I recently made a trip to Germany, a place I had long yearned to visit. Shortly after I returned, a client asked me if I’d had a significant spiritual experience there, since I’d had such a strong calling to visit that country.
And so I thought about what my answer to her question might be, and I realized that while there were moments in Germany that were truly amazing and awe-inspiring and fun, what was most profound and provided me with the greatest context for growth were the experiences I had relating to the friend I was travelling with.
Over the years I have noticed that my ability to be true to myself is forged through the pressure from other people to be the opposite of who I really am.
In ways both subtle and blatant, friends and family have tried to mold my behaviour and choices, and even outlined what work or career path I am best suited for, usually out of a sense of love or knowing what will be “best for me.”
They have often encouraged me to abandon my innate gifts and adopt highly rational, sensible, and systematic ways of doing things. While I certainly can be rational and analytical and systematic, it brings me little joy.
The contemplation and eventual pursuit of some of their options always eventually created a feeling of deep sadness and restlessness in my heart.
I have several close friends who are accountants, including the friend I traveled with through Germany. To be clear, I have nothing but respect for the work that accountants do, theirs is a skill set I lack but I absolutely appreciate how their talents help the world to run. So it will come as no surprise when I tell you that our styles of travelling were different.
Weeks before we left, she made a spreadsheet with dates, times, hotels, bus and train options, and all the costs. The arrival of this spreadsheet in my inbox nearly paralyzed me. Over-planning (and I can sometimes be guilty of thinking that ANY planning is over-planning) is something that can bleed the joy and spontaneity out of life, and certainly out of a trip.
We were (for the most part) able to talk and laugh our way through her spreadsheet, ensuring that she had enough planning done for her to feel confident, and that there was enough unplanned time for me to feel that we could live in the moment while visiting Germany.
This was one of the first hurdles conquered, as I am often guilty of staying silent and slowly allowing myself to get frustrated in situations like this. We were able to see right away how we were different, and as it turns out, we traveled really well together, and we were eventually able to appreciate what the other brought to the table.
And so part of my insight was in seeing first hand and appreciating the times when planning really did make our trip better. My friend was an expert at using her phone to find excellent restaurants (every time!) and to navigate the rail system. We hit all the places we wanted to see, and I know we may have got no further than the airport in Frankfurt if it hadn’t been for her.
At the same time, when things didn’t go to plan, I was able to problem solve on the fly, without my phone, using a sense of direction to help us find our hotel, connecting with people who “I just had a feeling” wanted to help us when our train was cancelled.
But at times I struggled yet again with where I fit into a world that values and applauds the plan, the rational, the system, the map, the strategy, the schedule, the app, the efficiency.
Often in my life I have felt that what I bring to the table is lost, or not valued: the improvisation, the spontaneity, the sitting quietly in trust knowing that the answer will reveal itself. The joy of the big, wide, open unplanned path and feeling your way along it. Knowing the journey through Germany and through life is going to take on a life of it’s own, if we let it.
That there has to be room for uncertainty in order for there to be room for joy.
I have to appreciate who I am first, before anyone else can.
And then, right there in Germany, I realized, re-learned, remembered again, in the face of a force asking me to be something I’m not — that these are qualities that I have to appreciate and value in myself first.
And that the appreciation has to go both ways. I can and do adopt some of the strategies that planners use in order to reach my goals and achieve my dreams, but I am learning to adopt these qualities as needed to support me in the pursuit of the work I love. Like the subtle dance between my travelling companion and I to achieve a wonderful journey together, I know that the balance and appreciation for both the heart and the mind, for the intuitive insight and the spreadsheet, is key.
And my friend, who knows herself well, told me this: she could plan it all out and still hesitate, still not jump into action, out of fear of missing a detail or that something could go wrong. I was the one who helped her jump, she said, who helped her trust in the moment and know that things would work out if we just took the first step.
And that little insight lit me up.
How I learn to define and remain true to myself has been through relationships with others who urge me to be the opposite.
This has certainly been an ongoing pattern in my life. And while I could feel frustrated and angry with the people I thought were trying to thwart my true expression, they were actually gifts.
They helped me to hone and define exactly what is important and exactly who I am by identifying who I am not, and for them I am eternally grateful.