Recently I was told that we cannot change our character. Is that true? Am I stuck? Are you?
Certainly, some aspects of self are hardwired. I have blue eyes. I am five feet tall. I am female. I carry my extra weight around my middle. If I don’t get enough sleep, I struggle with mood and impatience. I have bi-polar. I was raised in the Deep South and that has a lifelong impact. My parents are who they are and they are gone now. And so on.
BUT – and this is a big BUT – not everything about me is unchangeable. My character is MINE to do with what I want. My character is MINE to de-construct and re-construct.
The most important element of any story is the character. There are thousands of resources an author can use to develop three-dimensional characters. I am beginning to work on my third novel. I’m at the stage where the characters are revealing themselves to me. I now know what Abby and Ian look like. I know where they were raised and what their family of origin is. But, more importantly, I’m getting a sense of WHO they are, what they WANT, what they NEED.
As the author, I have to DISCOVER these people and then construct a story that pushes them to ACCEPT their strengths, fears, weaknesses and use that information to CHANGE. I get to decide what situations they face but I don’t get to decide how they react. I have to let the character guide my pen. In order to do that, I have to truly KNOW my characters. Abby and Ian have to be with me at all times – talking, arguing, challenging, laughing, crying.
If I can use character development techniques to understand a fictional character, I can use the same techniques to Discover-Accept -Change MY OWN CHARACTER. Just as I have to sit with fictional Abby and Ian, in order to understand myself, I have to sit in my own mud puddle. I have to delve deep, ask the hard questions, watch myself as I interact with the world. I have to be INTENTIONAL. I have to be CONSISTENT. I have to be ALL IN.
My fictional Abby recently relayed an argument between her and her father. It was painful but it explained so much about her decision-making and her reactions to the world. That one argument revealed a deep NEED in Abby. She hasn’t recognized that need yet – but she will because I will force the issue.
You already know some of your wants and needs. Or do you? In order to discover, we have to uncover the good, the bad, the mediocre. We have to be honest, if only with ourselves. It might be painful but it’s also Background not “Now”ground. “Now”ground is yours to plow. We can turn over the old dirt and plant whatever we want and more importantly, we can cultivate what we NEED. We have to force the issue in our own lives.
We don’t have to do all this plowing overnight. I hate the word ‘process’. But real change is a process. It’s looking at self then hiding from self. It’s being honest and then lying because lies are more comfortable. It’s being critical and then accepting and then being critical again. It’s lonely. It’s hard. It’s worth it.
I refuse to believe I’m unable to change. I am NOT stuck. I can choose where to focus my energy. I can identify and accept those areas that I cannot change. I can identify those areas I can change. I can identify those areas I want to change – those I’m willing to change. I can choose my next best decision rather than let life roll over me.
An author creates scenes that force a character to react and to grow. While I can’t structure every scene in my life, I can use my life scenes to better understand myself. Once I understand self, I can make my next best decision no matter what scene I find myself in. Even better, I can begin to change and choose the scenes in my life. That’s my hope and my goal.
As I learn more about Abby and Ian through character development activities, I will use these exact same activities on myself. I will share what I’m doing and extend the invitation for you to join me. As always, I will be authentic and vulnerable. I will be afraid and excited, embarrassed and proud. I will ACCEPT whatever I discover.
I’ve gathered together some supplies for this journey (I also hate the word ‘journey’). I decided if I had everything organized and ready for me, I’d at least eliminate that excuse. My supply bucket includes:
Discovery-Acceptance-Change is appropriate for every age, every gender, every race and faith. It is appropriate no matter who you are, where you are or what you’re doing. Share this with others. The more we look at self and furrow NowGround, the better the world will be. Your world. Your family’s world. THE world.
We start the “real” work next week. There will be a new “reveal” every week. Some of what I’ll ask you to do will hit painful nerves. Remember, I’m with you all the way. I’ve got my own pain to face. I also promise that some weeks will just be plain ol’ fun!
Until Next Week:
Yesterday I went to a group therapy session. Let me start by saying, YUCK. Yet, I need it right now so rather than focusing on how frustrated I am to be slipping, I’m trying to focus on the positive truth that I recognized I was slipping and was willing to seek help. But, still, YUCK.
The first thing that happens in this group is a ‘check-in’. For several minutes, no one spoke. It seemed we were all scared to be the first to speak “be first”. I couldn’t take the awkward silence so I jumped in with this: “In my mini-SEAL training yesterday, I struggled because I kept comparing myself and getting more and more dejected.”
Seems innocuous enough, right? It evens seems appropriate. But it definitely was NOT. It wasn’t that what I said that was wrong; it was why I said it that it was wrong.
My true motive sucked!
I knew immediately I had done something “wrong”. My gut twisted just a tiny bit. If I hadn’t been tuned into my body, I would have missed it. It wasn’t until I lay in my bed that night that I found the courage to analyze that “twist”.
I didn’t say earlier but this group revolves around disordered eating and body image. Last week (the week before I opened my mouth and inserted my foot), several group members talked about their struggle with movement and exercise. That is one area I have under control. I like exercise. I like having muscle that I can see and I like the endorphins that are released when I push myself.
