This week I went to Cheshire for some training. I haven't been up to that part of Britain in a long time. Unexpectedly a few difficult memories surfaced in anticipation of my journey.
I mentally passed through some personal history during the train journey up the country and revisited a period of my life that was frenzied and well meaning but very off balance in all sorts of ways. Rather than feeling it all, all over again as I had expected, I felt a non-judgemental distance settle and a healthy detachment. It felt like acceptance of my past self, the things she did and said and the things she didn't do and didn't say. Her silly mistakes and ideas that would not work. It was such a relief, to meet my former self and feel able to let her off the hook.
I had expected the journey to be an emotional storm. In fact, I reflected upon the nervous-excited, busy, wholehearted young woman that I was, throwing herself at job interviews, desperate to move to the (golden promise of) London, fighting for that to be her path and trying on different selves. She was fuelled by good intentions and aspiration. She was moving so fast, she was totally unaware that she would need to learn herself much better if she ever wanted to feel content. She would need to stop running away from herself.
Previously I have cringed in shame at remembering her or felt a sharp sadness for her, because I know how desperate she felt and how much she was trying to channel herself in the right way, without really knowing what she was looking for.
She was trying. She was failing and falling down and being embarrassing and breaking things. Somewhere in the mess of being, she was learning about how to be an independent person, how to stay safe emotionally and physically and that she could expect and aim for so much more than red faced mediocrity in every part of her life. Its too easy to remember those days and blush. This is where I need to continue to challenge myself to 'do the work', because if all I garner from those difficult and testing experiences is a sense of shame and an arsenal of tools for self flagellation, then I am missing the point. I am missing the opportunity to identify learning and personal growth.
The 'work' is thinking about what I did and the choices I made, using them to help me open up and know myself. This involves taking responsibility for foolish or self serving decisions that potentially hurt people or myself, but also being able to recognise that I did what I thought would work at the time, without having the experience, answers or hindsight to guide me. Each painful consequence to an action had something to teach me about myself and the world. It is up to me to reframe the way I regard my past self and acknowledge that every little battle fought and scar attained is as much part of my readiness now to fulfil my purpose as the celebrations, the successes and toothy-grin moments are. After all we aremultifaceted and complex beings. Of course we are not made up of only sugar and spice.
Making mistakes, being selfish, getting it wrong and being embarrassing are things every human on the planet can own up to, yet as a default so many of us still feel a hot prickle of shame about our mistakes and return mentally to them, dwelling on the emotion of the event and using them them to beat ourselves with.
My past self is part of me now as much as she isn't. That tired, bewildered but determined young woman deserves more than my embarrassed pity. Sometimes, I can easily accept that she did foolish things and I can understand. Sometimes, I really struggle and I judge her harshly. The willingness to come back later and accept yourself right where you are, as the sum of the mistakes you have made as much as of the successes, even if you don't completely understand yourself, I am sure is the key to being able to move yourself forward.
To be able to be in a respectful partnership with yourself, to actively trust yourself for another try and another, even if the first time(s) something didn't work takes hard work and intention and effort. Forgiving yourself for past mistakes and being able to regard yourself with compassion also takes effort. By returning to your own memories with new eyes and trying to pin down the learning, the important rites of passage, the revelations and finding a way to let yourself off the hook, you begin to work at accepting yourself. Its a daily challenge and for me still a work in progress. Meeting myself on the train to Cheshire and feeling a level calmness about letting her just be who she was, I realised that my hard work at all of the above is paying off.
- Is there a decision or memory that makes you cringe or self flagellate? (what if your greatest learnings came from those awkward moments?) Can you re-frame it and think about it in a different way?
- What are the positives you can pull out of that experience? What did you learn?
- Which of the memories that you re-run in your head can you set an intention to let yourself off the hook for?