“I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.”
– David Whyte
As we bumble through life, trying to figure out who we are as leaders, as lovers, as parents, as humans, we often get caught up in measuring ourselves against the false requirements put forth by the ‘norm.’ When we presume there’s a norm, we inevitably fall short. In his forthcoming book, Jerry writes about how so much self-denigration and suffering happens because we create a norm with externally defined standards to live up to. It can feel so different to be different and go against the norm in its myriad of forms. Yet, in the attempt to fit in, we can abandon our self in all of its wild promise (which ultimately, in the long game, doesn’t feel great either).
There’s a subtle, yet harrowing, inquiry we each ask of ourselves from time to time: “Why can’t I get it? What’s wrong with me that I’m not like everyone else?” Therein lie silently the brambles we get snared in on the way to finding ourselves. In the most recent podcast episode conversation with Joe Wilding, you can hear a pinch of “Am I broken?” underlying his dialog with Jerry. “I could see other great leaders around me,” Joe says. “And I’d think ‘Oh, I want to be more like them’ but I really wasn’t wired that way.” Once we’re tangled up in an inquiry like that we put limitations on ourselves and squash what makes us who we are as individuals.
“If you are living for an ideal and driving yourself as hard as you can to be perfect – at your job or as a mother or as a perfect wife – you lose the natural, slow rhythm of life,” notes the late, great Jungian analyst Marion Woodman. “There’s a rushing, trying to attain the idea; [and] the slower pace of the beat of the earth, the state where you simply are, is forgotten.”
We can give up a lot to fit in. We hand in the fullness of our creative agency. We transfer over our best light and dim the spark that lights us up. We deaden our aliveness for something stock and rote, something akin to the tired line uttered from our grandfolks: “Well, don’t ask why; that’s just what you do.”
Psychologist David Richo notes that:
“It is perfectly normal to seek approval in childhood and throughout life. We require approval from those we respect. The kinship it creates lifts us to their level, a process referred to in self-psychology as transmuting internalization. Approval is a necessary component of self-esteem. It becomes a problem only when we give up our true self to find it. Then approval-seeking works against us.”
When we seek approval from the outside world, we risk giving up our true self at any juncture. We may do anything to fit in if our self-worth depends on it. Ultimately, we give away the power that is ours to choose to follow what’s true for us. In doing so, we miss out on allowing the wild part of us to come through.
Early conditioning sets our stage for the future by providing structure, some internalized rules embedded in our psyches about how to live, and how to find (or at least, how our toddler minds feel they need to find) the triad of love, safety, and belonging. Many beliefs and strategies are galvanized by age 5, likely much earlier, and somewhere along the way, we forget our wild self– the self that is humming beneath the wraps of rules, structures, definitions we thought we needed (and perhaps we did need in some instances) to get us here. Our wild self is the us that was before we felt we the need to fit into a mold, before we were groomed, before we had a list of ‘shoulds’ or a host of images to become. That wild part of us is intimately connected to our true self.
There’s so much beauty, difference, and variety lost when we hide or leave aside who we are for the multitude of reasons that we often do. If only we felt OK, in the sense that we felt safe and that we belonged and were loveable, for being exactly who were are. What could that new normal look like? How can we come to trust that the ground on which we stand in the sensitive meatbag that informs the whole of our consciousness is our ticket to freedom and a testament to the wild promise that is our life to live?
The road to adulthood is littered with opportunities to shrug off old customs, look closely at strategies we’ve acquired, and question traditions. Along the way, with the firm excavator of some radical self-inquiry, we hone in on an important question: Who are you?
David Whyte’s poem, Self Portrait, poses this question to each of us, fiercely:
It doesn’t interest me if there is one God or many gods.
I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned.
If you know despair or can see it in others.
I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world with its harsh need to change you. If you can look back with firm eyes saying this is where I stand.
I want to know if you know how to melt into that fierce heat of living falling toward the center of your longing.
