Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

Perspective From Two Hours On A Flight Next To A Hungry, Tired Toddler

This was once my reality

Sitting in the small airplane, four seats wide, sharing the row with a young mother of three with a screaming toddler on her lap. Toddler is tossing everything she is handed onto the floor.

“It’s been a while since I had littles,” I tell her with as much patience and understanding and motherly wisdom as I can muster, “but I remember those days well. No worries.”

Her four year old son sitting behind me kicks my seat the entire flight, stopping only to push both feet long and slow into my lower back. Six year old daughter next to him bugging him for the iPad. The mom next to me looks exhausted and, boy, do I get it. Her toddler thrashes in her arms, grabs my hair and pulls. The mom is mortified and apologizes, and I nod with understanding. It’s been seventeen years since I last held a wailing toddler on a flight, but that experience never leaves you. The muscle memory of the anxiety and embarrassment remains fresh.

The toddler in her lap, likely desperately tired and frustrated, begins howling with increasing ferocity. The mom hands her off to her husband who is sitting next to their oldest daughter across the aisle from the young ones behind me. As her daughter thrashes like a shark in shallow water, the mom shrinks, puts her head in her hands, and shakes it slowly back and forth. I know she is counting the seconds until her tiny creation at last succumbs to the sleep she needs.

As she is doing this, I look out my window-seat rectangle with its rounded corners. I am grateful to be wearing a mask as the silent tears slip behind the fiber filter on my face. You see, I said goodbye again to my almost 21 year old this morning after I passed him the four bottles of wine we couldn’t fit into our checked luggage. And I’m heading home to my high school senior who will be moving away in four month’s time. The ache this mom is feeling as she wishes the time on this two-and-a-half hour journey would pass more quickly is a similar ache I am feeling as I wish these last few months would pass more slowly.

I would never tell her these things, as she will be in my shoes far sooner than she can fathom. She will discover in her own time the way childhood speeds up as it approaches puberty and adulthood. What starts as seconds moving as sand grains, imperceptibly draining through the narrow tube in an hourglass ends as deluge of sand dumped from a toddler’s beach pail. And this mom will learn, as I did, that those prayers for time to speed up aren’t selective. Time doesn’t speed for the rough moments without also speeding for the good moments. Time is brutal that way. Lucky parents will learn this the hard way, seeing their children mature in the blink of an eye and move on. We’re the fortunate ones, the ones who get to see their children reach adulthood. Many parents don’t have that same good fortune.

This is my reality now

For now, I say a silent prayer for this mom in opposition to her prayer to speed time up. I pray that she will embrace all the moments with some quiet, inexplicable gratitude for what they are because she will be like me sooner than she knows, with greying hair and reading glasses, hugging her adult son and handing him wine bottles. She will be both excited to get home to her high school senior and afraid to get there because she knows there are 46 days until graduation.

Parenting is the greatest purveyor of perspective I’ve found. It simultaneously breaks me and saves me over and over again.

The Tribalism Inherent In Being A Sports Fan

Last night we attended another Colorado Avalanche hockey game. It was a fun one too. The Avs, who have already clinched their spot in the playoffs, were on fire. The Avs scored 4 points in the first period, while the LA Kings scored none. By the end of the game, the Avs had gone up 9 to 3, and the fans were treated to a hat trick. It was the first time our son got to witness, as an adult, the unmitigated joy of other grown-ass adults tossing their baseball caps onto the ice.

As we were standing there, cheering after yet another Avalanche goal, Luke leaned over and said something to the effect of, “Oh, what a wonderful display of rampant tribalism.” He’s a funny kid. I had never thought of hockey fans as a tribe, but he is correct. There we were in our Colorado Avalanche uniforms (emblazoned Avalanche sweatshirts and hockey sweaters) chanting along and waving our fists in the air after every goal, so I guess we were definitely contributing to the tribe mentality. As part of the Colorado Avalanche tribe, I try to be decent. We had some Kings fans sitting to our left, and I did not do any taunting or trash talking. I let them suffer their humiliating loss in peace.

