There is a marvellous gift on offer in the times we are living through, and that includes the current pandemic crisis. That gift is being offered to individuals - you and me - if we can see it, claim it, and own it. First, let us look at what is happening in the world around us to read and comprehend the changes currently afoot.
In the broader picture, societal constraints and barriers that have inhibited the individual for a long time are now falling away. While on the surface of things we might lament that organisations can no longer be relied on, that traditional career paths are disappearing, mass redundancies proliferating and everything seems confusing, what is actually happening is a massive shift in power away from big power (politicians, corporations, institutions etc) to the individual. The shock waves of this shift can be felt right around the globe as this transition to a more modern and egalitarian world emerges. For the first time in decades the individual is free and has the power to happily explore, experiment and express their true self without fear.
Let us put this in some perspective. When I was growing up in the 1950s, the all-pervading approach to parenting was evident in the common view that “children are to be seen and not heard”. Any child foolhardy enough to challenge this was immediately punished. And each subsequent breach only invited increasingly punitive measures to achieve thought and voice control. At worst, child-parent relationships became weird with the child screaming “I don’t care!” and the inevitable fall-out, “Don’t care was made to care”.
Then of course there was the opposite. The more compliant and approval-seeking the child was, the greater the rewards. The results of this repression and these false rewards were significant: children growing into essentially fear-driven adults with their innate creativity blocked, leading to boredom, unhappiness, bouts of meaninglessness, addiction and interpersonal conflict.
The pressure of all this finally erupted in the 1960s into a societal revolution, a time when technological, medical and social change created transformations for people right around the globe. Hippies, the Beatles, Woodstock et al signalled the dawning of a whole new era for humanity where people began exploring freedom, the deeper meaning of community and innovation that challenged outdated societal views and practices.
There followed a period in the 1970s, 80s and beyond of indulgence and materialism. Arguably we have gone as far as we can go with materialism and there has been an increasing interest in spirituality which is essentially a search for meaning and purpose. Tools for developing inner awareness and mindfulness (the beginning of deeper individuality as well as connection), like for example meditation, once viewed as hippie weirdness in the 1960s is now mainstream.
What is the point of knowing all this? Often the culture we live in has an inhibiting effect and we simply cannot be our true self. It might be dangerous to speak our truth; or it might work against us too much. Perhaps power held by a few is dictating how we will live, how we will be. All of this is now falling away. We are living in a time of increasing liberation from external constraints.
Now to the current pandemic. To cope with isolation, people have simultaneously been learning how to connect more deeply within themselves (to overcome stress and anxiety) while coming to a renewed appreciation for and empathy for others. As well, we have been exploring creative ways to live differently that have had positive spin-offs. Witness groups gathering outside a confined older person’s home, for instance, to sing them Happy Birthday, neighbours doing small acts of kindness like shopping for those who cannot venture forth, dropping off some home grown fruit in a neighbour’s letterbox, and so on.
The current trend is showing a move to smaller households as people seek out more freedom to be themselves. Research showing the dramatic increase of people living alone exposes both positive and negative impacts. In his book Going Solo, Eric Klinenberg argues the benefits and how people living alone are transforming American culture through their more personally authentic and social approach. The downside of living alone is always social isolation, something that is not healthy for humans, which the pandemic has highlighted so clearly. This is not an argument for people living alone, but rather an example of one way some people are establishing their own authentic path while remaining socially in touch.
The opportunity to embrace our individuality, our full potential as loving human beings, is not without its challenges. In Australian sociologist Hugh Mackay’s book The Inner Self, Hugh exposes that paradoxically, we often fear our own individuality. How can this be, you might ask, when the great gift of individuality is the empowerment of coming to know who we are, and what we want, really? The gift of being able to transform into who we were always meant to be, to live a life of fulfillment and joy in circumstances of our own choosing?
Right now, the gift horse of fulfillment is being handed to us almost on a plate but we are afraid of our own empowerment. We block ourselves. And we should never underestimate the power of those blocks. They cause real fear inside us when we step forward to embrace our true self. And this is not about leaving our day job and joining an ashram somewhere in the mountains. This is the fear of simply being oneself.
It is for this reason, as Hugh Mackay says, we hide from ourselves in a range of ways: addiction, materialism, being a victim, being ‘good’, being ‘bad’ to name a few. The issue at the heart of all this is fear related to low self-esteem, which causes us to question our ability to take full responsibility for our choices, for living a lovingly real life, with real friends, trusting relationships with colleagues and work that feels real and right for us. Perhaps we fear that we will lose out somehow and so cannot let go. There are as many ways to block ourselves as there are people.
For those who are ready for change, the key question, as noted by US psychologist Carl Rogers is, “How can I get in touch with this real self, underlying all my surface behaviour? How can I become myself?” The good news is that knowing how to become aware of and go beyond our blocks, get in touch with our true self and take action to live honestly and purposefully expressing our innate creativity is a process of ever-expanding self-awareness with specific signposts along the way. We can familiarise ourselves with those signposts. The journey can be likened to walking up a spiral staircase inside a lighthouse. At each level you turn on a light and looking through the window at that level you get a different view of things and hence a different facet of our inner experience. At the top of the lighthouse your view is wide-reaching and unobstructed. The metaphor has a clear message: you are elevating your consciousness progressively experiencing increasing self-empowerment leading ultimately to true, sustainable, shared and balanced being, as you stand tall as a light for others.
You know a true person when you meet them. They are natural, they listen carefully and ask questions tuning in to what you are feeling. You feel they care about you and you can trust them. They notice the smallest things in their surroundings. They are clear about their likes and dislikes and their intentions. There is a simple, caring honesty about them, no BS, that is refreshingly balanced and liberates you to be yourself. They are not perfect. They are very human and know it. Hence, they are compassionate.
Real gold is not ‘out there’. It is not to be found in material possessions, money, status, power, or anything else the world has to offer, though you might end up with these. The real gold is to be found inside yourself. It is the love in your heart that needs no other justification or reward other than to simply be. It is joy, pure and simple. Let go all the garbage and embrace it, it is waiting for you.
It took me, and usually takes most of us, a while to understand, appreciate and realise what real self-expression is all about. When I was in my twenties a famous ballerina, Natalia Makarova, who befriended me gave me a card with the very astute words written inside, "Please be happy Sarah, please be." I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought it was her broken English and laughed at her. I couldn't see that constant thinking and analysing can be our worst enemy. She was encouraging me to stop thinking and really live. We are slowly becoming aware of this in business which is awakening from its long purely profit-making 'numbers' slumber to understand that it is the empowerment of people that makes a business what it is, that is what business is really about. And it is up to the individuals to make teams great by awakening to their own true nature and fully engaging with work they love.
Knowing and being yourself is a journey. Here are some initial actions to help you with the first step, which is to turn your gaze within:
If you are ready to connect with your own empowerment, building great relationships and truly realise your potential at work, check out the Art of Real Work Program. For more information or to enrol, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, you can call me, I'd be more than happy to discuss your needs and goals and help you to clarify next steps.
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