I’ve been working on a birthday gift for myself. Shhh. It’s a secret.
I’d like to give myself some appreciation for my birthday, and it’s been really tough. Every time I start the process of creating appreciation, I somehow get wind of my audacious plans, and shut things down immediately with guilt and shame. So I’ve been building this appreciation in secret. I'll never guess where.
Perhaps I should demonstrate why this level of security is required.
Let's try appreciating how far I've come with asking for what I need. This morning. I wanted a compliment. I asked for one. I got five. We all felt happier than before I asked. I basked.
Twelve years ago I probably would have hoped for a compliment, and then engaged myself in increasing dejection through the morning as no compliments emerged, in the end accepting that I did not deserve a compliment, and/or feeling irritated that I DID deserve a compliment and other people were too obtuse to see it.
Eeesh. But that’s how I learned to think, and I’ve had to spend a whole lot of time and energy unlearning it. It’s hard to rewire an entire brain! Twelve years into intensive self-led practice and I’m still working on holding competing potentials in harmony.
It’s easy to look at 39 and say, wow, you wasted your energy, your education, you sure were clueless, you hurt people and created your own hells, you you you you me me me me I did those things, me.
See?!? See, that’s what I do. Every time. That’s what I do. Appreciation must be carefully guarded until it's fully baked, or that soufflé is falling.
There was a time I was so protective of my inner self that I took on behaviours, language, attitudes and thinking that were abhorrent to me and I came to dislike myself. I haven’t completely forgiven myself.
For the first half of my adulthood, I spent my talents cultivating behaviours that I deemed safest to get me ahead financially and with power. I earned proficiency through errors, effort and attention, and over time felt proud of my progress. I checked off boxes. I became highly adept at assessing how much of what type would impress most broadly, and gave slightly more. I was a fully functioning simulation of a highly competent human.
When it started crumbling down, I thrashed. I didn’t know what the gnawing dissatisfaction signalled, and I certainly did not welcome it. I hadn’t spent my time thinking about purpose beyond my own success or failure. I’d lost my religion long ago, had stopped thinking about why and focused on how. So I looked for my Whys in the Hows for a very long time, determined not to abandon my sunk costs despite their irrelevance to future decisions.
I’d maxed out what I could do from behind the fake, and I was not willing to accept that. It was all I knew. It was what I’d built.
I was stubborn, strong, capable and proud for layers and layers before it suddenly gave way to shivering and scared. So much strength guarding so much weakness! But here's the thing. I had every right to be proud. I built that. It won me a great deal of what I was looking for. It was a fortress. I protected me so that I could get stronger. And I am stronger.
I can now deal with the idea that it was all for nothing, and it was all for everything. I am who I am, and I did what I could with what I had to work with at the time. Actually achieving what I was going for shows my capacity for self-development, despite the goals having turned out shallow. I gave myself time and a perch from which to observe.
I’m not always ripped and torn bloody by failure anymore. I can breath through and pat my anxiety on the head until it calms, much more quickly and effectively than I ever could.
So it’s easy to look at 39 and say, you were a young, headstrong faker but man, you did it RIGHT, girl! You were fast and strong and totally focused. You won awards, degrees, promotions and quadrupled your earning potential in just 10 years. You got out of the nowhere relationship and built one that's respectful and loving and solid. You grew and gave birth to two of the coolest humans on the planet and saw to their all-important early formative years.
You did a very good job of building me a foundation. 39? Wow. You ROCK! Thank you. You you you you me me me me I did those things, me. Thank me.
See, see how clever I am? I grew the appreciation inside gratitude, wrapped in admiration, and hidden behind forgiveness. I knew I’d never look for it there. Surprise!
Happy birthday, Cheryl.