Why this “aha” moment will be different

Over the years, I’ve journaled, prayed, meditated and read countless self-help books (and did the homework assignments that go with them), all in an effort to better understand me. Recently I skimmed through journal entries from 10, 15, 20 years ago and realized I’ve been “working” on the same shit for 20 years. While I’m not the same woman I was 10, 15, 20 years ago, and I’m grateful for the self discoveries I’ve made along the way, I realized that I’ve got more work to do.

“Self-improvement” is not something you do to make yourself feel better — trust me, the high from those inevitable “aha” moments will be temporary. You must do the work, which means living it every day, not just writing about it in a journal. When I read some of my journal entries and realized I could have easily written them today, I knew I needed to do something different. And since I can’t afford a soul searching trip around the world like Elizabeth Gilbert, I have to do the work right here in my Detroit apartment, with a busy three-year-old who demands my attention 12 of my 16 waking hours.

The recent loss of a relationship very dear to me made me realize that the work I’d done didn’t go deep enough. All of the journaling felt good, and the “aha” moments made me feel empowered, but if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t really change anything. I psychoanalyzed my childhood and made powerful connections between my child self and my adult self; I unpacked the baggage I had been carrying for much of my adulthood and discovered the likely sources of my greatest fears and insecurities. I thought long and hard about what I wanted in my life and spoke into the Universe my hopes and desires. I felt refreshed, like I had finally figured me out. While all of this was critical and necessary work, I stopped short of the real breakthrough. I stopped at the “aha” moment, never realizing — until now — that the hardest part was just on the horizon. The hardest part, at least for me, is changing the way you think, and then changing how you relate to and respond to the world around you.

Although I’d say I was “evolved” in my thinking, my ego was backstage running the show. Bruised but healing, my ego was trying to protect itself and defend my honor. But you couldn’t tell me that. I couldn’t see it because I consider myself a very humble and selfless person, always looking out for others, giving my time and energy to countless people and causes. It wasn’t until I started experiencing problems in my last relationship that I saw my ego in high definition. It took my partner to point it out to me, and of course, I denied it vehemently. Ego? What ego? I’d met plenty egomaniacs, mostly male, and I definitely didn’t act like that. I wasn’t self-serving or narcissistic or bull-headed — and I wasn’t male — so of course I wasn’t an egomaniac, brokering for power. But the truth is, we all allow our ego to get the best of us sometimes and it’s not just a male problem.

Even though my behavior didn’t fit into the little box I had created in my head, when I reflected on how I responded when someone — anyone — tried to tell me I was wrong or tell me what to do or when I felt my partner didn’t hear me, I realized my ego was responding. I was defensive without realizing it — after all, I just wanted to be heard, for my feelings to be validated. Isn’t that what we all want? Sure, but if we truly want to be heard, we must check our egos. What am I really afraid of? What do I lose by losing? Am I really losing? By checking our ego and putting our defenses down, we create a space where true understanding can occur. Only then can we begin relating to our partners, not just talking for the sake of our ego.

While I’ve had many “aha” moments over the years, this one feels different. Maybe because the life experiences I’ve had in between “aha’s” have matured my perspective or because I’ll be 40 in a few months, and well, everything feels different when you turn the big 4–0, right? Whatever the reason, at almost 40, I’m starting to get the life lessons that all those self-help gurus were talking about in the books I read.

I believe that we arrive at our destination when we’re supposed to get there. And this is true for me, even if I cringe when reading my journals from 2005. A friend told me not to beat up on myself about the progress (or lack thereof) it seems I’ve made in the past 20 years, and I’m not. I just want to be my best self and that means being honest about my shit. I don’t minimize the work I did — I’ll probably hold onto those journals for another 20 years — because it all served a purpose, and together those experiences led me to the one “aha” moment that made the difference.

Some people might say spiritual, or sexual, enlightenment is a bunch of crap reserved for new age hippies, or that self-help books are written for the weak. On the contrary, enlightenment, in whatever form it takes, can be part of a beautiful journey on the path to self-discovery. But if it’s not followed by a conscious effort, everyday, to make needed changes in your life, then the high from that “aha” moment will fade and so will the lesson. So let’s make all those hours spent journaling and those dollars spent on the next new self-help book count — do the work. Your future self will thank you for it.

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