Finding Your Significance in the World

As a follow up to my post last week about finding value through comparison, here’s a question…

 

If all your talents and gifts were put on mute, and everything that previously made you feel successful or worthy of praise was put on hold, what would make you feel valuable?

 

Think about it for awhile and then go enjoy some Christmas cookies before Santa jacks them all. Merry Christmas.

The Soul Sucking Comparison Game

I’ve never been a showy person, at least not in the monetary sense.

Ask all the guys who showed up in their fancy new Pontiac Firebirds (hey, I thought that was cool back then!), to take me on a shopping spree date, and end the night with a spontaneous trip to Disneyland. That was true luxury for me…. and I fled from it as fast as I could each time it was presented. The showy life just wasn’t for me.
No, instead I picked the guy who told his future in-laws that sometimes he considered how nice it might be to be homeless by choice. This is the same guy who thinks the solution to a broken pair of flip flops can be found not in a store with new flip flops, but in his toolbox with a few nails and a hammer. Yep, that’s my husband. And that’s sort of the reason I chose him (although I WOULD prefer to furnish our apartment via IKEA rather than our neighbors’ dumpsters, but I have to pick my battles).
So I’ve always prided myself on not being the keep up with the Joneses sort of person. Because of course, I was better than people who did that! And there it is, the real truth. That even if I didn’t use having money as my measure of comparison, I was still playing the comparison game. I was still priding myself on how much better I was than others, while constantly trying to find flaws with people who I thought were better than me.

And recently I’ve had a slow awakening about just how strong this whole comparison thing is for me.

In fact, it may be just about everything to me. Every way I judge the value of myself, of others, of accomplishments, of my body, of what defines success, and even of what my extraordinary life is. I’ve been slowly becoming aware of how many times I think about how something will affect my “ranking” both before and after I do something.

Is it time to re- decorate my living room already? Well what would so and so think of the style I choose? Not good enough, I better pick something better then.

We just got the coolest clients for a photo shoot, I can’t wait until so and so sees it.

That was an exhausting party but I still have a little energy left so I might as well start cleaning up. I hope so and so sees it so they think I’m so thoughtful and caring.

I feel like wearing this shirt today but I’m going to wear this other one because I think it will make the people I’m going to see today think more of me.

Do you think I’m crazy yet?

You will when I tell you that these were just a few of the many examples of thoughts I’ve had in the last 24 hours!!!! And most of them happened in the last 12! I KNOW I’m crazy, because I’ve driven myself crazy over years of thinking this way.
Even putting up this post has got me worried about how people will view me. I feel like a childish idiot that I’ve let so much of my life be driven by the game of comparison, so of course I don’t want to show that I’m an idiot or else all my hard work to show everyone how much better I am than them will be wasted!
Yes, this is the kind of crazy, circular, and backwards thinking that is my daily life.

I’m tired of it.

I’m tired of wasting so much energy on this. I’m tired of worrying instead of really living. I’m tired of me being the one most guilty of stifling myself. And I’m also just tired because I’m tired! Keeping up with every single person in the world is exhausting!

But the problem is that I don’t know how to LIVE without comparing!

I don’t know how to determine how I feel about people, actions, or things without using my normal measuring stick of “good enough” or ‘better than”. So the thought of having to give up this life long impulse, is terrifying to me.
I feel like I’m giving up my baseline for measuring life. All the rules I knew are out the window. How will I be able to judge the quality or significance of my work if I don’t know whether or not it will make someone else jealous? How will I know if I am good enough to fit in with those around me? And of course there’s the most deeply rooted question that is the reason I struggle with this in the first place… how will I know if I’m valuable?
Of course, to know you’re important/valuable/significant as a person, you gave to know that you’re bringing the world gifts of yourself that are better than what others are bringing right? You know because the masses say so, right?
Wrong. I know it’s wrong, but I’m still a little confused about what is right!

How do I change something this big?

