The coffee table
sat wildly askew…
making her insides churn,
as she straightend it
with a smile.
The coffee table
sat wildly askew…
making her insides churn,
as she straightend it
with a smile.
“Of all the roads she travelled, the journey back to herself was the most magnificent.” – SD
How do you find yourself when you don’t even know what pieces of you are missing?
This has been the question I’ve struggled with for most of my life.
In the past, my answer to the “Where are you from?” question usually left people staring at me like I was from a different planet.
Nowadays, I get asked this question less.
Part of me is grateful for this and part of me misses the opportunity for self-expression, even if the conversation was frustrating for both parties.
I’m from many places.
I’ve moved around quite a bit and my family history doesn’t allow me to fit neatly into any box. I’m Indian by ethnic origin. My parents were born and raised in East Africa. And I spent the bulk of my formative years in Canada, the U.S., France, and England.
Don’t get me wrong, this has been a gift in many ways.
But when you grow up straddling so many divergent worldviews, your own identity becomes quite a fickle thing.
It’s kind of like you’re standing at the most magnificent buffet… unable to eat because you’re paralyzed by all the choices. Everything looks delicious, but green tea ice cream doesn’t necessarily go with chicken curry.
Or does it?
And this is where I’d inevitably get stuck in my thinking.
I often struggled with how to respond when I’d encounter one of life’s many curveballs:
Is what my family wants more important than my own hopes and desires?
Should I blend into the background or try to be the life of the party?
Is it best to avoid confrontation to keep the peace or should I take a stand and rock the boat?
I could see value in all these different paths, but I didn’t know which one of them was truly me.
And so there I would stand for days (sometimes months) on end… starving at the entrance to this magnificent buffet, telling all the other people that their food looked great. I was secretly jealous of how they seemed to be able to fill their plates so effortlessly, while I desperately tried to make sense of what I could have to eat.
Perhaps you can relate.
Making sense of how all the different parts of you fit together is not a task for the faint of heart.
Even if you’ve been fortunate enough to have had a grounded sense of self from the get-go, maybe you’ve lost a job, your health, or a loved one during your lifetime, causing you to question your purpose and direction.
Sometimes the happy choices we make, such as getting married or having children, can also throw us into a full-blown identity tailspin.
From my end, once I gained enough perspective to realize that I was struggling with who I was, I tried everything I could to piece myself back together.
I devoured every self-help book I could get my hands on.
I took courses on finding yourself and freeing yourself.
I hired coaches to help me break through my own internal resistance and limits.
All of this helped, to a great degree.
But things really started to shift for me when I stopped seeking answers outside of myself and started to sit quietly with myself.
This was difficult at first.
I felt like a warrior who had been in battle for years… weary to my bones… scarred and bruised… and finally ready to surrender to whatever onslaught of emotions wanted to engulf me.
Ironically towards the end, I was really just battling with myself. No one was stopping me from having the green tea ice cream with a side of chicken curry.
And so… it was when I finally gave into myself, that I started to find myself.
My love for creating crazy art projects.
My deep desire to be of service to humanity.
The little old hermit-like cat lady that lives inside of me.
The different pieces of me were all still there… shining even more brightly than before, peeking out through the rubble I had created.
I’ve been collecting them one by one and gluing them back together into the colourful misshapen mosaic that I am.
My life has changed in so many ways as a result of this journey; however, there are 5 in particular that I’d like to share with you:
1. I’ve made peace with my story
I’ve done this by consciously choosing how to interpret my experiences. We’re all natural-born storytellers and this means that whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re going to tell ourselves a story about our lives. Luckily we get to choose what story we will tell.
I’ve decided to embrace the version of my story that is the most nourishing and that allows my heart to remain open, as in my experience, anything else does not serve me well.
2. I’m more at ease with life’s curveballs
I no longer struggle as much when life throws me a curveball because I know how to regain balance.
I know how to go inward and embrace all the different parts of me, exactly as they are, so that I can respond to whatever life brings with the perfect mix of candour and compassion, my needs and other people’s needs, decisiveness and flexibility… for me.
3. I’ve stopped chasing breakthroughs
I spent years reading books, taking courses, hiring coaches, searching for inner peace… and quite frankly, it was both exhausting and stressful.
The reality is that we can’t force breakthroughs to happen. They happen when it’s time for them to happen and to a certain degree, this timing is out of our hands. Don’t get me wrong, I will always keep doing introspective work and learning about myself, but I now let the insights unfold naturally, as they will do.
4. I understand mistakes better
This work, this journey of rediscovering yourself, it doesn’t stop you from making mistakes. It just ensures that the mistakes you make are your mistakes and not someone else’s.
