When was the last time you discovered something about yourself that you didn’t like?
For me that would have been Tuesday in morning meditation…
And most of the last three years. Because that’s how long I’ve spent working on my new book which is mostly a memoir. Anyone who’s attempted this genre knows that you “can take no care of your dignity” as Tobias Wolff told Mary Karr when she was writing The Liar’s Club.
In other words, face yourself squarely or your book will suffer.
When I began the book, I thought I knew what it was about: how good I am at change and how you can be too. Small gagging sound. It turns out that this book is about how good I was at not telling myself the truth.
Didn’t see that coming.
As hard as it is to admit, we all lie to ourselves.
Mary Karr said (not to Tobias Wolff but to an interviewer), “Self-deceit is the bacterium affecting every psyche to varying degrees, especially in youth. We like to view ourselves a certain way… We want to be who we’re not. The badass wants to be a saint, the saint a slut, the slut an intellectual in pince-nez glasses…”
God yes. I so wanted to be a Saturday Night Live staff writer who smoked cigs and wrote political feminist comedy scripts and I ended up writing.. The Woman’s Comfort Book. HA!
Researchers speculate that lying developed not long after the emergence of language. We all – every single one of us – gild the lily, as my dad used to say.
But the cost, when we don’t attend to how we turn away from what is, can become immense. (I had to face that writing this book.)
Each time you fudge the facts to yourself, you can chip away at what truly matters to you.
What you value.
Who you are.
Eventually you aren’t sure what’s you and what’s the made up version of you.
(It pains me to write that because I know the cost.)
The only way to get out of that cognitive dissonance is to start paying attention to what is true for you. Not the truth necessarily but your truth.
And telling the truth starts with accepting and living with all your wild and wooly and mortifying contradictions.
We’re all walking contradictions. But most of try to pretend we aren’t, because we think contradictions are untruths.
You are many things. And you are many things today that you weren’t 10 years ago. Or even 2 years ago. Or maybe last month.
That doesn’t mean that who you are today is not the real you, it means, thank God, that you’ve grown. Right on!
But you don’t have to erase the person you left behind as you became this current version of you.
Rather, own who you were when you didn’t know as much, tell the truth about her, and accept those experiences as vital. You are allowed to never revisit the parts of you that feel old and distant, but if you pretend that that part of you never existed, you are telling a big lie that will get in the way of your ability to grow and become more of the person you want.
And here’s the other problem with not being truthful.
There’s some research that suggests that the more we lie, the easier it gets to turn our face away from what we want.
But Jen, you might be saying, if it’s normal to be dishonest with ourselves, then how can I possibly change?
Well, you know what else is normal? Evolution!
We must each learn to hold both: I am creature who is hard wired to be less than truthful and I can teach myself to live with more honesty.
Your single biggest support to do this?
Self compassion. Aways and forever!
The more cruel you are to yourself, the more you will not be truthful with or about yourself. The more you will turn away from what you actually do.
Of course, the self compassion I’m talking about is not idiot self-compassion where anything goes and you give yourself a pass for all of it. Rather, it’s inviting yourself to see, feel, and notice the places you let yourself down in a spirit of tender curiosity.
A practice we do often at the Writer’s Oasis is to journal by keeping our hand moving for two or three minutes using the prompt “What is the most true for me right now?” and then put our hand on our hearts and greet what we notice with the kind words, “This, too. This, too.”
Alongside the healing that comes with self compassion, it’s also essential to practice making clear promises to yourself.
How will you know if you fudged the truth to yourself if you didn’t make a clear promise that you are actually competent enough to keep in the first place? Think about that!
Competent means you have the the skill, the time and the energy to do what you said you would. Clear and certain means you know what to do to complete a promise – it’s not vague. And you need both – competency and clarity.
So, you can make a promise to yourself that you’re going to run a marathon in six months but if you’ve struggled for years with a bum knee, your work and kids already take up more time than you have, and you just got your first board position, then are you lying to yourself or are you simply setting an unrealistic goal.
Another way you face yourself with more love and truthfulness is to do less.
One reason we turn away from what is true and make up stories that aren’t true is we’re so invaded with life hacks and extreme views of productivity, we feel like poo-poo if we can’t be amazing every single second of every single frickin’ day. While in actuality, we grow into our greatness by being humble.
There is nothing about facing yourself that is easy except the profound belonging that comes from being part of the human race. To let yourself be human is to drink from the same water fountain as everyone else and thus to find the soul belonging you might dismiss by thinking you need be better or faster or smarter or different than you are. And from there you can, truly shine.