one point, Eleanor shows her true colors:
“I know that in the past, I have not been very sympathetic to your needs. That’s because I didn’t want you to have any.”
Well, in the past, I’ve not been very sympathetic to my dark side. That’s because I didn’t want to have one. But, as Eleanor found out about Quinton’s needs, I do have a dark side and I do need to pay more attention to it.
All you have to do is look around to see that our culture here in the west is becoming more and more polarized—Left and Right, Conservative and Liberal, Faith and Secularity. And while it’s lots of fun to play Us vs. Them, deep inside we know that all this divisiveness is not good for the country, society, or the world.
So why do we do it? Why do we insist on the illusion of separateness?
Last night, I saw this amazing video online that states that every single atom in our body changes about every five years or so. Atoms don’t go away (unless they’re split, with unavoidable repercussions). So what happens to all these atoms that are no longer in our bodies? They recycle, of course. Now, where on Earth do you think all those new atoms that you get every five years or so come from? Maybe I’ve got my science wrong, but I don’t think we’re constantly creating new atoms. Nope, our bodies are shopping at the Atom Consignment store.
We’re using used atoms for the construction of our own lives.
You are within me, and I am within you, and we are all connected to this Earth we live within, which is then connected to the sun that we depend upon, which is part of the galaxy that created it, etc., etc.
Everything. Everything is connected.
And that sort of makes the whole polarization thing kind of—well, for lack of a better word, stupid.
If we are all connected, all part of an enormous entity experiencing life together, how can we be polarized against each other? Do the nerve cells mount campaigns against the encroachment of blood cells into historically nerve-occupied territory? Are the arms afraid the legs are getting too many jobs and asking the brain for sanctions against new leg development?
Of course not.
But we, as humans, forgetting our connectedness, fight each other all the time.
Light vs. Dark
It only takes a hop and a skip to bring this argument to the battle of Light vs. Dark. We’ve been conditioned in our lives to seek Light and avoid Dark. I have, you have, the guy down the street has. The things in the Dark are scary, ugly, uncomfortable, and we all want to be happy, beautiful, and relaxed.
The thing is, what we push against pushes back, and becomes stronger with the effort. What we embrace becomes part of us, and all of us become stronger. As long as those of us seeking light and wisdom push hard against darkness and ignorance, those forces will only continue to push back (and grow stronger).
But what if we stopped pushing? What if we just said, okay, there’s darkness and ignorance and cruelty and inhumanity in the world? What if we stopped fighting and just started accepting?
I don’t know what the long run answer would be, but I know that in the short term we’d have more energy to focus on what we love. We’d have more energy to do what we feel is right and good if we stopped worrying about what The Other People are up to.
This is all good and fine for the outside world, but what about the inner world? How much am I pushing against what’s bad and dark and uncomfortable within myself? And by pushing against it, how much power am I giving it?
- I’m stupid (sometimes)
- I’m gross (sometimes)
- I’m annoying (sometimes)
- I’m ignorant (sometimes)
- I’m petty and mean (sometimes)
- I’m lazy (sometimes)
Ford tells us to look at the things that annoy us the most—the personality quirks that drive you crazy in other people. These are the shadow aspects of yourself that you are denying, pushing against, giving power to. And the Universe is going to continue to bring reflections of this shadow into your life until you embrace, accept, and even love that aspect of yourself.
So I’m digging deep. I’m watching my reactions to see who drives me the most crazy, and why? And then I’m turning it inwards.
It’s an uncomfortable process. I’m pretty sure I’m not enjoying it much. But I know at the other side of this, if I’m brave and persistent, I will find a sense of wholeness and peace I have not known for years.
What pisses you off, FaFa? What annoys you the most? Do you have the guts to ask yourself where these traits reside within you? Do you dare look inside your own shadow and see what’s lurking there?
Hope to see you there!
Today I sent off a check for $47.13 to the United States Treasury. Normally, that would be a cause for Not-Happy-Making, but I see it as a personal and moral victory. You see, that money was my estimated taxes for my earnings at Blogmutt, the blog writing service I’ve been working for since April. Now, getting payments sent to my PayPal account every month or so is one thing, but nothing says “I’m a professional” anything like sending taxes to the Feds. So today, for the first day since I started there, I truly felt like a Professional Writer. No, it’s not my day job. Heck, I couldn’t last two weeks on what I’ve earned so far. But I’m getting paid for my writing (with the occasional by-line), and it’s really freaking awesome.
I want to get this plug out to anyone who is interested in getting started as a freelance writer. Scott Yates has put together a wonderful group of writers who are supportive and fun to work with (the micromobs email threads are often hilarious). He’s a very hands-on boss, encouraging and knowledgeable about his business. The company’s structure (from the writer side) is designed to promote experience and growth, with perks offered for quantity and quality of posts.