I began thinking about how many tribes there are. We often refer to our friends as our tribe, but there are other tribes too. You might have a tribe of people you associate with from your church or your child’s sports team or your office. I love the band The National and I’m part of their official fan club, so I am part of The National tribe. There are many tribes to which an individual may belong, intentionally or unintentionally.

I think it’s important, though, to differentiate between being part of a tribe and contributing to tribalism in a negative way. Being tribal, in its most basic sense, is actually a good thing. Tribes foster a sense of community. Ever seen how fiercely a tribe of friends will rise to help another friend who is sick or struggling? Tribes also create a sense of belonging, and that can be crucial to dispelling loneliness and depression. Tribalism provides the feeling that we are all in this together. When politicians speak of tribalism negatively, I think they are missing the point. It’s not tribalism that created our political divide but factionalism. On September 10, 2001, we were a fairly divided country. We’d emerged from a contested election, the outcome of which had been decided by the Supreme Court. We were split into factions: those who thought the Supreme Court should have allowed the recounting to continue to a satisfactory conclusion and those who were happy the court had decided to stop the counting and award the election to the person who had the most votes at that point in the process, George W. Bush. But when the United States was attacked by terrorists the following day, those factions quickly, albeit temporarily, dissolved. We united as one great American tribe. American citizens of every faction came together to aid in the clean up and recovery in New York City, to comfort each other in a time of deep sorrow and loss, and to donate blood. For a brief period of time, we united against a common enemy, terrorism. We proved how strong the American tribe can be.

Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian NHL players have been booed and jeered at during games and have received threats against themselves and their families for something they have nothing to do with. This is sports tribalism gone wrong. NHL fans need to do a better job differentiating between the actions of leader Vladimir Putin and the position of the Russian citizens who have been dragged into this war, some of whom are losing their family members in battle. We can do better.

Tribalism is a good thing that can have negative consequences if the power of the tribe isn’t applied judiciously. I’ve seen some impressive, positive sports team tribalism in recent years. When the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Baltimore Ravens on December 31, 2017, it put the Buffalo Bills into the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. As a show of gratitude, Buffalo Bills fans donated $442k to the Andy and Jordan Dalton foundation for ill and disabled children and their families. When the Bills were defeated in the playoffs this past season by the Kansas City Chiefs, Chiefs fans donated over $300k to the Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo where Bills fans had previously raised over $1M to honor Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen’s grandmother after her death in 2020.

All we need to do is realize both the positive and negative powers inherent in being part of a tribe. We can use our tribes for good or not so good. So, when you’re part of the tribe at your favorite sports team’s event and they’re winning, be kind to the members of the opposing tribe. As with pretty much anything humans do, we can unite around good or evil. Make the right choice. As former First Lady, Melania Trump, put it, “Be best.”

Oh, how I love a good hat trick

Escaping The Judgment Juggernaut

“It’s amazing to me how much you can say when you don’t know what you’re talking about.” ~ Phoebe Bridgers

Don’t throw these from a glass house

True story in fifteen words: I was most confident about who I was when I didn’t know who I was.

At that time, my only operational mode was filtered through a mindset of internal superiority. It wasn’t that I felt superior to anyone. Truth was I felt superior to no one. No. One. I protected my fragile sense of self by drawing distinctions between others and who I believed myself to be. Once I learned more about myself, though, once I was at last able to see the cracks in my unconsciously crafted facade, everything changed. I knew my structure was vulnerable, so I started treading more carefully after a thought popped into my head. I recognized that I should not believe everything I think about others or about myself. I started questioning more and being certain less. I accepted that I lived in an enormous glass house, and from this precarious position stone throwing might be ill-advised.

