I’ve never won a T-shirt, bag or even a keychain in all my years so I concluded a long time ago that I am not the lucky type. Such promotional merchandise freebies were the in-thing during my childhood. I quickly learned that shortcuts in life and later in business are simply not for me. Like most people, I'm not gifted with a super-human ability to see yonder. As a result, I’ve made a series of painful and costly mistakes in various aspects of life from self-care, fashion, dating, college, work, business, marriage, parenting and everything in-between.
There really should be a mistakes quota per person because I seem to have grossly exceeded mine. For a long while I was convicted that I was intrinsically inclined to make a mess of my life and then walk right through it over and over again with yet another truckload of mistakes. Painful, frustrating and expensive as this was, and in many ways still is, it came the liberating realisation that my rough periods of monumental stupidity were the stepping stones to the other side, the side where the reasons for these mistakes and the lessons therein become crystal clear.
Didn't I think to get some help? Well, as Buddha put it: “When the student is ready, the teacher will come”. I was not ready for help. Even if help had hit me between the eyes, I would not have recognised it for what it was. I wouldn’t have appreciated it because I was looking for clear, plain and simple quick-fix answers to anything and everything – I wanted magic to my challenges. In short, I wasn't ready. I wasn’t teachable.
In spite of myself, I got loads of help from others who didn't necessarily package themselves as “help”. I identified them quite unknowingly, actually. Their lives resonated with me in one way or another. I studied what they did, I paid attention to what they said even though most of them didn't know and still do not know of my existence. I followed their lives along like a fly on the wall – a silent observer. I spent most of my days wanting to think, speak, act and live exactly like them.
I learned from them more out of admiration rather than setting out to. I grew to the point at which I realised that they did not hold the key to my answers. Their lives, however enviable were based on the answers to their questions about life. I was and still am selfish. All of us are. We are created that way and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that until we let our selfishness infringe upon the rights of others. I realised that what I really needed and wanted was answers to my questions about life. The objects of my awe had done the work required on themselves and created their answers for themselves. I understood that nobody had answers specifically designed for me. This was as profound a realisation as it was hard to internalise.
Be kind as I share this with you and spare me the indignity of having to disclose how long it took me to accept full responsibility for finding my own answers. It is a long story that goes over the numerous hills and valleys of more mistakes than I want printed here. I eventually did find my answers, and in many ways, I am still finding them. This is not because I'm exceptionally smart. I just got fed up of looking for direction in all the wrong people, things and places.
I wish age-old wisdom was a little bit more direct. It simply told me that “my answers lay within”. Whoa! What a waste of all the years I’d spent looking outside of myself. I could have saved myself so much hurt, relationships, shame, anger, bitterness, failure, rejection and heartbreak. My biggest hurdle was my training all through life. I was trained to do things as those in authority around me did, and accepted as normal, and good for me. I was very well-trained to look for answers outside of myself; what subjects to take in school, how to dress, what to aspire to and be.
When most aspects of your life are pre-determined for you, you live your life following other people’s guidelines to their ideas of what their solutions are. It indulges your lazy-bone and you do not have to do the heavy-lifting required to find your own answers. For as long as you’re following other people’s paths, you’re going to be lost for a really long time.
Here’s what I’ve learned; you don't exactly find answers. You create them by consistently being true to yourself. This may not be the usual, normal, comfortable and acceptable way to be, but it will be based on your authentic self. I learned that to be true to myself, I’ve had to break a lot of norms, re-align mine and others’ expectations of me and in some cases develop the thick skin to completely go against long-held norms. It is the price one must be prepared to pay to chart a self-centric path… and it is more than worth it.
My whole life can be summed up as a collection of valuable experiences. How about yours?