Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the importance and power of knowing yourself. In our current world, we're surrounded by imagery, ads, messages, and people who are all telling us things. Some tell us who they think we should be, or how we're not enough. Some tell us that we're just fine as it is, or maybe we'll be better if we just drink a Coke. With social media and smart phones, kindle apps and television, we are constantly inundated with ideas of identity, with comparison, and with proving ourselves. We're constantly in a position to present a facade or tell others who we think we are or who we hope people will see us as being; but this external presentation is weak and trivial if it isn't based in truth or awareness.
Many of you know my husband is a clergyman. As we were going through the process of his ordination (in the Episcopal Church, not only must you attend a 3-4 year seminary, but you must pass 3 intense rounds of interviews over time, as well as fulfill or meet other criterion; e.g. it can be quite stressful!), one bishop gave us surprisingly (and frustratingly!) simple advice.
When Matt asked him what was the best thing he could do as he (hopefully) became and continues to be a priest, the bishop said:
At the time, I think we both felt like responding "... but, what? That's all? COME ON. Tell us more!"
Yet, over time, I think we've found it to be powerfully true and actually, fairly difficult. It's not like we, any of us, are entirely static - so, even if we WERE able to fully know ourselves, the next morning we'd wake up and likely encounter something new and be surprised at our response. There are just more and more layers to each of us.
In mulling this over the past few years, I'm struck at how hard it can be to define oneself in any real, enduring, deeply authentic way. I'm trying to better know and understand myself, in part so that I can better serve my clients and family, but also because it allows one to feel more grounded, I think. There's almost a threatening feeling or a deep insecurity that comes from wanting to please others or attain lofty goals (overnight) or be something you're not.
That said, what we've come to realize from a few years of thinking intentionally about how important it is for us to "know ourselves" (my husband and I, individually as well as in terms of being coupled), that it can make a tremendous amount of difference. Knowing who we are lets us off the hook from being what is projected onto us from others. It lets us stand out, or blend in, but still be who we are without threat.
For example, I once went to a hipster party and didn't really realize how very hipster it would be. I showed up in bold colors and geometric patterns and was literally the only person in the crowd that wasn't wearing fringe, muted tones, head pieces, and other trendy things like feathers. I felt a little awkward, I won't lie, but I also felt confident after a little while, because I was just being myself. It's okay. I don't need to blend in, and I know that I like bold colors. ;) A silly example, perhaps, but I am sure it's one many can relate to - however, I'm also speaking more deeply within us than our choice of style. My husband is having to learn what his passions and strengths are in his job so that he can better tend to those things which allow him to be a better pastor, preacher, and teacher while also letting him be uniquely himself in those roles with a gracious heart. (As best he can, anyway!) I am having to learn how to conduct, run and market my own business in such a way that reflects my priorities, strengths, and passions. I'm currently working on redesigning my logo, and believe me, it's not easy to whittle down who you are and what you do into a clear, striking logo. ;)
I wonder if we ever truly know ourselves, perhaps because who we are is not isolated - we respond to our relationships, our place, our current situation. And others will each have a different perception of us, as well. Even so, it has been really cathartic to look deeper into who I am, why that might be, and who I want to be... as well as considering my husband, family and friends in the same light. I suppose knowing oneself also requires some quiet, some reading, some introspection in a way that our world often does not encourage. Our world tells us to do more, be more, show more and prove yourself. Looking within, looking in the mirror and not immediately moving on requires us to see the blemishes and wrinkles, as well as the sparkle in our eyes and the curve of our smile. We are all beautifully complex and unique, while also being cut from the same proverbial cloth. There is beauty in knowing yourself. There is beauty in knowing that we are not alone. And there is beauty in not letting the dark scare us.
Have you ever had an epiphany about yourself?
One small thing for me was when I finally realized that although my mom had always valued the beauty and importance of having longer, well manicured nails, and had encouraged me to do the same as her daughter, that it really wasn't important to me. In fact, I don't actually LIKE to have long nails. I like to work with tangible things from embroidery to doing the dishes, and it just isn't comfortable or practical for me to have long, painted nails most of the time. Yet, it took me years to realize that I could never attain that standard, in part because I didn't actually care to do so.
A larger thing I learned about myself - and unfortunately, seem to keep having to relearn - is that I am quite extroverted. If I don't have enough social exposure, I wilt like a flower. I literally get tired and out of whack. So, I am trying to balance my role as a wife, clergy spouse, mother, and photographer with also being a social person. Knowing what I need and what makes me thrive, helps me to prioritize elements of my life and enjoy my roles more fully.
Here's to you, knowing you. Here's to me, knowing me. Here's to us, getting to know one another and enjoying the process of discovery and adaptation.