After more than twenty years of hard work in the same field I have decided it is time to close that chapter of my life and move forward. It’s a chapter I’ve truly invested in, whether with time, energy or emotion. It’s a place where I’ve found comfort and consistency, but also pain and instability. I’ve worked tens of thousands of hours to succeed, and have not once been celebrated for my achievements.
And I’m beginning to understand why.
You see, for the past twenty years or so I have worked as a sort of Image-Management Specialist. Though this is a title I have made up, it’s actually a very common job.
My duties have included:
- Being overly aware of the emotions around me and striving to single-handedly manage those emotions.
- Aiming to conform to whatever group I was part of, in order to “fit in” or “people please.”
- Switching on my few Type A abilities in order to appear that I “have it all together.”
- Managing distances between people in order to control just how much they knew about me, and ultimately eliminating the need to be vulnerable with everyone.
- Numbing myself to my true feelings and just “going along with everything.”
- Shaming myself into believing that whatever pain I felt was self-induced and my “karma.”
- Obsessively controlling things like my diet, medical decisions, theologies and practices so that I could somehow claim certainty in an unexplainable world.
- Hiding my emptiness behind a “carefree” attitude.
- Hiding my sadness behind an “independent” facade.
My time in this field of "image work" has been fascinating. I've learned to frame messages, craft excuses, control my tone and even eliminate my entire belief system from an encounter, if needed.
I did this in order to help the other people in that encounter be as comfortable as possible. In my mind, I was doing right. I was delivering the message best suited for them, accommodating their emotions, and even breaking a commitment without appearing rude or disinterested. I spoke gently though I raged inside. I agreed while my heart told me otherwise.
And while I walked away from some encounters knowing I had done what was right, more times than not I realized I had just sold one more irretrievable piece of my spirit.
Before I was 25 I had worn away any softness I once carried and wrestled with more physical and emotional struggles than a young girl should have. (and lost the better part of them) This, of course, further hardened my heart and I had a decision to make: break it open and work it out, or continue to live this way.
Well, emotional work takes vulnerability and authenticity;
a couple things I wasn't ready to embrace.
So I decided that I could survive..
as long as I never let anyone on to how I was really feeling.
Imagine living like that. Constantly aiming to conform and subdue the self in order to best be “happy.” Imagine putting your own thoughts and feelings on hold because you are convinced they are just too much for other people, or simply not enough, for that matter. This is where I have lived for too long.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am crazy blessed to have the life I have. But more days than not I find myself impeding my own joy and wondering when it will all come crashing down. When I chose to survive, I also chose to believe things like “I deserve pain, not happiness” or “I’ve messed up too much to experience joy” or “I have only been given this joy in order to have it taken away.” It's the very voice of pain. I still didn't want to do the work to release it so I learned to manage it.
For example, when we are getting ready to go out of town, or out-of-towners are coming in, I prepare and organize and plan, but not for the benefit of the experience.. I do this in order to survive the experience.
Years of image-work has left me feeling inadequate, lacking, low and defeated. Before a moment even arrives I'm already filled with anxiety because rather than live and enjoy the moment, I must work through it. While I put on a happy face and meet the experience with pleasance, behind that is a girl who is screaming to just be loved and accepted for the mess that she truly is.
Maybe I am, but decades of living on defense leaves little room to see that possibility.
My decision was to keep up and never let anyone see me break. Well, all that “keeping up” will fall apart soon, and I am just strong enough to admit that I’m not strong enough to handle a collapse like that.
So I quit.
I quit trying to make others believe I’m ok when I’m not. I quit trying to speak and act and appear just right in order to please the people around me. I quit attempting perfection. I quit wishing I was better, or prettier, or smarter or more cultured.
If I stop it all right now and just turn in the completely opposite direction, I can live.
Live from my heart, my emotion, my loved places. Live for my family, my beliefs and my own goodness. Live for who I am, not to become what anyone else wants me to be.
If I quit now I can discover talents and gifts that I possess, talents and gifts that couldn’t surface while I wore masks.
If I quit now, I can just be the only person I was ever supposed to be; myself.
It is a dangerous walk down a thin line between “practicing etiquette” and eroding the self, and I didn't discover which side I was on until it was close to too late.
If you happened to resonate with any of my “duties”, take it as a sign that perhaps, you and I have worked in the same department and just never met until now. Take this as my call to you to let your mask down and claim freedom.
Take this opportunity to reach out to someone you know is stuck in such a cycle and remind them that you believe in who they are and what they have to offer this world. The sooner we begin to embrace our deepest identity, imperfections and all, the sooner we can embrace humanity in general.
and if you come with me,
this will be the moment of something new, and fun,
And we will do it together.
So... who's coming with me?
(yes.. a wee bit of Jerry Maguire's monologue up there ;)