Dropping My Story: Lessons from a Year of Self-Discovery
A year ago I was eating my final cannoli in a neighborhood Italian restaurant near Union Square in New York City. As I emptied my belongings from my rented apartment on West 22nd Street, it was not lost on me that something big had happened to me in the last eleven months. I was sad to leave the city, but there was a sense of completion. I had found what I didn’t even know I was looking for. I had rediscovered myself.
As I flew home, I smiled as I reflected on how much can change in a year. Sitting here at my kitchen table in Minneapolis after the passing of another year, I’m smiling again thinking about all that developed that was beyond my knowing at the time and how wonderful it has been. I drew into my life the teachers that I needed. I unearthed my longing to add to the poetry in the world and be of service through my writing. I started creating a vision of what my life could be like, allowing myself to break out of the limits I had imposed. I dared to start walking in the shoes of the woman who had already decided to go for her dreams.
As anyone who has bought new shoes knows, it is not always comfortable to take those first steps. You find the rubs and squeezes and the skin can revolt with raw and painful blisters. You might feel like you want to give up and put on the old shoes to avoid the friction. But if you stay with it, through the pain and discomfort, and keep walking forward, all kinds of new paths can appear for you to travel. What once was something to endure becomes a spring in your step ushering you ahead.
That was how it was for me. Possibility lured me on. With each step, I expanded my sense of what was possible and it excited me and filled me with joy. As I typed out my first personal essay in years, reflecting on my time in New York City, I felt a sense of coming home to myself. The feeling I had when it was published was like a direct bolt from the future me saying, “Yes! This is what you want!” and in turn, I sent that energy back into the ether calling more of it to me. I matched that intention with action, starting the website and newsletter, and hosting a few live events.
But I knew that to really be of service through my writing and accomplish my greatest wishes, I would have to bring the lessons, revelations, and resolutions. I couldn’t write about growth without experiencing it for myself. In December, I tried to sit down and start mapping out the book I was going to write. I took over a room of my house and filled the walls with big sheets of sticky paper and neon post-it notes. I scribbled and drew lines connecting this to that, resulting in an outline that I started writing to. I made it about 50 pages in before I realized that a different book was rising from the pages.
I started over by writing about my life from the beginning. What I didn’t fully realize was that I wasn’t really writing my book; I was finding the lessons in my life experience. It was only through the catharsis and processing that I could reach the level of understanding and realization that would enable me to write the book I truly want to write, the book that is not steeped in the rawness of my emotions, but the healing that comes from making it to the other side.
Through that process, I have learned the immense value of bringing objectivity to bear. We have a tendency sometimes to attach to our stories about ourselves, like this is what happened to me or this is just who I am. Some of us cling to the stories others have about who we are. We have a tendency to view those stories as unchangeable. But think of how limiting that is. Our lives cannot be condensed and packaged into a sound byte or single plot line. Our stories do not define who we are, nor can anyone else’s ideas of us.
We are forever expanding into limitless space.
Where objectivity comes in is in identifying and understanding what stories I’ve been telling myself. For stories are really just beliefs and perceptions. In writing my experiences and reading my old journals, I could start to pick out the patterns I had relived over and over. I saw the clues of how I was thinking about myself and what I needed, and also what I thought I deserved.
In seeing the actions that arose from those beliefs, I started to see how I had created a life for myself that placed happiness always just a little out of reach. It was only when I let things get so bad and the contrast between what I wanted and what I had was so great that a new belief would rise up and I would make a different choice.
I’ll give you an example. I realized that I once held an unconscious belief that I was responsible for other people’s happiness, especially my ex-husband’s. I also held a belief that being in a relationship with someone would always be better than being alone. There is a lot to unpack there, but at a basic level, those beliefs kept me in a marriage that wasn’t serving me. Eventually, the contrast became great enough that I formed a new belief: I deserve to have the happy life I want. Out of that belief came the decision to leave.
As I reflect back on what I’ve learned this past year, the most life-changing realization is that I am creating my life. I always have been, I just didn’t know it. The beliefs I held led me to make some now puzzling choices and create some not so wonderful things in my life. But now I know better. It took forty years, but that knowledge will never leave me. And with that knowledge, I am focusing my energy on creating the life that I want that will bring me joy and fulfillment. In reading my old journals, I can see that is all I ever wanted. I just needed to believe I could have it and love myself enough to want to give it to me.