We are who we are today as a result of many factors. A lot of our makeup comes from “nurture & nature”. Nature refers to our genetics and Nurture refers to our experiences. Our family of origin (particularly our parents), school, what we are continually exposed to (e.g. television) and dynamics surrounding us (e.g. neighborhood), play a key part in our experiences and our early development. The experiences during our childhood can form lasting perceptions about who we are and of life itself. Simply put, when we experience unhealthy conditions; (e.g. trauma, bullying, abuse), we form unhealthy beliefs, values and perceptions.
The effect is that we form a shell around ourselves, some form of facade, that is consistent with our beliefs and values. Our life is on auto-pilot, often resulting in self-destructive patterns. This shell blinds us from any self-awareness, which now resides in our subconscious. We react to life, with a fundamental belief that we are a victim to circumstances. We can become hardened and volatile, or brittle and insecure. We find ways to escape our inner pain and insecurities often resulting in some form of addictive behavior.
These unhealthy patters continue, developing negative self-fulfilling prophecies, until such time that we want to stop the pain, the unhappiness, the struggle. Our first major hurdle in personal growth is making this choice, our second is to sustain this choice which takes courage and conviction, the first skills we learn to develop. Upon discovering help, or the various “tools for self-discovery” we begin the journey of looking inwards and developing greater self-awareness. We need the courage and conviction to overcome the fears and pain we must experience.
After we have stabilized our life from our initial recovery efforts, we can begin to delve deeper into our subconscious. These are often prompted by simple yet profound questions. In my book, Discovering Michael: An Inspirational Story and Guide to Personal Growth & Self-Discovery, I shared the impact that a simple question had on my life, which was, “Michael, are you happy?” I was overwhelmed with emotions and unable to respond. I had relied on others perceptions of me to answer this, but ultimately realizing that I had no idea of what happiness even meant to me. This became the focus of what become a modern-day vision quest to initially understand who I was and what I wanted out of life.
I was the victim of society shaping my values, telling me what was important and constantly associating happiness with something I had to own or have. Never was I encouraged until this question came, to consider my own definition. To do so, would put at risk everything about myself, since the only thing I knew was that I was not happy. This is a scary realization, and when combined with the degree of internal soul-searching required, is not for the faint hearted. However, what I can say is that we may be able to temporarily avoid these questions, but they will return to haunt us throughout our life. Whenever we experience a significant loss, approach mid-life, retire, and ultimately confront our demise, these questions will return.
As I shared in an earlier post on the topic of the ABC Model, it is ultimately our beliefs and values that drive our behavior which results in the consequences we experience in life. So how do we begin to understand and define our values?
I share in the book an exercise I use to help people identify and prioritize their values. This is a very introspective and difficult activity. It can begin the discovery process of understanding what we currently value and ultimately what we want to value. The goal is to define what we truly value, not only in our heads, but mostly aligned with our hearts. Once discovered, they are moving, engaging, becoming key elements of our personal vision. The trick is discovering them.
I must state that it is critical that one has done their foundational work with respect to their initial recovery and identifying the unhealthy beliefs that they had once formed. We must be aware of how our beliefs were tainted so not carry forward these issues. It is best to have a clear head and open heart. We must have the self-awareness to understand what our former beliefs were and why before we consider what we want to become. We have all been conditioned to some degree.
The development of new values often requires experimentation. Some are born with a strong conviction to what their life is about. For most of us, it is I believe the reason we are here, to find our way so that we can become our true potential, to be magnificent!
We are often limited and bounded to some degree by our responsibilities (e.g. work and family). This search is more difficult because of our responsibilities. It was ideal in traditional societies since this activity was a part of their culture. The American Indians would have their sons leave the tribe and not return until they understood who they were. An example of this was portrayed in the movie, Dances with Wolves, where the character played by Kevin Costner left due to his trauma and found solstice in isolation. There was a point of revelation which is where the Chief said to him, You are no longer _______, you are now Dances with Wolves. Their Indian name often came from their experience that gave them this new clarity.
While I was working, yet pondering these thoughts, it was suggested to me that I watch out for opportunities that would arise and interest me. I recall a time when an ice storm left many without power. I learned that the Red Cross was setting up temporary housing in schools and needed volunteers. The thoughts in my head said “no”, but my heart said “YES”. I heeded what my heart said and had the most amazing time. I discovered how much I valued helping others. I left this event happy and fulfilled. This discovery would influence much of the next decade where I feverishly volunteered in many capacities. This remains today as one of my core values.
What I hoped to portray here is the continued process of peeling away our layers. The closer we approach the core of our onion, the deeper the soul-searching is. Ultimately this results in a definition of our core beliefs about life and our role in the magnificent play called life.
The next segment will cover what I refer to as the spiritiual aspect of our growth and ultimately how we come to define the meaning of life. For those who dare into this place of solitude, often referred to as our soul, spirit or higher self discover their ultimate self. There are many paths here, but as my favorite movie suggests, the path is as thin as a Razor’s Edge. Until next time…wishing you all the best. Hang in there and take care of yourself.