I am still not consistently able to catch my hypocrisy or haughtiness in the moment, but it doesn’t take me more than a few minutes to get to a more open headspace, to recognize where I took a wrong turn, and to embark on a more authentic and honest path with myself and others. This often requires apologizing for a conclusion I jumped to, admitting I made an error, and then pointing out how the comment I made arose from my insecurities. This was difficult at first, but with practice it is becoming much easier. As a side benefit, it allows those in my circle the opportunity to get to know the real me. Like an unboxed refrigerator in a discount warehouse, I’m a little dinged up but in decent working order. There is nothing broken about me. I just had to accept that it’s not my flaws that define me.

I am working to embody the Ted Lasso school of thought: be curious, not judgmental. When I feel that judgment coming up, I am more equipped now to stop myself and be curious about my thoughts and why they jumped straight to negativity and derision. I know the demons that sabotage my better self and throw me into judging mode: shame, guilt, fear, and ego. When I go from zero to judgment faster than a Tesla in ludicrous mode, one of those dastardly devils is behind it. But now that I know my triggers, I’m quicker to catch myself and say, “Whoa there, Nelly. That is wholly unnecessary.” I am able to remind myself that I am safe now, the judgment that secured my ego and made me so damn confident about everything without having reason to be is no longer a necessary survival strategy. If I make a hasty choice or assumption, there is no need to project negative emotions onto someone else to cover up my error. I simply made a miscalculation due to the muscle memory of judgment that kept my fragile ego in bubble wrap for decades. It happens a lot when you’re recovering from a fear-based world view. It’s astounding how a little self-kindness and compassion dosed out accordingly can reduce the adverse effects of fear-based living.

I am able now to give myself and others more grace. We’re all human. We all have baggage that directs our behavior. The path to freeing yourself of judgment is facing that baggage, inspecting it carefully, understanding why you’re carrying it around, and then setting it down. I am grateful to those who bravely and in plain view undertook this journey away from fear-based functioning before me. Glennon Doyle, Kristin Neff, Anne Lamott, and Brené Brown saved me from living the entirety of my life in a glass house I inherited but in which I never wanted to live.

Don’t believe everything you think. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re talking about.

The Box Of The Me Who Was And Is Still

In this dusty box, my history lives

I was going through a plastic tub of memorabilia today. It’s full of things I collected while growing up. I dug the box out of the basement hoping to find some remaining buttons from bands I liked when I was in high school. I did find some, definitely not as many as I had at one point, but some.

The box contains some items my mom saved from my childhood and then other items I held onto for myself. There is an album someone else compiled with cards given to my parents both when I was born and on my first birthday. There is a local newspaper with a photo of me in 1976 when I was 8 and won a coloring contest sponsored by a bank. For that feat, I earned a $25 savings account and a liberty bell bank. The headpiece to the veil I wore at my first communion is in there, as is the memory card from my confirmation and photos from church trips. There is my Brownie uniform, my Girl Scouts membership card, and all the Girl Scout badges I earned but never sewed on my sash. There are report cards from elementary school, junior high, and high school. There are two random field day ribbons, both for the high jump, one fifth place and one third place. There are the literary magazines I contributed to and edited in high school, along with information about the band trip I took to Florida my junior year. There’s a letter from my orthodontist about how to care for my braces. There are wallet-size photos given to me by friends in junior high with their written dedications to me on the back, along with some notes that they passed to me in classes. My eighth grade yearbook is in there, which is odd because the rest of my yearbooks reside in a separate box. There is the corsage I wore to prom. There is a Junior Passport for Disneyworld from 1983, cost $9.50. There are envelopes containing my ACT, SAT, and GRE scores. There’s the letter I received when I was waitlisted at the only college I applied to. So many parts of my life that would be forgotten if I hadn’t saved the specifics to remind me when I hit 50 and discovered my childhood memories fading like the ink on the photographs from my youth.

Of all the items I unearthed, among the poems, paintings, and artifacts, I found one that stood out. It was a note I wrote to my mother when I was 7 years old. On a morning when presumably she didn’t wake up in time to help get me ready for school, in my second grade handwriting and with my second grade spelling, I wrote a note so she wouldn’t worry about me when she woke up and realized I was no longer home. It read:

“Dear Mommy, I got Kathy and Julie quiet. I left the house. I wost up and brust my teeth. I got my cloths on. Rigth now Im in scool.”

