There are many, many things I have had trouble letting go of and allowing myself to stop brooding and beating myself up over. I feel like it’s necessary to use all my analytical rigor to tear myself apart, and I must stand up to the knives of my inner critic in order to prove my worth, especially if I plan to apply the same scathing judgments to others. How else to know and enforce my values?
Well, I have been under the knife, and cut down the bones of my soul.
After undergoing such self doubt, destruction, and cruelty, I have to say that I found the harsh penances I had meted myself out completely undeserved. It’s only been with time and distance, as well as calmness and self kindness, thatI”ve been able to see clearly.
And from this vantage point, I never really did anything wrong. Even my worst mistakes had meaning and value in themselves, and ultimately worked out for my greatest success, joy, and meaning. My intuition, and not my self doubt, is a worthy teacher. The kind voice I learned to hear during yoga goes much deeper and is way more effective than the inner torturer. Sometimes I feel mad at this internal menace, realizing how ridiculous it was to allow negative thoughts to dominate my life, but in the end, I realize I was only doing the best I could at the time, and testing out a belief system to find my own through trial and error. The truth is that the negativity and self doubt got into me from without. From sometimes well meaning family and friends trying to socialize me to ensure my survival, successs, and acceptance from the larger world (read: conformity), to the self improvement industry that makes billions of our insecurities, to the larger message heard throughout our world today that you will never be enough or have enough, you are inherently less than others, and you must work hard to avoid mistakes while accepting the inevitability of your failure since you are a hopeless wretch, since ONE WRONG MOVE will derail your whole life, and self worth is only to be found in perfection as defined by society.
I guess that’s not all my fault to feel in such a way ;)
Really, it’s not only me, it’s the world we live in, and I think it’s really important to recognize.
Yesterday, I decided to realy forgive myself, instead of making a new year’s resolution that would just be built on the shifting sands of my emotional highs and lows of seeking self worth through achievement. Because from a pragmatic standpoint, not to mention an emotional one, it’s really not working for me.
A long time ago, I heard a voice in my head telling me to stop trying to lose weight. I did, but remained conscious of my eating and exercise a bit and avoided some of the excesses of the modern diet while indulging myself from time to time, and I lost weight “without trying.” I have been trying to follow this method for the past three years, only to find my impulses have seemingly betrayed me,there is no enough anymore, and it seems silly not to try to lose weight when I gained back all the weight I lost and more.
Yet I find that even this seemingly false path has held a myriad of blessings. Despite being a case study in failure to control oneself and one’s results and a seemingly textbook example of magic thinking, the extra weight I have put on has forced me to realize my self worth is within, really, and no amount of worldly achievements including washboard abs or perfect healthy meal planning will ever change that. And that the people who love me still do, and those who criticize me for my weight (not talking about genuine concern here) are not only not respectful to me in doing so, but also revealing their own false beleifs and insecurities. A woman can’t really feel powerful until she has “fought the ‘man’ (who is more often a woman, I do believe) of the beauty police and won. Won not only in continuing to have a good, if not even better, sex life and level of self confidence than before, but finding spirituality and sensuality in the path of excess. By this I don’t mean that this is the appropriate path to follow to achieve enlightenment, or that cheeseburgers are a shortcut to orgasm, but that when you indulge your appetites, you find what you were always really hungry for- love, meaning, hope, confidence- in other words, God.
Sometimes it is only in reaching the end of a plate of fries chomped down mindlessly or the third lover of the week that one can realize that the pleasures of the senses have their limits, and “junk” food and lovemaking without love aren’t really all that satisfying.
So I don’t regret rebelling against the puritanical part of myself that insisted I was worth no more than my virtue, and my virtue consisted of not doing what I wnated in the moment to achieve some faraway and socially acceptable prize.
The other thing that I have realized is just how much I believed this lie, and was anything but poor in spirit as a result. Not charitable towards others, judgmental and mean to everyone including myself, when it really came down to it. An attitude to block love, like a skyscraper blocking the sun.
With the benefit of the time, I can say that my ceaseless hemming and hawwing and picking at myelf over whether I had made the right decisions in my lire, particularly in my adult life when I was supposed ot “know better,” particularly the seemingly contradictory conflicts over
- choosing to go to business school- did I abandon my dreams? was taking on student debt the worst mistake of my life? have I sold out to the man? should I have stayed a teacher?
- leaving Paris to continue my business studies in America and Asia- did I give up the one thing that really made me belong because I always wnated more? did I abandon my heart? did I go against my soul? did I sell out to the man? did I act out of fear? would my life be different and would I have avoided putting on all this weight if I just stayed where I was happy? did I lose a once in a lifestime experience to spend those extra months in Paris though I live here now?
- moving to France indefinitely- why can’t I be a normal MBA and work in a hotter market with a more impressive salary? why do I have to leave and disappoint my family in search of my selfish dream? why can’t I just be normal?why can’t I be happy wherever I go, eg why don’t I just go back home like I “should”? why can’t I just be like other people? what is wrong with me for wanting this life?
Going in reverse order-
3) Well, this life is freakin awesome. I think even the biggest detractors see the beauty of it. And I only get one life. NO REGRETS. best decision I ever made.