I want to know if you are willing to live, day by day, with the consequence of love and the bitter unwanted passion of sure defeat.
I have been told, in that fierce embrace, even the gods speak of God.
This question pokes into our chest as it asks: Who are you? It asks us repeatedly, with a tone we can’t ignore, a tone that makes us cough up the truth for ourselves. “Who am I?” we search. It pokes and pokes us– Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?— until we stop squirming away from it. Until we stop averting its gaze, face it with both eyes and a clear answer saying: “This is where I stand.”
Imagine for a second that you are looking back at the proverbial world, saying: “This is where I stand.” Where does that part of you live? How does that part of you hide out in false shades of safety? What else does that part of you have to say?
Our wild self isn’t feral, crazy, uncontrollable, aggressive or rabid. It’s our preconditioned self, our native self, the ‘before we were shaped by the world to fit in better’ self. That wild self has a boatload of knowing about what we need and what we want and what our aliveness feels like.
How might a mighty human protect that wild promise?
I feel that one must be brave, fierce (not ferocious), honest, in tune and attuned to one’s unique hum (the aliveness that buzzes in your veins before you have caffeine in the morning). One could look at the journey into adulthood as a great rewilding of sorts wherein midlife (which is a wide band of years) we recover and integrate that wild part of ourselves more fully. We can come to see that wild part of our self has value and a place in this world, re-writing previous scripts to the contrary.
Some folks born a decade or three before me, speak of being invisible, that society doesn’t see them. By golly, and by those conditions, they can do whatever they like, without holding back who they are. Why wait that long to rewild yourself?
Author Amy Charlotte Kean in her brilliant little book, The Little Girl Who Gave Zero F*cks, tells the story of a young red-haired Elodie-Rose who lives in a world with a harsh need to change her. She keeps herself strong, centered and unf*ckwithable as she moves through the moments that can throw a young life off-kilter, such as other’s moods and judgments, celebs and trends, boys and teachers. Like David Whyte’s poem, she looks at the world with firm eyes saying, “This is where I stand.” Through it all she keeps her basket of f*cks intact, giving them to no one. Where her energy could have been potentially lost on being emotionally entangled in those interactions, it was instead freed up to fuel her dreams. In the process, she finds freedom being herself, shamelessly so.
Giving zero f*cks is the ultimate form of self-respect and a radical act of self-care. When we’re here, we’re discerning about where our energy goes, what we choose, and what we focus on — be it in our creative work or any psychic weight we take on (or unload). We’re firm not only about where we stand but are firm in sourcing a sense of safety, belonging and love from an internal reservoir. Here, we’re not giving away our power and energy to others in order to get or receive something. From here, we’re bringing a sense of security and self-assuredness in the face of decisions, relationships, communications.
Second adulthood (also known as midlife) is a time of individuating from the ways in which we are enmeshed with the world, like the ways in which we get warped and thwarted by patterns of behavior that short circuit us from living out our fullness and instead leave us living divided. We can choose to look closely at what’s driving us. Living according to an internal metric means living in integrity with the fierce fire of your longing, what you know is right, and what is right for you.
What might it look like to heed and foster this wild promise? Where do we let other things supersede the quieter, more subtle, and potent parts of ourselves? Where do we slip away from the fierce burning of our longing, and what do we settle for instead? Maybe the answer rests somewhere in these lines from Lao Tzu:
Always we hope that someone else has the answer,
some other place will be better,
some other time it will all turn out.
This is it.
No one else has the answer.
No other place will be better.
And it has already turned out.
At the center of your being you have the answers.
And you know what you want.
There is no need to run outside for better seeing,
nor to peer from the window.
Rather abide at the center of your being.
For the more you leave it,
the less you know.
Search your heart and see the way to do is to be.
Tending to the sacred fire in your heart is worth keeping at the center of what we do and how we move through our days. Doing so is keeping your wild promise aflame. In that fierce embrace, as David Whyte attests, even the gods speak of God.