I talk a lot about self awareness. I definitely think I was born with the introspective gene, because thoughts about how and why things work like they do and how I fit into the big picture of life have been going through my head as long as I can remember. The thing about being introspective though is that without action and challenge in life, it can turn into rumination, and turn your mind into a hamster wheel that just spins but doesn’t go anywhere.
Self awareness comes in two forms, internal and external. Internal, as the word clearly describes, is how we see ourselves from the inside out. It helps us discover our gifts and talents and what holds our interest so we can see what we want to be in life. External self awareness can be a little bit trickier in my opinion, because it is understanding the way other people in the world view us…basically ourselves from the outside in. Understanding both of these is a journey in life that never ends and its possible that we are better at one of them than the other. Giving these two equal weight is a tough one in my mind, I’m not sure I want to. I fight the urge to say it’s not as important how other people see us and more important the way we see ourselves. But there is a catch, how other people see and relate to us has an impact on where we go in life, the impact we can make, and the relationships we form with other people and I’ve discovered it’s brave to care to understand this side of self awareness. As we go through life, the most transformational leaders and the longest lasting growing relationships lead with vulnerability. It’s a quality that keeps humans connected at the most primal level. Vulnerability isn’t asking for someone to fix the things in us that are hurting, or do things for us that we can do for ourselves. What it does do is create a bond out of the human condition that we share. It seems to me that when we are younger or haven’t spent time figuring ourselves out, we run into more meanness, because being vulnerable when someone else doesn’t want to can cause them to shut down or act out defensively. But as we get older, and begin to form a tribe of people who are on their own journey, our ability to be vulnerable can both help us lead with integrity, and also uncover another layer of ourselves if we are brave enough to keep going.
As I write this, Lauren is out on another adventure. She went back to Texas to move all of her stuff out of her dorm room…it’s a tough one for these college freshman. I remember the springtime of my freshman year of college, I was just hitting my stride. The homesickness had gone away and the friendships, ones I still have today, had taken root. For her, her first beach volleyball season was underway, she had recovered from the nasty bought of mono she had in the fall, and, because we had just visited her, I could see she was hitting her stride as well. I can’t imagine having it all come to an end in an instant and moving home to mom. Of course what has come out of it for me has been a gift. Often she joins me on my nightly sunset walk that has become a quarantine ritual for me, and we talk about life, and the world, and how things work. We talk about the hard parts of being human and what we are grateful for. Over the last few years I’ve watched her learn to take challenge and let it shape her into a stronger, more aware version of herself. As she hashed out her road trip from last week, she talked with such enthusiasm about the conversations she had and the people she saw…her grandparents, her great aunt and uncle, and close family friends from different generations than hers.
“Mom, they kept saying, thanks for taking time for the old people. But I was having such a great time, we talked for hours and I could have kept talking. I love these connections.” I felt the proof of belonging, that her mind works a little bit like mine…connection for me is what it’s all about.
When I started writing The Optimists Journal, my biggest goal was generational learning, the ability to share our stories from generation to generation. I’ve learned now that the benefit works both ways, older generations get the chance to share what they’ve learned (and when we write it down, there is a record to come back to, so younger generations can take it in at their own pace) but there is also the benefit of the older generation getting to relive the experiences of their youth when they see them running through the eyes of someone that has the world at their feet…to imagine what they will do with it is invigorating and joy inducing on its own. These conversations bring us along on the journey to self awareness, both internal and external, and to me, there is no greater gift in this life. We absolutely must take the time to do it.
Writing for me has always been a journey to self awareness and as an introvert, I am comfortable spending lots of time alone. But I have a burning desire to answer the questions about myself right, or at least be aware of the answers as they change over time. I’ve discovered that process requires deep connections and meaningful relationships where I have the space to be myself, learn to risk, take meaningful constructive criticism, and be lifted up and invited in by others to share life together. I’ve been through the stages of dependency and needing, and it’s taught me a lot about how to be on my own, but the best life will always be built on connection…and I don’t intend to stop seeking it at every turn.
Happy Memorial Day. Remembering all of the Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice so we can live freely. The things we face today would be no match for these heroes…let’s keep living to make them proud.