The Names We Give Ourselves, Part I

The Names We Give Ourselves, Part I

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

Happy Birthday by Dr. Seuss

​​The author and illustrator, Theodor Seuss Geisel, is known by most of the world as "Dr. Seuss." While "Doctor" was a self-effacing joke because he did not complete his doctorate, the world often asked if this cartoonist was a medical doctor. Names are not everything, but they are important. 

In my recent post about living beyond depression, I talked about trying to make the impossible possible and a few learnings as my career took shape. But as Seuss shows us in all of his writings about character, wit, and tenacity, there’s always a way through. Seuss chose tough things: Dartmouth, the Sarbonne, serving in the US Army in WWII, and founding what became an entire division of Random House Publishing. He did not wait for permission or accolades; he started and carved trails; then, along the way, he shaped the world. A gifted man, he found lots of ways to use his talents!

If we use creativity, we get more of it. Similarly, when we move from a place of joy, the joy multiplies. Many of us, however, orient ourselves to the world based on a diagnosis, name, or label. We can see from history, Hollywood, the infamous gut instinct, heroes, and the creators of grand things like airplanes, stories, bridges, and space travel that a dream, imagination, strength, attachment, or faith has more power than any diagnosis, name, or label.

If we soak in the wisdom of the ages, it serves us. Seuss writes, "Fill your house with stacks of books, in all the crannies and all the nooks." Learning does more than we realize at the moment. And it’s not just in the books, but in the reflections and stillness as we live openly. The imperative is to live from courage, and books give us courage. For me, reading has also been an embrace and a match. The more I learn, the less I stumble into seeing myself through another's eyes. Out of self respect, I do not budget time for mind reading or rubbernecking. A diagnosis, name, or label is less important to me than my own actions of candor, authenticity, and curiosity.

It’s natural to orient oneself to the past, present or future based on what others say. But, then, things get a little backwards or a lot chaotic. As Seuss writes, "If things start happening, don't worry, don't stew, just go right along and you'll start happening too." When I read that, I hear him telling us to "be," not force. I picture waves rolling in and out. Notice the diagnosis, name, or label. Follow it with acceptance and compassionate action. What is said and the evidence might tell different stories. Acceptance is not approval. Self-compassion will be further discussed in Part II of the Names We Give Ourselves.

I learned to thrive by asking myself one question several times a day: "What meaning am I attaching to this?" It could be "what meaning am I attaching to no reply email?" Or, "what meaning am I attaching to his feedback?" This had to become a practice because I had been orienting to responsibility and purpose based on what others said for too long. I was turned around. Not to mention, the jolts of positive or negative validation created some whiplash along the way because I moved so fast. 

It’s not what happens, but the meaning I give it. 

Candor, authenticity, and curiosity helped me overcome a lifetime of giving a diagnosis, name, or label power. Little did I know, green pastures and vistas with dear friends awaited me. 

Here are some common reasons why we force it and some options that helped me:

  • Approval. A natural human urge to be liked and even needed. But, it can be a drug and an identity if I do not allow internal feedback to bubble up. Making room, as intentional time for deep breathing (key: turn away from or turn off the screen) or taking an inventory of fear or anger. When I feel helpless or without options, I force things. It gets easy to think that a diagnosis, name, or label will or will not get the approval of others. But the real question is, whose opinion do I value so highly, and why? Taking 5 minutes outdoors can change my viewpoint, so I take a moment to right-size the issue.
  • Silence or stillness is too scary. When I was young, I learned how to work: a job, schoolwork or sports. So, moving and being busy were lauded. I wanted more. Or, at least I wanted it to persist! I equated stillness to laziness and silence to the unspoken anger of others. With age, with gains, with loss, I’ve noticed my best ideas and most genuine love come from the space I make for rest, prayer, repair, pause, and imagination. Every part of me feels better when I make room for silence and stillness.
  • Codependency. This is the most common addiction. When stuck in the unspokens of codependency, a person is wrapped up in the approvals, rejections, moods, behaviors, existence or non-existence of another person. What this looks like:
    • waiting to breath when they taste the food, 
    • imagining the worst when they didn’t reply,
    • feeling better about yourself when they compliment you,
    • rescuing them from pain, 
    • making boundaries, but not enforcing them, and, of course, 
    • waiting on someone else for your physical, mental, spiritual, social, environmental decisions and freedoms 
    • toxic self-sacrifice from the giver to make sure the taker is happy
  • Trauma or Grief. All the more reason to be creative and wise when things are looking bleak and hopeless. Renewal  based on the evidence in tiny bursts sticks. No grand leaps are required. Read a page in a book. Look at a painting under the sun rather than where it usually hangs. Find a story on google of bravery and read it 2x. Asking for a hug before I make the call. Take 2 minutes to spell a word backwards or put in a puzzle piece. Forcing something to pass is impossible. Living in the present is possible. I choose to take a page from Seuss and live his idea, "When something bad happens, you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you." 

A diagnosis, name, or label did not get in the way of the life I imagined. I create that life every day. But, there were a few years where I had it all backwards. I want to tell you about that tomorrow in Part II.

Bonus Idea:

If Someone Modeled a Warrior Living to You. If you saw other warriors, you were probably a warrior too. Some can call it "dedication,” “martyr" or "hero" or "overwork." Whatever the warrior is called in your nomenclature, picture it as a child and now step back and breathe. Is being a warrior providing you with what you need. Or, does it leave you with feelings of scarcity, anxiety, loss, chaos and disappointment? If you dare to take one more moment with the idea: picture the warrior as a child who is given a safe place to rest. Children need space away from adult matters. If you will, take a moment now to interrupt warrior thinking so you can catch yourself and exhale old ideas. Familiar and predictable are where we land unless we make space for internal feedback. Sometimes, with a loved one, a counselor, or a mentor, making room for their ideas is crucial. But, if it’s a reflex for validation, don’t run for it yet.

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