I wrote my name at the bottom in case when she found the note it wasn’t completely obvious it was written by her seven year old and not her five year old or two year old.

Everything you need to know about me is contained within this short note. 1) I started my writing career early. 2) I have always been quite responsible and self-sufficient. 3) I look out for people I care about. 4) I don’t want to be a bother. 5) There’s a reason why I didn’t go into art.

I’ve changed a lot over the years, but the person at my core remains the same. I’ve been writing for too long to stop now.

Sometimes It’s Best To Be The Last To The Party

On Friday, February 18th, my husband and I were searching our television haunts for something to watch. Truth be told, we subscribe to a lot of services. We have Hulu, Netflix, Prime, Disney+, and Apple TV+. Despite having all the services, we usually aren’t up on what’s coming out to view. We know about the new shows on Disney+ because of our sons. Other than that, we often are late to the party.

Anyway, while flipping through our choices that February night, I found Severance, a new show beginning that day on Apple TV+. The premise looked fascinating, so we figured we’d give it a go. At the end of the 57-minute premiere, we were hooked. We were feeling pretty smug about being early watchers of this brand new show. Maybe we could be the first ones out in front sharing the news? Each week since that night, we’ve looked forward to the next episode. With each episode, we became more engrossed and we told more people about it. Tonight we finished the latest episode, the seventh installment, and I found myself livid that I have to wait another week to see what happens next. And then I I remembered why we don’t get on board and watch shows in real time. It’s because we’re impatient.

After years of binge watching shows we missed out on while others were raving about them, I’m used to having ALL the episodes available to me and burning through them one episode after another in rapid fire succession, staying up until 2 am each night for a week, if necessary, to do it. Watching the entire show in a series of lengthy sessions keeps the story progression fresh in your mind. There’s no digging through your brain for the nuances of what happened the previous week. It’s simply a more efficient means of digesting a story plot. Of course, the streaming services producing the shows don’t care about that. They want to build intrigue and grow viewership. They want the public conversations at the water cooler to expand their audience without having to advertise their show. Greedy jerks don’t even care that binge watching is what we all want to do now. We have no patience. Why should we when so much television is on demand these days?

I am no longer capable of delayed gratification because delayed gratification takes too much time and dedication. And this revelation clued me into why my husband and I don’t hop on the bandwagon of a show immediately. It’s because watching television one week at a time is frustrating. So we miss out for a while. So what? We’re late to the party, but what an amazing party it is when we finally show up. It’s so good we sometimes stay up all night so we don’t miss anything. At 53, this is the closest I get to an all-night kegger and its accompanying next-morning hangover.

Binge watching is where old college students party. Now you know.

The Things We Tolerate

I can’t look at this little girl without wanting to hug her and tell her she is enough

As a child, I learned that I was something to be tolerated. This notion colored every relationship I had. If you think you are barely tolerable, inversely, you will tolerate a lot of abuse from others because you understand what a burden you are. I spent most of my life apologizing for being who I was rather than acknowledging what I had to offer. Over my years in therapy, this paradigm has shifted for me. I am able to see what my gifts and strengths are and to value them. Don’t get me wrong. I know I have faults and hang ups and annoying habits too. I simply no longer think they outweigh my positive qualities. What I taught my children about themselves now also applies to me: “You aren’t a bad person. You are a good person with bad moments.”

Part of the beauty of reaching midlife, if you’re lucky, is your priorities shift. You become less concerned with what anyone else thinks and more focused on what you need, want, and are willing to work for to make the rest of your life worthwhile. When I combine what I’ve learned about myself through therapy with what I’m learning about life by virtue of being of a certain age, it’s like having a FastPass at Disneyworld. I am ready to jump to the front of the queue. I’ve spent long enough working hard for others, bending myself into a pretzel to make sure I am bearable, while not asking often enough for what I needed for myself. I’ve come to the place where I acknowledge if I’m not worth the effort to someone, then I don’t need to stay with them. Tolerance works both ways. I am free to choose what I will put up with from others.

