If life is a journey to find myself, then how do I cope with being lost until then? *sigh* Yes, I asked such a question once. I was annoyed.
For many years, well into my 20s, I had the misconception that life was all about ‘finding myself’. I would hear an encouraging word from a teacher “not to worry, as you grow up you find out who you really are”, or from a wannabe hippy aunt “life is all about the journey and finding yourself”. I also read books and watched movies that encouraged people to find themselves. I met high school seniors who wanted a year off from school to take time to find themselves before going to college. I felt sad because it seemed that we were all lost in a journey of trying to find ourselves. Then I felt anxious, because no one told me when I would know that I had found myself. Now that I know the truth I’m really annoyed. The well-meaning people in my life had stolen my power from me.
You see, if you believe that life is about creating yourself, then you have just tapped in to the power to become whomever you want or aspire to be. It is now in your hands. It is now up to you. It is now your time to shine, to glow, to learn, to create. Life is in the doing and once you know this you can decide where you should be to learn the most, with whom you should share time with to gain the most knowledge, and how you should use the learning and knowledge to become a better you.
Yes, that is a powerful thing to know, and a bit scary to think about. Accepting this power removes all excuses - “if only she hadn’t said that, I would be happier now” or “if that teacher had paid more attention, I wouldn’t have acted up so much in class” or “if my boss would only see the extra work I’ve done, then I would get that raise” and countless others.
Because I now accept the responsibility of being part of creating myself, I can approach uncomfortable situations with a perspective of a willingness to learn. I started my development with a conscious decision – to improve my social skills. Sounds easy, right? Not for me. I was socially inept, awkward, unable to connect with people. But I knew that others had overcome adversity and emotional issues and saw that I could do it, too. I just didn’t know how.
This is when I realized the next important lesson about self-development – to be successful, you must do it with with the help of other people. I knew an older woman who had what I wanted; self assurance, courage, wisdom and a lot of friends who cared about her well-being. I had spent some time with her over the years, had shared a cup of coffee or two and talked about life in general. This time, though, when I called to ask her out for a cup of coffee, I had an agenda. I told her the traits I admired in her and asked if she would be willing to help me change myself, to develop those traits in myself. She asked me one question “Are you willing to do things differently?” Thank goodness I said yes.
This is where real self-development began for me. Sharing a cup of coffee at her kitchen table, I would talk about a situation I had encountered and she would tell me how I could have done it differently. For instance, a poorly executed performance review with my boss resulted in my freezing up and not responding to examples that were clearly misrepresented and untrue. Because I was self-conscious and had limited confidence in my ability to articulate my thoughts, I simply said nothing. Her answer to this problem was this solution: when an event is expected, like the performance review, I am to participate in the review by examining my past performance. It was important that I be honest with myself about unmet expectations, incomplete work, and negative outcomes…as well as successful projects, expectations that were exceeded and positive outcomes. She agreed to help me by meeting with me one month before the next scheduled review. And we did. And the next review was quite different because I was armed with solid information about my performance. I could agree on some points made, I could disagree with other points made because I was prepared and had facts in front of me.
By the time I reached my late 30s I was confident in my ability to socialize in any age group, in any business setting and in any situation I found myself in. A willingness to do things differently combined with practicing the tasks my friend suggested to me made it possible.
When I wanted to add public speaking to my marketing plan for my business I joined Toastmasters. Sure, I could have taken a course online or even at a community college about public speaking, but I know the value of having people tell me to my face how to improve myself. I also know the value of being accountable for taking responsibility to change. Because of this, Toastmasters has helped me develop my presentation skills to the point where I could say yes to being asked to present at a national conference – twice in one year!
I started this journey of conscious self-development while in my 20s, and now that I’m in my 40s I know that the struggle of changing myself is worth the effort, because it is through the struggle that I get closer to becoming the woman I really want to be.