I’ve been struggling to write this post for a few weeks now. Ever since I learned that I passed the bar exam in my state, I have been struggling with how to write about it. How to reconcile it to what I’ve believed about myself for so long and more than anything deciding what to do with myself now.
This picture jumped out at me as I was trying to find a way to describe how I felt about taking the bar exam again. Taking the exam, while not the most important thing in the world, is a monumental and scary rite of passage. I was being asked to cross a chasm separating two immense mountains. The first is the mountain of my experience as a student. I had faced failure, faced success and conquered it all. The other mountain was the mountain of my profession. Several have crossed this path before. It shouldn’t be that hard…but the fall is so great if you’re unsuccessful that it’s daunting to even consider reaching that mountain. And that path, a tiny bridge between two worlds so similar but so very different looks as if the moment you step upon it, you’ll plummet to your doom.
The first time I took the bar exam I was full of confusion, hatred for the path and resentment. I fell and I fell hard. I didn’t pass the first time. I have used tons of excuses over the years to explain why I fell (“I was pregnant at the time”, “I was buying a house”), but the honest reason is I wasn’t sure I wanted to be on that mountain. After I fell, after I gave birth, I climbed back up to that precipice to try once more. But again, I lacked commitment and purpose (yes, even I lacked purpose). I allowed myself to become distracted and in truth I did a lot to sabotage myself because the same month I was supposed to take the exam is the same month my husband and I became polyamorous. Looking back on it, I can see why I fell, why I failed the bar that year. But nevertheless I was in that chasm dividing these two mountains.
Re-posted from my personal blog
Everyday I find I am more and more grateful for the fabulous people who have entered my life. Lately, in particular, I’ve been associating with therapists and social workers. I have found these friends to be grounded, positive and rather insightful not just into the human condition (which interests me greatly) but about the impact of simplicity on our overall wellbeing as a society. So when one of them passed along this article to me (one of the many, many great articles he has posted over the few months I’ve known him), I was inspired to pass it along.
Here are the suggestions from that website with a brief example of how I’ve tried to integrate this into my life (I’ve only hit on the first 10 of these….but hopefully it gives you some practical insight)
- Stop spending time with the wrong people: For years I was known for not letting anyone leave my life. I stayed connected with anyone and everyone, even if they hurt me. Whether they were negative, whether they were cheaters, whether they were abusers or emotional vampires (who are not as bad as everyone makes them out to be). This is changing. It’s not just about choosing to spend less time with these kinds of people, it’s about spending less time on them. At some point along the journey in the past 3 years I learned to separate myself from the problems that my friends and loved ones were encountering. And at the same time, I redefined which kind of person really made my soul soar with love, joy and fullness and which kind of person made my soul sink with regret, disdain and obligation. And when I chose to do both simultaneously, suddenly the influence of the “wrong” people lessened and I was feeling less and less hurt. This enabled me to be able to heal much more easily and much more fluidly. So it’s not just about stop spending time with the “wrong people” but it’s about spending more time with the “right people”.
- Stop running from your problems. I still can’t manage to do this in my financial life (in part because I’m not making any money at all right now and my savings are almost all gone). But I’ve been employing this in my personal life. I don’t run away from problems. I do try to face them head on. What they don’t tell you is you can face them head on with compassion….both for yourself and for those you might have a problem with. It takes work and it takes trust, but it is possible.
- Stop lying to yourself. No one else can do this for you. This isn’t about beating yourself down brutally. But it’s about seeing yourself fully. Both your flaws and your strengths. They make up the whole of who you are. The sooner you choose to see yourself as a whole and vibrant human being, the sooner you start living your life with authenticity.
- Stop putting your own needs on the back burner. It’s one of the hardest lessons to learn for those who us who were a) brought up to believe that our needs are selfish and therefore shameful and b) have a natural inclination to give. Resolving this issue is far more complex than you might think. However, giving yourself permission to be cared for and to *gasp* receive that care is so vital to the process. If you find that you have trouble receiving love and self-care, I highly suggest reading The Power of Receiving by Amanda Owen. It has been tremendously influential in my life and shows the balance necessary for those who give and those who receive.