Of course, the best thing about being a Blogmutt writer is that it has given me carte blanche to indulge my research addiction. In fact, these efforts have opened up a whole new world for me: Twitter, LindedIn, Mashable, and Pinterest, to name only a few areas of the Interwebs I’m now exploring. I’m falling in love with learning again, and getting paid for the privilege.
That being said we are still talking about the Internet, and I’m still (as Fey calls me) a FaceBook whore. The giddy combination of News from Home and social activism has sunk into my bones, evolving me from a reluctant beginner to a true believer. Maybe it’s my flighty Gemini nature, or it’s the fact that I can now get multiple daily doses of George Takei‘s wicked sense of humor, but for better or worse, FaceBook has become my new go-to place online.
So what does my site look like? LGBT rights, personal development, news news news, and of course the beloved picture memes. For some reason, these visual koans have become a new sort of online language. What a person shares often tells more about them than the scant words they type into their status bar. Here are three memes I’ve shared on my timeline, and what they mean about me.
Be Weird. Be Random.
For so much of my life, I have felt like an outsider. Unable to alter my personality to meet societal norms, I gave up on “fitting in” very early in life. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what a blessing this was for me. I never had to unlearn the bad habits of masking and fake personas so many of my friends did. Granted, my personas exist, but they are all me—just fragments I choose to share or hide at my whim. The idea of creating a false persona to meet societal norms never really seemed plausible to me. It was too much work, too much to remember, and just too difficult to pull off. Fortunately, authenticity is coming back in style with a vengeance. Who knew I was a trend-setter?
The Notion of a Radical
I was raised in a very conservative culture, where problems were not discussed publicly and maintaining the status quo was the goal. No matter how wrong something was, the message I got was that Nice People keep problems to themselves and Don’t Make Trouble. The thought of being a radical was outlandish—protests were for New York and San Francisco and all those other liberal places.
So many years (and two states) later, I’ve finally discovered my Inner Radical. I’ve found my voice again, and I’m not afraid to be disturbed when the status quo is completely FUBAR. In my capacity as a Muck Relocation Engineer (Rake Dept.), I’ve learned that speaking up, sharing ideas, and disturbing the peace can sometimes be a Very Nice Thing done by Very Nice People (even Christians!).
The Power of Motion
These last few years have been an education in action for me. For years, I kept myself back for fear of offending, for fear of failing, for fear of being attacked for my beliefs. But I’ve learned that the worst thing you can do in life is nothing, and the worst thing you can feel is nothing. Even the tiniest action can have enormous consequence over time, if it is done with intention. As I have grown stronger and braver, I find myself taking actions that would have terrified me before. I keep putting my foot out there, and when the shoe doesn’t drop I take it as a sign to continue. It’s frightening and exhilarating and exhausting at times, but it sure as hell beats stagnation.
A Little Lady
I have never been much of an artist. Coming from a family of painters and sculptors, this was quite a disappointment to me. But what I could do was doodle, and I’ve been doodling this little pachyderm (I call her Penny) for years. Last month, inspired by Steve Pavlina’s Passive Income Series, I decided to try my hand at a true Penny graphic. Pavlina says your best way to earn income is to provide value. Well, Penny is my little contribution to the world. With the help of some gorgeous public domain artwork, Penny has embarked from the world of pencil doodles to an adventure in art and nature. I’ve even opened up a little CafePress store where I could sell the design.
This took quite a bit of courage, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve also started an Affiliate Program on Ten Thousand Soapboxes. Initially, any funds earned will go toward buying the 10KSoapboxes.com domain name. After that, who knows? Either way, I only affiliate with progressive, forward-thinking companies. So I’d appreciate if you took a moment and checked out some of the folks listed there.
This week on FaceBook, a lot of cool things got posted. And one wild flash from my past!
This picture was taken by my dear friend Marla Stein DeWitt, who in 1989 joined me on a Star Trek cruise out of Miami. And no matter how strong my voice becomes, or how far I come as an activist or writer, there will always be that girl inside me who squeed at meeting Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and tons of other Trek stars all those years ago.
And OMG—I was soooooo skinny! (Check the purse and 80s haircut!) 😀
A week or so ago, Fey turned to me and asked what I considered a strange question. “Are you reading a self-help book?”
My instinctive response was, of course, I haven’t read self-help in an ice age. Of course, I gobble up “personal development” books with startling frequency. The difference is between self-help and personal development is subtle but important.
