I have really loved the Ordinary Courage class I'm taking online. It is helping me rediscover myself and find my voice -- two things that I kind of lost over the last 18 months. Plus I've enjoyed interacting with the community of learners who are all in the same boat. Today I am completing another homework assignment.
One thing I've been learning about is the kind of identity I instinctively want to portray. There are about 15 categories of identities, from appearance and body image to aging to speaking out. My favorite line from last week's interview with Brene Brown and Jen Lemen went something like this: "I want to be perceived as a runner. I don't want to run. But I want people to think I'm a runner." I laughed out loud, and listened to that part of the conversation about five times.
For example, as a parent, I'd like to be perceived as this lady:
You know, because she's calm and happy and living in the moment and totally in love with her children. She allows her children to fully express themselves (ala stripes and polka dots, among other things), and of course she has found the perfect balance between getting enough sleep, working out like crazy to have those tiny thighs, and teaching her three-year-old the Articles of Faith over dinner.
I do NOT want to be perceived as this lady, whose entire existence is distilled into an illustrated nursery rhyme:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread,
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Clearly, this lady has issues. She made irrational decisions about family size and has no capacity to back them up. She is ornery and tired and overwhelmed (not to mention abusive). She has too much to do, and it's all her fault, and her children will grow up to be criminals or daytime talk show hosts (or worse: the guests).
If by now you are thinking that my crazy brain should be medicated, you are probably correct.
In her book, Brene Brown explains that shame (the feeling that something is inherently wrong with me) is triggered when my unwanted identity is perceived. So when my neighbor or a lady at the park or a member of my family criticizes my parenting skills, I feel shame. That makes sense, right? The real kicker, though, is that 99% of the time, I'm the one labeling myself with an unwanted identity. I'm the one who calls myself the old lady in the shoe, because clearly I don't know what to do! Identifying this pattern has been hugely helpful for me. I'm getting better at figuring out who my inner critics are and what they are saying.
The other "aha" piece goes back to what Brene said in the interview: "I want to be perceived as a runner, but I don't want to run." So when I look at Zen Mom, I think I'd like to be like her (and all my pre-conceived notions about her). But when I reality check the situation, I think, "I'd like to be perceived that way...but I don't really want to spend that much time at the gym. Or the salon. And fashion is overrated. And if I'm a Zen Mom, then I'd have to have Zen Kids, and I don't, and it's really okay. Life would be pretty boring if I felt (or acted) Zen all the time, and the world would miss out on my passion and energy. And if my house was always clean, I'd never do anything else, and heaven knows I have interests beyond cleaning the baseboards."
The truth is: My life isn't fit for the cover of a magazine, and I don't want it to be. I want to be perceived as real and down-to-earth and approachable, even if that means revealing my messes and neuroses. It's who I really am, and today, I'm totally okay with that.