Lately I’ve been taking stock of the relationships in my life. I can put them into categories. There are the people who like me both for and in spite of who I am and the people who see my downsides more than my upsides. I suppose there are also some people who walk the line of liking me most of the time and yet expecting me to be something I am not the rest of the time, but I can deal with those more nebulous relationships later. My goal right now is to jettison the relationships that make me feel worse about myself, the ones where I do all the compromising and giving and they do all the “tolerating” and taking. Those relationships aren’t serving me. They never did. There is positivity in walking away from them if I can withstand the judgment and commentary from those I care about who will question my choice to do so. Can I be brave enough to stand confidently in my truth without reverting to old habits, wavering, and then capitulating in the face of dissenting opinions?

Maybe it’s because it’s springtime, but I am feeling a compelling pull to weed the garden of my relationships. I want a fresh start. The void left by the people I walk away from will be filled in time with new, life-affirming friends of my choosing. I need to trust the process, to know in my heart that eliminating those whose words and actions make me feel less will only bring me peace because, heaven knows, keeping them around has only mired me in self-doubt. I’m not something to be tolerated, and I don’t have to tolerate a life with those who think I am.

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.” ~Roy T. Bennett

We Hairless Monkeys Are Something Else

My husband and I are finally finishing Season Two of The Morning Show. Reflecting on the beginning of the pandemic as I watch this show, it’s crazy to think of where we were two years ago. How little we knew about Covid-19. How terrifying it seemed. How quickly we pivoted and changed the way we educate children, shop, and work. How we started sewing masks, stockpiling toilet paper, having video chats with family. It seems so normal now. At the time, though, it was all new.

We moved across town four months into the pandemic. Our oldest graduated high school in a single person ceremony, with a graduation address delivered remotely by one of his favorite teachers in May of 2020. Our youngest spent the 2020-2021 school year going back and forth between in-person learning and video classes. We took my mother-in-law, who had been in an independent living facility, out of that living situation, and she began splitting time between a basement apartment in our home and a townhome next door to my sister-in-law. My husband has been working from home for two years. He has been back into his office three days in that time. Everything is different now. Even as we hit pockets of time when it almost feels we’re back in 2019, our world has been changed permanently.

It’s simultaneously impressive and depressing what we humans are capable of. The good and the bad we’ve seen over the past two years has been something else. We got sick, but created a vaccine. We left the office, but kept the economy going. We did our jobs from home while helping our kids complete their lessons. If you had told me in December 2019 that we would be living through a worldwide pandemic in 2020, I would have rolled my eyes. I couldn’t have imagined what that would be like. If you’d told me then that I’d daily be checking Covid cases on a map on The New York Times web site, I would have laughed. If you’d told me that people would attack each other or be pulled off airplanes because of paper masks or the lack thereof, I would have thought you were crazy. It has been a wild ride.

The world is funny. Not funny, haha, but funny the way we hairless monkeys get ourselves into and out of trouble on an endless loop. We really are something else.

You May Not Know What You Think You Know, Which Is Shocking, I Know

I saw this quote recently, and it struck a chord with me. Not just because people from my childhood on have sized me up, rated and assessed me according to their standards, and then expected me to fit in that neat little box for the rest of forever. If I grew or changed, they became disoriented in our relationship. Some adjusted, although in most cases we simply parted ways. I know this is a human condition. I know I too have sized people up, assigned labels, and lived in that fabricated paradigm with them, never acknowledging they might be more than I have given them credit for. Never once thinking perhaps the terms I ascribed to them were placed there via my own filters and were, at their kindest, a little biased, and at their most abhorrent, completely unfair.

