Life is never a one-size-fits-all formula. If you are to develop and give your gifts (that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?), you must honor who you are and celebrate your own voice. That means embracing the paradox that while it’s important to value the mentors and role models who guide us, we must also rely on ourselves and honor our own style.
Depending solely on others is like taking a long walk in borrowed shoes. If the shoes are even a bit too big or small, they can be very uncomfortable. If you walk long enough under those conditions, you’ll get blisters. Eventually the pain becomes so bad that you can’t go on. That’s what happens to you when you force yourself into a mold that isn’t your own. The remedy: walk at your own pace and in your own shoes.
Admittedly, I’ve been somewhat recalcitrant on this point, and therefore life has generously given me many lessons to teach me to trust myself and to be myself. One dramatic lesson came when I was hiking in the beautiful Teton Range near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with two friends. Both walked briskly, covering more ground more quickly than I could. At the time, I didn’t think about the fact that nature had endowed these women with long, strapping legs that could scramble up the steep path like mountain goats. Instead, I blamed myself for not being able to match their pace.
“Something is wrong with me,” I thought to myself. “I must really be out of shape. If I just push a little harder, I can keep up.” So that’s what I did. I pushed, and then pushed some more. My strategy worked, but halfway through the hike, the consequences set in. I pulled a muscle in my hip without realizing it. The ache I felt at the time was tolerable until we started the long descent down the mountain. At that point, every step I took was painful. It hurt so much that I couldn’t even bear to carry my small backpack.
I don’t remember much about the sights, smells, or sounds of that day. I don’t remember much of anything except the pain. I forfeited my ability to enjoy the trek by struggling to keep up with someone else. But I did learn an invaluable lesson: if you don’t walk at your own pace, you will only end up hurting yourself.
Over the years, when I’ve been tempted to take an action that doesn’t honor my own style, speed, or destination, I’ve thought back to that experience. In a few cases, I wish I had recalled that episode sooner. It might have saved me the anguish of another long practice session in self-reliance.
The myth: I can make the same choices and take the same steps that have worked for others.
The magic (and the paradox): I value my mentors, but I also ask my own questions, seek my own answers, and shape my own life. I embrace the paradox that to fulfill my reason for being, I must learn from my mentors AND rely on myself.
For your reflection:
“Insist on yourself; never imitate. . . . Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
– Are you trying to keep up with someone or fit into someone else’s mold? How?
– Is that limiting your expression of your true self?
– What will you do next to step out of that mold and be your authentic self?
Join the conversation and share your comments, questions, and lessons with us.