Socrates said “an unexamined life isn’t worth living” and Robert McKee, who’s taught many a budding screenwriter how to make an emotional impact, paraphrased “an unlived life isn’t worth examining”.
Both men make a good point.
So what’s the key to achieving the middle ground? Live life, make some mistakes, examine why you made those mistakes, go forward and make some new mistakes.
In short, don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
But many of us do.
Maybe that’s because not everyone’s seen Lion King and witnessed Rafiki’s wisdom in action. Without spoiling the film, what Rafiki, a spiritual guide in the form of an old baboon, does is remind Simba, the would-be lion king, that he has some guilt and shame in his past that he must face.
Staying away from his kingdom because it brings back terrifying memories isn’t going to help Simba or his kingdom overrun by evil that’s thrown the circle of life out of balance. Simba must grow up, own up to the guilt he feels for the role he played in his father’s death and go back and reclaim what is rightfully his.
Will he do it?
See the movie and find out.
But what about you? Do you let repressed feelings of shame, guilt, anger keep you away from your kingdom or queendom? I was.
Misfit, Get Out!
My shame and guilt come from my personal failure to achieve a stable home environment. Growing up, my parents would fight. I wished they’d stop but was powerless as a child. As a natural achiever who wants to resolve problems and make everyone happy, this became a huge source of shame for me.
In my adult life in Australia, the past shame and guilt I felt as a child came back to haunt me in the unlikeliest of places. I projected the environment I experienced as a child onto my workplaces, which were all small with less than ten people. They all felt like a family unit with a mother, father, meddling in-laws, children, etc…
One of the jobs I had, which was a huge nudge to help me recognise my destructive patterns, was with a human resources consulting firm that specialised in helping executives and C-levels (Chief Executive Officers, COOs and other chiefs) get into roles after they’d been sacked for whatever reason.
“We’re like a family” was how the company culture was introduced to me. I remember thinking – gee, great, and I’m the new kid…
Even worse than the new kid, I was the proverbial red-headed stepchild. My manager, an overachiever who’d aced all of her classes and graduated with top honours from psychology found me hard work. She had a particular way of doing things and that was very different to how I operated back then. Whereas she was all about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, making sure the minutes I took (which no one read) were of the highest accuracy, sometimes resulting in going back and forth three or four times to get them out, clearly wanted me gone. She did not like having a sister.
A precocious new child, I had formed some fast opinions too. I thought my manager was the one who had to go. She called in sick frequently to avoid any client meetings. Whereas she was brilliant behind a computer and doing the analytical work, she was overrun by anxiety when it came to meeting with people face to face.
Of course, I was wrong.
My manager, after all, had been there longer than I. As the newcomer, I had to find a way to work with her. But at the time, I was reliving my family trauma and trying to fix all the problems I saw which were not really there and it certainly wasn’t my job to “fix” anything I was projecting onto this workplace from not having resolved issues that I had with my mum, dad and brother.
When I inevitably got fired, I was shocked. I was only trying to help. Yeah, but nobody wanted my help.
“You don’t have any support” I was told. That hurt especially because I was so emotionally invested. That was my downfall. Why couldn’t I have just shut up and did what I was told? Why did I feel I had to save the day and fix all the gossipping, anxiety problems, dysfunction that I saw and felt in the people who were there before me? They weren’t my family. And even if they were, I had no awareness then that the only person I can fix is myself.
Fortunately, when I got fired, I was offered counseling through the company’s Employee Assistance Program and I went and saw a therapist for the first time in my life.
The hour-long session with the therapist boiled down to this: Families are there to support each other. Within my own family, I’d received little emotional support so I was desperately seeking it from the outside world. The more I tried to find support like some desperate junkie, the more I pushed people away and that was the set up for landing flat on my face.
Unsupported No More
I found the only person responsible for supporting me. It’s me as an adult. This means I have to go back to any unresolved issues in my childhood and adolescence, feel all the anger, pain, frustration, shame and eventually make peace and let it go. If I don’t systematically do this, the pent up emotion within explodes when my kids push my buttons.
When I start working with clients, listening to their life stories, helping them write their memoirs, I have to remove my own issues so I’m capturing their life experience and not my projections. This is another reason for me to resolve my own problems. The only person I have any hope of fixing is me. So I choose to grow up and be the adult I wish I had guiding me on my spiritual journey through life.
Over to you…
What baggage are you still holding onto from your past?
What are some of the memories which still haunt you?
Have you sat down with those memories and examined them?
Can you be objective and see your role in whatever heartbreak or disappointment you experienced?
What lessons will guide you when confronted with a similar situation?