It's pretty amazing what we can discover in ourselves when we are serving others.
February was a big month for self-discovery. Through coaching sessions and discussions with friends, I've been digging into some of my own motivations and weaknesses. One in particular has been a deep and recurring obstacle: Contentment and satisfaction without the need for external validation.
If you know anything about me, you know I love to find creative outlets for myself and for others. I'm a big believer in exploring creativity as a means to increase and maintain elasticity of the brain. When your brain engages in a creative endeavor, say making music, cooking, knitting, writing, painting, coloring... it opens and builds neural pathways. Different creative activities create different pathways. Music activates one part of the brain, while writing (creative or non-fiction) activates another. Why does that matter? Because in real life as a professional, a parent, a friend, you are constantly required to solve problems. With a variety of creative activities in your life, you become a better problem solver.
While working with one client, I asked about his latest creative activity. When he told me about his project, I asked him what he would do with it after it was complete. He hadn't considered the idea of whether to display it or give it away. He didn't even really know what I was asking or why. I gave him an example: When I'm working on my pottery wheel, whatever I am building - whatever shape the clay chooses to form - I begin almost immediately to think about how it will be used and to whom I might gift it when it's glazed and fired. I asked my client: "When you complete this beautiful project, where will you put it? Does it matter to you that no one will see it?"
My question didn't faze him at all. That's when I noticed that I was projecting my concerns onto him. When I work on something important to me, I often find the need for some sort of external validation when it's complete. Why do I do that? Clearly the activity alone was enough for him to receive the benefits of being creative. Why do I need more?
In another conversation with a friend, I realized that many of us have similar issues in terms of baggage from years ago, from childhood, that manifest in our lives in different ways as we age and progress in our professions and personal experiences. When my friend and I talked about our childhood and teen years, we had a lot in common: Lack of self confidence, detractors in our lives who made negative and long-term impressions on us in their insults and demeaning comments in areas they knew we were particularly self-conscious. As children, we had both been told, in some way or another, that we weren't enough; we weren't smart enough, good looking enough, athletic enough... etc. My situation was quite different in that I had parents who were my biggest cheering section. It was peers that I allowed to do the damage to my self image.
Those childhood and young adulthood impressions and internal messages, though we fight them every day, manifest themselves in different ways in our lives. My friend allows those internal messages to make him hesitate when he knows he should move forward. He second guesses himself to the point of paralysis sometimes. I allow those internal messages to make me feel the need for external validation of the skills and values I bring to the world. For both of us, these are not only self limiting messages, they are damaging to those around us. We create a self-sabotage environment by allowing that history to manifest itself into our current lives.
As I've said in past writing, there is no easy answer. I believe being self aware, introspective, and consistently curious are the keys to learning, growing, and defeating these internal messages and negative life patterns. Now that I know where it is coming from, I can change that message from way back into my childhood.
Without understanding where our self-sabotaging behavior comes from, I don't think we can address it and change it. That doesn't mean placing blame; it means letting it be what it WAS, something from the past. Look at the current evidence of your life for proof that you are not who you were as a child or teen, that the successes and resiliency of your recent life are what define the current version of you. Make sure that what you are putting out to the universe is exactly what you want in return: Love, joy, curiosity, creativity. The next chapter of your book hasn't been written yet. Make sure you write it with intention.
What baggage are you holding onto in your life? How is that manifesting in your current situation?