Self-help books, as a rule, tend to offer a step-by-step plans for improving a specific area of your life. Quit Smoking in Three Weeks, Lose 5 Pounds Without Dieting, Ten-Day Power Boost for Your Career – that sort of thing. Personal development books, from what I can tell, are a little more indepth. These books, which can range from philosophy to psychology to spirituality to social networking, nudge the reader out of the cookie-cutter solution mentality towards a more self-directed path.
My actual answer was, “No, I’m not reading anything at the moment.”
To which my insightful wife just nodded and said, “Yeah, I can tell.”
The moral of this little anecdote is this: When Debbie doesn’t work actively on her self-development, she tends to fall into a negative funk that is clear to those who love and know her.
The Process of Personal Development
The urge to self-examine is very strong in most people. We love quizzes, from Cosmo quizzes to personality profiles, we can’t get enough of them. But personal development goes far beyond “Which Harry Potter Character Will You Marry?” Personal development requires that you take a deep look at yourself, both good and bad, discover your truth, and then find a way to live that truth in a positive and productive way.
For years, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on in hopes that I would stumble on to the key to happiness. I was looking for a silver bullet, that tested and true ten-point plan that would make me Rich, Beautiful, and Famous (as well as Stoopid Happy and Worshipped as a Benevolent Goddess).
Poor authors! Who on Earth can fill that order?
Eventually though, I gave up looking for quick fixes and just started reading about personality and life and living. Not because I thought it would help, but because I found it fascinating. And over the years, I’ve come up with quite a list of recommendations.
Right now, I’m reading Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Brilliance, Creativity and Dreams. To be honest, I’ve been avoiding this book for years. Not that I thought it was bad, but because I knew that I couldn’t just read the book. I would have to do the exercises, and I was never ready to face my shadow side. I don’t know if I’m able to do so yet, but I’m going to give it a go.
It took a lot to get me here. Like so many people, I don’t want to have a dark side. I don’t want to have needs and issues and bad habits and petty moments. But something Ford said in an early chapter really resonated with me: you have to find the gift in the shadow. If you’re a bitch, find the gift in being a bitch. (A bitch will stand up for herself when someone tries to take advantage. A bitch will not let herself get pushed to the side and ignored when she deserves to be heard.) If you’re judgmental, find the gift in being judgmental. (For example, a judgmental person knows what matters to them and is not afraid to insist on it. A judgmental person will spot a line of bullshit long before a non-judgmental person might.)
So, I’m going there. I am not sure what I’m going to find when I pull up the curtains and look in the shadows of my psyche. But I’m going there.
A Wealth of Opportunity
I mentioned a little earlier that I had some recommendations for great personal development writers. Before I close, I’m going to share with you some writers whose books have really changed my perspectives on life.
* Jean Shinoda-Bolen: When I first read Goddesses in Everywoman back in the 1990s, it was completely new to me. Shinoda-Bolen, a wise crone of the personal development movement, used the Hellenic goddesses as templates for Jungian personality interpretation. Through the eyes of Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Hestia, and Persephone, I found a new understanding of myself and other women. It still holds up as a break-through work and I recommend it to anyone who is interested.
* Clarissa Pinkola-Estes: It took me a couple of times to get through Pinkola-Estes’ ground-breaking book Women Who Run with the Wolves. Not because the book was uninteresting or irrelevant. The exact opposite – the book is so rich and dense with meaning that my poor Gemini brain could not go too far without needing a digestion break, preferably in the shallows. Her storytelling is exquisite, her insights are remarkable. Read it slowly, wrapped in a blanket on a cold night. It will change you.
* Brenda Ueland: Many, many years ago I read Ueland’s book If You Want to Write, and it humbled me. Back then, the thought of writing non-fiction, personal non-fiction, was so far beyond me that her book actually frightened me. But as a treatise on the hows and whys of a full life, even if you are’t a writer, Ueland’s work is unsurpassed. Her wisdom and spirit are inspiring to anyone wanting to live a purposeful and creative life. (Now, I look back and thank the goddess that Ueland penned this masterpiece before her death. It is even more relevant now than ever.)
*Anne Lamott: My dear friend Monique sent me a used copy of Bird by Bird a year or so ago as a surprise. I was unfamiliar with Lamott’s work, but trusted Monique not to steer me wrong. Bird by Bird is the kind of book that promotes living authentically and passionately. Her prose is eloquent, her stories insightful, and her advise golden. Definitely read this book if you get a chance.
*Michael Neill: Michael Neill is a practitioner of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), a form of therapy that emphasizes the connection between thoughts and the quality of life. His books are funny, smart, and contain many practical tools you can use to decrease stress and give yourself the courage to follow your dreams. He’s a little more self-helpy than the other authors, but he’s just so darned good at what he does, ya gotta love him.
