Life is never a one-size-fits-all formula. If you want to develop and give your gifts (after all, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?), you must honor who you are and celebrate your own voice. That means embracing the paradox that while it’s important to value the mentors and role models who guide us, we must also honor our own style.
Depending solely on others is like taking a long walk in borrowed shoes. If you’ve ever hiked around in new shoes that don’t fit quite right, you know what I mean. If the shoes are even a bit too big or too small, they can be very uncomfortable. If you walk long enough under those conditions, you’ll get blisters. Eventually the pain becomes so bad that you can’t go on. That’s what happens to you when you force yourself into a mold that isn’t your own. The remedy: walk at your own pace and in your own shoes.
Admittedly, I’ve been somewhat recalcitrant on this point, and therefore life has generously given me many lessons to teach me to trust myself and to be myself. One dramatic lesson came in an equally dramatic landscape. I was hiking in the beautiful Teton Range near Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with two friends. They are both are taller than I, and they walked briskly, covering more ground more quickly than I could. At the time, I didn’t think about the fact that nature had endowed both of these women with long, strapping legs that could scramble up the steep path like mountain goats. Instead, I blamed myself for not being able to match their pace.
Is something wrong with me? I thought to myself. I must really be out of shape. If I just push a little harder, I can keep up. So that’s what I did. I pushed, and then pushed some more. My strategy worked, but halfway through the hike, the consequences set in. I pulled a muscle in my hip without realizing it. The ache I felt at the time was tolerable until we started the long descent down the mountain. At that point, every single step I took was painful. It hurt so much that I couldn’t even tolerate the weight of my small backpack, which my friends had to carry for me. The long ride home was a painful blur.
There I was in one of the most stunningly beautiful vistas you’ll ever see. But I don’t remember much about the sights, smells, or sounds of that day. I don’t remember much of anything except the pain. I forfeited my ability to enjoy the trek by struggling to keep up with someone else.
But I did learn an invaluable lesson: if you don’t walk at your own pace, you will only end up hurting yourself.
Over the years, when I’ve been tempted to take an action that doesn’t honor my own style, speed, or destination, I’ve thought back to that experience. In a few cases, I wish I had recalled that episode much sooner. It might have saved me the anguish of another long practice session in self-reliance.
Whose Role Will You Play?
When you are walking in someone else’s shoes, at someone else’s pace, or on someone else’s path, you are not honoring your authentic self. And when you are not honoring yourself, you cannot be at peace. That can be a hard-earned lesson for those of us who have found ourselves living the lives our parents, spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, bosses, or business partners say we should live, only to wake up one day wondering why we are miserable.
Walking on your own path and being “at peace” does not mean that you won’t experience challenges. You will. Like a wise and demanding coach, life will always push you to stretch beyond your current limits so that you can increase your ability to give and to receive. When you commit to living and giving in your own way, though, the challenges that greet you will be part of your own inner blueprint and not another’s. You are meant to create your own formula for self-discovery and self-expression. The answers, and even the questions themselves, are never the same for any two of us.
Think about this:
“Insist on yourself; never imitate … Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Are you trying to keep up with someone or fit into someone else’s mold or way of doing things? How?
- Is that limiting your expression of your true self?
- What one step can you take right now to step out of that mold, honor your own style, and be more of your authentic self?
This article was adapted from the new book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving by Patricia Spadaro.