What’s Missing? Self-responsibility

I was raised by self-made, middle-class parents who taught me to value education, to read widely, to understand history, to travel (so I would be exposed to other cultures) and to give back.

I now understand that I was fortunate enough to have parents who taught me to develop the courage to grow with changing times. I was brought up not to fear change, but to educate myself to move with it.

As much as I can make out, the conservative mindset rests on fear. I recently read a statement that said the conservative agenda today is no longer a political viewpoint, but a rejection of modern society. Rejecting modern society is futile, however, because change is inevitable. Life, by its very nature, is growth and growth, by its very nature, is change.

The truth is that there is only one sure solution to feeling somewhat comfortable in ever-changing change. It is not to dig your heels in and become sullen and accusatory. The anger so many conservatives exhibit is a curtain that hides the fear of feeling inadequate and left behind. But, as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And so the answer to fearing, and therefore rejecting, the future is to create your own future. And that demands becoming responsible for your own life, which is to say, your choices.

So what are the building blocks of self-responsibility?

Educate yourself so you can be competitive, read broadly so you can be articulate, understand history so you don’t make the same mistakes, travel so you develop tolerance, and give back so you develop empathy.

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You Are What You Think You Are

I’ve had several self-constructed careers and at the beginning of each one, I’ve felt a shyness about declaring who I am this time—artist, photographer, video producer, craftsperson, massage therapist, writer/illustrator. But after that first moment of hesitancy on my part, I found that everyone accepted me in my new role. Even people who had been closely involved in my old role. Oh, she’s this now? Ok.

This gives me a profound feeling of gratitude because I consider this acceptance of my current profession, by extension, an acceptance of me. I see it as an offering of faith in me and my abilities that I sometimes don’t have in myself.

In my career shifting, I have learned that you are what you think you are. If you think you are a writer, and you work at being a writer and you declare yourself a writer, people will treat you as a writer and your friends will support you as a writer. Ditto for being a craftsperson.

Supportive people are the safety net of trying something new, and the urge to try something new is as old as human kind itself. Think teen years and mid-life crisis.

Every year, in a Nevada desert, an ephemeral city comes into being for one week; it’s a place where people go to try new things—identities, creativities, lifestyles. This year the attendance at Burning Man was over sixty thousand. I’m intrigued: Are there so many people who need an infrastructure and permission to be creative and take chances? Burning Man is an interesting concept, but do you need to pay money and travel to a set-aside place to try on new interests? I think you can do it in your everyday life. Take that leap—the worst that can happen is that you find it’s not what you thought it would be and in that case you move on. And once you’ve found the courage to take that chance with yourself—and it is just a springboard really, the leap into the pond—you will discover the real jewel in the heart of the lotus.

You will find that you will be supported. People will help you. And as you realize this, you will find that you too, will support. The acceptance and generosity from others will find an empathizing home of acceptance and generosity within you and you will be moved to support your own friends’ interests and changes. In this way, the support and tolerance and creativity grows, until eventually it becomes an undeniable truth: There’s room for everybody.

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Trust Undefended

I live my life from instinct. I started this as soon as I became an ‘adult’ at age eighteen. I went to college at nineteen, dropped out at twenty. Burned all my bridges at twenty-one.

It was while on a train from Stockholm to Paris, sleep deprived, trust undefended, that I let go of my fears that the universe would not hold me in its arms. I was in one of those European train compartments with three seats on each side. The train travelled overnight, but I didn’t have a sleeper–I was nineteen and on a tiny budget. There was one other person in my cabin, an American also. A man in his late twenties, perhaps. He said he had been the campaign manager for a candidate who had lost, and he needed a break. I wasn’t political, so I didn’t care to ask further.

But he slept on one side of the cabin and I slept on the other, and when we woke, we were somewhere in Germany, fog rising over the Rhine in the very early gray of morning. I rooted through my backpack, suddenly self-conscious around this man I had sort of spent the night with. I found two old pieces of bread and a can of those tiny cocktail weenies. I hesitated. It was all the food I had and it was hours before Paris was due. But I offered him half anyway, thinking he wouldn’t take it. He did. Then he pulled out two beers and offered me one. I took it. We drank warm beer and ate stale bread with cocktail weenies and swapped stories and became two travellers grateful for the kindness of each other. I knew then I had nothing to fear from life.

My careers and experiences, when I look back on them, have been tailor made for me to grow into the person I am today. I trust my life; I have a saying that I say when it looks like things are getting bad: “Everything that happens to me is for my highest good.” I believe that utterly.

My deep depression in my forties gave me the gift of becoming a massage therapist and developing my closed heart. My alcoholic first marriage gave me the gift of the courage of self-reliance, my moving away from family and friends gave me the gift of my voice, to write (with the support of my amazing second husband).

I can look at it as: alcoholic marriage, depression, loneliness, or I can see the real meaning: the courage developed, the compassion opened, and the voice discovered.

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