*Steve Pavlina: Another estrogen-challenged member of my rec list, Pavlina is a self-made personal development guru. His website is enormous–the guy is hugely prolific and has a great deal of free content on a variety of subjects from raising consciousness to becoming your own boss. He can be a bit abrasive, especially if you are of the religious ilk, but the value far exceeds the annoyance you might feel at some of his more provocative posts.
* Abraham-Hicks: Esther Hicks, an impish woman originally from Tennessee, channels a group-being identified as “Abraham.” While their message is pretty tight (and Abraham/Esther is meticulously on-message, regardless of what questions are thrown her way), it’s a good primer for anyone wanting to learn more about the Law of Attraction. What their writings lack in diversity (yeah, Abraham, I know. Connect with Source energy–tune in, tap in and turn on or whatever), they more than make up for in charm and engagement. It’s hard not to like Abraham/Esther, and the message is positive. I know that Fey and I got a lot of benefit from their teachings, even if we are not 100% on board the Abraham-Hicks bandwagon.
* Thomas Moore: No, I’m not talking about the historical Thomas Moore. I’m talking about the modern-day author, psychologist, musician, blogger, spiritual seeker. His books on the soul and soulfulness are poetic and profound, bringing a lyrical quality to an often cut-and-dry field. His works are a must-read for anyone wanting to merge spirituality and soul into their daily lives.
So, these are a few of the authors I’d recommend. There are many more, of course, and I may blog on this subject again. I’d like to ask my readers for their recommendations, as I am always interested in expanding my knowledge. Who are you reading? Where do you turn for wisdom and advise? I look forward to hearing from you.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of everything. My own shadow, my own voice, my power, my weakness. I was afraid of being right. I was afraid of being wrong. I was afraid of speaking up, and even more of remaining silent. I believe my entire life has been a series of lessons trying to teach me for once and for all to be brave.
Most people who did not know me as a child find it hard to believe how frightened I was when I was younger. I’ve sort of made a reputation at work as the gal who will say what everybody else is thinking, but doesn’t dare say out loud. Believe me when I tell you, that attitude did not come quickly or easily.
When I was younger, I bought very much into the Myth of Expertise. Teachers knew about learning. Parents knew about living. The nuns knew about God, and the guy on the news knew about everything else. There was always some point, somewhere in the fuzzy future, where one acquires the education and life experience to call themselves an expert. These people have a superior knowledge of All Things and must be listened to and obeyed at all cost.
From birth, it seems, we are trained out of our own intuition, our own internal sense of right and wrong. Some of us learn the lesson very well, and refuse to think, feel, or act without the prior approval of Someone Who Knows Better. Others are born rebels, going out of their way to resist any form of guidance or instruction in favor of what they know is true.
Self-Confidence as a Form of Rebellion
Back in school, there were a few people I practically idolized amongst my school mates. There was one guy who dared discuss Buddhism with the Brothers in religion class, and bucked the dress code at prom by wearing high tops with his tux years before that fad came and went. There was the girl who wore blue streaks in her hair and spiked leather bracelets at school, no matter how often Sister Barbara Nell glared at her in the halls. And then there was that rare, precious teacher who dared get real with us. The one who spoke about religion in its historical context, acknowledging the inconsistencies and challenging us to find our faith amidst the chaos of paradox that was the Catholic religion.
All of these people had a couple of things in common—they knew their mind and wouldn’t be pressured into silence or conformity. They expressed themselves articulately and with confidence in a way that never made their rebellion feel like childishness or stubbornness. And mostly, they forced me to think, to open my mind and really question my beliefs and values.
Be the Change You Want to See in the World
Growing from sullen teen to disappointed adult gave me ample opportunity to voice my disgust with people and The State of Things. On any given day, I could find myself complaining about one thing or another—conservatives, conformists, preppies, jocks—all those people who didn’t fit into my narrow little tunnel of correctness. (Oh, and don’t forget people who listened to Country Music and anyone associated with nighttime soap operas.) My music was true, my thoughts were authentic, and everybody who disagreed with me obviously fell into the category of idiot, poser, or wannabe. (Okay, we didn’t have the terms poser and wannabe in the 80s, but you get my drift.)
And all the while, as I silently judged everyone and everything around me, I was conforming. I went to a job I didn’t like, in an industry I strongly disapproved of, working among people with whom I had nothing in common. I went home and watched TV and dreamed of a life where I could be true, but did nothing at all to make it happen.
Sometimes Courage Comes When You Have Nowhere Left to Fall
In 1993, I got laid off from my job in That Horrible Industry. I packed two boxes and a duffel bag and got on a plane to Phoenix, Arizona, leaving behind everything I knew for a place on a friend’s couch and a job in a bread factory that I didn’t exactly want. I arrived in Phoenix, went to my job, and quit after one eight hour shift.