- Stop trying to be someone you’re not. So hard. So very hard. And even for someone who is absolutely adamant that you should never be someone other than Who You Really Are. Anyone who has watched Mad Men knows that one of the central conflicts within the show is the pressure that the characters have not just to conform to what society tells them they are supposed to live like, but to be the ones putting the pressure on the rest of America by feeding them pictures of a perfection that none of them actually experience. It’s brilliant really. I wish there could be a movement in this culture for us to live exactly as we are meant to. To pursue our happiness, to live our lives with authenticity and love. For inspiration I suggest listening to Frank Sinatra sing “My Way” a couple hundred times. And frankly if you’re trying to live the life of a happily married monogamous heterosexual life mate and you feel a dissonance in any of these things let me say very clearly….LIFE IS SHORT. No matter what pain and heartache you may endure, you are entitled, called and indeed destined to live your life with authenticity. And I will guarantee with certainty you will be miserable the longer you keep trying to hold up the mask and hide the beauty of Who You Really Are.
- Stop trying to hold onto the past. This one has been particularly difficult for me. I love the past. I am nostalgic and sentimental. I love re-living the magical moments of my life. And yet, it’s kept me tied there in an uncomfortable and limiting way. I didn’t realize just how much until I encountered my ex over the summer. While reunions are always tinged with nostalgia, it wasn’t until he was back home that I realized I had been holding him to old expectations of our prior relationship and expecting him to be the same person. I was feeling pressure to be the same person I once was as well. We were in a unique place to start something new and learn each other all over again. But holding on to the past also meant holding both of us to the actions, behaviors and ideas of the past as well… let it go and live right where you are in this very moment.
- Stop being scared to make a mistake. Amen! And yet, lookie there…this is hard for me too. Especially in the past 3 years, I have been terrified to make a mistake. Even when I decided to leave my old job and start my own business, suddenly the cost of each of my mistakes was going to be squarely on my own shoulders. I hadn’t expected that. And yet if you constantly are looking to avoid mistakes, how can you really accomplish anything. One of the hardest things for me to learn is that the mistakes offer opportunities to do something truly amazing and by avoiding them, I’m avoiding those opportunities as well. And despite what that voice in the back of your head tells you about what “everybody” is going to think, I can promise that there aren’t a cadre of reporters outside your window ready to report, analyze and criticize your every mistake. And if your friends and lovers really do this, then maybe look at #1 again.
- Stop berating yourself for old mistakes: Yes, another hard one. (If this list were easy would it be necessary?) . I beat myself up for everything. Even being Catholic and having the opportunity to confess my mistakes and receive forgiveness isn’t enough. I continue to punish myself. It wasn’t until I saw my youngest son doing the same thing that I decided enough was enough. I can’t change the past. And my past failures and mistakes are a part of me….but they don’t have to define me. I don’t have to be defined as a “failure” because I didn’t pass the bar exam both times I took it. Half of the work here is reframing the perceived failure or mistake as something new and controllable. Because frankly your perception is under your control. I didn’t fail on the bar exam. I didn’t have the right frame of mind walking in because I was so conflicted about the legal profession itself. I have delayed passing the bar exam and i’m glad I did. I am more mature, more capable and better ready to accept the responsibility it requires of me. I am not my mistake…I am who grew out of those mistakes…something magical and beautiful in and of itself.
- Stop trying to buy happiness. We are told that if we have this kind of home, this kind of car, this kind of equipment, this kind of vacation experience that we will be happy. I’ve had to choose to stop surrounding myself with things. Just like the first suggestion above…stop spending time with the wrong people….stop spending your money on the wrong things. We all desire things, but what will truly make us happy is shifting our perspective about our own selves, our place in this world and our contributions to it. When you find yourself buying something, make sure it isn’t to fill a hole that one of these other suggestions could better fill for you.
- Stop exclusively looking to others for happiness. Oh yes! But I want to take this a step further. Your happiness is not in the control of anyone other than you. If you cast your hopes for happiness on another person you’re fighting a losing battle. You are investing in their choices so heavily and resting your happiness on whether or not they make the right choices –for you-. I have made myself crazy doing that. Caring so deeply for others and expecting them to act in a way that would make –me- happy regardless of whether it was making them happy or whether that choice fit with their experience, desires and ideals. Fact is, we are all on our own individual journeys. You don’t know what another person is dealing with or what is fully riding on their choices and decisions, no matter how intimately connected you are with them. They are their own person and you are yours. They can’t make your happiness for you. That’s your job.
I believe in honesty. I believe in truth. When I have been on the receiving end of deception it hurts.
