Knowing Your Why

I don’t know why this topic is coming up right now, but it feels really important to me at this moment so I’m going to write about it. I know that this year hasn’t been easy. Aside from all the extraordinary circumstances surrounding it I feel like many of us have been tested and pushed in other ways, and though I don’t want to scare anyone I feel like that pressure is still in the escalation phase.

I feel like this is a time when we are being forced to grow in one way or another. In order to grow or change we sometimes get pushed really hard by things in our life. This happens because that pushing is what creates enough distress or discomfort for us to face our fear of change and actually get up and do something (or sit still and see something). Being pushed in this manner doesn’t tend to feel good-- I know that I have spent many days crying over how overwhelming some of these sensations have been.

Since I feel that not only is this pressure not going to be letting up yet, but might actually start to get significantly stronger—I wanted to share something that I’ve had to return to many times to find my footing when I felt myself getting knocked down. The thing I want to share is related to the concept of “why”.

When things were getting overwhelming at work during one of these pressured escalations the voices told me “do the right things at the right times in the right ways for the right reasons—but if you can’t do anything else ‘right’ focus on the reasons—they are the most important.”

I wrote it on a post-it note and whenever I was stressed out by a decision I had to make I read it and asked what my reason was. That became a navigational tool which has helped me, especially when I felt like things were slipping away.

Here is what I’ve learned:

Knowing your reasons for doing things can be exceptionally helpful especially when things feel uncertain or chaotic. There are two main feelings that I’ve found knowing my motivation has helped me shield against: 1. Fear and 2. Guilt. Both of feelings can influence decision making and simultaneously make the experience of living exceptionally painful. Making decisions based on my “why” and then recalling that “why” when facing the consequences of a choice has been an empowering tool.

Instead of going into the theory about why I think this technique is helpful I’m going to give a personal example. The example has to do with sharing my experiences—it is an important “why” for me because it is a root for what I want to create in the world.

I think it is safe to say that anyone who has known me for a significant amount of time knows that I struggle with self-expression. Talking has been tied very closely to the feelings of fear and guilt for most of my life. I rarely spoke when I was kid because I was afraid of saying the “wrong” thing and would often feel guilty for not saying the “right” thing, this framework of needing to say what was “right” and avoid what was “wrong” made it really difficult for me to say what was “true” for me because I often found that my experiences did not line up with what I had learned was “right.” As a result I felt that when I spoke I either had to lie or say something wrong—both outcomes made me feel guilty, so it was easier to just stop talking (on top of this I had social anxiety—or maybe this belief system is a subconscious root that expressed itself as social anxiety).

Ironically (or perhaps in perfect harmony with how the universe works) as an adult I feel most in line with my idea of purpose when I express myself honestly. Writing these blogs, attempting to draw the things that I see, and sharing my story or thoughts feel important to me in a way that I am rarely able to express. It has felt important for a while to share things, but I didn’t know how to express why it felt important until recently. At first it was okay that I didn’t know what the reason was, it just seemed important and I was learning about empowerment so doing things that felt important to me was a good enough reason to do them.

This year, however, I was no longer safe in my own bubble of self-healing. I went back into a world that is run primarily based on values and beliefs that I disagree with and in time I felt myself losing touch with that sense of purpose. I started to feel scared and worthless again, and when I tried to act on what I thought was important in spite of that feeling I felt horribly guilty and embarrassed. In my head there were accusations that went something like this:

“Who are you to think you know anything? You are no one. What is wrong with you? Why do you think it matters what you have to say? No one cares. You are useless. You are worthless. You are too idealistic, and your thoughts don’t make any sense. That will never happen, why are you even trying? You don’t really believe that you can do anything that matters do you? Talk about delusions of granduer. Who says anyone wants to change? What do you know about life or meaning or anything? This is all made up and in your head and soon everyone will see again how crazy you are and you will lose everything. Why do you even keep trying?”

My response to this onslaught was more fear and guilt. I didn’t want anyone to know what I want to do or how I see myself because I was afraid that they would see me as ego-centric and crazy and I felt guilty because maybe it was true. I tried to resign myself to the idea that “normal” was good enough—it was more than I had hoped for in the past and so I should be grateful to have a taste of it and try to keep my head down and fit it. When I did this, though, life quickly turned gray and I found myself angry and depressed.

Part of me argued that I hadn’t struggled so hard to feel better just to hide everything I had learned. But why did I do it? I knew part of the answer was because I knew that I was connected to other people and that every time I let myself sink to that space of despair someone else would have to lift me up and I didn’t want others to have to carry me all the time, but there was something else too. Why did it matter that I wrote? Why was I going to school to learn to draw? Why did I need to share these ideas?

I remembered it was because I had felt alone.

I had felt so alone for so long that I had started to believe that I was the only one in the world to feel the way I did. I had wanted to fade into nothing because the loneliness was too much… More than that I had started to believe I was nothing and that I already didn’t exist at all. But then I had come across things other people had said. Other people saw things in ways that were not so different from me. They also were scared about speaking out at first and had heard that their ideas were crazy and stupid, but they were courageous and when I read what they wrote I knew it wasn’t just me. Someone else saw it too—someone else believed in a different way of living as well. I realized I wasn’t alone. I was part of team. We were a team that couldn’t always see each other and might not have ever met but we were working towards the same vision and then I realized why talking was so important.

My team would never see me if I didn’t speak up honestly. They might never know that I was here listening, believing, cheering for them too—and if they didn’t see me then they might think they were alone and then maybe they would feel discouraged and lonely like I had. When I remembered this writing these blogs and talking to people about things from the other realm became important to me again.

I saw how I had become ashamed of writing for a while because I felt judgment. I thought that people would think I was trying to gain attention or sympathy. I thought they would think that I wanted to be more important than I am. The truth is that there are probably people who do think that I am crazy and out of touch with reality. There are probably people who would be ashamed to say the things I say—and there are times that I feel ashamed still of how I have acted, but I cannot tell someone else that it’s okay to make mistakes if I’m not okay with my own. I can’t tell someone that I know what it’s like to constantly say and do the wrong thing without showing them how I have done both and learned to be okay with it.

I want people to know my story not because I want them to give me praise and attention or sympathy, but because I want it to be okay to be all the things that I thought were wrong. I want to be part of creating a world where we are allowed to be human in all the forms it takes and we are allowed to believe in more and go after big, crazy, ridiculous dreams because they matter.

I still feel scared and guilty. I feel scared about what people might think and guilty that I’m not putting as much time into other things (like school or work), but then I remember my reasons and in doing so I allow myself to let go of fear and guilt. I can’t control what other people will think, but I know what I am doing and why I am doing it and I can think highly of myself for that. I might fall behind in school or be called lazy at work, but I am working towards something that has much more meaning to me than a grade or praise ever will.

So… I get scared, embarrassed, ashamed, and feel guilty about expressing myself still. I think that my ideas don’t line up with what I see and I will be hurt because of it, but knowing the reason that I talk about the things I talk about and work towards the vision I have allows me to keep going. Fear and guilt can be unlocked when they come up because the accusations may be reflected externally but mostly come from myself. If I know what I stand for and why—then the accusations lose their power, and I don’t have to feel guilty or be afraid of the judgment I tend to cast upon myself.

Your values might be different than mine. You might have completely different goals and beliefs than me, that’s okay. It doesn’t matter what I or anyone else think about your reasons, it matters that you know what your reasons are and that they are important to you. They are your reasons and it is your life and knowing these things can provide a lot of strength, especially when times feel uncertain.

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