“I am a creative, innovative, and inspiring human being. I have everything I need to achieve the type of success and the life I’ve dreamed of.” Isn’t it strange that I feel a sense of embarrassment and guilt as I write these words. Crazy, isn’t it? Why is it that we’re so quick to believe all of the self-limiting doubts we have about ourselves? And even worse, when we try to embrace an inspiring view of ourselves and our future, we feel as though we’re being unrealistic?
I completed a thought record this morning (You can read about thought records in an earlier post titled, Creating Balanced Thoughts). In so doing, I came up with the positive and optimistic view of myself in the quote above. Immediately, I felt a sense of guilt and embarrassment. As I often do, I pictured those other, more practical people, disapproving of my desires for my life. In my mind’s eye, I saw these fictional people, shaking their heads and speaking with each other disapprovingly about me. I began to recoil from myself. “This is irresponsible,” I thought. “My number one job in this life is to provide for my family, my wife, my two amazing sons. I need to make as much money as possible to pay for college, etc.” On and on my thoughts went until I nearly slipped into a numbing depression.
Then it dawned on me that maybe this was only one way of looking at things. Maybe it was a mistake to believe that providing for my family meant making as much money as possible at any cost and the kids always having the latest iPhone. Maybe it was actually this materialistic and competitive way of thinking that should have caused embarrassment and guilt. Was there a different model of success?
I decided I didn’t have to completely believe in a different model of success, I only had to believe that a different model of success was possible. I simply had to believe that it might be real, and in so doing, other possibilities would arise. It’s like the second of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” In other words, recovery from alcoholism doesn’t require that one believes without any doubt that a higher power can transform our lives. An alcoholic simply needs to believe that there could be a higher power that might lead her to sanity. That it just might be possible. In so believing, the possibility of recovery becomes real. And it works! There are millions of men and women, walking miracles, who are recovering from the horrendous disease of alcoholism because they believed they could, not necessarily that they would, recover.
This is how we transform the idea of “I’m worthless” to “I’m worth it.” We open up to the idea that there could be another possibility, a possibility that we define for ourselves. We create our own criteria of worthiness. Thus far my criteria of worthiness has been based solely on the idea of monetary wealth and climbing the proverbial ladder. It isn’t that this approach was universally wrong, rather that it was wrong in a subjective sense, wrong for me.
I’m beginning to suspect that so many people manifest mental illness as they try unsuccessfully to fit their beautifully rounded lives into the square hole of conformity. The problem just might be that we, the so-called mentally ill, have accepted an idea of worthiness incongruent with our deepest needs and dreams. For me, the problem manifested in spending the past 20 years falsely believing that I needed to “overcome” my childhood, and that the only way to do this was to make a lot of money, work a “respectable” job, and achieve the American Dream. But in so doing, I became very judgmental of myself and others which led to an extreme sense of alienation. I was tired, afraid, and stressed all of the time. It was an exhausting way to live.
I’m coming to understand that although perseverance and responsibility are important attributes, they don’t need to come at the expense of our most basic needs, our most heartfelt dreams. I believe the Bible says something about not gaining the world at the expense of losing your soul. I might take it a step further (no blasphemy intended), and say that when we lose our soul, our most basic self, there is no world to gain, but only a void that may be filled solely with fear, anger, stress, worry, addiction, and so forth.
So, how do we transform a sense of unworthiness to a sense of worthiness. First, we open up to the idea that we might see ourselves as worthy. Not that we will, but that we might. Second, we develop, for ourselves, the criteria for worthiness. Not an extrinsic criteria set by the desire to conform or to overcome, but an intrinsic criteria that speaks to us in our hearts, or in the soul we’ve ignored and so desperately want to keep. Third, with faith, and with the help of a higher power if you so desire, we turn our lives over to this new reality. Fourth, no matter what is happening in our day-to-day lives, we remain true to ourselves. We speak and act from our genuine selves, even when we feel pressure to conform. This is not easy and takes practice. In time, if we’re consistent, our genuine selves will win out. And finally, we live, but not for the purpose of overcoming or winning. Instead, we live to reflect our sincerity. We know full-well, that we will make mistakes, and we forgive ourselves when we do. When we do good deeds, we do them out of a sense of love and community, not out of a sense of guilt or responsibility. Good deeds are done solely for love of another as well as oneself, not for redemption, monetary gain, or the praise of others.
As a young boy, I hoped one day to live as a creative, discovering in my teens a strong affinity for writing, music, and creating. But in my fear of becoming a “failure,” I abandoned these pursuits for the safety of what I considered to be a respectable career, a career that proved I was “worthy.” I don’t begrudge the time spent in my quest to be “respectable,” but I know that this effort doesn’t hold the key to a true sense of worthiness. The truth is that even if I failed to “overcome” my childhood and was living on the streets, destitute and drug-addicted, I would still be worthy. Worthy of love. Worthy of respect. Worthy of hope. This is a wonderfully liberating realization. Opening up to the possibility of a different definition of success and believing that one might come to embody this definition is what life is about, for me. It’s a leap of faith, but one far less scary, when we consider the alternative, a numbing conformity, to the rewards, a genuine expression of the soul.
May those of us who need to, listen to the call of the Bellowing Angels, and win back our sense of worthiness, our souls.
~The Bellowing Angels (T.B.A.