The Right Path, The More Graceful Way

I’m a planner. And a doer. These characteristics take root in some of my strengths, which include self-sufficiency, competency, independence, reliability, punctuality, accountability, assertiveness, confidence and and high expectations for myself and others to act with honesty and integrity. I’ve always been the very responsible sort who’s taken care of things rather than let the metaphorical balls in my life drop. I take care of my finances, my health, plan for my future, am dedicated to my work at present, and value the cultivation of growth in myself and my relationships. People have called me an “old soul,” “wise beyond my years,” or simply, “very mature for my age.” Of course, in all my years of growing up so far I’ve definitely made some poor decisions and plenty of mistakes, but I’ve brought myself to a place where I have learned how to take care of myself in mature and responsible ways. In many ways, I think that these traits are generally good things. And I gather that many people agree.

But here’s the kicker, and the honest truth. Sometimes all of my high expectations for competency, independence, and reliability can lead to pretty extreme frustrations, disappointments, and difficulties with others. One thing that I have worked to become more mindful of for years is how when others don’t meet my expectations, irritation and critique can come into the picture with surprising force. I don’t like the person I become when I lose my patience, generosity, and compassionate understanding. And this is by no means pleasant for other people (bless them, poor souls, for no one likes to feel like they let someone down, and I’m particularly communicative with my thoughts and feelings–good and bad–and I can have a sharp tongue). Fortunately, I know that this unfavorable tendency of mine, like most of our ugly sides, is deeply rooted to some kind of fear. It’s because of this connection to a basic fear–whatever that might be–that our evaluations of supposedly “good” and “bad” things begin to look somewhat different.

For instance, a lot of the effort that I have put into making sure that I am able to take care of myself and meet my own basic needs so that I don’t have to depend on others to do it for me is rooted to a fear of depending on people and the vulnerability associated with that. People can and do and sometimes will let you down. Recognition of this fact can find it’s way into more obviously detrimental manifestations, though, like a fundamental difficulty with trusting people. I know that we all have our “stuff,” and typically for real and valid reasons–it didn’t just come out of nowhere, and we develop certain tendencies because they served a purpose at one point in time or another. A tension arises, though, if the time comes when you no longer need the protective walls or defensive mechanisms that seemed so crucial before but you can’t seem to shake them. Sometimes we allow the protective walls to become more like the foundation and the roofs that we live in. And then when we try to leave the house of “me” that we built, it feels very, very scary. Almost impossible.

The good news for me is that I don’t think I live in that kind of house. In fact, more than ever before, I feel open, trusting, and healthy with respect to how much I can give to another person in terms of myself and my vulnerability. Of course, this has directly translated into a much greater degree of patience and grace with others and their actions. By being able to feel safe and secure in the ways that I need to, which is not mutually exclusive from feeling vulnerable, mind you, I’ve grown into a better person who very much appreciates that mistakes happen. We all make them. And most of the time, these mistakes need not be interpreted as hurtful. In other words, people make mistakes, and sometimes, people really fuck up, but that doesn’t always have to feel so threatening. Thus, its less the case that people should have to flawlessly pass the “Prove that I can really trust you test” if that test is construed in a way that demands perfection from people. It definitely helps ease the worry if those who might hurt us through their mistakes are self-aware and humble enough to acknowledge their faults, but ultimately, the ability to trust and feel secure must, and really does, come from ourselves.

With all of that said, I want to acknowledge that I am writing now from a particularly insecure place. I’m facing some upcoming decisions that will shape my immediate future, and they have the potential to lead miles down Life Path A or Life Path B, the two of which look–at least from this vantage point–to be drastically different. There are valuable things on either path, but one is a path where I assume the “mature for my age” me and take care of myself, protect against vulnerabilities, and make myself feel more secure. The other grants the important work that “healthier me” has done and involves cherishing the experience that I have had of putting my faith and trust in others, knowing that the supreme value that we tend to place on stark independence is a farce (because we are always already dependent on others), and owning up to the fact that it’s not a mark of strength to run away from vulnerability. Either path requires confidence in myself, conviction, and the courage to face whatever fears will walk a given path with me, for while they both carry their good stuff, both paths also present their own (and sometimes fear inducing) unknowns.

I don’t yet know which way to go on this one. But one thing that I have been doing for the past few weeks is trying to resist my urge to plan, to do, to make moves. I really, really want to make a decision and go with it at times. It would be clean and easy. For now though, I’m trying to hold on even more firmly to that patience that I have worked so hard to cultivate. While there may be better or worse choices to be made, there are no right or wrong ones. Neither is there a need for urgency yet, and with each day, things continue to change. So for now, I’m taking solace in the words that I usually say to others when they feel confused, lost, and unsure about what to do: “Something will happen. It always does.” And when it does, whatever it is, things will be okay.

To sum up, it might be appropriate to think of these decisions in terms of this image:

And it might be that some decisions will lead to situations that feel like this image:

But I want to approach this transitional moment more like how it looks in this image:

 

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4 thoughts on “The Right Path, The More Graceful Way

  1. Pingback: Fight or Flight? Don’t Go With That Flow | Cori Wong, Ph.D.

  2. Hi Richard, Thanks for your comment, as usual. I like the phrase "the world with the other choice" because it reminds me that there is no other world. Thinking that there would be another world already evidences, at least to me, an attitude of fear and regret. It is what it is, and so it will be. And thanks, Carolina. Cheers to you both! 🙂

  3. Ah yes, sometimes when the choice will make a big difference, one feels that the existentialists are hovering around, silently and unhelpfully waiting to see what one will do.At least any regrets would be irrational. If paths A and B are quite different, then whichever path you choose, it will be impossible to know what would have happened if you had made the other choice. It might have been much better, or much worse. And "the world with the other choice" is far too under-specified a notion for there to be any determinate fact as to what would have happened.This does not mean that regrets won't occur. But if they do, you can apply your philosophical skills to argue your way out of them.

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