I did not move halfway across the country to kill my soul in another dead-end job.
I was very lucky. I had wonderful friends who let me crash with them until I could afford a place of my own, and I was brave (or stupid) enough to think I could make it on my own working temp jobs.
And I did. Somehow, despite very low wages and almost no practical job experience, I managed to scrape through.
Courageh is a Choice
Along with my new desert life and my friends and my inconsistent job situation, I made a conscious decision to go out on a limb in my personal life. My first point of business was to expand the mind that had grown horribly closed (or at least narrow) in the first twenty-something years of my life.
Each month, I took a bit of my salary and went to Best Buy. I would go to the world music section and purchase a CD from a country I knew nothing about. That’s how I discovered the Bulgarian Women’s Choir.
I also tried my hand at songwriting. That’s how I discovered filk.
(My song is beautifully recorded here by the Harmony Heifers on their self-titled album from Mystic Fig Music.)
Yes, I wrote that, along with about two more albums full of music and parodies. I performed with some friends at SciFi conventions from Phoenix to Baltimore during the 90s.
For a long time, I was getting myself out there, out on a limb, having fun and being creative.
And Then What Happened?
Somewhere along the line, I got scared again. Somewhere along the line, I silenced my voice again. While I still took time to be creative and have fun, more often than not (especially in the work arena), I found myself stifling again.
I suppose you could blame the economy. The 90s were very good to me financially. I eventually got a great job with a software company doing work I loved. I was surrounded by intelligent, open-minded people. I had good friends and a cozy little apartment and as the new millennium rolled around, I found myself in an incredible relationship. And then…well, lots happened.
And Then What Happened Next?
2001 took the wind out of most Americans. Suddenly, fear was a national pastime, complete with paranoia and suspicion at its side. It was not the time for difference, or for courage of individuality. Instead of focusing on expansion, we as a culture contracted emotionally and intellectually.
I found myself in a world not exactly suitable to me. I found myself in the very real experience of being jobless—on food stamps at one point, going to the local food bank once a week with my hat in my hands. Fey and I supported ourselves and her mother on her SSI check for an entire summer while I looked for work—in fact, in 2005 my gross personal annual income was $2500. (No, that was not a typo.)
There’s something about lack—of opportunity, of freedom, of mobility—that transforms a person. You start to appreciate things you took for granted before. You also don’t ever, ever want to find yourself in that place again.
Capitalizing on Fear
There are a lot of people and institutions that thrive on fear. Fear keeps people docile, and fear keeps people humble, and fear makes people tolerate things they’d never abide by otherwise.
As we grow older, we often sacrifice our dreams and our fun for safety—or at least the illusion thereof. We forget about that book we wanted to write, or the play we wanted to try out for. We put away the paint brushes and woodworking tools and resign ourselves to going to work for someone else and marking the rest of time with television or alcohol or mindless entertainment.
Fear kills passion. It also kills hope.
Finding the Strength
Somewhere, in the past few years, I made a pact with myself not to make decisions based on fear. It took a long time, because I had so much to be afraid of.
Discovering my truth. How can you speak your truth when you don’t know what it is? Before I could reclaim my dreams and my courage, I had to really stop and figure out what my truth was. What did I believe in? What values and traits did I want to promote in the world? How could I make the world a better place through my actions and words?
Living my truth. It’s hard to be truly afraid when you’re living an honest life. In order to dispel fear, I had to clean up my own back yard, clean out those skeletons that might someday come back to haunt me. I’m not talking about murder or corruption—I’m talking about silly things that seem so huge to me (and trivial to other people).
Making my peace. So many of my fears and insecurities have been rooted in experiences from my childhood. People who were cruel to me, mistakes I made that humiliated me, fears and doubts that plagued me. Never being good enough. Never fitting in. Before I could live my truth and be the courageous person I wanted to be, I had to find the grace to let go. Not forgive. Not forget. Just let go. Of the past. Of my disappointments. Of my anger and desire for revenge. Just let go, and make life about today.
So Now You’re Perfect?
Hardly. I still have my fears and doubts and insecurities. I still have days when I fear I will be outed as a complete fraud, mocked and humiliated by my coworkers, and cast out onto the street by my employers.
But I’m getting better. Each day, I make a conscious effort to do the absolute best work I can do. Not for my boss, not for a promotion, not for fame and fortune. I do it because it is the only thing I can tolerate from myself. Not perfection or grandiosity, simply the best I can do. Each day, I want to leave work knowing I worked hard, didn’t slack off, didn’t shove things under the carpet, and didn’t betray my values.