I’ve only known one way to live and now I’m supposed to just throw it out in one giant trip to the trash, and simply pick up a new way of living and a new way of thinking?! I want it to go away, to be able to live a life based on truth, intrinsic value, and all those other good words you hear spiritual gurus throwing around like magical fairy dust, but HOW do I get there is the question? How do I just stop thinking the way I’ve always thought?
I’ll have to let you know if I ever find the answer, because I am definitely going to seek it out.

The truth, is that living for others is the opposite of extraordinary.

The ordinary thing to do is to play the comparison game. I know that if I am only living the life that looks the best when compared to others, then I’m most likely not living the life I’m meant to live. If I’m not being real or honest with who I am and what I deem to be valuable, then how could I expect to be honest about what I’m meant to do with my life? I can’t. I won’t know what I’m destined for as long as I don’t know who I’m really destined to be. So it’s time for me to stop comparing, worrying, and changing and just start living as me and who I’m meant to be.

Wish me luck.

 

post 47

Sometimes Lauryn Hill just says it better than me

I’m not sure if it’s her raspy voice or her slight east coast accent that makes you know she’s awesome… but there’s just something about Lauryn Hill that makes everything she says sound extra true!

I do know that it’s her vulnerability that makes me love her. If you’ve never seen or heard her MTV Unplugged 2.0 video… GET IT! I’m giving you a little clip here, but it’s not nearly as powerful without the music and the rest of her story backing it up. Basically, she went on national television and broke down, laid it out, preached, and just spoke straight up truth… all while being completely unprepared and almost too emotional to finish her songs. In other words, I L-O-V-E it!

In this particular section I’ve chosen for you to listen to,  Lauryn’s talking about how her life of fame, glamor, and beauty fell apart and she began discovering and owning the real her… not the public image of her… but the legit Lauryn, full of flaws and all (as you will even hear in the clip when she can’t find the lyric sheet she needs).

The reason I’m including it here is because it’s so inspiring to hear from someone who’s “made it” and who has achieved an extraordinary life, who is willing to  be open and share the lessons she learned along the way. Most of it has to do with how once she found who she really is and what she’s meant to do she found freedom.

Preach it sister.

Finding a Valuable Identity (a project)

Who you are, who you want to be like, and what you want… all that kind of info was on the tag sewn into your shirt when the stork dropped you off, right? That’s not how it worked for me, I was born into this world naked as a baby so I’ve been forced to do some figuring for myself.

It’s no secret that the stork with the glasses dropped me off and I was born a nerd. If you didn’t already know that, one look at this rhetorical analysis system I’ve worked out to help me figure out who I am will sear the image of a pocket-protector wearing bird into your mind forever.

This system is not actually as scary as it sounds and you don’t need a PhD to do it, you just need some time and space to do some writing with your thinking cap on (by the way, did you hear they sell those in leopard print now!?).

If you want to try it, here’s what you do…

1. Make a list of people in the world who you believe are doing something valuable with their lives.

2. Next to each name, list out single words or phrases that represent what stands out to you the most about what they’re doing that makes you see it as valuable.

3. Go through and underline the words/phrases that you see repeated.

4. Count up how many times each word/phrase was used.

5. List the words/phrases in order of how many times you used them (words used the most go at the top and the ones used the least go at the bottom).

6. Construct a short paragraph (one or two sentences) incorporating these words in order to find out what’s important to you.

7. If you want to simplify it further, summarize that paragraph into a short statement.

Here’s a small excerpt from my personal Valuable Identity project to give you an example…

People who I believe are doing something valuable with their lives….

1. Abby Tracy– helping children, helping the poor, helping orphans, wholistic approach to helping the whole person, self-sacrifice, defending the innocent
2. Doctors and Nurses- self-sacrifice, hard work, caring, facing hard stuff
3. Good school teachers- helping children, teaching life skills, hard work, self-sacrifice, passionate, teaching others
4. Kelli Freeman– hard work, helping children, helping orphans, caring, wholistic approach to helping the whole person, teaching life skills

In the end (my full project consisted of a list of 15 people) the words/phrases that I repeated the most went like this…

Passionate- used 15 times
Caring- 15
Hard work- 14
Facing hard stuff- 12
Helps people through emotional healing- 11
Life skills- 10
Teaches others- 10
Helps children- 8
Wholistic approach to helping the whole person- 8
Self-sacrificing- 8
Defend the innocent- 7
Generous with giving money- 6

In the end, the sentence I came up with to squeeze those words into sort of a missions statement went like this….

