Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Of This We Are Capable

The conventional wisdom tells us that people don't change, that people can't change. Society insists on proclaiming that we are who we are, that so much about us is irretrievably set. We are pushed on one hand to be our true selves, but on the other we are shaped and molded by what others want us to be.

Our true selves usually getting lost in the fold somewhere along the way.

Sometimes it is more obvious than others. Our parents likely have the biggest hand in it for some of us, as they point us in directions we wouldn't otherwise take, they nudge us towards the things they either want for us or wanted for themselves but didn't seek. Or they want us to be like them or exactly the opposite of them. Whatever their motivations are, whatever their goals for us are, with time we can begin to see how little of it ever actually had anything to do with us at all.

We were just pawns.

The vast majority of all this, I believe, isn't intentional so much as it is just ingrained in parenting. It is harder to stand back and watch our children become who they are without nudging them in a direction of our choosing, but it is worth doing if it helps them avoid a crisis of identity later on in life when they realize that the life they've sought isn't the one they would have chosen for themselves.

I truly believe that this dynamic only serves to contribute to the phenomenon known as the mid-life crisis. It happens to the best of us, to those who appear the happiest and most settled. The illusion of stability can be shattered in a moment when we start asking ourselves the questions that inevitably come with age.

How did I get here? 

Is this what I want? 

Is this all there is?

If who we become isn't really even who we would have been if not for all the prodding and poking, how can we answer those questions without struggling?


We can't.

And so when you get to the age of mid-life, whenever that happens, and you start to ask these questions, it is unsettling.

It is unsettling because the questions never hold the answers we want them to, they always leave us wondering it seems.

Some make peace with where they are, regardless of how they got here.

Some don't. Or can't. Or lack the tools to do it in the first place.

Some of those people make terrible decisions.

They hurt those they love, they hurt themselves, they create havoc and heartbreak. They trash careers, they destroy marriages, they decide that now is the time to start doing what they really want to do even if now is also the time that they are charged with the care of children of their own. The who they are gets pushed aside for the who they think they are supposed to be.

The trouble with that is layered and complex of course. The first and greatest problem is the message being sent to the children they are now responsible for. The idea that a parent's pursuit of happiness at all costs, even if those costs are laid on the shoulders of their children, is a dangerous one. Not only do the kids feel lost and discarded, they've just been taught to disregard anyone else if they impede this elusive goal of happiness, and the cycle continues.

The other glaring problem here is that this reaching for who someone thinks they are supposed to be isn't usually genuine, not really anyway, because it is constructed of fictions. Fictions that we've been taught to believe are real, fictions that even children can see the incorrectness in, yet we cling to irrationally as adults. We start to fall for the idea that happily ever after exists. We seek out that happy however it comes, even if it's short sighted and selfish. We start to worry less about other people and the harm we're doing, holding ourselves above all else.

And then it falls apart.

It always falls apart.

When it is thrust into the light, this person that we've become on the way to seeking the person we think we are supposed to be because we're dissatisfied with the person who we were, we realize that this light is blinding and painful. Reality is harsh when the facades are stripped away, when the illusions we've built are removed.

In those moments, it is easier to believe that people can't change.

It's easier to just accept this inherent selfishness.

It's easier to live our lives for ourselves above others.

It is easier.

But that isn't genuine either.

It isn't genuine because people can change. 

And who we've become, through this twisted path of happiness seeking, is not who we are intended, is not who we should have been. It's just what happened along the way.

Who we are isn't nearly as set in stone as we'd like to believe.

Change isn't easy. It doesn't come swiftly. It doesn't come without a tremendous amount of self-reflection. Sometimes the things we learn about ourselves along the way are horribly painful. When we can step back just a little from our experiences, from our perspectives, and see the damage we have inflicted on others, it can be overwhelming.

In those moments especially, it is easier to give up. To throw your hands in the air and declare that people can't change, that I can't change. It's easier to accept who you are, whoever this version of you is, flaws and all, than to dig deeper and figure out who you really were intended to be all along.

If you dig deep enough for long enough, through enough pain and hurt, through enough of those realizations about your past and where you came from, through enough of the confrontations of your actions, you'll get there, to the root. To your true self.

That is who you are intended to be.

It's not a pretty process, I can assure you. It's as hard to watch someone go through it as it is to go through it yourself because all the setbacks will hurt everyone around you just as much.

It is work worth doing though because when you get to the end, when you become who you should have been, who you could have been, who you always wanted to be, that's where you'll find out that true happiness isn't fleeting or short lived. It doesn't hurt other people. It isn't selfish.

True happiness is contentment with who we are, with where we are.

Are you content?

Am I?

For the first time in my life, I can say yes.

For the first time in my life, I am seeing it in others.

Getting here took work. So much work. Blood, sweat, tears, anger, frustration. Pain.

Was it worth it?


All that work has resulted in the fruits of the past few months. Work that has resulted in the gift of an amazing person emerging from the wreckage of what could have been the end. Work that is paying back in leaps and bounds, not just for the person changed, but for all around them.

We can be better people.

We can change.

We can all change, if we do it for the right reasons, if those we love present us with the time and opportunity to do it, if we are willing.

We can.

Of this we are capable.

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