Call this a third in the series of my most recent wrestles… If you’ve read the last 2 posts I have written, you’ll find that the conflict rages on.
When I was in my Christian internship days as a teenager, I “learned” a valuable lesson: God is a God of upside downs.
What I learned this meant was that everything you think you know of the world, is actually the opposite. Scripture would tell us plainly, The first shall be last; or, in order to live, one must die; or, that gaining the world could mean you lose your soul.
I came to love this God of upside downs. I felt like I had unlocked some secret door holding the key to the inner workings of the world… That true beauty lies in pain, that true strength lies in humility and meekness, and that true wealth is found in the joy of the soul. (My favorite learned belief during this time? That Compassion is single-handedly the bravest thing in the world. But that’s another post for another time).
While I say I “learned” these lessons at the meer age of 17, I cannot say I always believed them. And, as I continue in this life I am forced to prove and re-learn these truths over and over again like an endless, ritualistic, Groundhog Day. I have tried to efficiently force feed these lessons to my soul, but my inner 3-year old just won’t eat her god-damned vegetables. And I am getting tired.
Throughout my 35 years, I’ll admit: I took the bait of the world. Like a mindless, bug-eyed fish, I bit – hook, line, and sinker.
I bought it’s definition of success by working tirelessly for a “good” career and decent money, because well, money = status, respect, and reputation. I bought it’s definition of strength by severely disciplined or regimented actions. I bought it’s definition of power by fighting for a higher position in whatever group or setting I found myself in. And I bought it’s definition of beauty in sacrificing delicious foods and making myself a slave to caloric monitoring, how many miles I would run, or how many pounds I could lift.
I scaled my 20s in pursuit of these things, sacrificing everything to the “gods” of Success, Beauty, Money, and (perceived) Reputation – only to find them never appeased, never satisfied. Like demanding, unreasonable children, they always commanded more. Yes, I did hold onto many values taught to me by my late christian devotion (integrity, kindness, goodwill), which created quite the bumpy ride. Integrity doesn’t fare well with accepting a job you feel deep down isn’t in your best interest. But, because you believe in a skewed definition of success, well, you can justify (and even make yourself proud of) most anything with enough motivation (and money was a definite motivation). And it’s likely those values I continued to hold onto are a contributing factor in not having achieved “greatness” as the world defines it. I cannot justify taking credit where it isn’t due, and I cannot don the “fake it till you make it” persona (I am transparent to a fault)… (Disclaimer: This is not to say all ‘successful’ individuals do this – but just that many of them do – although, in today’s society, I am excited to see that true authenticity is becoming a highly sought-after commodity).
I am grateful for this life I have lived, though. I can see how some of those beliefs I bought into did hold true to a certain extent, and can even serve me well – so long as they are held in balance. But, sadly, many of those pursuits were taken to extremes. And this is where I am finding my cause to this soul-choking frustration. Here I sit – mid-life crisis across the table, staring me down from the corner of it’s eye, while holding a death grip to my soul by the throat… Once again, as if on repeat – Ash learns the lessons of the god of the upside downs.
What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffers the loss of his soul?
I can now see where all the small justifications against my values have harmed me. And these justifications? These are the tiny, quiet compromises…
The world doesn’t often reward those who choose to uphold their values. Many of us are tested and tried with our character, and with a little compromise over here, and a little over there, we find that we’ve lost the game upon that first, subtle compromise.
How often have I been distracted by the shiny object only to realize it now owns me? How many decisions have I made that in the short term alleviated fear, but eventually degraded my character? How often have I chosen something because it was mostly aligned to my values, but in the end, that tiny, small portion that was not aligned, infected and poisoned the entire experience?
And so I find myself here – confronting those quiet compromises I’ve made when deep down, I knew hesitation lay in my soul – When the bad feeling was present, but I reasoned that the overall story looked good. When financial panic reigned supreme, and I desperately signed my name to the next season of misery just to (finally) alleviate the scarcity.
And the shitty thing about all this? I did this.
I can rail and curse the heavens for the “fate” it’s brought me, but who am I kidding? I know when I have sold myself short. I know when I have willingly allowed someone to take advantage of me. I can recall those precise moments where I shooed away my inner siren, faint as it was, in order to choose that thing that would satisfy me in the short term. And I can moan and wail that I have now created this irreversible situation to which I am powerless to change. And yet, that’s not true, either. Because that inner siren is sounding within, letting me know that despite all my justifications, it can be changed.
Tony Robbins says there are only 2 things that jumpstart change: Extreme pain or extreme pleasure.
Now, while I am mostly authentic in my day to day amongst my peers, the pain I am in at the moment is this fight to be wholly authentic. And as I jet-set across the US holding meetings maintaining a disposition towards clients that I’d not necessarily take, acting in this specific professional persona at work that just isn’t quite “me” and dressing in these clothes I’d never choose myself (forcing me to cover up my beloved tattoos), it’s causing a great deal of pain. This battle is against the last few compromises to my wholly authentic self. And the grip of these last few tiny, quiet compromises is so fucking strong. While I know there is a way to change it all, that god-damned fear of scarcity that has so victoriously won over me time and time again, makes me halt and freeze in fear.
I don’t know if I am strong enough to reverse this one. I don’t even know how to begin or what a reversal looks like at this point.
I am gasping my way through this. Trying to find a solution that won’t crash and burn everything I have worked for (again). Trying to maintain some form of financial stability, but I don’t clearly see how to get around this…
But, authenticy, man. Authenticity. To be able to fully be oneself is so powerful. And such a wonderful privilege.
I remember in my early christian days having a conversation with my former youth pastor at a cafe in downtown Dallas. He was studying theology at the time, and brought up a well known scripture (that fittingly, I cannot recall nor find at the moment). I think it was Jesus talking to his disciples or something, and basically, the gist of it was him telling them to walk in truth. However, my youth pastor explained… the actual translation of the original language meant something more like, “Be truthing in everything.”
Be truthing in everything.
This seared into my brain as my heart leapt at this new translation to these age old words… And yet, today, I find myself deeply conflicted as I confront my (momentary) lack of ability to accomplish this.
Perhaps the compromises I’ve made to not permit me to be wholly authentic are due to choke the life out of me.
Perhaps financial ruin and collapse are my only way through.
Perhaps I must die yet another death to my perceived reputation (i.e. this not fully authentic self) and learn yet again from the god of upside downs, “You must die to live.”
All I know is I seek to reverse these tiny, quiet compromises I have made so that I may be truthing in everything.
May we all be truthing in everything, keeping our souls by dying the hundreds of deaths to our in-authentic selves that can pave the way to truly live.
Perhaps The God of Upside Downs shall prevail again, finally releasing me to officially learning this hard lesson.