I need to use my passion to care about others. I need to work hard and work with hard issues. I need to help others with their emotional healing while teaching them life skills. I need to sacrifice myself to help children through a wholistic approach. I need to defend the innocent when necessary and give money when appropriate.

In a simpler version that has the ability to encompass all the words…
Help children wholistically.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a flawed system… but at least it will get you started in thinking about what’s important to you!

I’m not sure that helping children wholistically is what I’m meant to dedicate my life to, but I did learn things about what I value that I didn’t expect. For example, I had no idea that I thought hard work was all that important! When I first met my husband to be, my mom tried to tell me that one of his best character traits was that he was a hard worker, but I thought that sounded boring so I decided that my favorite thing about him was that he was tall. Apparently in my heart of hearts, I really did have a soft spot for that work ethic of his that he applies to more than just his career, but to all areas of his life.

So give it a shot and see what you think! Even if you don’t follow my literature geek model exactly, it will at least give you a place to start from that might just bunny trail you off into Wonderland or some other magical place that will help you find out who you really are and what exactly you believe is important in life.

** At this point you are well on your way to completing Step 2 in finding your extraordinary life which is “Identifying Who You Are and What You Are Meant To Do”. (In case you missed it, Step 1 was “The Discipline of Dreaming“). Of course since uncovering your identity is an ongoing quest, we’ll keep talking about it here… but we’ll also continue on and eventually we’ll head straight into Step 3: “Face the Fears”.

And one more thing… if you do this Valuable Identity project, leave a comment to share what you came up with, I’d love to hear it!

(if you liked this project and want to learn more about Extraordinary Living join the  Rare Existence Facebook community)!

 

Work on your character and a good life will come to you.

Bright Colors Aren’t For Everyone

I’ll never forget the girl who said it to me.

She was one of those super unique people who’s talents are extraordinarily strong and who’s weaknesses rival the strength of the talents. You look at her and say , “whoa, that girl could go places that most of us could never dream of and she’d be so fun to have at every one of my parties, but man… would she be difficult to work with!” Don’t get me wrong, I loved this girl with her strong personality and all. But as she pointed out to me one day, not everyone does.

We were in a class together that was part of our program to get our master’s degrees in counseling. This was the most soul searching and heart exposing class that I’ve ever been a part of. It was a public gut wrenching of sorts that took everything inside of you out and laid it on the bloody table for you (and your classmates) to examine so you could see what was really going on inside of you from a much clearer perspective. So it was during one moment of excessively vulnerable sharing, this particular girl said,

“I’m a bright color and not everyone likes bright colors, but I’m OK with that”.

I was stunned, not only was I amazed at how perfect the analogy of a bright color was for her (she’s the kind of girl who has probably dyed her entire head of hair rainbow colored at some point), but I was astounded that she had come to accept her relationship between herself and the outside world in such a clear way. The thing that struck me the most was that I could tell by the confidence with which she said this that she not only absolutely believed it to be true, but that she was completely comfortable accepting it.

She felt truly free to be herself in a way that I have seen in no other person before that moment or since.

Sure I’ve seen people who are quick to declare that they don’t care what others think of them. But most of these people do it out of an angry heart that’s been hurt by people- sort of a “screw you, I don’t need you and your opinions”- where this girl did it with a spirit of calming peace. Which is the part that I still truly envy to this day.

As I’ve proceeded on my journey of extraordinary living, I still haven’t got used to the strange looks I receive.

Particularly the ones that come when I explain my plans for the future, or sometimes, my lack thereof. I especially can’t get over the straight up disapproving facial expressions directed my way when I express one of my more uncommonly held positions on something. I have definitely learned how to hold back on my real thoughts around most people… a lot. It’s so much easier to only be my true self among people who I know either agree with me or who I feel really “get me”, you know?! Of course this is not only lessening any sort of positive impact that my different sorts of thoughts could have on other people, but it is also extremely destructive to myself. And the same is true for you.