I hate being in this group. It’s not the people – they are nice and accepting. My problem is that I NEED the group and that frustrates and embarrasses me. I don’t want to belongin the group.
My true motive was to prove to myself (and the members) that I’m better than them. My comment basically said, “See, I have my act together. You guys have problems but I’m working out with a SEAL.”
I want to scream “I don’t belong. I don’t need this. You need this but not me.”
God, that sounds awful. It feels awful to say it. It feels worse to know it’s true.
I could ignore the twist in my gut. I could certainly not write about it in a blog. But I’ve promised to be authentic in my struggles to accept myself. Accepting yourself involves knowing and accepting your true motives.
Now to the good news about this less than honorable motive. Because I was willing to sit in the discomfort of a twisting gut, because I was willing to accept my motives, because I was willing to analyze what I was really wanting to achieve, I can work on why I feel the need to “be better than”. I can work on why it’s hard to accept that maybe I do “need” this group. Or, I can discover this isn’t the group I need – maybe I don’t need any group or maybe I need a different group.
If I’d just ignored my gut’s message, I’d be sitting in the same group throwing up other comments to prove my better-than-ness. I’m not better-than. I’m different-than. And I accept that.
Calling it SEAL training is the ultimate in hyperbole. Sure, we did some “SEAL-like” activities but really it was really just a group fitness training led by a former SEAL. I modified when I needed to. There were some activities I just didn’t do. A true SEAL training session would kill me – literally. You do not want the safety of the USA to depend on me.
I do that a lot – when I’m feeling anxious about something, I exaggerate. That’s another gut twist I need to confront. YUCK.
About two years ago, I spent several months working my way through several of Brene Brown’s books and watching her YouTube videos. In one interview, she pulled out her wallet and retrieved a tiny piece of paper. She explained that it was her list of people whose opinion mattered to her. Those few people, she continued, held her best interests in their heart so she trusted them with her vulnerabilities.
Immediately I began to consider who would be on my tiny slip of paper. I narrowed the list to seven. I wrote their names on a notecard, which is posted on my wall just inside my garage door. I see it every time I leave, and every time I return.
I see it but I don’t see it. As with any sign you have in your home, it quickly fades to the background. I walk past that littlenote card and never look at it anymore. Until yesterday.
As I sit at my table and write this post, I’m staring at my list and consider who to delete and who to add. Which leads me think about all the people in my life who’ve come and gone.
Not too long ago, I spoke to my therapist about “friends” who “dropped me”. It was a curious discussion because I was emotional that none of these so-called friends kept in touch. Yet, I was rational in admitting that the phone works both ways and I hadn’t called them either. My therapist leaned back in her chair, pushed her hair behind her ears – both sure signs that she’s about to say something I truly need to hear. I shifted to the edge of my seat and waited.
Basically she said, “Friends come and go. Our paths intersect and then our paths diverge. It’s as simple as that. You went one way. They went another. Both right for right now.”
I literally hit my forehead like Homer Simpson. “Duh.”
I moved. I changed careers. My kids grew up. My belief system changed. I moved to a whole new path. And now our paths don’t intersect. It sounds simple, I know. But sometimes the simple is the profound. I can now let it go – I no longer have to wonder why those friends don’t like me anymore. They like me just fine. Our lives just don’t intersect.
Yet, there are some friends who stand the test of time no matter what paths we take. Why is that exactly? Why am I still great friends with SP and not VB? Why did I ensure my path continued to intersect with one and not the other? The Super Seven answers that.
Every human desires connection. That explains marriage and small groups and wine with friends on Friday. But, all humans need to feel safe. As a matter of fact, safety is the most crucial need we have. We learn growing up (especially during those awful middle school years) that it is not safe to share our innermost secrets with just anyone. Secrets are powerful and we learn the hard way to hold secrets tight against our chests. But secrets are burdensome if we don’t find some way to share them. So, we test the waters. I’ll give you one or two “easy” secrets and see how you react and if you hold them close or share them with others. I’ll listen carefully and see if you share someone else’s secrets with me.
My list of seven sits on the table right now. Sadly, I will remove two names not because I no longer trust these people but because our paths no longer intersect. I will remove a third name because I realized this person only has her interests at heart. That’s okay. It’s where she is right now and we’ve all been there.
But, the good news, I have two people to add. I’ve ‘tested’ these new friends. They’ve tested me. I know I can safely hand over any secret I need to share and get feedback I can trust. My seven has become six and that’s more than enough for me.
Do you have a list of people you can truly trust to handle you with care and selflessness? Take a minute to write those names on a list. Carry that list with you. When you find yourself worried what someone thinks, look at your list. Those are the people whose opinions matter.
Recently, I had a lady tell me all the things she thought I was doing wrong. I listened and started to get anxious. Then I remembered my list and said, “Thank you for your opinion but you’re not on my list.” Well, she now thinks I’m crazy but that’s okay because she’s not on my list.
One more thing – let these people know how much you value their place in your life. Gratitude is the best gift.
PS – be honest about your list. You don’t have to put your twin sister on the list if she hasn’t earned the spot.
Check out Brene Brown's materials: https://brenebrown.com
Also, check out Brene Brown's TEDTalks: https://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown
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