Each day, I come home to my partner of ten years and give her the best I can. I am honest and respectful. I am patience and generous. I still have my three-year-old moments (we both do), but Fey and I both go to sleep each night knowing we did our best.
And How’s That Working for Ya?
Oddly enough, when I started cleaning up my own house, I discovered the return of my courageous, plucky self. I found that I could speak up at work, in a respectful tone (when I remembered) without fear of retaliation. I found that I could begin to ask for what I wanted without feeling guilty. And I discovered, to my utter amazement, that all those friends I thought I had lost when I was going through my Long Dark Teatime of the Soul were still out there—older, wiser, and still very much the people I once loved.
By giving up on fear as motivation, I found opportunities peaking their heads through the window again. Maybe not in massive droves, like in the 90s, but more and more frequently. I found inspiration to write again—not just fan fiction (where I had made sort of a name for myself), but original work.
And at work, I found peace again. I may lose my job tomorrow, and that would suck. But I will know that I did everything I could do to be the best I could be. And I will know that the universe is not scary and paranoid and horrible like the post-9/11 fear-mongers wanted us to believe. The universe is abundant. The universe is exciting. The universe is full of adventures, just waiting to be had.
And I’m ready for a few new adventures. What about you?
I started this blog with the idea that I wanted to inspire and educate. Tonight I came to the realization that the person I most wanted to inspire and educate was me. The rest of you are welcome to join in and enjoy the ride with me—if you come out of it with any additional insight or self-understanding, you are more than welcome to it.
But in the beginning, middle, and end of it all, the purpose of Ten Thousand Soapboxes is my journey of self-discovery, my standing on all those soapboxes that matter to me and speaking my truth. If nobody but me and the Universe hears that truth, so be it. I will still have spoken it.
Facing the Darkness
Anger is an insidious thing. It can lurk in the bones and flesh for decades, lifetimes, eating at you and altering your perceptions. The most dangerous form of anger is the kind that renders itself invisible. I have had an invisible anger inside of me for my entire life, and I only began to recognize it tonight.
About forty-five years ago, a woman in Louisiana got pregnant out of wedlock. She had two children from a marriage that was not fully dissolved at the time off her pregnancy, and the father of her third child was not her estranged husband. Faced with the choice of losing the two children she already had or giving up the child not yet born, the woman decided to give her daughter up for adoption. Although she came from a large family—she was one of ten children—she bore her burden (the child) in silence. Only a sister and a grandmother knew about the pregnancy, and they were undoubtedly sworn to secrecy. The child was born in a hospital, named Denise, then released to the Sisters at St. Vincent Children’s Home. An orphanage.
That woman was my mother. That child was me.
Fortunately, I was raised in an environment where my parents felt it important to share the truth about our adoption with me and my siblings (all adopted) from the very start. There was no big reveal of The Secret; we all just accepted it as the way things were. We were a family–these were my parents and these were my siblings and this was life. I was very lucky, and I know that and am grateful for it.
While I always knew and accepted the fact that I was adopted, I didn’t know the story of my entrance into this world until my late 20s. I still do not know the identity of my birth mother or half-siblings. However, from the moment I could truly understand such things, I knew on a soul level that I had been sacrificed so that others could have a better life. And I internalized this, also on a soul level, believing somehow that my life had less value and meaning than others. I look back at so many of my decisions, and I realize I made them because I thought I deserved less, meant less, was less than those people around me.
Many Roads, Same Destination (and Vice Versa)
One lesson I’ve been trying to teach Fey (and myself) is that we are all going to wind up at the same destination. The choice of how we get there is our own, as is the choice of how we enjoy the ride. Whether we choose a smooth and steady course or a free-wheeling thrill ride, we still wind up in the same place eventually.
For so many years, I’ve felt a vacuum where my heritage should be. I am strongly cognizant of the fact that we all are the summation of our genetic and cultural heritages, and I have mourned the fact that I don’t know where my blood comes from. Tonight, however, I realized in a most profound way that the lesson I’ve been trying to teach Fey is the lesson I should have been teaching myself, only in reverse.
All life, all consciousness, started with a single thought. That thought became light, then matter, then the universe, then life itself. Through the eons following that single, brilliant thought that became Everything, life has trickled through the universe like raindrops on a window-pane. We all came from the same place, but each path was unique. No path is better than another, just different.
No one lacks a heritage. No one is adrift. Some of us are lucky enough to see backwards a few generations, to know the family stories, the histories, the prides and shames. Some choose to blind themselves to their histories, thinking themselves singular and distinct from their origins. Others, like me, have their histories rendered invisible and spend much of their lives wondering—who am I? Where did I come from? But the truth is, every single one of us can trace our ancestry back to the dawn of all things, back to that awesome, profound thought at the beginning of time. We are all family, every single molecule, every atom, every burst of energy.
