One of the pivotal quotes that shaped my life growing up was from one of my favorite musical icons, David Bowie: “The worst trick God can play is to make you an artist, but a mediocre one.” Internalizing my version of his message, my motto became through high school and university that I would rather be an A or an F student than a C student.
Living by that belief, I developed two distinct personality traits. Either I would edit myself to please people with niceties, or I would plow through life with a fiery feistiness. Both extremes were fueled by a drive for what I understood to be “perfection”. The tension that lay between these two, and the fervour I put into trying to be “perfectly A” or “perfectly F”, eventually consumed my health and wellbeing.
By the end of high school and into my first year of university, I was exhausted and stressed because I was not being authentically myself. Though it took me completing university and facing the rest of my life to figure it out, I eventually realized that I had allowed other people’s voices, wishes and dreams to unconsciously run my life. My feistily polite drive for “perfection” was based on the fear that if I were myself, I would not be loved.
I share this because I believe this fear is not unique to me, but is surprisingly common. Sometimes in early childhood, and sometimes as residue from past lifetimes, we form the idea that we must be a certain way in order to receive the love we need to feel safe in the world. In many cases, we may not be aware that we have developed this belief. We only know that when we consider making a change, we may feel anxiety and resistance without knowing why.
In the process of trying to come to terms with which inner voices were mine and which were not, I discovered that my extreme personality traits were like healthy qualities on steroids. Through various illnesses and harsh life lessons, I learned to dial down the intensity of my attachment to an idea of perfection. I redirected the root energy that was driving it into more life-affirming expressions. I discovered that within my drive were many strong qualities, such as immense creativity, powerful zeal and an ability to harness raw momentum out of almost any situation. These qualities became my allies.
Drawing upon this, I learned to honour my inner voice rather than cater to the voice of others. I am fond of the late self-help author Debbie Ford’s shadow work approach. It helps transform lives, not by trying to get rid of “bad” qualities, but by finding the hidden teachings in all.
Learning to be true to myself has meant letting go of a lot of excess. I have had to look at releasing a tendency to become entangled in what others think. I needed to look at my defensiveness, learning to soften a general, ongoing feeling of being judged or attacked. I have had to watch the death of my niceties and my feisties so that I could find the courage to go within and fiercely honour my own unique rhythm and voice.
As I began to live a more soul-directed life, I realized that doing so was not really the norm. Looking back at the construct I had started to leave behind, I saw that though on the surface it seemed that society supported excellence, the pull to live in the status quo was stronger in the collective consciousness. It seemed most people were satisfied with fitting in and being “normal”.
Why Be Normal??
Midway through university, I started to wear a pin on my coat that asked the question: “Why be normal?” I meant it as a provocative and sincere question as to what normality really meant to the world at large and to anyone who noticed me wearing it.