It’s what we do as humans. We look at others hoping to find similarities. We look for our people. When we run across someone who doesn’t fit our prescribed guidelines, we pack them up and place them in the box we’ve determined they belong in. We are often wrong because, although we may have asked some initial questions, we usually haven’t conducted important follow-up inquiries to get beyond the superficial. We stick to the surface. We may half hear one part of a response to a question we’ve asked and suddenly we’re off to the races on judgment. If this pattern were an Olympic event, I would be in gold medal contention. At the very least, I’d probably make the podium.

In my world, I am working to be, as Ted Lasso reminds us, curious and not judgmental. Holy hell is that a hard road to walk after a lifetime of judging that began when I was but a wee Polish-Catholic girl. I will keep on working at it, though, because I can’t expect people to accept the ways in which I have changed unless I am willing to view them through a different lens as well. This ability, to allow others to grow and develop in ways that suit their goals and lives, is one I work on constantly. I do this because I don’t want to grow apart from the people I care about. My sons are clearly much more than I have decided they are, and I have to work to remind myself of that. They deserve their own chance to define themselves without my input. So, I am trying to be curious, to observe, to ask questions, and to apologize when I haven’t allowed them enough room to challenge their perceptions of themselves, to reach outside of their past behaviors, likes, and wishes and stretch.

Take a minute to reflect on how you measure people. Are you taking their measurements every time you meet them to determine how they are different and how you can fit into their new schema or are you expecting them to fit into the same outfit you gave them a decade ago? In what ways have you limited a relationship by neither admitting your own growth or acknowledging someone else’s?

The Genie In The Bottle Is Me

“Finding yourself is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. Finding yourself is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.” ~Anonymous

I bet she is a whole lot of awesome

I love this quote. It succinctly captures the problem with being human. We start out as infants, individuals (although we don’t know it yet) with likes, needs, and wants. We aren’t blank slates because we are unique and full of our own potential. As we grow, however, the second sentence above takes over our lives. We learn, through society, our parents, and others with whom we come into contact, to contort ourselves to fit in, please, and survive. With each subsequent outside belief we adopt and internalize as part of our reality, a piece of our individuality shrinks and folds further back inside our deepest depths. If we’re lucky we’re able, through the nurturing attention and love of important people, to remain somewhat true to who we are. If we’re told, however, that we are wrong or unworthy, those pieces we hid deep inside ourselves as a means of surviving stay hidden for a long time. Perhaps our entire lives. That is the real shame. Think of all the human potential that is tucked into our deepest recesses because we fear it is odd, off-putting, or unacceptable.

Reflect for a moment on the people you know. How many of them do you feel are living their unbridled individuality without hesitation or restraint? Certainly, some of us are doing a better job of it than others. I know several people who are 100% disconnected from who they are. They’ve robed themselves in the defenses of their politics, religion, biases, assumptions, and fears. I lived this way for a long time too. I had no choice. I was so influenced by the narratives I was sold. And, honestly, when you are bullied as a child to believe you are only worthy of love and attention if you behave a specific way and color within the lines, that becomes your standard method of operation. Stay within the prescribed track if you want to be acceptable.

So then, the trick to living an authentic life is found in the last sentence of the quote above. We have to stop long enough to question our beliefs. We have to sift through the stories, look at them objectively, and determine how they became ours. Was it part of our original makeup or was it something we put on because someone told us to? I have been doing some of these investigations in my own life, making lists of beliefs I hold about myself and dissecting them to find their origin. Once I can trace them back to someone (or something) else, I can then ask if that belief is serving me or if it is restraining me. This is the deconstruction before the reconstruction.

I spent most of my life working to be smaller than I am, to fit into the too-tight molds others constructed for me. Lately, though, I’ve been feeling rather cramped. My inner potential, the person I was before the world got its hands on me and dimmed my shine, is begging to stretch.

I have taken to thinking of my current situation as a bit of a genie-in-a-lamp narrative. There is something inside the lamp. I know it, although I haven’t seen the totality of its contents. I am using a soft polishing cloth to return the lamp to its former shine. The more I rub the surface, the more I realize how brilliant what lies beneath must be. Eventually, with my repeated effort, I will unleash the contents obscured within. Then and only then can I be my true self…at least most of the time.