How “good things” get into the way of becoming

Ask yourself this: What is something that appears positive that I have internalized as "me", but that is getting in the way of my becoming? I read a chapter on dying and letting go this morning. Not the most pleasant morning read, it made me realized that ...

… I’ve always thought of letting go of the bad things but never considered letting go of the things we deem as good. I’ve never considered how the things we deem positive about ourselves can get in the way of our becoming. Have you?

I wasn’t the best student as a kid. Despite trying my very best, I was only ever average in most subjects, especially languages. And while my parents and teachers tried to support me, not much changed because no one really understood what I was going through. I was dyslexic, and like most students today, I hadn’t yet learned how to learn. This made me feel helpless as I continued to struggle in every exam or assignment, and I was feeling an immense amount of pressure and shame.

Over the years and not knowing better, I started trying to protect myself by avoiding the situations that created these feelings. I needed to protect myself from the feeling of disappointing my parents, and the humiliation that came with bad grades and never being good enough. And while this is my story, I am sure I am not alone in my experience and the resulting desire to protect myself.

Over time, I built myself an armour and created my own way of doing things that ultimately would protect me from these negative feelings. I told myself things like “keep a low profile”, “play it safe and avoid writing”, “don’t talk before you know what others want to hear”, and “don’t say anything that could be perceived as wrong”. Over time, these guidelines became rules I lived by. I’ve avoided performing in public, taking tests, and sharing my thoughts in written form. In short, I developed protective measures that kept me safe, but that has also prevented me from personal and professional growth.

Now, at 42, the world looks a little different. I had to learn to write well in order to succeed with my thesis and get a Ph.D., I had to get comfortable with video in order for me to be a professor online, and I had to learn that I didn’t need to know absolutely everything before I could teach or coach someone else. These felt like incredible feats, but despite all of this I was still trying to protect myself, and today the why finally clicked for me.

I realized that I wasn’t afraid of the aforementioned feelings anymore – the shame, disappointment, humiliation. I chipped away at those over the years. But, I realized that I was attached to something that I thought of as a good thing – the need to protect myself. But this need, similar to the rules I lived by,  also got in the way of my own becoming. I’m not posting much, I don’t put my ideas of products out there and I keep a low profile as an entrepreneur, which holds me back. I do all of this, not because I am afraid of not being enough or being wrong, but because I have grown accustomed to serving my need for protection out of habit. The worst thing, I didn’t see it! 

Reflecting about it this morning I saw it for the first time. I had grown so accustomed to these rules that I lived by that I thought they were a part of me that I had to preserve, I thought it was part of what made me, me. I didn’t question them. In fact, over the years, I’ve fed these protective thoughts and celebrated them. Realizing that I had to let go of something good, changed my perspective.

I realized my desire to protect myself had changed from protecting myself from an external threat to protecting the protective mechanism itself. These thoughts were self-preserving and got in the way of me becoming who I want to be next. When I realized this, I felt free, and it made me think of the following prompt:

What is something that appears positive that I internalized as “me”, but that is getting in the way of my becoming?

PS: In case you wonder about the book I’m reading, which was my January read on becoming, It’s “In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying” by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche and Helen Tworkov.

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