Why Self-Awareness is Important, Change is Hard and Groundwork Matters
As I sit before my computer, wondering just how to begin this essay (because I have SO many thoughts…as usual)…I’m inclined to borrow one of my favorite phrases from the Podcast “Creativity School”, by Grace Chon:
“Follow the breadcrumbs. Create from the inside out.”
I think it is hard to find a place to begin when we are still “in the middle” so to speak; when we are in the midst of an ongoing change or a process, and our initial inclinations are always to judge ourselves – to judge our progress (or lack thereof), to judge our daily choices, to highlight what we consider to be short-comings and feel shame in falling back into old patterns. We so easily forget that peeling back those layers and practicing new patterns takes time, diligence and a great deal of empathy – not just for others, but for ourselves.
I’m currently working on my final projected piece of the year for the site – the Holiday Gift Guide (one of my favorite projects to work on) – and in writing the introduction, it felt wrong not to lay some groundwork for a few of the points I discuss in the post. Being the big thinker that I am, I tremendously appreciate groundwork. I like to see the process, the “behind-the-scenes”; this makes a concept feel more authentic for me, more real. It makes it something I can understand. Something that I can learn from. I’m interested in the process of how people become who they are, the internal work they do – I want to know how they find clarity and the particular journeys that they undergo to grow into these beings that seem so completely where they should be – beings with something valuable to share, with something to say. They just resonate.
This is the stuff that I love.
Really, I’ve always been drawn to self-reflection. Being an introvert myself, I have an insatiable hunger for learning such inner workings, discoveries and truths of those around me, of those who inspire me. And it’s not solely that people’s journeys are often interesting and unique, but also, there’s this glimmer of hope that something I learn could set free a whole slew of personal truths that had been living beneath the surface – untapped all along.
Let’s just be clear, I in no way recognize myself as one of these resonant people – I’m a seeker (my husband will say, “sweet Harry Potter reference there, sweetheart”), I like to find resonance – and therein lies my truth, or the one I’ve been working steadily to uncover over these past few months.
(if I’m being honest, probably my entire life).
Thus, as I finished my final post of the year, I realized that I’d be doing those of you like myself…grasping for the breadcrumbs of information, wanting to know the process, needing to see the “how” bits and pieces of a particular journey…a great disservice by not sharing this first.
It’s taken me my whole lifetime so far (a big ole 35 years) to really understand who I am, and the way that I think.
Which, for someone who self-reflects often (and would describe herself as rather intuitive) doesn’t feel like a big win – but as I’m learning to embrace now – it is, in fact, more about the process.
Furthermore, it’s taken me just as many years of asking “why” – of feeling subordinate and incapable – to realize that who I am and the way I think is simply different from how many others think, and that this isn’t necessarily wrong, but maybe, just maybe –
It needed tweaking.
I don’t particularly like the term “self discovery”. It feels like a cheap marketing tagline for a self-help book. When I was a teenager, my father and I often debated notions of reality, and he, being no stranger to books lining the “personal growth” aisle (he was also very introspective) – would consistently reference phrases or concepts that rang true for him – from things he had read. There was one particular phrase (in the company of a few others) that always stands out when I think back to the earliest challenges I met with my own mind. There, in our galley kitchen, with his wiry build delicately perched up against the teal countertop, he would look me dead in the eye, thumb and forefinger gently pressed together in a politician point and say, “Ashley, what you resist, persists”…
And it infuriated me.
I couldn’t accept that one could just decide to “feel good” and that this would be his new reality. It felt fake. Contrived. Like a lie you tell yourself, wanting to believe it’s true, but knowing deep down that it’s not. I didn’t want to just let go of who I was, because then, who would I be? I knew then (as I’ve always known) that I could never just “believe” something for the sake of believing it and successfully apply it. I had to understand it, I had to feel it like a truth that resonated within me, personally.
What I didn’t know, is that what he was telling me was true…in a sense…I just needed to see it from a different angle – in a different light. And in order to get the lighting just right, I had some work to do, internally.
As many of you know (I’ve written quite a lot about it recently) becoming a parent was quite an adjustment for me, and I knew myself well enough to know that it would be. But something I hadn’t anticipated – in fact, one of the most unexpected gifts I could never have foreseen – was how this would empower me to make some big changes. To challenge the constructs that I had operated within for so, so long. Probably, since my early teenage years.
