Do you ever feel like everyone else has some secret knowledge about life and love that you somehow missed?
After college, I remember feeling frustrated and angry as I watched my friends fulfilling goals, working toward dreams, and building lives at a level that seemed to escape me. So I made a list of what I desired in my life. Over the years, I have worked to make changes that have allowed some of those things to manifest. But, unfortunately, I haven't been as good at sustaining them. In fact, right when I seem to reach a place where I'm doing the things that bring meaning and joy to life and right when I’m on the verge of, as Nietzsche suggests, “becom[ing] who you are,” this is usually when something - more likely someone - comes in and I divert my attention. I give up what I know is fulfilling and rewarding in search of some elusive happiness to which I rightly or wrongly suppose others have access.
I drop what I’m doing and wonder:
Why do I feel so empty right now?
Is there something I'm doing wrong that is keeping me from my joy?
While these questions leave me feeling lonely and disconnected from others and from my happiness, I know that if I’m feeling this way, then others must be feeling this way too.
“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” ~Goethe
I attended the funeral of a dear friend recently. His family and friends who spoke at the services described a man full of life, laughter, and the balls to live life on his terms. Afterwards, others shared stories of the matter-of-fact way he talked about his faith, his fortes, and his flaws. I was touched with how similar everyone’s experience was. This wasn’t about overemphasizing the positive or romanticizing the dead. This was truly how everyone had experienced my friend. Their stories and their words encapsulated his essence.
It got me thinking about what might be said about me at my funeral. Would there be stories of who I was that would resonate with everyone? Would my family and friends be able to connect to each other in their remembrance of me? As I discussed in Welcome Home, I have lived the majority of my life hiding parts of myself in different settings. Would people even be remembering the same version of me? What encapsulates the essence of ME?
Perhaps because of my tendency to placate others by altering into chameleon-like versions of myself, I struggle in maintaining friendships long enough, deep enough, and strong enough that they might turn into successful relationships or partnerships. I give up too easily if I sense that my whole self will not be accepted. In truth, I gave my truest self to my relationship with my ex-husband but it didn’t work out. The failure was both a factor of where we were personally and the limitations inherent therein as well as of our choosing to move forward in a relationship despite all of the red flags. Sometimes, when feeling empty and frustrated, I'm truly at a loss as to how to avoid making that same mistake again. I start to convince myself that being alone is better or that I don’t have what it takes to “make it work.” I start to allow the world to convince me that who I am is unlovable or underserving of happiness.
But that is not the essence of me.
I am resilient.
I am sensitive.
I am a survivor.
I am intelligent.
I am empathetic.
I am independent.
I am compassionate.
Entropy is the gradual decline of order into disorder. It is the law of the universe. Nothing wants to stay in neat, orderly, practical boxes. Everything has the innate tendency toward chaos. In one way or another we are all intended to achieve something with our life. However, because of entropy, the rest of the world doesn’t want you to become who you are. There are vast forces conspiring to get you to be something other than who you are. Forces of fear, family, politics, societal pressure, and doubt all conspire to pull you away from who you are really intended to become. Attractive alternatives show up and we stop and wonder, “Is having this person/thing/activity in my life what will finally pull it all together?”
When I catch myself feeling drawn to fill my life with things, people, or activities, the first thing I do is stop and honor entropy – the law of the universe. Then I honor myself for all the hard work I have done thus far.
"The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation." — Neil deGrasse Tyson
There is nothing missing in my life. What leaves me feeling empty or unsatisfied is the continual sacrifice of "self" in an attempt to gain happiness. I don't want to end up alone but I don't want to betray my “self” either. And I don't want to be with anyone who doesn't love my real and true self. So I guess I'd better work on finding and sustaining HER - whoever she is. I know what has worked for me in the past. I can even look back and see where I abandoned her to try and be with another. But I love her. I love how I feel when I'm true to myself. I want a relationship where my self is respected, magnified, and cherished. To achieve that with someone else, I first need that relationship within. And that kind of relationship takes self-reflection, action, labor, faith, devotion, and time.
The secret knowledge about love and life that everyone knows isn't so secret and isn't so well known either.
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
If you know who you are and why you are here, then everything else just falls into place. It is our greatest objective to somehow figure out and then to maintain clarity of what we are individually here to accomplish. This errand is incredibly hard and you will fail. In fact, if you’re not failing often enough, you cannot grow. But after you fail, if you continue to get back to work becoming who you are, then you get that much closer to your powerful work. And when you get sidetracked by doubt, fear, or loneliness, it is your mission to rediscover who you already know you are.
By this process, all of us will deny who we are at times along the journey. But our goal should be to avoid wasting too much time in places that are not who we are but may seem like the practical thing to do: business school, law school, unsatisfying marriages, the right city, the right job.
Our mission is to discover what gives our life purpose because, ultimately, that is what will add purpose to the world around us as well.
The secret to life and love is this: Become who you are.