Monday, April 27, 2009

The importance of starting where you are

Do you have any pieces of yourself you wish you could just hide under the bed? Habits or character traits that you'd like to get rid of and replace something better? I sure do. I'm terrified of heights, claustrophobic, not very disciplined, and often more proud than I'd like to admit. The pride in particular is something I'd like to be rid of. Humility is a very important quality to me, and I can often see the problems being insufficiently humble cause me.

In order to start working on fixing these things about myself, I need to fully accept that they are part of me. If that seems counterintuitive to you, you're not alone. While its pretty common in Buddhist literature, its a very strange viewpoint for most Americans, and I'm still coming to grips with it. I think this is an area where American culture has really hurt us. Accepting our negative pieces has been spun as a way to not work on them; similarly, if there are ugly pieces in ourselves we're supposed to paper over them and hide them away from ourselves and others. Does this make sense?

Other Disciplines

How would you react to an architect designing a building in San Francisco without putting in hours studying earthquakes and how to deal with them? Or a couch potato signing up for the Boston Marathon and giving himself a week to train? I would probably ridicule them! How can they expect to succeed without recognizing the realities of their situations and accounting for them?

And yet in our personal lives, we resist the idea that acknowledging our faults as parts of ourselves is a prerequisite for working on them. Admitting to faults is kind of like airing out dirty laundry. Nobody likes doing it, but doing so not only lets you get to work on washing it, but your house smells better too!

Start where you are

When you're building in San Francisco, you need to know a lot about earthquakes. Any work you put in before doing that research is liable to be wasted. You can't just visualize where you want to get to, you need to also know where you're starting.

Similarly, when trying to work on yourself, you need to have a firm grasp on where you're starting from. I can't really start working on humility until I fully acknowledge that I'm overly proud. Without doing that, I'll keep running in the wrong direction. When I started this post, I spent a long time agonizing over whether or not I should include pride on my list of things I dislike about myself. I was almost too proud to do it... until I realized the irony, laughed at my ego, and put it in.

That's who I am. I'm an acrophobic, claustrophobic, undisciplined, overly proud, and generally neurotic person. And all of that makes me... human. And ready to keep working on being who I am, and becoming who I want to be.

Note: I had the idea for this post after a comment discussion with Havi Brooks, who is one of the most eloquent writers in this area I've found. If you aren't already reading her blog, I highly recommend you check it out.

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