Yes, some of this was brought on by sheer fatigue, and perhaps a touch of post-partum depression…(both of which are very common)…
But the truth is, I had questions that I couldn’t answer, and I wanted answers. I reached a point where I felt like I had done as much work as I could do on my own, yet couldn’t get any further. I couldn’t break through.
When we finally started to get into a groove as a family (if that’s ever really a thing), feeling like I still hadn’t found a healthy way to cope with my anxious thoughts, my questioning, my wanting more out of work, out of life – I decided to try something different. I dove head-first into working more on myself, and I started seeing a therapist.
At this risk of getting caught in another “self discovery” cliché, let me just say that this, of course, is nothing revolutionary. People see therapists everyday. And they should. Still, somehow simply deciding to make this shift altered my mentality enough to uncover some personal truths that I hadn’t fully realized. One, for example, that I felt so. much. guilt. for taking the time to see my therapist. Even though it was helpful.
(More on this topic of “guilt” later.)
It wasn’t just the time with my thoughts – I spent most of my time alone with my thoughts anyway – it was talking them through with another person who could guide me through my own personal framework. I think therapy feels most successful when the therapist doesn’t necessarily tell you the answers, but rather, he guides you to the recognition of your own answers. When you’re able to answer your own questions, out loud. These moments have been my favorite moments.
So far I’ve made some really interesting “discoveries” with my therapist; I have a Google list titled “Therapy Notes” for such occasions (this should come as no surprise). I’ll try to share as many of them with you as I can. The first, and perhaps most poignant discovery, is that I don’t have to be someone else.
Which sounds pretty basic, but when you get to the root of it – maybe not so simple. Ask yourself, how much time do you spend trying to be somebody else…? Even if it’s just within your own thoughts?
After different personality tests, insights and lots of discussion, I was able to understand my own personality, and to accept it. To feel the freedom in letting go of trying to be like others – or more importantly – of trying to be like who I thought I should be.
This, I still struggle with.
Now, as an “INFJ” (*Myers-Briggs Type), I had a framework that felt comfortable, that felt like the right fit. This meant that I could employ some strategy.
Funnily enough, I’d actually taken the test years before and received slightly different type results – I didn’t really know enough to delve deeper and apply the knowledge. Upon reading the characteristics for the INFJ as an adult, and then reading what INFJ’s need in order to thrive in a career –
I’d never felt so understood. So validated.
And I’d chastised myself so many times before for feeling the way that I did about work, for having these personal desires and values. It felt like now, I’d been given the permission.
So began the tiny steps toward a larger shift in perspective, and the tweaking of my previously constructed framework.
I do think it’s important to note that it’s never just one thing. It wasn’t just the Myer’s-Briggs Type test, or the Enneagram, or the therapist, or the Career Center or the Wit & Delight Podcast or The Creativity School Podcast…it was the confluence of all of them at once. These were just the beginning. There are surely many more to come.
And of course, I must note that it is all completely personal. These kinds of insights are different for everyone, and frankly, some people just aren’t interested – which is completely fine! You’ve gotta do you. I just needed a better way to see myself.
When I think back to my Father and our heated debates, I realize now that it’s not so much about pretending, but rather, it’s understanding the power of our thoughts within our own mental framework. For me then, “feelings” and “thoughts” were completely separate; one you shouldn’t be asked to control, and one you could only work toward trying to control. In essence, studies show that they are related. Thus, we can make small adjustments to help guide our thought processes (which in turn, inform our emotions, our self-esteem, our actions and perhaps even our realities…) without having to completely let go of who we are. Without trying to be someone else.
What I’d like to end with, is that this is not something that happens overnight, or over the course of a few months –
it takes time, and it takes practice.
Motivation, then dedication, followed by more practice. This is what I wanted to clarify, and why I couldn’t gloss over the groundwork. Sometimes we read things or see things others create, and naturally, we assume that this is who they are – that they don’t even have to try –
and we judge ourselves.
I want to empower you to go after what you want, and to celebrate who you are, and to be who you are and more of who you want to be too. This has been my path, and this is my truth. And I still have to practice it, every single day.
We are all works in progress, and really it’s the “progress” part – the journey – that we’ve got to keep in mind.
It’s the most important part.