As you begin to pursue a rare existence please remember that it’s OK if you’re a bright color.

You may even be neon, but that doesn’t mean you are inherently flawed because of it – as you may often feel. In fact I believe the exact opposite is true. I believe you there is a specific reason for your neon blinding brightness and that if you choose to hide it you are both destroying your potential for yourself and limiting the impact you could be having on the world. I mean really, there are very few people who adore fluorescent green, but it still continues to stick around so there’s obviously a grand purpose for it’s existence in the color wheel… maybe you should be the one to figure out what it is!

What color are you? Do the people around you know that?

(if you liked this story and want to hear more stories about Extraordinary Living join the  Rare Existence Facebook community)!

 

Discovering who you are (a project)

Alright, enough rambling from me about the concept of identity, it’s time for you to do some muttering to yourself as well (so maybe you shouldn’t do this while sitting at your desk at work or in the middle of Starbucks).  You know how we talked about the importance of writing down your thoughts during this process? Well this is one of those times. This will be GREAT material to build from in the future, so make sure you have it down somewhere so you can reference it later.
The answers to these questions aren’t as important as the in-depth thinking process involved in getting the answers. These are meant to give you a springboard to start thinking from. Internal reflection is way important for this journey and this is just the beginning of your practice!

And away we go!!!!!!!

Talents and skills
1. What have people in your life told you that you are good at (both in the past and recently)?
2. What do you think you are good at?
3. Is there anything you feel exhilarated when doing?
4. What things do you want to learn more about or get better at?

Passions and favorites
1. What is your favorite things to work with out of the following: people, animals, nature, technology, your hands.
2. What things are the most likely to make you cry from sadness?
3. Does anything make you cry from happiness?  What is it?
4. What makes you the angriest?
5. What are your pet peeves?
6. List 10 small things that make you happy (not that hard: my list includes coffee, hot pink nail polish, and Pinterest! I’m sure many of you have a profile on some site that already has a list like this.).

Experiences
1.  What was the best day of your life?
2.  What’s one thing that made you feel exhilarated the first time you tried it?
3.  What time period in your life do you remember being the happiest?
4.  List 5 things that were the basis for why you were so happy during the period listed in #3.
5.  List 3 things you’ve done in your life that you were proud of.

Bringing it all together
1.  Are there any words or phrases you repeated a lot?
2.  Are there any similar locations?
3.  Are there any similar types of people? (i.e. kids, elderly, handicapped, injured, etc., etc).
4.  Any other trends you notice in your previous answers?
5.  From what you know about yourself currently, sum up your personality, style, and character in one paragraph.

This is a small taste of a self identification exercise! I have many more to come for you later!  If you need more right now, there are all kinds of personality tests you can take out there!  The only one I’ve done myself that I liked much was the Myers-Briggs test but look for one you think you’d like yourself if you need more help!

What do you think? Did these questions help get your thinking juices flowing?

A Culture of Identity Chaos

This may be a statement full of youthful ignorance, but I really believe that my generation is facing something that hasn’t been an issue before (or at least it hasn’t been an issue during the lifespan of all our currently living relatives… who knows, maybe ancient Greece dealt with it or something).  Here’s the thing… back in the “olden” days of America, your world was pretty small (compared to today when you can live in the U.S. yet see and talk to people in India in real time, or even have colleagues who work alongside you from Malaysia!).  Long gone are the days when you chose between the 3 factories in your town, got a job there, bought a house nearby, and worked there until retirement because you knew your company would take care of you.  Maybe that’s why people call it the “simpler times”. Ever heard of a pension?  Some of my younger readers maybe haven’t because they are not reality anymore.  Now, we literally have every single choice in the world.  Many jobs enable you to live or move to anywhere in the world, force you to compete with the best of the best worldwide (rather than with only the people who live in your small town), or even enable you to have 2 or 3 jobs simultaneously because each requires just a few hours of computer time a day (so much for factoring in commuting time!).

Aside from the globalization of the workforce, the biggest change I’m talking about here is the fact that there is little incentive for a company to keep you on board for very long.

