Your True NorthPublished 10:38am Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Years ago, my husband and I were having dinner with some friends who happened to be a married couple with no children. At the time, I was in my late twenties and my husband and I had not yet started our family. Our “baby” was our beloved black Labrador, but both my husband and I were in agreement that we wanted a human baby at some point in the future. When the conversation drifted into our future plans for a family, our friend (the wife of the long-time married couple) simply stated that her “babies” would always be her dogs and that she had no desire to have children. She also openly admitted that she would not make a good mother, but was a great dog owner and a happy“mother” to her pets. My twenty-something-year-old self was somewhat baffled. It wasn’t so much what she said, but HOW she said it. She stated these facts in a straight-forward manner projecting an absolute certainty of what she was saying. She didn’t apologize or ask to be accepted or understood. This was her–like it or not. As a younger adult, I was both in
awe of her confidence and frankly, slightly annoyed by it.
Looking back on this conversation, I think what I most appreciated was her willingness to speak her truth despite the cultural expectations regarding women and motherhood. We all know that we live in a culture that has expectations and standards about all sorts of things. Things like how we should behave, what we should want, and how we should get what we want. Early on, our parents teach us about what is good and bad and we quickly learn what earns us praise and what earns us disapproval from those that we most care about. Yet, rules, standards and expectations aren’t inherently bad. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a society without these things, right? Can anyone say mayhem and chaos? But, the problem starts when we identify so strongly with these expectations that we critically judge ourselves and others for not adhering to them.
Now that I’m in my 40s, I more fully understand my married friend’s need to be honest with the world about who she is. I think people (and women especially) go through this progression of hiding parts of who they are because they fear they will be rejected, to slowly revealing who they are despite this fear. The fear never truly goes away (I don’t think), but people’s desire to be more open about who they are (despite the consequences) grows over time. In short, as we grow older, I think we feel a growing desire to make our outsides consistent with our insides.
So, I’d like you to imagine a compass. It has a North, South, East and West. And I want you to imagine that you are seeking North and in this example, North symbolizes all your true beliefs, values, wishes, desires, goals, etc. It does NOT symbolize the things you’ve been told to believe or to value, or to want by the culture, your parents, your friends or any significant others in your life. Just like the predominant cultural message is that women should naturally want to be caretakers and be mothers, my friend’s true North told her otherwise.
So here is an interesting experiment to try. The next time that you need to make a choice — even a small one, I’d like to you imagine tuning in to YOUR true North. Ideally, this “tuning in” is done by relaxing, taking a few deep breaths and trying to calm your mind. If you were to let this inner compass guide you, how would you proceed? What would you say? What would you do? And how is that different (if at all) from what you usually do? And most importantly, what stands in your way of following your true North? Sometimes, just looking at our fears about what might happen if we live authentically can help us get beyond them.
One of the benefits of following your own path is that you will likely inspire others to do the same. I would never have guessed that a conversation I had about dogs and children more than a decade ago, would inspire a column. But it did. My friend’s honesty touched me in some important way or the memory wouldn’t be significant to me. When we slowly start to free ourselves in our lives by following our truth and making choices that are consistent with how we feel inside, we unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) invite others to do the same. Here’s hoping that we all find our true North.