My life came through a conduit, and I am grateful for that conduit. My life followed a path separate from the person who gave me life, and I am grateful for that. I would not trade my life, my sisters and brother and parents and cousins, for anything. Everything I have experienced along the path of my life has contributed to this person I’m becoming.
Releasing the Anger
My birth mother faced an impossible decision for any parent—sacrifice one child, or lose them all. This is the kind of decision one normally associates with sadists and Nazis, not a kind and loving Universe.
Had she chosen the path of abortion, I would have respected that. My soul simply would have reentered the Stream, and I would have found another expression. Had she taken the risk and kept me despite the fear, I would have respected that. What creature is more noble than a mother risking everything for her children?
But she chose to sacrifice me so that she could provide safety and security for the children she already had in hopes that I would be adopted into a loving family. And I respect that. My soul chose the role of the child who would be sacrificed, and I thank my birth mother for her role in my journey. Everyone in my life, adopted or blood or choice by love, plays a part in my journey, just as I play a part in theirs.
I’m not angry with her, no more than I am angry with myself for choosing this path. It’s a rivulet of water, a drop of rain running its course from the source to the destination, and it’s a wonderful, miraculous thing.
Peace to you,
Last week I posted about negativity and the systematic self-sabotage we engage in when we allow it to destroy our peace of mind. Today, I want to discuss an even more insidious threat to a joyful work experience—exaggerated modesty.
Blowing Your Own Horn
So many of my early childhood memories involve being accused of bragging, blowing my own horn, or just plain showing off. I was saddled with the twin burdens of “enormous potential” and “minimal social skills.” As a child, I never quite grasped the social niceties involved in life—I innocently thought if you knew the answer to a question, you answered the question. I also thought if you knew how to do something that needed to be done, you did it. If you were born with a talent, you used it.
It took a while for me to learn that there were times to admit you could do something or that you knew something, and there were times when admitting such things was a sure-fire way to social rejection.
Nobody Likes a Know-It-All
Somewhere along the line, I internalized the myth that if you’re too smart, too talented, or too clever, not only will people hate you, but you will be ignored in favor of people “who need more help.” Decades before I understood the concept of “learned helplessness,” I had figured out that if you were precocious, the teacher either set you up as an example for the rest of the kids (aka, Instant Unpopular Kid) or sat you in a corner with next semester’s text book so that you could teach yourself while the “slower kids” got the teacher’s attention.
At home, it was not much better. No matter how many A’s I brought home, I never got as much attention as when a sibling would get a high grade, merely because I was expected to bring home good grades. I was also punished for Bs and Cs, while they were merely expected with my siblings.
They’re Not Trying to Destroy Your Life, Really….
Did teachers and parents try to pit kids and siblings against each other in a battle for attention and praise? Of course not. Most of these adults had the best of intentions, wanting to build up self-esteem for struggling kids and keep the ones who excelled interested and challenged.
Unfortunately, that usually wasn’t the result. Instead of strong, challenged, engaged adults, we wound up with several generations of adults who either feared being stupid or hid their abilities under a basket for fear of being rejected. This policy of impossible expectations for some and significantly lowered expectations for others cheated all out of the chance to fully explore our abilities.
Your Boss is Not Your Teacher
It’s funny how similar the modern office environment is to fourth grade. You have the Teacher’s Pets, who always seem to get special treatment from the boss. You have the Show-Offs, who are obviously bucking for promotion and don’t care who they step on in their mad dash to the corner office. You have the TroubleMakers, those snotty wisecrackers who barely stay one step ahead of termination but who always seem to have an aura of cool around them. And finally, you have “The Rest of U”s, those employees who aren’t stars and who aren’t losers—the ones who show up, do what’s expected and no more, get their paychecks and go home.
Very quickly in the office environment, each individual is sorted into their category. The Teacher’s Pets and Show-Offs get the raises and the promotions, while the TroubleMakers and The Rest of Us hang around, grousing and complaining and gossiping.
Nice Guys Never Win
Perhaps the most damaging and insidious myth about success is the one that claims Nice Guys Never Win. Women especially internalize this myth—anything even remotely resembling ambition is reserved for Bitches and Users. Taking credit for the work you do and the skills you have is bragging. Blowing your own horn is for Show Offs and those Other People—not of “Us.”
By clinging to that desperate need to be liked and accepted, ingrained in us as children by well-meaning teachers and parents, most of “Us” tolerate situations we’d never dream of tolerating for someone we loved.
