Honor Your Own Style

by Patricia Spadaro

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.

Creating Spaces in Your Togetherness – Part 2

by Patricia Spadaro

Are you honoring the paradox of dependence and independence?

We honor ourselves when we ask for the support we need. And yet there are times when life compels us to rely on ourselves because flying solo is exactly what we need.

The following story from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism highlights why self-reliance is indispensable. A young rabbi complained to his mentor that he felt full of life when he studied, but when he turned away from that source of support and went about his daily activities, this mood disappeared. “What should I do?” he asked. His astute teacher replied with an apt analogy: “You must be like the man who is walking through the forest in the dark accompanied by a friend. A time will come when the two companions must part and each must go his own way alone. Neither will fear the darkness if he carries his own lantern.”

When it comes down to it, you have to be able to depend on yourself to light your way. You must be the guiding star in your life and make the decisions that allow you to live and give your fullest. In an odd sort of way, though, we may avoid doing just that because we’re afraid to step out onto center stage.

Do you avoid self-reliance—and at what cost?

At subconscious levels, we may develop a habit of continually sacrificing for or depending on others as a way to avoid the sometimes scary process of stepping out of our comfortable cocoon and developing our real gifts. Developing a habit of over-sacrificing for others can even be a way to avoid the confrontations that we think may come when we begin to assert our right to be at the top of our priority list. All that, however, comes with a cost. Sacrifice can be a mask that we put on and then become so used to that we forget that the face we are showing to the world, and to ourselves, is not our real face.

Don’t get me wrong—sacrifice is a beautiful virtue when it comes from the heart. But to use sacrifice as a way to avoid facing our fears or shaping our own futures, is a cop-out. It’s handing over our choices to someone else. It’s like accepting a supporting role in someone else’s drama when you should be playing the leading role in your own life story.

Every part of life, as it grows and evolves, naturally moves between seeking support and flying solo, between giving and receiving. Only when those elements are in balance can we make real and lasting progress. Navigating the paradox of dependence and independence in relationships requires a keen sense of balance. There can be a blurred line between receiving help and allowing a partner or mentor to control your life—or between giving help and stifling a loved one’s opportunity to grow and blossom. Here are some questions and tips to help you reflect on whether you’re the guiding star in your own life right now.

For your reflection: Are you your own guiding star?

>> Are you in a relationship with someone who is making decisions that you should be making or who is trying to manage your life?

>> What would you like to tell that person about how you are feeling? What would you like to request of him or her? Try crafting what you want to say on paper before explaining it in person. You may even need to send your message in writing to fully express what you find it hard to say in person.

>> Follow up to make sure your partner understands what you are asking and that you both have the same expectations going forward.

Remember: Giving yourself room to be your own person isn’t about pushing the other person in your relationship out, but about counting yourself in.

For more about navigating the paradox of seeking support and flying solo, see my book Honor Yourself : The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving, chapter 4.

(For Part 1 of this article, click here.)

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