Freedom is the Result of What You Don’t Do Anymore
Change is difficult, with relapses along the way. But you have a friend who will stand by you no matter how long it takes.
How much freedom can you handle? Do you want to do what you want to do when you want to do it, in your own way and at your own pace? You work with people who have the same values, and you make the money you need. Most of all, you make choices that give your life meaning and purpose. This level of freedom requires awareness and self-discipline, the ability to stop what you are doing that is not working.
Your Most Reliable Friend
Self-discipline is not glamorous, but it is the friend you can depend on when life gets hard. Rather than avoid problems self-discipline likes to get to the bottom of them, since that is how it grows strong and wise.
Whatever you suffer and endure, see and hear, feel and desire–every act of meanness and kindness you experience–self-discipline is there to shape you into the resilient person you were designed to be. The more self-disciplined you are, the less you need to be told what to do. You just do it. And you do it well.
Resistance Is No Match for Self-Discipline
When you conquer resistance to the challenges life brings (and this may take a while), you notice you are a more effective person. You decide to save part of your income and invest it rather than spend what you earn. You exercise regularly, rest when you are tired, and eat only when you are hungry.
You don’t give in to pressure from family members and friends to go back to the way you used to be. You don’t accept responsibility that is not yours. You don’t ignore your feelings, and you don’t blame “enemies.” You see them as secret allies who force you to improve.
Happily Ever After
In fairy tales, self-discipline is the prince who searches for his lost princess. He finds her, but only after passing difficult tests. Happily-ever-after stories are eternally relevant because they describe the journey to becoming an individual, meaning undivided. The beasts, dragons and witches encountered along the way are parts of yourself you need to accept as your own if you are to become a whole, integrated person.
Rejecting or projecting what you don’t like about yourself keeps you in bondage to an idealized self-image, a brittle façade that distances you from yourself, and others. Not seeing yourself clearly also makes it hard for you to accept criticism, since a good critic destroys artificiality. Dropping pretenses when confronted is scary at first, but then it is liberating.
Projection also includes attributing positive traits to others that belong to you. You think they are loyal when it is you who can be trusted. Then you get disappointed when they let you down. Accepting your trustworthiness, as well as the time when you were not so loyal makes it easier to know who to trust, which lowers the chances you’ll disappointed.
Awakening From Self-Imposed Slumber
Sleeping Beauty is a story about a girl who is cursed by the power of the evil witch (the fear of criticism) around the age of puberty. She sleeps in her glass coffin until the prince hacks through the weeds and brambles that surround her castle. He wakes her with the kiss of true love, and they live happily ever after.
The story is a metaphor for the journey to self-acceptance. This arduous task usually begins with uprooting events that force you to become better acquainted with yourself. These reversals can be accidents, illnesses or losses that shake you to the core. You are free to resist the signals that imply change is afoot. But rightly interpreted, disruption can be seen as the force that is pushing you to let go of illusions.
The usual reaction to loss of what you think you can’t live without is panic, despair and depression. But what brings you to your knees can also lift you to heights you could not achieve before the loss. You won’t know this until later, however, often much later. Then you are so relieved to be free from the past you bless the event. This is an example of how the unconscious “arranges” loss when you are not aware of how much you long to be free.
A Not To Do List
Make a list what you need to stop doing. These are the choices that always end in failure. This exercise is not to shame yourself, but to understand why you do what does not work (and probably never did). These choices often mask a hidden fear of being powerful: you fear you’ll misuse it, that confidence will separate you from everyone, or that it will stir up envy from those who are close to you.
Much of our ineffective behavior is learned, like anxiety. If you grow up around anxious people you will be anxious about everything, until you separate yourself from identification with anxious people, and, as I said above, the fear of going beyond them.
The Happiest Ending of All
Breaking free from identification with family behavior that does not work is the reason I ask my clients to call parents and grandparents by their first names when they write their autobiographies, and in our sessions. The technique came to me as I wrote my own autobiography many years ago. Even though I had been trained as a writer, the results were so astonishing by the time I got to my birth I knew how my story was going to end, unless I changed.
At first, my clients wondered what writing an autobiography and using first names for forbearers had to do with their careers. I wasn’t sure myself, but I said, “Just do it.”
Fortunately, my clients trusted me. Regardless of age and cultural origin, once they saw parents as characters in a story that began long before they were born, that set them free from a child’s view of the parents, and bosses who were standing in for the parents.
Reading my clients’ stories also helped me to understand why my clients could not reach their full potential, and that there was much more to finding career fulfillment than job-hunting tips. This made the process of getting there far more fascinating to me, and to the clients who saw the value of making the connection between the past and the present.
Thinking of your parents and grandparents by their first names may seem disloyal, but objectivity will not destroy genuine bonds of love. In fact, many parents and grandparents are relieved when their grown children and grandchildren no longer see them as authority figures they blame, worship, or whose approval they need. This sets the stage for the happiest ending of all, relating to yourself and others as a wise, self-reliant adult.
Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area and the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Her website is workwithpassion.com.
Originally published at thirdage.com on November 17, 2017.