Helping Everyone But Myself
For decades, I’ve been the Go-To Gal for resumes and letters of recommendation. No matter where I’m working, it doesn’t take long for people to realize I’m darned clever with the written word. So when a coworker is looking to beef up their resume for an internal (or sometimes external) job posting, their resume usually winds up on my desk. And more often than not, it leaves my desk infinitely better than it arrived. I can’t count the number of recommendations I’ve written for people who eventually went on to outrank me in the same company. I just have a talent for seeing people’s strengths and then putting them into a cohesive, persuasive format.
The 1990s gave us a TV show called Charmed about the magical Halliwell Sisters (aka The Charmed Ones). These gals were smart, sexy, and massively powerful witches. Oh, and yeah, one more thing—they couldn’t use their powers for personal gain. Sounds like the story of my life.
A few weeks back, I was given a self-review sheet to fill out for my annual review. I remember looking at it and thinking back on all the things I’d accomplished in 2010. Then I thought of all the times I’d made others look great, and it hit me like a freight train that I never did the same thing for myself.
For my entire work career, the words of my teachers and well-meaning adults haunted the back of my mind. “Don’t show off,” they whispered in my ears. “You have gifts they don’t have—you should help them instead of blowing your own horn.” I stared at that paper, and the voices just got louder. “It’s cheating. You can make anyone look good—if you did that for yourself, you’d have an unfair advantage.” I blinked several times and put the paper away. But the voices didn’t stop. “Who do you think you are, anyway? Nobody likes a bragger. You think you’re so smart, don’t you? Sure, you do a lot of work, and you’re really good at it, but you’re supposed to do a lot of work and be really good at it. It’s easier for you—there’s no real value in it. It’s not like you have to try that hard—you just know how to do it faster and more efficiently.” Blah, blah, blah…
It’s Not Bragging if It’s True
Fortunately for me, I have my own personal life coach in my partner, Fey. Our sessions usually take place in the car, driving around enjoying the natural beauty of Kentucky in the summer. Fey could tell I was concerned, and asked me to tell her what was going on.
When I voiced my fears and doubts to her, she patiently tried to put things in perspective for me. It went something like this:
“But Fey, I’m really good with words. It feels like cheating when I use it to help myself.”
A long pause, mercifully free of eye-rolling, then Fey started:
“If an athlete with great natural abilities wins awards and prizes, is he or she cheating?”
“If a singer with a remarkable voice sells a zillion records and becomes a superstar, is he or she cheating?”
Well, duh, no.
“So, Deb, why exactly is it cheating for you to use your writing abilities to help you get a better performance review?”
Um, because it’s bragging.
“It’s not bragging if it’s true.”
We’re Not in Fourth Grade Anymore, Are We?
That night in the car with Fey, I came to a profound realization. We’re not children anymore. We’re not at the mercy of our teachers and parents and peers anymore, are we? Even if people still grouse and gossip and roll their eyes, there is just no reality in which being ashamed of your abilities is cool.
The only thing we ever really have to answer to is the voice in our head, the one that asks what you have done today, what have you accomplished, what did you do to make things better?
I’d like to say I just got over myself and took a full-page ad touting my abilities to the world. But I’m not there yet. The lessons of the past are hard to overcome, especially the ones that left you mocked and ostracized and shamed by your peers.
But I did manage to take that self-review and fill it out as if it were for another person, not me. I was honest. I left nothing out. I put everything in the best light I could, maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses without ever once being dishonest. I didn’t think about who’s feelings might get hurt—why would anyone get hurt by the truth? I didn’t think about who would think I was bragging—it’s not bragging if it’s true.
When I finished, I read the self-review, still seeing it as somebody else’s story.
And it was pretty good.
Making Peace with Your Gifts
At some point in the game, we all have to make peace with our gifts and our struggles. In the work place, we can’t afford to think like school children anymore. We have to be adults and take
responsibility, not just for our mistakes but also for our victories. We have to get past that school-yard mentality that says “different is dangerous” and “smart is for losers.”
There is no special pass to Heaven for workers who suffer in silence. There is no great reward at the end of the road for hiding your light under a basket. All there is is resentment and a mediocre career.
I don’t think I will ever stop helping others tell their story in the best way possible. I don’t think there’s a limit on the amount of success that is available, and helping my friend to succeed does not hurt me in the least. But I’m not a Halliwell, and there is no punishment for using my own abilities for personal gain. I can still be one of the good guys, even if I do brag…just a little.
Peace to you until next time,
The last few weeks have been a period of great transition for me. I’ve been rethinking everything in my life, from what my values are to what I want to do when I grow up. Consequently, the focus of this journal may shift to subjects that are currently taking higher precedence in my life right now. I apologize for the delay in posting. I will be back this week with a full post. Keep watching this space.