We've all received countless messages throughout our lives telling us that the goal is to be somebody. It's the American Dream. We get it from the media, from our families and our friends. So many of us have aligned ourselves with a particular track that provides assurance that we will be somebody, get somewhere—and hopefully be afforded immunity from trouble, despair, or vulnerability in the process.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with having goals or plans. In fact, these are rather good things. It's when we use these aspirations to try to overcome ourselves that it gets tricky. So far as I know, we can't out-run our own feet. We can't out-think our own brains. We can't override this human operating system that we live and breath in every hour of every day. I know this, because I've tried.
I have spent at least half of my life obtaining 3 college degrees, going on meditation retreats, taking yoga classes, trying to eat healthfully, following my spiritual path, writing a book, maintaining a private practice and after all of this—I discovered that I am still ME. This may not seem very shocking to you, but I have to admit it was sort of a revelation! Wasn't I going to leave some of my neurosis back there on that meditation cushion, or in a downward dog, or in a journal entry, or on my therapist's couch? Even though I love my life and feel as though I am on the right path, I have been pursuing these things with the idea that someday I would be better.
Many of my clients in psychotherapy have a similar story to tell. They believe that if they were thin, pretty, enlightened, funny, smart, had a boyfriend/girlfriend, were richer, less anxious, less fearful, less of themselves, then they would be happy: forever. Individuals in recovery can be especially susceptible to this line of thinking. The addict wants to find the thing that will fix it. Even well into double-digit sobriety, the inner feel-good junkie does not surrender that easily and continues to believe that the next thing will bring relief and contentment.
I often tell my clients that I wish I had a magic wand that could be waved over all of our heads, rendering us free from the entanglements that life brings. But I don't have such magical powers. And the strange thing is that somewhere along the way I started to recognize that this is actually a blessing. Having such powers (and using them to this aim) would mean that I have bought into the crazy idea that each and every one of us is damaged goods. That we need to change. That we aren't good enough. That we can't manage whatever is happening in our lives. And I don't want to buy into that story. I want Thomas Merton's idea that the best we can do is to be the best version of ourselves—in all our imperfect glory. Here is one of my favorite quotes by him:
"Finally I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am. That I will never fulfill my obligation to surpass myself unless I first accept myself, and if I accept myself fully in the right way, I will already have surpassed myself."
I want to love all of my mistakes, all of my blemishes, and all of my fears. They are the very things that propel me forward, keep it interesting, and most importantly connect me to you. They are integral aspects of who I am. What I really long for, is integrity (integration and wholeness) and I can only achieve that by reading the whole story, not by skipping to the epilogue where I finally have some answers (whatever that means).
I hope that you might step into the fullness of who you already are today. No matter what your life looks like, or what you wish it could be. Pause and take a deep breath and find one thing you are grateful for about this circumstance, this moment, and your relationship to it. Remember that there is no one else exactly like you. I believe that is an amazingly wonderful gift worth celebrating. We may not have a magic wand that provides the ability to transcend the human condition, but maybe that's the real magic—learning how to live within the mystery, within the chaos, within the ever-unfolding version of yourself that simultaneously remains uniquely, irreplaceably, You.
Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice.