“I have been looking at my own choices in a new way,” my sister’s friend, taking care of her 89 year old father said, “and letting go of some old defensive habits that don’t really serve me.
“Still, I sometimes find myself sometimes getting caught up now and then, but I remember what you said.
“Whatever changes I make, I am always still going to be me.”
There are so many self-help books that tell you that you have to become new, have to let go of who you are so that you can model yourself after their advice, letting go of the old and following their template to become effective and happy in the world.
That advice has never worked for me. I have known who I am since I was very young, known it deeply.
No matter how much people told me that my life would be better if I could just be like some other person, someone who didn’t seem to make the kind of decisions that I did, I knew that becoming someone else was never really an option for me.
In order to act just like them, I would have to be just like them. That just was never going to happen.
When I looked at them, I saw choices and consequences I would never take for my own. Just compartmentalizing off who I was, walling my own “bad” behaviour away so I could mimic some kind of idealized model was never, ever going to work for me.
The way I thought wasn’t bad, evil or broken. It didn’t need to be purged, destroyed, terminated.
I saw the world like me, with my own heart & mind and that wasn’t wrong, even if it was far from being polished and perfected. When someone told me that the only way I could ever be acceptable is to destroy me and replace it with some standard issue template, not only did I know that could never happen, it also broke my heart.
Those years of people trying to pound me into who they wanted me to be, who they thought I should be, just left much more damage than improvement. Instead of helping me become better, they helped me become shamed, frustrated, hurt, angry and heartbroken that others could not see and value who I was and the gifts I had to give.
We each want to be seen, understood and valued for the unique gifts we bring to the group, not to be pounded into some standard mould, battered and bruised to fit into a normative box that does not have room for all of us.
Understanding the cost and pain of that process, when I care for other people, the first thing I do is to assure them that who they already are contains all they need to be brilliant in the world. You are who you are and that’s not going to change, even if with some thought, discipline and practice you can polish your choices to be better and more effective.
Instead of working to replace their voice with one that I have decided is the best, standardized to perfection, I believe it is much more important and powerful that they find their own voice, trust their own instincts, create their own handcrafted tool kit, hone their own choices to be more of who they are already.
This approach makes it hard to offer a simple template to follow, a cut out model that anyone can follow to become effective, but it does provide much more potent and satisfying results in the end.
You are the only person just like you there is, as Mr. Rogers would tell you, and that means the most effective you can be is to be the best you you can possibly be. Being more you is the path to bliss, as Mr. Campbell would say.
Hearing this message, though, in a culture that wants imitation, valuing machine made duplicates which fit the pattern, interchangeable, fitting the rules and popped off the assembly line can be awfully hard. Believing that we are only valuable in the ways we meet other people’s expectations means we can never own the power & grace of our essential creation.
Replacing the handmade with the machine produced will screw you up badly, as Ms. Pinkola-Estes would say. Until we claim back our own desire, our own uniqueness we can never blossom, instead only feeling parts of us wither as we struggle to replace our natural self with some model that came off the shelf, some desire created by marketers.
For people who have spent a lifetime struggling with how they know themselves to be different, striving to hide and deny their nature so as to not scare the horses, compartmentalizing off to try and fit in with the demand to be normative, well, the idea that there is no such thing as perfection, that we need to embrace our own queerness can be very difficult to grasp.
Why did we strive so hard to squeeze in if the attempt was futile before we started? How can we give up on all the effort and pan we went through to try and fit in? Don’t we still want to be sweet, cute, tame and loved for being who others want us to be, for using shame to corset ourselves down to fit into the standard, pretty expectations?
You are who you are and you can’t change that. The best you can do is become the best that you can be, shining with the gifts of your creator in the world.
My sister’s friend needs to cut back all of those attempts to deny who she is that have eaten so much of her energy & possibility to focus on what her father needs to have another good day. She, like we all do as we age, has to give up the cognitive load she carried trying to conceal herself, has to drop the masks, no matter how long she carried them, and be more herself to do the work that needs doing.
Being better is good, but believing that better means having to be less yourself, having to wall off and seal up your own unique essence is very bad.
For her, the notion that trusting the parts she tried so long to run from, of letting go of all the defensive, concealing behaviours will actually make her more present and more effective is still slightly baffling, but the work in front of her is so profound and crucial that she had no other choice.
Others, who still want to have it both ways, being themselves but also being the mask they tried to wear, struggle harder.
I know what I need. I need people to be more themselves, less believing in fitting into tiny, standardized boxes and instead being more present, more authentic, more open, more relaxed, more embracing of diversity, more queer.
Being more of who they are makes them safer and more potent in the world and while that’s great for them, it’s even better for the people who need their presence, their leadership, their love in the world.
You are always going to be you. Trying to become so kind of ideal, standardized person is never going to work.
Just strive to be the best you that you can possibly be and you will have offered your most polished gifts to a world that needs them.