There are two stories that I find myself telling. One, spoken by the voice of my fears, tells me that I am alone, misunderstood, and different from others in a way that will always keep me isolated and unrecognized. It’s depressing. The second voice “flips” this emphasis on difference from a liability to an asset and asks me to “live my birthright.” It changes my sense of separation into honoring what is unique. These inner voices are my “two wolves” in competition with one another. And just as in that story of the Cherokee elder’s wisdom, the wolf that wins on any given day is the one I feed.
Peter Koestenbaum, the noted philosopher and leadership educator, makes the point in one of his books, that if you feel that lonely difference, you must recognize it as your own unique assets making themselves known. I’ve always appreciated that advice.
But how do any of us — assuming we have our own versions of the two stories in our heads — actually make the flip: take the voice of self-pity or anxiety or fear of being misunderstood and change it into the affirmation that can guide our next courageous and affirming steps? How do you take the small version of yourself and make a big self out of it?
My answer is certainly not complete, but there is something in us, call it a third presence of some kind, that I believe facilitates in a very natural way that momentary transformation of small to big. This isn’t something you can do by force of logic or thinking — often that’s likely to just make it worse.
I know for myself, in my worst moments, and especially when I am worried about the future or for some reason have decided to compare myself to others, that small voice comes in easily. But after a while it also really feels like I am holding my breath under water. I realize I could drown so I cannot stay, even though sometimes it feels like I have trapped myself there.
The natural thing to do is float to the surface and catch a breath, to remember the fact that I am, after all, buoyant. It isn’t about fighting my way out of it, or pretending that the air has some great agency of its own. It doesn’t come down into the water to rescue me with some kind of reverse bubble. Rather, what I have to do is let go, stop fighting, relax for a moment and allow the rise that is natural. And when I breathe again, get some oxygen into my lungs, the larger views of myself and my purposes and unique contribution return.
I don’t know if this happens for others. I hope it does, and do not want to oversimplify. I know there are circumstances, looking around, where we can see others who are “under water,” who might need an oxygen mask brought to them — and we can do that by helping hear their stories, all of them, and sometimes all the way to the bottom of the pond. I know what personally needing and offering that help is like, too. But I also respect that there appears to be an in-built part of the human spirit that as a matter of instinct remembers where the next breath of fresh air comes from — up.
That’s my sense of it and my trust. The air is there, waiting for me.
Link to blog posting.
Link to Oestreich Associates website.
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