Own Your Shit

The following is the first draft of a chapter from a book I am working on. Hope you enjoy, and let me know what you think. Thanks.

We all have it. Garbage in our lives that we wish wasn’t there. Regrets, bad decisions, imperfections and flaws that haunt us every day. Perhaps you find yourself living in those past mistakes. You wish you had, or hadn’t, done that thing on that day. And because of this loathing, you feel stuck, unable to move past where you are. There is no growth, no change except the deepening hole you find yourself in.

It is difficult to live this way. Being a slave to your mistakes is not easy, and, like a slave, you are at the mercy of a master that is not kind, but evil and unrelenting. I know this because I have been there, and in some ways I still am. I have made mistakes, some with long-reaching negative effects. Some I have learned from.

When I was a boy of about 10, my family and I went to visit my Aunt Susie’s farm. She lived alone as far as I remember, and besides the house, many of the buildings were in need of much repair. They were also filled with…junk. Boxes and bins of discarded tools, nails, car parts, horse harnesses, and almost anything else you could imagine finding on an old farm.

This was, of course, thrilling for me. I rummaged through the building for hours, discovering treasure after treasure. The trinkets gave me a glimpse into a life I would never know, the world of seemingly ancient times and ancient ways of life that I had only heard stories about.

On this day, I found something that was extra special. An old knife sheath for an all-purpose utility knife. It was large enough to carry a tool that included a knife, corkscrew, and file, but also a spoon and fork, for those serious survivalists. And I had to have it.

I knew better that to take it, but for fear of rejection, among other reasons, I didn’t ask. I slipped it into my pocket and didn’t say a word.

As my family drove down the highway towards home at the end of the day, I could not help but think about the sheath, and I slowly pulled it out of my pocket. I did not want my parents or sisters to see it, because the questions would come, and I would be in serious trouble. I looked at it, ran my fingers over it, and heard a voice from the front seat. My dad.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.”

“Where did you get it?”

He knew the answer, so I told him. There was a quick, quiet conversation between my parents, and my dad pulled over on the highway, turned around and headed back to the farm.

I told Aunt Susie what had happened, and she was very gracious. She didn’t care about the sheath. It was garbage to her. But she understood the situation, and did not say I could keep it. I was ashamed, and we drove back home in silence.

I remember this story because it was a piece of wisdom I have tried to live by ever since. I haven’t always been successful, but the fact that I remember the incident as clearly now as ever speaks to the impact it had on me. I learned something that day. My dad taught me to own my mistakes, own my bad decisions. Own my shit.

The strange…or not-so-strange…thing is that after I had confessed and we got home, there was a weight that was lifted. I didn’t have to carry the lie. Even at 10 years old, I knew that to tell the truth was better than keeping a secret. I felt right about it. This holds true for me today. I want to own up when I have done something wrong. Admit my fault and deal with the consequences, no matter what they are . It feels good to be honest.

So be honest with yourself. Look at your life and see what garbage is there. We all have it, but many of us don’t deal with it, or think it doesn’t matter. It matters.

There are times and circumstances when you will have to choose who you will be honest with, and how you will let the truth out. Some of what is commonly thought of as truth telling is what I call verbal puking. We let it all out to anyone and everyone who will listen for more that 30 seconds. This is not good nor healthy. The people closest to you will reap the negative consequences of your loose tongue. So be careful who you talk to. It is easy to work at getting rid of your garbage and end up gathering more, and spreading it around to others. The point of being honest is not merely that you will let it all out and feel better. You need to think rightly about your actions. Own them. This can allow you to become healthier, and help others be healthy around you.

Part of the process of being honest with yourself means looking at yourself in the mirror and being truthful about what you see. We often exercise our supposed right to either bash ourselves bloody or put ourselves on a throne when we think of ourselves and how others perceive us. Not only are neither of these correct, but they render us inept when it comes to connecting with others and forming a community of people around you that cares for you and that you care for. Whether we think of ourselves more highly than we ought, or think we are the scum of the earth, we do ourselves no favours by becoming blind to the whole person we see in the mirror.

Much of this has to do with our erroneous definitions of humility. Some of us believe that if we are given any praise, any admiration for a job well done or a positive attribute, we are drawing attention to ourselves, and we are being proud. Conversely, some of us believe that all we touch turns to gold; that we can do no wrong (and neither can our children).

Think about the most beautiful/handsome movie star you can. You are thinking of _______________. For arguments sake, I will choose Amy Adams. She is an attractive and talented actress. If I were to see her walking down the street, I may notice that she walks with confidence and poise, that she is well-dressed, and that she is fit. But as I walk past her, I notice that she has a huge pimple on the end of her nose. The flaw on her skin does not detract from her beauty, I would not say “Oh my. She has really let herself go. She’s ugly. What happened to her?”. She is still a beautiful person, and she has a zit. That is honesty.

There is s story I have heard that I will attribute to C.S. Lewis. I may be wrong. He wrote about an architect that designed a magnificent tower. The contractors built it, the ribbon was cut and he stood back and looked at it.

“That is a beautiful building.”

He said this, not because he had designed it, but because it was beautiful. He was honest, and would have said the same thing if it had been conceived by one of his competitors.

This is what humility looks like. Seeing yourself for what you are. Noticing not only your warts and problems, but your beauty.

Owning your shit means taking your whole being into account, admitting when you have made a mistake or are in over your head, and acknowledging it to whomever you need to. And then leaving it behind. Don’t dwell on what you have done wrong. Learn from it. It is not possible to learn, however, if you continue to fume over it and beat yourself up because of it. Own it, and then let it go. You can be free from your garbage.

Questions to ask:

1. Are you being honest with yourself?

2. Are you admitting when you’ve been wrong, and done your best to make it right?

3. Are you transparent to the right people? Those who can handle what you have to say and guide you in the right direction?

4. Do you acknowledge that you will screw up sometimes, and that it’s okay to make mistakes?

5. Are you consumed by trying to be perfect?