Last week I began to write a bit about the integrated life. It has taken me a long time to get to where I am, but I have come the conclusion that having an integrated life – a place where our truest selves and out truest giftings (and we all have gifts, don’t you DARE think otherwise.), get to play out in every life role we have. Too often we have our work selves and our family selves and our creative selves, and…. You get the idea.
Living this way is common. We’ve been told that we “can’t” do that at work or “can’t” bring that part of ourselves to our families, and so we compartmentalize who we are in different roles.
The problem with this is two-fold.
First, stuffing essential parts of who we are, takes work. It robs us of energy, and energy we could be using to do and be our best selves is instead spent trying to fit in, We find ourselves too tired to be all we want to be. But if we can live in a place where we feel safe to be who we are, we find that we don’t burn out. We thrive. We may even find ourselves putting more time and energy into the things we love, yet are energized by it, not drained.
Second, living in a life where we are so focused on what we “can’t” be in this role or that puts us in a place where we always feel something is wrong with who and what we are. But that’s not the case at all. It may be that we aren’t the best fit, but it’s better to accept that and look for the opportunities to do what we were made to do, than to live in a culture and place where there is no room for who we actually are. When we begin to shift our life to be focused less on roles and more on who we are, there’s a healthy level of self-acceptance that goes on.
Third, living in places where we can’t safely be who we are, doesn’t work. One of two things happen. Either we are crushed by all the world and people around us who are full of what we “can’t” or what we “should” be. Or that stuff we are suppressing explodes and generally, that’s pretty messy for ourselves and those who’s lives we touch. Or, we leave. (with all the loss that leaving entails.).
I’ve seen it happen to people dear to me. And I’ve lived it. And I’ve heard enough stories – as a friend, in business, in my coaching work, and as a pastor, to see that pattern repeat itself again and again. None of the outcomes are good. All of them, even if we survive the compartmentalizing, drain us.
Why then do we keep doing it? Here are some thoughts, gleaned from my own life and from a lot of life stories I have heard over years and years.
The reason, I believe, is fear.
We are afraid that there are parts of us that make us unworthy, “not good enough”. That we’re not practical. Stupid. Idealistic. Dumb. Too __________ (Fill in your own word. You know you can.). So we hide those parts of us. We are afraid of the reproaches, that they might be right.
We are afraid that we are being selfish. So many of us who stuff essential parts of ourselves in this role or that, are pleasers. We are helpers. We care for the people around us. And there is a false thinking is that everyone else has to come first or somehow we are selfish. It does not matter if the people around us are selfish, or takers, we cling to this belief because we have had it beaten into us somehow that we are less important than….. EVERYONE else. I often counter that with the verse in the bible where Jesus tells us that the whole of the scripture is summed up in two sentences – that we love God with all our heart and all our souls and all our minds; and that we are to love others as ourselves. Not MORE than ourselves. AS ourselves. We are important too. But somehow we cling to the idea that we are selfish if we want what to be fully who we are.
We are afraid of the change. Compartmentalized living is a killing thing for most of us. But it is a slow death. That death comes slowly, and in that slow process, it becomes normal. Normal is comfortable. It may be painful, but it feels safe. Change….. well we know about change. Once you unleash it, you are never quite sure where it might lead. And that is a scary thing. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt.
But, and this is how I will end today…. my experience, both in my own life, and in the lives of people who had the courage to step into the change and move slowly (that word is important, so I will say again: Slowly.) begin the path to a more integrated life, have never been sorry. Oh, it was messy and fearful for a while. I can’t lie about that. But a year or two out, no one I know who has made the transition would want to go back.
There is a process involved. It is very intentional, and there are proven paths to get there. You probably need a partner, or some help on the journey. I’ll talk some about partners and process in the next article.
Be well. Travel Wisely.