2) It was a totally legit and awesome decision to leave Paris to see the Taj Mahal, great wall of China, and learn stuff in different settings. It was a brave, curious, adventurous choice to give up something I loved in order to better myself and see the world. A lot of my value add, bargaining power, and ability to work in France comes down to my “worldliness,” and the perspective I gained from those experiences is completely invaluable.
Paris didn’t go anywhere, and I am an active member of my alumni community. While I missed out on fun times with my classmates there, I also had an amazing experience in Asia and deepened my bonds with my American classmates, one of whom is one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I was just in her wedding. Another of my theories for why I put on 30 pounds in a year is that it all unraveled during the trip we took together, when I finally let loose and ate a whole bowl of cheeto like (but peanut flavored) snacks on vacation in Croatia with her. She is one of the few people who has succeeded in teaching me to relax and realizing that life is not a competition
1) Business school was a decision I made when facing the world as it is/was at the time. It was the best of the options I had, and while nomadic celebrity travel blogger may seem like the better choice, there’s no reason I still can’t do that if I really wanted to, and the truth is, I don’t. Going to business school RIPPED ME APART. Because it taught me something. It ripped me apart so hard, and taught me to cut things up so well with my analytical sharp like a knife mind that it has taken me a full two and a half years to more or less put a new self back together and feel justified in my decision to go there. It did not provide the “academic” rigor I was seeking and the people were completely different from me in some ways and completely similar in some of the most annoying ways- in other words, I learned a whole freakin lot. I was always good at writing papers, taking tests and playing the academic game, but business school brought out the worst of my anxieties- about my future, about my ability to play work and be accepted by others, and my realationship to money/status/power/external validation and fame. I saw the good and the bad in myself during business school, and I was in an environment where people didn’t automatically share the same values. Which was really, really good. Maybe I did belong there, because we were all there to challenge and learn and grow with each other. And at bottom, I do like my bourgeois, not directly aving the world life, my creature comforts, and getting increased responsibility, autonomy, mastery, and yes status at my job. Some amount of greed really is ok, and even good. You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself, and who are you to say you know how to save the world if you can’t even take care of yourself? Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with its rules or not, you can create more effective change in the world- and a better lifestyle for yourself- by knowing how to play the game and breaking the rules out of artistry and following them when it advances your larger goals. Knowing how to look for a job, which of course I only learned through experience but had a lot of good theory and professional development on, is one of the most important skills to have, and once you more or less figre it out you can help others with one of the most important things in their life. That’s huge. I may not work for a non profit, but I’m pretty sure the career advice I paid a pretty penny for and now give away whenever it seems I can help somebody counts for something.
Probably the most important thing I learned from business school is respect for the real world ad not just the world of ideas. The values of business school were seemingly, at first glance, at odds with those of my liberal arts education, but in the end, it’s all about curiosity, and maybe a little wonder, and a desire to find out the truth and ponder what to do about it, then how to do it. There is plenty of room for genuine intellectual curiosity in business- you just have to be actually curious and willing to apply yourself to seemingly boring problems, and look beyond the surface of what seems like a bland corporate existence to see the adventure within. And all that leadership and risk taking and self awareness and technical mastery of your field and working with others and all that jazz, it is a complex, richly rewarding, and highly satisfying game.
I didn’t sell out, I bought in. And because I bought in, I’m not standing on the sidelines wondering what to do with my life or who I am, I am doing the damn thing and putting myself on the line everyday. It’s just a matter of how much of yourself you put into things, and if you are willing to learn anywhere from anyone. There is no richer sociological testing ground or moral philosophical case study. Real life is not broken, as McGonigal suggests. Real life requires you to buy in, play the game, not take it too seriously, and know what you want to cash in your winnings for.
Whether I was a teacher or a journalist or president, I would be the same me, and probably would be honing the same set of passions and skills I brought to the world trough my innate talents and unique set of experiences, I might have slightly different challenges depending on the setting but as Alan Watts says,
I had a discussion with a great master in Japan… and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, “That’s a waste of time. If you really understand Zen… you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because… the sound of the rain needs no translation.”
It is all the great adventure, the Hero’s Journey, the Spiritual Path. You can’t escape it. Even if you get off the path you are on the path.
Even now I am tempted to believe my soul will sing more loudly elsewhere and there is some other perfect way, but in thi beautiful but fallen world, nothing is perfect, and letting go of that illusion is the beginning of peace. Finally, I’m getting there, really able to be here and enjoy the here and now. FOr a change, it’s not some distant future I”m focused on. It’s my vacation in two weeks, my date tomorrow night, bringing in cookies to the office tomorrow morning. Yes, I work in insurance and my life is amazing.
I’m sure there are people in other fields who completely agree with me. ANd there are others who work side by side with me who don’t.
The sound of the rain needs no translation.
So be happy, my friends, and let your troubles go.
Life goes on, and it is beautiful, just around the bend you can’t see past.
I can’t promise great results, I can’t promise tomorrow, but I can promise that the joy of the journey is there with you, a constant, reassuring weight in your pack which you do’t even realize is there hen you are down in the dumps. Weighing you down to earth, so you can build the kingdom of Heaven.