Brene Brown, in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” talks about her Breakdown/Spiritual Awakening in 2007. It was the point when the perfectionist part of her fell apart and she was really required to examine her life, when the break DOWN allowed her to break things apart and then rebuild. It’s really exhausting being a perfectionist. I know, as it’s something I struggle with – not doing so much because it has to “be just right” or I have to “know it ALL” before I begin. In a previous life, I was perhaps considered to be an angel (or even a bloody angel!) That’s not how I set out to be; it’s just that over time, I lost my centre. I became aloof, cold, put barriers up, forgot who I was, and found myself living a big fat lie because of the different masks I kept wearing.
Outside, all was sweet enough: inside, there was sourness from judgement and anger, bitterness, pride and jealousy, from feeling ignored and unloved. You may find you are put on a pedestal – however you get there, it will be for all of the wrong reasons, for you can’t be still be real and be there. It’s a hologram, an illusion, a mirage. But let me tell you; it’s almost impossible to get off without crashing and burning. You smash into so many pieces, it seems life has ended. And it has – or at least the life that you knew has ended.
So at that point, you have some big decisions to make. You can choose to just lie there, or you can pick yourself up and start gluing your Kintsukuroi pieces together. You’ll need to handle your own pain and maybe try to handle others; chances are, you’ll do neither successfully. At some point, you’ll have to stand up again – and then, since you don’t remember who you are, you’ll have to try on different personalities to figure that out.
There will be wild swings backwards and forwards, until you can end up knowing – and liking yourself again. Looking back, I don’t much like some of the immediate ones that I became (and I didn’t much like them at the time either), and I dare say people from those previous periods wouldn’t recognise who I am now. That doesn’t matter. I know me, and that’s enough. For a long time, I worried about the people in my past; now I know that it really doesn’t matter, for they did not know I was a caterpillar training to be a butterfly.
It wasn’t easy to pick myself up, though. I couldn’t just climb up and dust myself myself off – because I didn’t WANT to be that person any more. It probably took at least two and a half years, and it was often very lonely (I’m thankful for the friends that stuck around and the new ones who found me). I had no self esteem, I still had a voice that wasn’t heard, was struggling financially, in a dark place where I could see no options -and I didn’t want to be so desperately unhappy anymore.
Like any journey, there were good times, and the less than totally positive ones where I was exhausted, in tears, taking wrong turns and finding myself on steep learning curves, as I struggled still to be brokenly perfect. I had climbed into a black hole, and found it wasn’t so easy to get out – but I was determined to do that, find new ways of thinking and behaving. I kept going, making adjustments as I went along.
And then I found that I was healthier, happier, in a loving relationship that gave me wings – and surrounded by spiritual but imperfect friends who inspired me. My anxiety was greatly minimized; I no longer needed to sleep on my stomach to calm my nerves. I slept reasonably well most of the time. I stood up for myself and could set boundaries. I found I started to find my voice. I could be okay knowing I can’t please everyone – the perfect wife, daughter, mother, friend, colleague. By trying to be, I only exhausted myself.
I chose not to see life as hard anymore, choosing instead to see it as an adventure. From 2005, I started to give the year ahead a theme, with the theme usually coming out of the experiences of the year before. There were no rose tinted spectacles, though I’m pretty good at looking for a silver lining in any situation, but I no longer lived in a bubble – or wore masks. I practiced feeling my emotions, knowing they wouldn’t last for ever, and I focused on healthier ones. If I was sad, I allowed myself to be sad, but not unremittingly sad. If I was angry, I didn’t feel rage, but I allowed myself to be angry; really angry, not “this is how a perfectly controlled person does anger.”
There comes a time when you realise, with some urgency, that life is much shorter than you think. There are no dress rehearsals, as my dad used to say, so get on with living the best life you can, as THIS is it. And IF this is my life, then why would I hold back from following my heart, from choosing to be happier and making choices that suited me (with a view to the longer term of course). Why would I choose not to live from a place of authenticity, a place where it doesn’t matter whether people like me or not, or if I was in their tribe or not? Why would I waste any energy on worrying what others thought, or on blaming others? It meant I would take responsibility for my life, and if I failed, I failed – and always learn something useful in the process.
I learned that I could change my life by conscious choice, made on a daily basis. My happiness is at once outside of my control (because I cannot control circumstances) – and yet within my control (because I can control my reaction). Understanding this removed the immense pressure to control things that had left me unhappy and anxious to my core.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilites is risky but nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy – the experences that made us the most vuleranable. Brene Brown
My happiness starts and ends with me; imperfections and all. My darkness AND my light, my sunshine AND my shadows make me uniquely me. No-one else can live my story. No-one else can make my choices. I am the chief storyteller and the chief character, creating the story, characters, and their locations by my choices, and by the boundaries I create, because without boundaries I can’t get mad at anyone for choosing to step on to my patch. It means I refuse to blame people or circumstances any longer and that leaves no room for excuses. It also means I am accountable for my behaviour and I can hold others accountable for theirs – but hopefully with respect, and with grace.
And in embracing my imperfections, and practicing courage, compassion and connection on a daily basis, I did find so many gifts there for the taking. I dared to be happier.
If there is one gift I would grant a child, assuming love is already there, then it would be curiousity. That courage to explore new places, meet new people with an openness that builds better relationships and turns strangers into friends.
It will change their thinking and their ability to learn. It’s the gift that will encourage them to have ideas and invent things that change the world for the better, to travel to other places and cultures with respect, and even explore other galaxies. It will keep rocking them back in wonder at creation and the world around them, so that even when adults, they will stop and stare at a rose, whirl a dandelion head round to see what happens, or crunch through autumn leaves.
It’s what will allow them to wait to see the butterfly emerging from a cocoon, an egg hatching, what shape the bread that rested and was kneaded makes. It means they can never be bored, for they can stimulate their imagination and get lost in different worlds of books and games.
It will give them the courage to take risks sometimes, to ask “what might happen if I try” – and find out that even if they fail, they can still be curious about the lessons they learned. It encourages flexibility, and gives them the resilience to deal with uncertainty. It can turn everyday chores into adventures, and even give them the freedom to explore the big questions in life without fear (like who are we, what happens next, how can I bring peace, can I dare to be happier?)
That’s what I would give a child, if I had a magic wand. What would YOU give them?