If this sounds ominous to you, please know that there is so much humility, honour, and beauty in knowingly risking failure, regardless of what anyone else believes you should be doing. I often wonder how much richer our lives would be if more people did this.
5. My presence is the greatest gift I can offer
I’ve taken more leadership, coaching, and conflict resolution courses than I care to mention. I’m a learner by nature, but I’m also no stranger to the principle of diminishing returns. Training certainly does have its value, but it’s my journey of self-discovery that has helped me hone the greatest gift I can offer – presence.
People often need someone to sit by them while they do the challenging work of inner excavation. And I am eternally grateful to the people that offered me the precious gift of their presence as I was finding myself.
Thank you for reading this far.
The journey back to myself has truly been both arduous and magnificent… and it continues to this day as I grow and evolve.
I hope my story helps you reflect on your journey… and perhaps even reclaim some pieces of yourself that you may have lost along the way.
A few years ago, a good friend invited me to his 6-year-old daughter’s birthday party.
As I walked through his front door, I was greeted by the cheerful sound of children running around… their tiny feet pounding on the hardwood floor as they expertly avoided the table full of gifts in the living room.
Their parents looked just as delighted, many of them enjoying the opportunity to finally have adult conversations (even if they were being interrupted by their little ones every few minutes).
My friend’s daughter was particularly excited on her special day.
At one point, she bounced down the stairs holding a giant helium balloon in the shape of an exotic parrot. She tied the string to her hand and paraded it around proudly, followed by a swarm of children pleading for a chance to hold it for “just a few minutes.”
By this time, most guests had moved to the backyard to enjoy the sunny weather. I was chatting with a friend on the porch, observing the celebration in full swing, when all of a sudden I heard a loud scream.
I quickly turned to see what all the commotion was about. To my surprise, I saw the coveted parrot balloon gently floating away, its bright colours dancing defiantly against the clear blue sky. And directly below it was my friend’s daughter… having a full-blown 6-year-old meltdown.
Undeterred, my friend went over to the middle of the backyard where his daughter was standing and brought her back to a quiet area on the porch next to where I was sitting.
I wanted to give them privacy, but the mediator in me was secretly glad to be able to overhear how he was going to handle this predicament. I was used to dealing with adults in conflict. That said, I had minimal experience with 6-year-old meltdowns.
I listened intently as he leaned over and gently said to her, “You’re upset and that’s okay. You can be upset, but not here because we have guests at home. Why don’t you go upstairs to your room and you can be as upset as you want there. Would you like me to come with you and cuddle with you?”
His daughter stopped wailing… sniffed a couple of times… and shyly nodded yes to her father’s offer.
I think my mouth was hanging open at this point.
Like many people, I grew up with the well-intended message that I should not feel certain emotions. “Don’t be upset” and “don’t cry” were common phrases in my family.
As adults, we often unconsciously send ourselves the same messages from our childhood. We distract ourselves instead of processing our emotions. Feeling sad? I bet there’s a great new series to binge-watch. Upset about something? Why not take another peek at your online shopping cart.
A little distraction never hurt anyone. But if it’s the only strategy we use, it short-circuits our emotional processing and causes our feelings to linger and fester.
I’m not sure what my friend said or did in the room with his daughter. I imagine he gave her a big hug and let her cry her little heart out so that she could properly grieve the loss of her special balloon.
What I do know is that she emerged back at her birthday party feeling calm and smiling… and she was able to enjoy the rest of the celebration with her friends – birthday cake, regular balloons, gifts and all.
This experience left me wondering about all the moments in my life that I had missed out on because of unprocessed emotions.
How many moments, big or small, had I not appreciated because I was ruminating about the past or worrying about the future?
What was the hidden cost of this on my relationships, work, and well-being?
At the end of my life, how would I feel about the time that I spent missing out on my life instead of being more fully present?
I stared into space, pretending the admire the beautiful backyard, as I contemplated these questions.
When I went home that evening, I made a life-changing decision.
I decided that whenever I felt like that little girl who lost her balloon, I’d take some quiet time and allow myself to feel my emotions. I’d especially make sure to feel the uncomfortable ones… disappointment from unmet expectations… frustration caused by stress at work… sadness resulting from the loss of something precious to me.
I can’t say that it’s always pleasant to dive headfirst into the depths of your pain. Sometimes I need to take a break and make good use of those distraction tactics. When I do, I remind myself that it’s not about being perfect… it’s about being whole.
My hope is that when I look back on my life at the end of my days, I’ll know that I embraced all of the emotions we humans are designed to feel. And that because of this, I was able to enjoy more of my life feeling calm and smiling… just like that lovely little 6-year-old girl.
So I’m curious… what have you learned about emotions from the children in your life?