They can hire someone in another country to do it cheaper or better. And there is even less reason for a person to choose to remain at their current jobs because they too have world wide options and have no promise of a rewarding for dedicating their entire life to one company.

Not to mention in the olden days, your job really was a major part of who you were and what defined you. 

For example, my grandpa was the “telephone guy” and he climbed up telephone poles everyday for 25+ years of his life.  He owned a house in a certain neighborhood that was near his work, his friends were often co-workers, and his view of the world  was shaped by the world that surrounded him every day during those 25 + years.  It wasn’t until retirement that he was faced with choices about who he was and what he wanted to become.  He had his pension and he could’ve happily chilled for many years of his life, which I’m assuming he probably tried… only it didn’t last long because even to this day he can’t still still for more than 3 minutes at a time… and then big questions began.  (By the way, he eventually became a pilot and he loved it!)

So what does it mean when we have a culture who’s not nearly as limited in our geography, social network, or culture as we were in the past?

The question of your identity has an entire world of new options open to it!  I’m not even going to get into the fact that we have access to all the information, talents, entertainment, etc. etc. worldwide- because I’m sure you’ve heard enough “information overload” rants to last a lifetime- but that is a part of all this as well. Also take into account that the few parts of your identity that are still defined by your job are completely unstable because our jobs are in constant flux!  We as individuals in this culture, are in a constant state of reinventing ourselves. After all, I was a counseling student, then a photographer, and now a writer, right?! That’s not counting all the other non-career jobs I’ve had… and I’m not even 30 years old yet!  (I’ve heard it said that the average length of time an American stays at a job is 3-5 years and that fluctuates depending on the person’s age). The questions that my grandpa dealt with when he retired are now being faced by people about every 3 years!  How are we ever supposed to feel at rest or connected- either to ourselves or to a community- how will we ever really know ourselves when our entire skill set, knowledge base, and daily experiences and routines change every few years?  My grandpa knew the art of climbing telephone poles REALLY well.  What are you good at?  Have you ever worked at something long enough to even find out? Even if you found something you were good at and enjoyed, did you get bored because you knew there was something new and different waiting just around the corner for you?

Okay, okay I’m getting WAY ahead of myself.  I’m just trying to give you a taste of the overwhelming mix of factors go into our identity distress at this current point in time.  There are countless discussions and social commentaries that we could go on and on about the causes/effects, pros/cons, etc of this issue and I am by no means about to tackle them all right now!  However, you are always free to start up a discussion on this (or anything else related to extraordinary living) by posting questions for other readers to answer on the Rare Existence Facebook wall!

The bottom line is that we have no idea who we are, and yet we are constantly being forced to try and find out…. and this leads to crazy cases of identity confusion! 

And that can be VERY frustrating!  I’m pretty sure this is actually the very reason that this entire Rare Existence blog is here. I’ve had countless friends who have been hardcore struggling with these issues for the past few years and it has been killing me that I can’t just give them the answers.  This blog is here due to my desire to help them and people like them who just feel stuck in their lives, while facing an overwhelming world of possibilities, and have absolutely no idea where to go from here.  It sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? Having limitless choices, but feeling stuck?  That’s why it’s so freaking frustrating!  You feel like a moron, or at least slightly schizo in need of some serious counseling, when in reality I believe you are actually just another member of the masses.

Now that I think about it, I think there is a very good chance that many of you have been getting pretty annoyed as you’ve followed my blog so far.

I sit up here preaching, “change your life, do things differently!” etc., etc. and you are just sighing and saying “again?!  I have no idea who I am or what I want and you are asking me to reinvent my already undefined self AGAIN?!”  My only reply to that is an ever so tentative and slightly apologetic, “um, yes?” But don’t worry, I’m not just going to sit up on my soap box and expect you to figure out all by yourself how to do this.  The next few blogs are intended to help you sort through your identity chaos.  If you feel really secure and defined in your identity, first of all give me your secret, second of all don’t feel that this doesn’t apply to you because there’s a good chance it will apply the next time you choose or are forced to reinvent yourself.