Saturday, October 26, 2013

Rewriting the Rules

I have suddenly and recently realized how much I internalized and followed a set of unspoken rules that in reality make absolutely no sense to me. Suddenly, I have the ability to think something, catch myself in the thought, and think, “Wait a minute, where did THAT come from, does it really serve me, does it have to apply to me, and have I actually found it to be true?”
And you know what, invisible audience? In a lot of cases, the answer is no.
So I made a list of 9 new rules that I’m going to strive to live by that make more sense to me than the unspoken and unconscious ones I've been buying into for so long; rules that haven't served me and have, in fact, made my life less fulfilling or much more difficult than it needed to be.

1. I do not have to work hard for my money.
Last week I wrote about how I don’t need to be so miserly with myself; that it does not actually serve me to deny myself simple pleasures and creature comforts in the name of cheap living. Another realization I’ve had lately is that working does NOT have to be hard. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I don’t do my best when I do a job, but at the same time, somewhere I picked up an idea that it’s only worthwhile if it makes you sweat: if it’s long hours, a sacrifice of time away from things you really want to be doing. That’s just not true. Work can be fun and rewarding without being hard – it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming sacrificing mind suck.

There are actually more choices than parenthood or a career, or both, and “having it all” doesn’t mean having to have everything.
I don’t have to focus on my job. I don’t have to be a parent, either. I can have a completely blissful and fulfilling existence, living the very most of every single day and wringing the very life out of my life, without my life having to be defined either by my career or my family. I identify as a writer because writing makes me incredibly happy, helps me process and feels good, but if I never wrote a word that I wanted to make a living from, I could still be a writer, and I would STILL be a functioning, worthwhile part of the world.

I can be my own guru.
I do not have to listen to someone just because they speak with authority or are considered an authority. I can agree with someone’s message and totally disregard it because I hate the messenger. I can decide that a tried-and-true method is not going to work for me, and I can borrow small snippets of many different ideas to make up my own idea of what living a compassionate life of integrity looks like. I can discard any piece of any message that I don’t like. The most important part is that it resonates with what my gut is telling me. Period.

I get to choose my own priorities.

Even if I have nothing better to do; even if I’m totally bored out of my mind; even if I have a gift for whatever task you need done; even if it will only take me 5 minutes; even if I need the money and you’re offering it, I don’t have to do it. EVER. I don’t owe anyone anything: my precious time, energy, skills or abilities. This doesn’t mean that I don’t ever help people, but I don’t ever HAVE to help people, for any reason whatsoever. That means that when I do choose to help people, it’s because I want to, not because I’m manipulated, forced to, or adhering to some deeply unconscious idea that it is my duty as a member of the planet to sacrifice myself for others instead of helping someone out of my own volition and because I want to.

My worth is not diminishing as I age.

This one is pretty deeply ingrained and totally underground, but it’s true: every magazine, advertisement and unspoken mass media message has told me that my worth diminishes with the amount of wrinkles I gain, the amount of gray hair that grows, the more my boobs sag. That’s bullshit. With every day that I learn something new about myself, become more comfortable in my own skin and develop relationships based on what is important to me, the more beautiful I become. The people who can’t see that can’t really see me, and fortunately that invisibility can work to my advantage: I’m not on their radar, and I can spend my time with people who DO see me instead.

I don’t have to respect my elders if they don’t respect me back.
No one deserves the right to be a condescending asshole. It’s true that there are people who know more than I do about many, many things, but that does not give them the right to treat me with disrespect or talk down to me. Respect must be earned, and the idea that we’re supposed to politely listen to people who are older than us for no better reason than that is ridiculous.
On the flip side, I have many, many friends that are older than me. They have already gone through the things that I am currently struggling to wrap my head around, and yet they never tell me that my journey isn’t worthwhile or tell me how I should walk it. Instead, they are wise enough to offer me support, give me advice when I ask for it, and let me do the same thing that they did that brought them to where they are now: figure it out for myself.

I have a right to think the world of myself.

I once had a coworker named Murph. He was old enough to be my dad, and he had a daughter my age. He was telling me about her once – how proud of her he was, how self-possessed she was, and her ability to surround herself with people and boyfriends who valued her for the wonderful person she is – and I asked him what he had done to ensure that kind of self worth.
“All I did was constantly work to boost her self-confidence,” he said. “When you believe in yourself, everything else falls into place.”
If anything has become apparent to me in the last year, it is that I have been crippled by self-doubt. It is only now, after more than 30 years on the planet, that I have finally started to listen to my gut; to think that I might know better than anyone else what is best for me, and to strive to surround myself with people who see me for the beautiful human being that I already am. It feels a hell of a lot better than it ever did to have to humbly deny my abilities, play down my intelligence, interests or personality, to try to not be seen or heard so that the brilliant flame within me wouldn't burn anyone else. No more playing it small. It’s not helping anyone; it certainly wasn’t helping me.

There is nothing needy about needing people.
There is more strength in vulnerability, in opening myself up to others, and in asking for help when I need it than there is in silently trying to suffer through everything and do it all myself. It’s ok to admit that I am sometimes afraid; that I often just need a hug; that I am not an island. If I want human interaction, it’s because I’m human. There is nothing to be ashamed of about wanting to share myself with others who are worth investing time and energy in. There’s also nothing wrong with that being a very small, select group.

And most of all, I have the right to fuck up, over and over again, without having to think less of myself.
Some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned have come from situations that didn’t work – things that I thought I wanted but didn’t; things that I knew weren’t going to work but went through with anyway; ego trips that told me that I had to do whatever for whatever reason if I wanted to consider myself worthwhile.
For me, it’s become clear that striving for perfection leads me away from my humanity, and enlightenment comes in small moments, not in a bolt of lightning where all of sudden I know everything and can do everything right.
To be honest, I hope I always have something new to learn and discover about myself; otherwise the world would get really boring for an introspective person like me. However, I need to remember that just because I haven’t learned a lesson yet doesn’t mean that I have done something wrong – you can’t know what you don’t know, after all. This whole existence – all the moments of intense joy and soul-crushing pain, all the beautiful sunrises and dreary rainy afternoons – is part of the package. There’s no hurry. I will learn as much as I can in this lifetime – no more, no less. The only person I am striving to know more than is the person I was yesterday, and the only one I am now striving to be is the one I will be tomorrow.

Love and new rule kisses,