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The village of “me’s”: Reclaiming agency authentically

Lifestyle By Jul 15, 2023 No Comments

The role personal preferences play in homing us

When I was young, I looked up to the image of the man my culture painted for me. This man worked hard all day and provided for his family. He was the foundation of stability in his home. He directed everything that happened, and his word was law. As the leader of his home, he was supported by the family by default, which collaborated on taking care of the home while he was out there sourcing how to provide for the family. This man was so strong that he could continuously provide for and protect his family, no matter the circumstances. This man was so wise that he always had a plan for the best course for his family to take and could foresee doom before it manifested and mitigated it. In my version, the man was also a Christian, meaning he had to be “the Jesus” of his family. In a nutshell, what I was meant to be was clearly defined for me, and I just had to embrace the role and embody it to the best of my abilities. And if all the promised success did not manifest, I was clearly the one who was failing at the role. What success was promised, you ask? Be the all-time provider for all family needs, protect the family, lead the family, possess all the wisdom the family needs and be “the Jesus” of the family—a big job.

After several years of gallantly attempting to live up to this image and failing (as I should) because it’s an ideal that is only meant as a guiding principle to transcend to, I wondered what I was not doing right. What started off as a wonderment exercise soon led me down a rabbit hole of self-discovery. While I was busy living up to “the ideal man”, it turned out that I missed a critical aspect of the equation. I missed the “I”. And so, I wondered who “I” was by asking my self, “Who am I?”. When I turned the perspective inwards to examine this “me” that was meant to become the ideal that the culture painted, I discovered a significant mismatch. There was a problem. It was as if the culture advertised for a job, and somehow I was “made to order” for that job, and when I started in the role, I wasn’t performing as expected. But as it turned out, when I turned the perspective inward to examine the “Who I am”, I discovered that there were aspects of the “ideal man” that I disagreed with. I had my own opinions about things, and there was a lot I disagreed with in the pre-set ideal. So, I set out to do my work of re-aligning the mismatch and resolving the conflicts. Long story short, I relied upon my personal preferences as a guide to re-interpret the ideal and work out how best to harmonise them to an optimal balance. I needed to find a home within me, which meant that I had to sort out the mismatch.

Embracing the “me” in my preferences

So, “Who I’m I?” This is such an existential challenge to raise to; however, in my quest, I discovered that a big part of that answer was to be found in my preferences. These preferences are “me’s” that represent my defaults. They are like core “me’s”. They have been baked in by pivotal moments in my development right from the time I started my training on how to “fit in” this realm of existence – in a “survival of the fittest” kind of way. They are the pillars of my perspective and influence most of my actions. Some of them have been shaped by my biological constraints, such as being a male human. Others have been shaped by my intellectual ability, others by what’s been taught to me by my guardians and community members, others by the environment I find myself, etc. These preferences, in some way, are my current limits. They are the boundaries I have to cross when I take risks. They are the betrayals I have to make when I give up pursuits. They are the courage that enables me to get through some complex challenges. They are my faith when I’m deeply committed to an idea. In many ways, they are my internal guiding principles. They are my compass. When I’m in a place where I feel free to embody them, I feel joy and peace within my self. I feel virtuous. I feel like I can do anything. And when I’m doing something aligned with these preferences, I feel like I can do it forever; I lose track of time, and every little thing happening is meaningful to me. The inner critical “me” is finally quiet and on board. I get into flow. It’s like my desires and my actions are in complete alignment.

Jack sparrow’s broken compass

Capt. Jack Sparrow of the Black Pearl is known for many things; one of his amulets is a compass that is believed to be broken. However, this compass is not broken but works in a different realm. It works in the spiritual realm. Jack Sparrow’s compass’ North is where the holder’s heart’s desires are to be found. So, when one holds it, it points to where their desires are. However, because the holders are on land and in a physical realm, they expect compasses to work based on how compasses work in the physical realm, which is to line up with the Earth’s North Pole and point North. Now, two things come together for Jack Sparrow. He knows how the compass works, and he also knows his heart’s desires. So, when he holds the compass, he knows what to do with the information on offer. Therefore, to fully embrace my preferences, it is essential to identify and understand what they truly are and then actively nurture and develop them. By doing so, I will know when to trust them and how to stay in alignment with them because then I know where my “true North” is within the context and when “I get lost in the woods”.

