I’ve noticed recently that for the past several years, I’ve been trying hard to become other people. For example, in the late 2000s, I read the Zen Habits blog obsessively, started simplifying my life (not a bad thing), and started my own simple living blog. I wanted to be Leo Babauta—successful blogger/author who was able to quit his day job and doesn’t answer email.
In a similar vein, I marveled over the Rowdy Kittens website and accompanying Instagram feed with perfect photos of coffee cups (I don’t drink coffee), cats (I’m allergic to cats), mountains, notebooks, pens, and a tiny house. I bought the same notebooks. I even bought the promoted Desire Map Day Planner, thinking, foolishly, that this would somehow make me happier. (It didn’t.)
I started following Elizabeth Gilbert on Facebook along with 1,505,142 other devoted fans, and thought, if only I could be as pretty as her and have an online reach like that and write wonderful works of fiction (yes, that’s where she started, and I love her novels). Maybe I should start a podcast…?
Then I turned 42, and I thought, enough. Enough of trying to be someone else and live vicariously through other people’s Instagram and Facebook feeds. I live a pretty extraordinary life—because it’s my life, different from all other lives. And that, by my definition, makes it extraordinary.
It also caused me to examine exactly who I am at this point—and the fact that I am not likely to change (much) the rest of my life. And perhaps I should embrace my flaws and focus on my strengths and move a little more slowly through life (as slowly as I can, which is still fast for most people).
Let’s start by embracing my flaws—or quirks, you might say. This will be a confessional of sorts—a baring of what is. I am a reluctant introvert. I consider this a quirk only because of our extroverted culture—and the fact that I promote community for mental health. However, I believe one can have community without being an extrovert.
I’d rather stay home and read a good book (currently Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese) than do almost anything else. But I do make time for lunches and teas and drinks after work. People just have to ask. And this is perhaps another flaw… I’m typically not the one asking. Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t think of it.
I often don’t remember things about people—such as their kids’ names and the fact that they were recently ill. I forget to ask about these things until I analyze the conversation after the fact. Then I realize, oh, I should have asked how the job search is going! This is an area that maybe I should spend more time trying to improve. What is the balance between embracing flaws and trying to be better?
Sometimes I spend too much time worrying about the orderliness of things rather than enjoying life and moving forward through the mess. But this also ties into some strengths of mine, so I’ll let it be.
My family thinks I’m hard of hearing, because they often have to repeat themselves. Truth is, I’m so engaged in my inside world (solving problems, planning, analyzing, composing) that I don’t notice they’re talking to me until it’s too late. (A hearing specialist has confirmed this.)
I get bored quickly—I’m not a maintainer. This is why my book promotion has been halfhearted at best. I’ve moved on. I’ll never get a lifetime achievement award, because nothing captures my interest long enough for me to stick with it. (Main exception: my marriage of 20+ years.)
I don’t have many close friends, but I cherish the ones I have (and thank them for putting up with me). I don’t have many friends my own age, but enjoy my weekly get together with four wise retirees of Swedish descent and talking to friends much younger than me, who help me keep a pulse on the next generation.
Also, I don’t like to cook. (There, I’ve said it!) Cutting up cabbage and mixing with shredded carrots, dressing, raisins, and sunflower seeds is about as fancy as it gets on a weekday evening. If I could eat cereal for every meal and minimize time in the kitchen and still feel good, I would.
Let’s move on to the strengths section of this “I love myself” post, shall we? Well, I am organized, responsible, and able to see the big picture. I can take almost any chaotic situation and turn it into order. I am able to rally people around a cause or a project and get it done—slightly behind schedule, because I’m an optimist.
If I took StrengthsFinder®, I would probably score high on Acheiver, Activator, Analytical, and Arranger. (And that’s just the ‘A’ words!) I consider myself a generalist. Some have called me a Renaissance woman. (I like that better than generalist.)
I love learning new things and seek out knowledge on a daily basis.
I work very quickly. I have optimized my interaction with distractions such as email and social media to the point where I don’t really need 40 hours to do a 40-hour/week job. Once I get into something, I am focused and forget about everything around me.
I am happiest when I’m sufficiently challenged and occupied, but not so much that I feel overwhelmed or that I don’t have time to read, exercise, and sleep. (This might be true for most people.) I thought teaching a college class for the first time, taking an MBA accounting class, and working full-time would push me over the edge. After one week, it hasn’t.
My biggest strength though, is that I care about the future of our world—of people, of animals, of plants, and our planet. Until the day I die, I will work to find a solution to the biggest problem of all: how we transition from an unjust, out-of-control capitalist economic model that dehumanizes and destroys to a fair and cooperative economic model that rejuvenates and restores.
Maybe I’m drawn to this problem because there is no obvious solution—a wicked problem. However, it’s also going to require perseverance, which I noted is something I lack. But we’re talking about a life or death situation here. Maybe not for us, but certainly for our grandkids’ grandkids. (I think this will hold my interest for some time.)
We have to solve this problem.
So instead of wasting time trying to be somebody else or worrying about my flaws, I will harness my strengths—and the strengths of others—to create a future that makes sense. A future based on human needs and planetary restoration. A future of cooperation and justice. A future that works with, not against, the beautiful design patterns and cycles of nature.
This will only happen if I embrace all the quirks that are me—and shower myself with love.
This Valentine’s Day I urge you to do the same: embrace your flaws and quirks, focus on your strengths, and love the person you are.
Take me as I am, and I’ll take you as you are. ♡
Her Lost Year
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