They leave their mark, most often silently. Settling in, undetected, burrowing deep until the ruts in the brain are as well worn as a deer trail in the woods. The words we heard used to describe us as a child:
you are so klutzy…you are so shy, speak up…you are too loud, be quiet…you want to be what when you grow up?… you can’t do that, you are a girl, a boy, too small, too big…good luck with that.
We swallowed the words like air in a gulp, unaware they lived within us until they rose to the surface sometime in middle school when we began more earnestly to try and figure out who we were. There, they joined and blended with the sometimes encouraging but most often critical voices of our peers, who added new words to help us identify ourselves:
you are too fat…you are too skinny…don’t be stupid…don’t be a dork…you are an idiot…you are smart…you are weird…you can’t sing…you’re not an athlete
The confusion of middle school bleeds into the false bravado of high school where we try to assimilate all that we have learned about ourselves. We try on the persona our peers gave us to see if it fits. It may not, but they seem to think it does so we wear it, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
Expectations are now flowing all around us. They speak of what we will achieve, where we will go to college, what we will be when we grow up. Our parents views pull out in the lead, their voices louder than the rest, their thoughts the most familiar — some a reoccurring theme for as long as you can remember. Their opinions matter and we want to please, even if we don’t realize it:
you will go to State of course, just like me…what do you mean you want to study english? what kind of job will that get you?…you are going to law school…an artist? that won’t make any money, are you kidding me… come talk to me when you get your head out of the clouds.
In an unconscious life it is easy to follow the path. It is set before you and if you get lost along the way, someone is always willing to point you in the right direction. There is always a right. The right car, the right clothes, the right place to live, the right partner, the right amount of money to make, the right title, the right company — all of it is clear you see. Success is yours for the taking.
Only eventually none of it feels right. Deep inside there is a void that is not being filled. You discover this when you are 30 or 40 or 50, sometimes later, sometimes earlier. You begin to question, analyze, observe. You become aware of what you are feeling and start to pay attention to it. You cannot not pay attention to it. Peeling back the layers of callouses you have developed from wearing your armor, your assumed persona, your adopted self that was honed by external measures like a rock exposed to the rushing water all of these years.
Welcome to the dawn of your awakening. This is where your journey begins again. This time in earnest and with brutal honesty together with a hard-earned wisdom that seeks — no demands — the truth about who you are and what makes you happy. Don’t quit this work. To do so is to give up on yourself. This is not a crisis that takes over in mid life, it is an opportunity to become who you really are. It is your chance to declutter your mind and spirit from everything that everyone else put there until you have a virtual clean slate upon which to write the rest of your story. You are free to be. Seek only the things that bring you joy and watch your world transform.
In the forward to Frank Ostaskeski’s beautiful book, The Five Invitations* is this quote by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.:
Chances are until you have experienced that one great loss, this will read to you as more ominous than catalytic. Like grief itself, these types of statements can’t fully be absorbed and understood until you experience them yourself.
We can get attached to who we think we are. We can be downright stubborn about it. Our identity seamlessly and completely intertwined with what we do. What we do becomes what we are. But what if what we do is taken away from us in the blink of an eye? Who are we then?
In the words of Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu: