Accepting ourselves as we currently are, as we strive to understand who that is, all while that very act of observation is changing who we are, is a big part of the Impeccable Warrior path. Recently, I’ve been noticing something about my self-acceptance that struck me as unexpected, so I’ve been trying to dive into it.
It is far easier for me to accept, and share, my vulnerability, weaknesses, and perceived shortcomings than it is to embrace my strengths. (and heaven forbid share them!)
As I’ve thought more and more about it this became less of a surprise. As a child I learned very early on that acceptance from my peers was not to be won by letting my strengths fully show. The things adults valued, and that I was quite good at – academic success, good manners, acting like an adult, etc were things that got me mocked by my peers. Add in the fact that I’ve been 5’9″ or taller since the 4th grade (in the 5th grade I was the tallest person in the school – teachers and administrators included!) and it wasn’t exactly a recipe for an easy, struggle free, orientation to my peer group (not that I think anyone had one of those!). What I learned, despite my poor parents’ phenomenal efforts, was that other peoples’ strengths, and needs, came before mine, because I was too strong, too big, too smart, too fast (academically, not physically, I will never be a sprinter), etc. I was often asked to wait for others, to watch out for others, to protect others – at the same time the “others” were often not very… appreciative… of these acts. So the way I made sense of that disparity was to be uncomfortable, and somewhat ashamed of my gifts, unless I could employ them perfectly. Which is nigh impossible over time. (I figure out 20+ years later. It is definitely a journey!)
So I suppose it isn’t that big of a surprise that I shrink from fully embracing my strengths, and in this one situation struggle with a little bit of scarcity mindset. It feels like if I am very good at something, somehow that takes away from others’ experiences as they grow. This is not true in reverse, of course. As with many things, one of my greatest desires for other people is for them to fully embrace who they are, and their strengths! The trick is to embrace that mindset for myself as well.
Now I suppose I could continue along my path and not address these convoluted beliefs and attachments, except 1) that is definitely not the Warrior path, and 2) they hide some pretty significant dark corners that will (and do) hold me back.
Right from the start is the obvious ramification, if I don’t accept my strengths, as well as my vulnerabilities, how can I possibly live my biggest life, and achieve the dreams unique to me? How can I open up spaces for others to fully accept themselves if I will only accept the poor things about myself? (see poem here) Even more insidious though, is the hidden ego in all of this. It sounds like low self esteem, or poor self worth, which it is… but it is also feeding a fragile ego. If I don’t accept my strengths and push them, I can’t find out their limits, I can’t push them beyond their boundaries and learn how to move those boundaries further out. If I don’t engage in that my ego doesn’t have to potentially face up to the fact it isn’t as superior as it thinks. Not to mention, who am I to believe that others could not keep up? Possibly true in the narrow world of a grade school classroom – decidedly NOT true in my current life. Now that is some serious ego!
So it turns into a big interlocking hairball (as a friend of mine likes to call such things) of areas I need to shine light on, and unravel, so that I can move forward. By not doing so it remains a roadblock to my success, and my path.
I had the honor to be part of a year long leadership program a couple years ago, and the head of the program opened it up with a discussion of why we shouldn’t focus on strengthening our weaknesses – because then with a lot of effort we become moderately good at everything – but to strengthen our strengths, so that we can truly excel at them.
You have to take such advice with a little bit of salt because that decision has to be contextual, but overall the concept turned almost everyone in the room on their heads. What would a workplace (the main focus of the training) be like if everyone was doing their exceptional things, instead of plodding along with their weaknesses? I picture a big jigsaw of happy awesomeness where our strengths and weaknesses piece together to make a brilliant picture. I think this holds true for our communities as well, if only we are brave enough to be ourselves!
Right now I’m being forced by the decisions I’m making, and the boundaries I’m choosing to push in order to reach my goals, to stand face to face with my fears around success, my feelings of inadequacy and not deserving to own my strengths. Through them is the only way to climb up the mountain. For a while they will continue to travel with me, and I will have to carry them in many places in order to continue moving forward, making my journey that much more challenging, but eventually I will have to put them down, or I will not be able to move much further. An outcome I refuse to accept.
Identifying these “travelers” is one of many ways we can shine light into our dark corners. The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz calls them attachments, which makes a lot of sense to me, but I also really like the powerful imagery that these kinds of beliefs are fellow travelers we either have to care for, carry, and be responsible for getting to the destination, or that we need to lovingly let go of, so that we are both free to achieve our higher purposes. (Especially since these “travelers” often performed a healthy function at some point in the past. So honor them, but that doesn’t mean you have to carry them around forever!) I like the visual of climbing a mountain because just like trying to carry real people, at some point the extra load will weigh you down so much you can’t reach your goal. (Plus, mountains!)
In the end, the entire concept of strengths and weaknesses can be problematized by accepting that on the path there is no good or bad, just experiences to learn from, and I have to say, I think I will be learning from my strengths for quite a while to come.