Belonging to my self

If I’m to rely upon my preferences as a compass, it means that I have to resolve the conflicts. This is mainly those raised by my critical “me” that always speaks up in my head when I’m working against my preferences. Remember the voice in my head at that party I went to and tried to “fit in”? Yeah, that one. One of the purposes of the critical “me” is to point out and call me out when I go against my self. It’s like my mental immune system that protects the internal mental status quo. If not convinced, they will speak up and share their objections. For me to belong to my self, I have to participate in a way that addresses the critical “me’s” concerns. This would involve being honest about the critiques and speaking up for them. While trying to be polite, I often try to re-phrase the objections in a way that might sound more intellectual so that they can be perceived in a respectable way, especially in social scenarios. However, that downplays it. For example, I enjoy having water with my meals; however, at parties, it is normal to have some alcohol or fizzy drinks, and when I’m asked why I’m not having a “drink” with my food, instead of saying I love having water with food, I would instead give an excuse like “I am the designated driver tonight”, and so I have to stay sober. The intention is to provide a reason that allows the other person to understand in a way that’s okay for them. However, by doing so, my critical “me” is now confused about why I’m having the water because they were under a different impression, and now they have to confirm what’s the truth they have to maintain or where my “true North” has moved to. To manage this, I should have just said that I don’t like to have alcohol or fizzy drinks with my food and that water is good enough. But if I did that, I would become the “weird one” and suffer the consequences. In these current times, where inclusion is taken seriously, this is okay to a certain degree, but that does not mean that the feeling of weirdness goes away.

The wilderness where the weird “me” is welcome

The weirdness does stay, and in some cases, it can be teased by friends and family. The teasing is like a validation check. For example, within the confines of home, the weird “me” is an authentic version of me that my family has to contend with. Over the years, they have come to accept this weird “me” and not challenge it. I am now known as the one who always drinks only water with my meals, and the rest of the family will be aware of this and afford it to me as a kindness. We do this for each other. We accept our weird “me’s” at home. However, we have to “come out” to our families with these weird “me’s” before they can be accepted. And even then, there’s no guarantee that they will be accepted when we do. It’s a very challenging task to embark on, and in some cases, it can take years to “come out” with some weirdnesses. These weird “me’s” have to be accepted internally before they can be let out. This is where a safe space comes in handy. And I’m not talking about therapy, though it’s very helpful with this. I was more along the lines of finding a community where that weird “me” is welcome. Nowadays, there are several communities for all sorts of things. The important thing is to identify one that embraces the weirdness or start one. Such a community creates a home for this weirdness and allows the cultivation of the virtue that the weirdness is attracted to. That community of practice where there are other people with similar weirdnesses is the wilderness where the weird “me” is welcome.

Strengthening and reinforcing the weird self

Now that the weird “me” has a home and is welcome to come out and play, the next step is to identify how their “coming out” impacts the rest of the village of “me’s”. Depending on what this weird “me” is into, the impact can have many side effects. Perhaps now is a good time to remember that this “me” is not counterfeit but a part of my authenticity. Let’s revisit that example of that weird “me” that will only have water with meals. I stand to benefit from all the positive side effects of good hydration, and I inspire those that have struggled under their counterfeit “me’s” to embrace an alternative option. At this point, I fully identify with this weird “me” and I’m thrilled to declare them everywhere I go as it’s a part of me that others have to put up with if they are to socialise with me. Strangely, we do this for medical conditions all the time; however, we find it challenging to embrace the weridnesses that are only idiosyncrasies. We forget that these idiosyncracies are essential for our sanity. These idiosyncrasies are an important guidepost to the future self that we are transcending to.

The weird self as a memory (remembering the future self)

In many ways, the weird “me” has always been there in me; they have had their role in aligning the village of “me’s” to a virtue they are in deep resonance with. They are part of my personality that has played an important role in guiding me towards values that resonate deeply with who I am. Now, I have fully embraced this weird “me”, which has become an essential part of being true to my self. It acts as a wise advisor, reminding me of my values and encouraging me to embrace them proudly. They are my navigator and show me the map of where I stand in relation to my goals and aspirations. This weird “me” reminds me of the future that I’m bringing forth by revealing the consequences I’m signing up for. By engaging with this part of my self, I feel less lost and more confident, moving away from confusion and closer to a place where I can truly be myself. This special place, my “promised land,” is like a heaven on earth where I can fully participate and be authentic in any situation. When I am in this state, I feel confident and clear about what I am doing. It’s the version of me I always strive to be, even though I may not always succeed. However, knowing this unconventional side of myself gives me hope and faith that I can become the best version of myself and even exceed my own expectations. I encourage you to discover your own unique place within, where you can fully participate and be authentic. Thank you for taking the time and attention to read and consider these thoughts with me.

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