Saturday, December 3, 2016

Loving Myself

This month, I'm participating in Quest 2017 with Tracking Wonder at Participants will answer twelve prompts from visionaries and thought leaders in preparation for 2017. This is the second prompt, from Susan Piver:
Do you love yourself enough to stop working on yourself yet?
Who would you be in that case?" #loveyourself

When I was young, I frequently heard girls demean other girls as being fake. I remember thinking that it was impossible to be fake. Fake what? A fake person? If one tried on the values of others for size, or to impress someone, isn't that also an expression of who they are in that moment? Isn't that fakeness part of their genuineness?

I feel the same way about Susan Piver's question "who would you be in that case". One would be a genuine person who has struggled through some tough questions that one had the courage to ask ourselves. The act of working on ourselves IS part of who we are. 

That said, because some of us don't formally seek guidance and information about self realization does not mean it isn't happening. It happens day in and day out as you live. Life is the best teacher.

In my family, there were few expectations. Not for grades, education or for careers. Not for great or even mediocre accomplishments. There were only expectations for religious faith (which I eschewed, much to my family's dismay), and general good citizenship. We were expected to behave and be kind. We were told to be true to ourselves, but that got sticky when we did so and they were not in agreement. 

When I got out into the world, I realized how unusual that was. As I spoke to high school students and young adults who were attending college and getting degrees and planning careers that were sometimes scripted by their parents, I wondered why mine didn't care about that. It seemed like they just wanted to get us "settled" as soon as possible so they wouldn't have to be responsible for us anymore. There were six of us, so I'm sure that was a consideration. We were encouraged to develop some skill that we could "fall back on" but there was never any focus on having something to leap forward with.

The scripting in our family was more subtle. I remember my mother's rage when I broke off my engagement to an older man when I was in high school. She was furious, most likely a reaction to her fear that I would not be able to take care of myself. But, I did know how to take care of myself even then, as evidenced by that decision. It seems so odd that not marrying the wrong man was one of my first rebellious acts. 

A few years later when I was ready to marry a young man they didn't know well and didn't particularly like, I made another rebellious act. (Just that statement seems funny because I am a mild-mannered, quiet person and the thought of my being rebellious is ludicrous, but revolt it was.)  We decided that we would not get married in the Catholic Church, in which we both had been raised. We did not believe in the doctrine or the social restrictions and it felt hypocritical to get married in the church solely to appease our parents. You may imagine how that went over. But again, I knew how to take care of myself--my true, authentic self from an early age. Out of the six of us, ours was the only marriage that has endured the test of time. I believe it is in part because we knew our own minds and stood up for that. We set a precedent for ourselves and our families that became part of the fabric of our lives. To our families' credit, they eventually accepted our decision even in their disappointment. It is powerful to know that you can love and be loved without having to walk the path someone else envisions for you. 

The self-confidence these experiences inspired gave me the courage to trust myself and my abilities. It has made me become more compassionate and empathetic to the struggles of others. My life experiences have been varied and profound. I have never really struggled with who I am, I have just always known. The very few times someone told me I couldn't do something it made me even more determined to do it. I have spent some time and energy wondering if my lack of interest in questioning myself meant that I was bereft of depth somehow, but have decided to just accept it. I have lived my way into the question of why and how I want to share those experiences, and the lessons I have learned from them. Over the last year or so I have explored reasons for and ways that people tell their stories in preparation for the telling of my own.

Perhaps my parents' seeming neglect of setting expectations was intentional, inspired wisdom. It allowed for exploration of creativity and knowledge and connection for its own sake. I know it would please them, but it was never to please them. For me, the question is do I love myself enough to keep working on myself, to never become complacent or so arrogant that I don't think I can learn from others. My answer is yes. I will behave (mostly), be kind, and be true to myself.