I know that there are plenty of reasons why people lie and hide the truth, particularly from themselves. Almost all of those reasons stem from some form of fear. Not malice really, but fear. And that fear appears as manipulation to most, but it is less of a deliberate, cunning ploy and more like the actions of a scared 6 year old who believes that the truth will get them into trouble.
Conversely, I have known plenty of people who relish in giving others “THE TRUTH” as more of a hammer of justice. They think they are doing a public good and in that respect, I can understand where they are coming from. But the arrogance of thinking that your version of “the truth” matches the receiver’s experience of it is often what adds insult to the injury of having to be lectured to by a grown-up. More often than not the receiver already knows of the issue that this person is hammering them for. Maybe they’re not facing up to it. Maybe they do need to see it from a different perspective, but awareness is rarely the problem. And shoving “THE TRUTH” in their face isn’t always going to garner the best response.
Both of these are defense mechanisms but in very different ways and yet they both stem from a place of fear. One is passive and the other aggressive. Both are fueled by this similar sense of loss. In the first one, if the actor doesn’t tell his beloved the truth or lies to cover it up, he is doing it to avoid the consequences for the truth coming out. In the second instance, it’s preventative. Instead of facing their own harsh realities, often the actor is projecting their issues onto someone else. The more disparate the observation, the more projection that is being imposed. Both are from a place of fear. And both work to avoid resolving conflicts with one’s inner truth.
Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of the truth. – Mahatma Gandhi
I started writing this post just after the beginning of September. My life was in chaos at that point. Not only had I quit my job, but I was actively trying to re-engage with my ex and trying to figure out the best place to be in his life. And here I am three months later and still contemplating this issue of honesty and how to best integrate it within the chaos that still surrounds me.
Honesty and truth had a lot to do with the fall of many of my relationships. It wasn’t always about deception, but deception was usually revealed. It wasn’t always about not being receptive to the truth, but often the truth was used as a hammer of justice by both me and my loved one to injure and disable within arguments. It’s not something I’m proud of, in fact, I often look on it with worry and guilt.
But I think that is more of the point about “the truth”. I can admit that I was a dick back then…and still can be when it comes to the truth. I can say that I do my best not to hide things from the people I love. I don’t always succeed. However, one of the first things I ask for is a similar amount of transparency as I show to others. When I don’t get that, I freak out. And that is my truth too.
In the past I’ve required such a massive amount of transparency that I then start panicking when I feel something is being kept from me. Maybe this stems from some of my earliest romantic relationships: a boyfriend who was hiding that he was gay, a boyfriend who was hiding that he was cheating on me everyday with a co-worker for 4 months, a boyfriend who was hiding his drug use from me. Because I had been so gullible and naive I had to fine tune my sense of truth. I wanted to avoid being taken advantage of and being humilitated by the people I love. I am at a point now where I can not only smell out a lie (little inconsistencies here and there adding up to a bigger cover-up) but also sense when someone is bullshitting themselves.
Of course, this results in some false alarms. Sometimes the little details that just don’t add up are because the person was drunk and honestly can’t remember and is trying to fill in those details as well. Maybe they are bullshitting themselves about their own life because they have been taking steps to create something new after being in the dumps for the past 4 years and are trying to be more positive and self-assured. In either case, my accusations of dishonesty don’t help matters. I often forget that people don’t have the same inner trust for honesty and integrity that I do. Some of them still need these coping mechanisms and are possibly fighting a hard battle to confront them. Most simply feel that my honesty requirements are pushy and intrusive.
It doesn’t mean that I have to accept shabby or inconsistent treatment from the people I want to be intimate with. In fact, if honesty is what I need for intimacy, then, by all means, I deserve to receive it. And I certainly don’t need to surround myself with people who will be careless about that need.
But I also need to recognize and remember that I am not perfect and can’t expect perfection from others. I flub up. I act impulsively. I make up stories to explain my emotions so I don’t have to tell someone they are disappointing me or hurting me. I also impose my own truth on people as well. And I should apply that same lesson to those that have employed the hiding and projecting and recognize what is truly driving those actions. The same fear of embarrassment, shame, and loss as what has driven my own actions. And the more I judge dishonesty and brutal “truth” the less I create a structure with which people can feel safe in sharing their full truth with me…which in the end takes me further away from what I truly want to create for my closest friends.
And much like Mahatma Gandhi mentions above…truth is truly within and individual to the person viewing it. In order to act with my highest truth, I need to allow people the space to act with theirs; stop coercing them into adopting or conforming to my view of things, especially intimacy.