The creative girl I used to be

Yesterday I had the opportunity to sit with an elder and have a long chat. We were trapped together on a plane for the long haul from London to Vancouver. He was much older than me and works for the Canadian Government, doing important things. I spend most of my time working in the apparel manufacturing sector for a global brand. I indirectly make stuff for people who enjoy leisure activities in the outdoors.

But, I am interested in so much more than my current job. And my husband does important work. So we talked a lot about that. Then, all of the sudden I was filled with one of my core memories from long ago. Why I took one path over another, and created the future which I am living today.

I think we were talking about the US election and how people are divided into camps, political and otherwise. Then I remembered why I only went to University for one year. I was enrolled in general studies and taking a variety of courses, one of them introducing me to the b-comm faculty where I desired to attend in 3rd year. As I neared the end of that first year, I had a glimpse of myself 20 years down the line. I would be married to one of these guys in the faculty. One of these “Gordon Gecko wannabes”. (It was the late 1980’s). I would be a secondary thought, the wife, maybe a mother. Even if I had a career, it would not be as important as his. My girl friends would be in the same boat and we would spend all our time commiserating over our plight in life. I finished that year and transferred to fashion design school, where I had always wanted to study.

Then my school closed in Calgary, Alberta. Wide sweeping Government cuts to liberal arts programs, at that time meant that the little private school would have to stay in the small scope it was. The founders of the school wanted a something different, an education experience which could reach a wider audience. So they packed it in. Just as I had found my ultimate education experience, it was snatched away.

Of course, there were other schools in Canada operating at that time, with roughly the same curriculum. It was either turn right for Toronto or left for Vancouver. I hedged a bet that Toronto would contain far more of the type of people I had left behind in University, (plus it was very far away), and I headed West. A girlfriend and I found a program which would transfer our Alberta program and we finished our design education. She went back home, but in the first weeks of our adventure on the West coast, I had met the young man who would become my husband.

I don’t want to give the impression that my life has been a fairy tale. I’ve had some lucky times, worked extremely hard and been granted some wonderful experiences which I will always be grateful for. But the young woman who so much enjoyed design school, who thrived on the creative experiences and work, she has kind of been lost along the way.

I’ve rationalized that over the years. After all, I had to make a living, had to pay the mortgage. Bit by bit, I made decisions which continually distanced myself from the creative fire at my core, which once burned so brightly. It happened so slowly, I didn’t really notice it. Now, as I look around me, I am surrounded by the next generation, these promising 20 something year olds. They are passionate and talented. But they too are having to make compromises. They have to accept “the way things are” and do things they didn’t expect.

What is the solution? I suppose if I have learned anything in all this time on the planet is that finding a way forward will be complicated. I am intertwined with the decisions and responsibilities I have accepted over many years. Decoupling and untangling will require me to understand my emotions again. All of them, not just the good ones. That is daunting and scary work, which I have started.

But yesterday, I had a vision. That young woman who wore these wild and outlandish clothing combinations, who spoke her mind with conviction, who didn’t feel the need to be smaller to please others, who wasn’t always having to compromise her core values, she is still in there. She is hiding behind clothing combinations which help her blend into the background, where no-one takes notice. She speaks up, but gets shot down and then stays down. She is exhausted from trying to keep the peace. She has become smaller.

CW_circa1989

That young woman from the 1980’s is waking up. There are parts of her that need to shine in me again. I love much of the woman I am today, but I think it is time for a make-over. I want to re-capture some of the gumption and spirit the photo above shows. (Easter weekend around 1989 at my Aunt and Uncles cabin where we were kind of Spring camping. I’ve got some kind of sunhat on, big hoop earrings, big cotton sweatshirt, down vest, shorts over wildly printed tights and slouchy socks with desert boots.)

Daring greatly is not easy

I’ve been reading, “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown – in part because of the course work which follows this called “CourageWorks”. I’m terribly behind the pace of the reading and exercises, (I hope it stays open through the Summer!) I don’t know what I was thinking by signing up for this while my work schedule for this Spring is a bit – crushing. But I’m glad I did.

This past week I practised what I am learning. I got up in front of small, but important group of people and I put myself out there. I didn’t pick up a shield to deflect and defend my position, as I normally do. I let myself hear everything which was said, the good, the bad and the ugly. Of course, to a roomful of highly competitive men, who are armed for battle, I felt pretty slaughtered by the end.

Even though this was an emotionally charged process for me, what I discovered was, it was not for them. This was business as normal. They could not see the difference in me, and certainly, none of them could hold space for what I was going through. Empathy is not something practiced in these kind of situations. In a corporate setting, anything other than “the brutal truth” has no place. At least that is how it played out last week, with this group.

Now that I’ve dared greatly for the first time, I’ll do it again. I have to live this way now. But I will do one thing critically different. I will have one or two of the people who are best at hearing my story, on stand-by. These are the people who can hold space for what you are feeling and going through and not judge. They don’t tell you that you should feel differently. They understand that you are down in a dark hole and it is pretty crappy down there. They crawl down into that hole with you and hold your hand. They don’t try to fix you up, or tell you to take any kind of action. They in fact, listen and show a great degree of empathy.

The whole process of daring greatly, of leaning into the pain of vulnerability, reminds me of the “Velveteen Rabbit”. The description below, which talks about “becoming REAL”, just seems so right for this kind of situation. For I want to become more real. It is this gritty, raw, exposed feeling (which is frightening for some people to see), which is the opposite of true joy. I’m no longer going to try to be one person, all armoured up and ready for battle, at work and a more vulnerable person at home in my personal life. It has been like Jekyll and Hyde, trying to be 2 people. I can’t do it anymore and I won’t.


 

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit